BBC’s ME editor continues his ‘Bedouin village’ narrative – part two

As documented in part one of this post, on September 17th viewers of two BBC television channels saw a narrative-driven report blighted by important omissions on the subject of the Bedouin encampment called Khan al Ahmar produced by the corporation’s Middle East editor Jeremy Bowen.

On the same day listeners to two different BBC radio stations heard an audio version of Bowen’s report and the following day it was heard yet again by listeners to BBC World Service radio. The almost identical introductions to the report gave clear signposting to BBC audiences in all three cases. [emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]

1) BBC World Service, ‘Newshour‘, September 17th, presented by Tim Franks, from 45:05 here.

Franks: “A tiny Palestinian village made of tents, shacks and with a school built from old tyres and mud faces demolition by Israel. Ten years of legal battles have ended with the Supreme Court authorising the destruction of the village called Khan al Ahmar. Supporters of Israel’s settlement of the occupied territories applaud what they say is Israel’s right to build on its own land. They’re delighted also by the backing that they’ve had from President Trump. Most of the world though regards Israel’s presence in the West Bank as an occupation and that the Jewish settlements are illegal under international law. The consequent fear is that the destruction of Khan al Ahmar will open the way to more building for Israeli settlers which will in turn split the West Bank and make the two-state solution – an independent Palestine alongside Israel – impossible. Our Middle East editor Jeremy Bowen reports from Khan al Ahmar.”

2) BBC Radio 4, ‘The World Tonight’, September 17th, presented by Ritula Shah, from 17:35 here.

Shah: “A tiny Palestinian village made of tents, shacks and with a school built from old tyres and mud faces demolition by Israel. Ten years of legal battles have ended with the Supreme Court there authorising the destruction of the village called Khan al Ahmar. Supporters of Israel’s settlement of the occupied territories applaud what they say is Israel’s right to build on its own land. They’re delighted too by the backing they’ve had from President Trump. But most of the world believes Israel is an occupier in the West Bank and that the Jewish settlements there are illegal. They fear the destruction of Khan al Ahmar will open the way to more building for Jews that will split the West Bank and make the two-state solution – an independent Palestine alongside Israel – absolutely and definitively impossible. Our Middle East editor Jeremy Bowen reports from Khan al Ahmar.”

3) BBC World Service, ‘World Update’, September 18th, presented by Dan Damon, from 05:10 here.

Damon: “A tiny Palestinian village made of tents, shacks and with a school built from old tyres and mud faces demolition by Israel. Ten years of legal battles have ended with the Supreme Court authorising the destruction of Khan al Ahmar. It’s a village which supporters of Israel’s settlement of the occupied territories say is in the way. They applaud what they say is Israel’s right to build on its own land and they’re delighted that the backing has come from President Trump. Most of the world believes Israel’s an occupier in the West Bank and that Jewish settlements are illegal. They fear the destruction of Khan al Ahmar will open the way to more building for Jews that will split the West Bank and make the two-state solution – an independent Palestine alongside Israel – absolutely and definitively impossible. Our Middle East editor Jeremy Bowen reports from Khan al Ahmar.”

As we see, all three of those introductions gave a context-free presentation of ‘occupation’ – with no explanation that Khan al Ahmar is located in Area C and hence under the terms of the Oslo Accords is under Israeli control pending final status negotiations – and a partial representation of ‘international law’. Significantly, all three also promoted the contiguity myth seen amplified in an earlier report by Bowen – despite the fact that any potential building in the area in which Khan al Ahmar is located would in no way render the two-state solution “absolutely and definitively impossible” as claimed by the BBC.

In other words, even before Bowen began his report, a politicised and partisan narrative was in evidence.

The first part of Bowen’s report had been recorded on September 14th.

Bowen: “A small group of demonstrators has surrounded an Israeli army bulldozer at the entrance to the village of Khan al Ahmar. Not very many of them but this is a symbolic and important issue for the Israelis and for the Palestinians. Khan al Ahmar is a small – very small – Bedouin village on the main road down from Jerusalem to Jericho and the Dead Sea. It’s just a settlement of tents and shacks but like so many of these small disputes about land and territory, it’s attracted a lot of international attention.”

Obviously one reason for that “international attention” is the fact that political NGOs and foreign media have – like Bowen himself – made the story a cause célèbre. Bowen then went on to give an account of events at Khan al Ahmar which – as was the case in his filmed report – contradicts accounts of other journalists at the scene.

Bowen: “What they seem to be doing is blocking alternative routes into the village so there’s only one left open and that means that when they come to demolish this place, they will be able to control everybody who goes in and everybody who goes out much more easily.”

In contrast, AP reported that the bulldozers were clearing rock barriers that had been “set up to slow demolition” by local and foreign activists. Bowen went on to pass his unprofessional judgement on the proceedings.

Bowen: “Somebody’s laying down in front of it. There’s a bit of a scuffle going on. A few demonstrators trying to stop the bulldozer and the paramilitary police try and push the demonstrators back. It’s very symbolic. Really there’s no particular need for them to do it at this particular moment – move the bulldozer – and also the demonstrators know they can’t really stop the military. But both sides play their part in what goes on here.”

Listeners then heard a conversation between Bowen and an unidentified man.

Man: “I can’t speak now ‘cos I am breathing. I am tired now.”

Bowen: “Yes but tell me how…”

Man: “To open the way.”

Bowen: “You want to open the way?”

Man: “Yes. Only I can speak that they are criminals. They are the thieves of our souls and spirits.”

Bowen: “They’re gonna come back though you know if you open this; they’ll bring the bulldozer back.”

Man: “If they come back we are all ready to this. Our land mean our blood. Our land mean our blood.”

Bowen of course did not bother to clarify to BBC audiences that the man’s use of the word “our” is inaccurate because the Jahalin tribe does not own the land on which the Khan al Ahmar encampment was set up. Failing to inform listeners of the relocation package offered to the residents – including free building plots – and the Palestinian Authority’s use of the Bedouin as political pawns, Bowen went on to claim that they had “settled there in the 1950s” despite there being photographic evidence to contradict that claim.

Bowen: “The people of Khan al Ahmar have refused to move to another site. They settled there in the 1950s after they were expelled from the new Israel. Britain, France and Germany among others have warned that demolishing the village will make it even harder to establish a Palestinian state alongside Israel. The UN’s warned that Israel would be committing a grave breach of international humanitarian law, which is a war crime.”

Following that repeat amplification of the contiguity myth and the notion that the relocation of squatters from an illegally constructed encampment on land to which they have no claim is a “war crime”, listeners heard the sound of singing.

Bowen: “As they talk the conflict grinds on. Hundreds of Jews at the funeral of an Israeli-American stabbed to death by a 17 year-old Palestinian boy and more Palestinians killed on Gaza’s border with Israel. Naftali Bennett is Israel’s minister of education and the leader of the nationalist right. He doesn’t believe in the two-state solution.”

Bennett: “The Palestinians’ hope to wipe out Israel: as long as that hope endures terror will continue. When they give up on the hope to eliminate Israel and realise we’re here to stay, they’re here to stay, we’ll see terror less.”

Bowen: “President Trump has made a difference. What kind of difference?”

Bennett: “He has. President Trump has brought fresh thinking to a region that’s been fairly stagnant in terms of its methodologies and ideas. What Trump is telling the Palestinians: if you think you’ll continue inciting against Jews and killing Jews and somehow time is on your side, you’re wrong. You’ve got to act. You’ve got to move. Let’s make peace. Don’t wait on the sidelines because time is not on your side.”

Listeners next heard recordings made by Bowen on September 13th.

Bowen: “President Trump believes pressure works and they’re feeling it here at the Augusta Victoria hospital in Israeli-occupied East Jerusalem. The president has cut the $25 million the US was paying Palestinian hospitals in this part of the city. I’m in the pediatric dialysis department – children’s cancer’s just down the corridor – and I’m with Walid Nammour the CEO here at Augusta Victoria.”

Nammour: “We could not believe that sick children – children with cancer – will be used by any civil state, by an American government as an element for negotiations that were putting pressures to achieve political results or gains. It’s incredible.”

Bowen: “Well the Americans say it’s Palestinians’ fault for not taking part properly in talks and also for taking cases to the International Criminal Court.”

Nammour: “This is politics. Why would a child who has cancer pay the price? Our life has become terrible of catastrophic level since the Trump administration took over. I don’t know what heart he has this man to stop medications from this child. This is an administration that is seeking peace treaty?”

As in his filmed report, neither Bowen nor his interviewee bothered to inform BBC audiences that by September 9th – the day after the US announcement and at least four days before this interview was held – the Palestinian Authority had already announced that it would make up the deficit.

Neither did Bowen raise the issue of the Palestinian Authority’s financial priorities – including the payments to convicted terrorists – when he went to get more backing for his chosen narrative in Jericho.

Bowen: “At his office in hot and dusty Jericho the chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat despairs about the impact of Donald Trump on Palestinians and Israelis.”

Erekat: “I think there is no longer a Palestinian moderate camp. There is no longer an Israeli peace camp. He succeeded in getting Palestinians and Israelis off the raft of the two-state solution. Now the kids in my neighbourhood are being taught by Trump’s policies that if you claim something, grab it. This is what he’s teaching and educating and telling in his Twitters every morning to every child in Palestine. If you’re man enough, if you’re woman enough, don’t be silly [and] wait for courts or solving problems by peaceful means or negotiations; grab it! And Trump is succeeding in making Palestinians despair and desperation will lead to desperate acts.”

With apparently nothing to say about Erekat’s barely veiled threats or the Palestinian education system which teaches glorification of terrorism and negates Israel, Bowen closed his report.

Bowen: “The row over Khan al Ahmar touches the big issues of the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. But it’s also about families who most likely will lose their homes, children who will lose their school and a community that might be dispersed. This conflict has caused great suffering across generations and it seems that more will soon be inflicted on the people of Khan al Ahmar.”

Once again Bowen deliberately refrained from informing listeners that if the residents of Khan al Ahmar had not been exploited by the Palestinian Authority for entirely political purposes they could, like other members of their tribe, have relocated to a site nearby offering free plots of land, utilities and a school, with no need whatsoever for the community to ‘suffer’. Those facts, however, do not help advance the political narrative to which Jeremy Bowen has self-conscripted and so in these three radio items – just as in his previous filmed and audio reports – they were erased from the one-sided and politicised picture he presented.

Related Articles:

BBC’s ME editor continues his ‘Bedouin village’ narrative – part one

BBC’s Bowen recycles the ‘contiguity’ myth on World Service radio

Omission and imbalance in BBC report on ‘Bedouin village’

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MEDIA EMBRACE E1 FALSEHOODS  (CAMERA)

 

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BBC’s Bowen recycles the ‘contiguity’ myth on World Service radio

On the morning of September 13th the BBC’s Middle East editor, Jeremy Bowen, sent a context-free tweet to his 170,000 followers.

Later that day, Bowen was to be found reporting on the same story in the afternoon edition of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour‘. Presenter Razia Iqbal introduced the item (from 45:06 here) as follows: [emphasis in italics in the original]

Iqbal: “Israel now, and security forces have today dismantled several shacks built by Palestinian protesters near Khan al Ahmar – the Bedouin village in the occupied West Bank which Israel has targeted for demolition. The village houses around 180 Bedouin but has become a symbol of something bigger and many European countries have urged Israel to stop the demolition. I’ve been speaking to our Middle East editor Jeremy Bowen. I asked him first to map out the geography of this village.”

Neither Iqbal nor Bowen bothered to adequately clarify to listeners that the structures removed on the morning of September 13th had actually been placed there deliberately just days earlier by Palestinian activists on behalf of the Palestinian Authority and were not part of the encampment itself. 

Bowen commenced his report by failing to explain to listeners that what he described as “a road” is actually a major highway – Route 1.

Bowen: “There’s a road going down from Jerusalem – a steep road going downhill to the Dead Sea and to Jericho – and about a third of the way down that road, I suppose, there is this very small village Khan al Ahmar which is…it’s like a typical Bedouin settlement in that most of the dwellings there are shacks. And it’s just opposite an absolutely massive Jewish settlement called Ma’ale Adumim and so the argument being made by those on the Israeli side who say it’s got to go, they say that it’s unsafe, it’s in the wrong place, it shouldn’t be happening. People on the other side say they’re just trying to get rid of it so Israel can tighten its grip even further on that bit of territory.”

As can be seen on the UNOCHA produced map below, Khan al Ahmar is not located “just opposite” Ma’ale Adumim but further to the east and neither is it located in the area known as E1. Bowen did not bother to clarify to listeners that the location of the story is in Area C which, according to the Oslo Accords, is under Israeli control pending final status negotiations.

Nevertheless, Iqbal and Bowen went on to advance a false narrative about ‘contiguity’ that the BBC has been promoting for years.

Iqbal: “And that bit of territory, from the Palestinians’ perspective, is the idea from their point of view is that the Israelis want to cut off East Jerusalem from the West Bank, both of which the Palestinians seek for an independent state.”

Bowen: “Yeah. 1967 was when they captured East Jerusalem. Israel has built a string of settlements that essentially…ahm…ring East Jerusalem and separate it from the rest of the West Bank. Now there is one gap and the gap is quite a large area and this very small settlement is part of it. But Israel has a whole master plan for developing that particular gap – it’s an area known as E1 – and the argument the Israelis say for it is that this is their territory; that they need to develop their capital. And the argument against it is that if the Palestinians ever want a hope of some kind of contiguous state, then the fact that East Jerusalem – where there are many Palestinians – is ringed in by these settlements is going to make it next to impossible.”

Iqbal then went on to ask Bowen whether or not the Israeli Supreme Court had got its facts right.

Iqbal: “The Supreme Court rejected petitions to stop this from happening, siding with the authorities, and they said that the village was built without the required permits. That’s right, is it?”

Carefully avoiding inconvenient details of the story – such as the fact that the residents of Khan al Ahmar do not even claim to own the land on which they built illegal structures without planning permission – Bowen went on:

Bowen: “Yeah, it wasn’t built with permits and a lot of Palestinians build without permits because they can’t get permits. The whole planning process in Jerusalem and in the occupied territories – in East Jerusalem – is highly politicized. For Israel, once it was more about security but now I’d say it’s mostly about nation building and mostly about hanging on to territory. And planning reflects the wider needs of the state and they don’t encourage Palestinians to build, even though the Palestinian population is growing, and as a result of that Palestinians don’t get permits to build. They build anyway and then quite often those dwellings get knocked down.”

Iqbal: “This particular village, Khan al Ahmar, is a Bedouin village as you described. It affects just under 200 people but it’s symbolic of much more and that clearly has been recognised by European Union countries urging the Israeli government not to go ahead with the plan. Presumably that’s all going to fall on deaf ears.”

Obviously at that point it would have been appropriate for BBC audiences to have been told that the EU has also carried out illegal construction at that site and others in the vicinity. It would also have been helpful to listeners to know that under previous peace proposals, the area of E1 was set to remain under Israeli control.  

Bowen: “Well they’ve urged the Israelis many times not to expand their settlement activities in the occupied territories and it’s always fallen on deaf ears. The only voice that was ever listened to by successive Israeli governments was the American one and the American voice now under the Trump administration is really quite different. I think under Obama, and before that under previous administrations as well, moves to develop this area E1 were always strenuously objected to on the grounds that it makes the pursuit of peace even more difficult. Just recently the American ambassador to Israel – close ally of Donald Trump – said he doesn’t know why Israel needs to ask permission of the US before it builds. So that, I think, is another green light for Israel to go ahead and push as much as it wants. Having said that, they are aware of international opinion and they’re sensitive to it. But that doesn’t change – based on history – the objective.”

Iqbal: “Complicated story – unpacked expertly there by our Middle East editor Jeremy Bowen speaking to me from Jerusalem.”

Yes – despite Bowen’s faulty geography, his amplification of the ‘contiguity’ myth and his failure to provide BBC audiences with the full background to this story (not least the fact that related court cases have been going on for nine years and the residents of Khan al Ahmar have been offered free plots of land on which to build homes nearby) and notwithstanding his erasure of the politically motivated interventions by the Palestinian Authority and the EU in this case, BBC World Service listeners were told that they had just heard an ‘expert’ explanation.

Related Articles:

Omission and imbalance in BBC report on ‘Bedouin village’

THE LA TIMES, THE BEDOUIN OF KHAN AL AHMAR AND ‘THEIR LAND’  (CAMERA)

MEDIA EMBRACE E1 FALSEHOODS  (CAMERA) 

 

 

 

Context lacking, inaccuracies let slide in BBC WS coverage of PLO mission closure

Previously we saw how a BBC News website report on the US decision to close the PLO office in Washington DC failed to provide readers with an adequate explanation of both the legal background to that decision and the fact that the same Palestinian officials now protesting it have had nearly three years in which to study the requirements for keeping that mission open.

The September 10th evening edition of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour‘ closed with an item on the same story which was introduced by presenter Julian Marshall (from 45:05 here) with the following framing:

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

Marshall: “The Trump administration is piling the pressure on the Palestinians. It’s already ended bilateral funding and also funding to the UN agency which looks after Palestinian refugees. President Trump says they’re ungrateful and should return to the negotiating table with Israel. And today the US ordered the closure of the office of the Palestine Liberation Organisation in Washington. The US State Department said the Palestinians were refusing to engage with the US over peace efforts. US National Security Advisor John Bolton also touched on the topic in his speech excoriating the International Criminal Court. He said the US decision to close the mission in Washington was a result of the court’s insistence on investigating Israel for its actions in the West Bank and Gaza.”

In contrast to Marshall’s claim, the ICC’s preliminary investigations in fact came as a result of actions by the Palestinian Authority beginning in January 2015. Listeners then heard a recording of John Bolton speaking on the same day.

Recording Bolton: “The United States will always stand with our friend and ally Israel. And today, reflecting Congressional concerns with Palestinian attempts to prompt an ICC investigation of Israel, the Department of State will announce the closure of the Palestine Liberation Organisation office here in Washington DC and the Trump administration will not keep the office open when the Palestinians refuse to take steps to start direct and meaningful negotiations with Israel. The United States supports a direct and robust peace process and we will not allow the ICC or any other organisation to constrain Israel’s right to self-defence.”

Marshall: “So why is Mr Bolton conflating two issues: the ICC and the Palestinians? Our State Department correspondent again, Barbara Plett-Usher.

While it is obvious that Barbara Plett-Usher is aware of the history and legal background to this story, BBC World Service listeners did not hear a lucid explanation. Despite the BBC having itself reported on Palestinian petitions to the ICC – including as recently as in May – Plett-Usher disingenuously portrayed that topic as though it were a claim dreamed up by John Bolton.

Plett-Usher: “Well that’s because Congress conflated them. Congress put some conditions on the ability of the PLO to open an office in Washington, one of which was that the Palestinians could not be going after Israel in the ICC and you heard there Mr Bolton saying they were in fact trying to do that. But even then, even if the Palestinians had made such moves, the PLO office could still be allowed to operate here if the Palestinians were engaging in peace talks with the Israelis, which they are not. They’re boycotting the US attempts to revive negotiations because they see them as blatantly favouring the Israelis on core issues. But the administration used these two arguments, these two conditions put down by Congress, to close down the mission.”

Marshall: “And has this mission in Washington been useful for the Palestinians?”

Misrepresenting the title of the PLO envoy to Washington and giving a partisan interpretation of the Oslo Accords Declaration of Principles, Plett-Usher replied:

Plett-Usher: “I think it’s been more useful at some times than at others but by and large what it was, it was set up after the Oslo Accords were negotiated in ’93-’94 and this was the sort of point man point in Washington to liaise with the US administration on efforts to implement those accords which of course were supposed to result in a Palestinian state and never did. More recently the diplomats here have engaged in direct outreach to Americans – to churches, civil organisations, students and the like – trying to build support for the Palestinians, to take advantage of a decrease in support for the Israeli government policies among Americans but also including American Jews. In fact the PLO ambassador claims that that was one reason they were shut down.”

Plett-Usher refrained from mentioning reports that the PLO mission in Washington had been funding campus activity of the anti-Israel BDS campaign in the US.

Marshall then went on to introduce his second contributor, failing to clarify to listeners that Hanan Ashrawi is a member of the PLO’s executive committee.

Marshall: “[…] and earlier I spoke to Hanan Ashrawi, a senior Palestinian legislator and former negotiator. What’s her reaction to Mr Bolton’s remarks?”

[48:23] Ashrawi: “This is not an act that happened in isolation. It’s part of a concerted American assault on Palestinian rights, on the chances of peace [laughs] and on any semblance of justice, on legality and solving the Palestinian-Israeli issue. And it seems to me the US is certainly doing Israel’s bidding and is trying to resolve all issues by bashing the Palestinians, by punishing the Palestinians – who are already under occupation – and by rewarding Israel and granting it full immunity to act outside the law with full impunity.”

Marshall: “The United States says it’s doing this because the Palestinians are not supporting peace talks with Israel.”

Ashrawi: [laughs] That’s extremely ironic. There are no talks. There are no plans. There is no negotiating table to invite us back to: the US has smashed it into smithereens. It has decided unilaterally to give away Jerusalem to Israel which is illegal because Jerusalem is occupied territory – it is Palestinian land. It has decided single-handedly to redefine Palestinian refugees and to stop funding UNRWA which is an international organisation specifically set up to serve and protect the Palestinian refugees. It has unilaterally decided that the settlements are not illegal, that it doesn’t want the ’67 boundaries or the two-state solution. So what does it want? Right now it is busy telling the Palestinians if you do not surrender to our dictates, if you do not accept all these steps then you are going to be punished again and Israel is rewarded. So it’s extremely ironic. It’s really disingenuous to talk about peace. Actually now we are being punished because we dared ask the International Criminal Court to speed up its investigation of Israeli war crimes and as you know, settlements are a war crime by international definition according to the Rome Statute.”

Making no effort whatsoever to challenge Ashrawi’s egregious portrayal of Jerusalem as “Palestinian land”, her “war crimes” smear or her partisan interpretation of Article 8 of the Rome Statute, Marshall changed the subject.

Marshall: “Do you have any idea what the US peace plan is? Because the Trump administration says that the Palestinian leadership has condemned that plan that they haven’t even seen [Ashrawi laughs] and refused to engage the US government with respect to peace efforts in other words.”

Ashrawi: “Yes of course we refuse because we don’t need to talk about a plan; they’re implementing it. I mean anybody who has any sense – any sight – would see that the US is busy dismantling every single component or requirement of peace. These issues are very clear. So it’s not that we [laughs] are not talking peace. We have been talking peace for decades and we’ve negotiated with numerous American administrations. It’s this one that has…I think it has lost its mind. I think in this mad, hysterical defence of Israel, they just don’t make sense. They have lost their balance and it’s really serious because they’re creating a situation of tremendous volatility.”

Marshall: “How do the Palestinians now though gain their independent state? You’ve rejected the United States as a mediator; you’re not prepared at the moment to sit down with Israel. How do you achieve your political objectives?”

Ashrawi: “Well the president Mahmoud Abbas last year declared or announced an initiative about convening an international conference about the requirements of peace. There is a plan but obviously when the US has taken sides so blatantly and I think now it’s up to the international community that has to take up its responsibility to protect the Palestinians and to hold Israel to account and now to hold the US to account.”

Failing to inform listeners that Abbas’ ‘international conference’ was supposed to have taken place “by mid-2018“, Marshall closed the item there, once again neglecting to clarify Ashrawi’s PLO links.

As we see, once again BBC audiences were not given an adequate account of the legislative background crucial to proper understanding of the US decision to close the PLO mission in Washington. They did, however, hear Hanan Ashrawi’s political talking points, inaccuracies and distortions go completely unchallenged for four straight minutes in this one-sided presentation of the story.

Related Articles:

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BBC WS listeners get more unchallenged UNRWA narrative

The September 1st afternoon edition of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour‘ included an item nearly thirteen minutes long on the topic of the previous day’s US State Department announcement concerning its intention to cease contributions to UNRWA.

Presenter Lyse Doucet introduced the item (from 30:06 here): [emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]

Doucet: “The UN’s agency for Palestinian refugees – known by its acronym UNRWA – has lurched for many years from one financial crisis to the next. But now the agency supporting some 5 million Palestinians faces its greatest test. Palestinian officials as well as the UN are criticising a decision by its biggest donor the US to withdraw all funding. Israel welcomes the move saying UNRWA keeps Palestinian hopes alive of returning to their homes which now lie in Israel proper.”

Obviously uninformed listeners would not understand from that portrayal by Doucet that at most only a tiny proportion of those 5 million people could actually claim to have had “homes” over seventy years ago in what is now Israel.

Doucet first brought in the BBC Jerusalem bureau’s Yolande Knell who noted that pupils in UNRWA schools had begun the school year, citing “526,000 pupils across the Middle East”, “711 schools” and “270,000 students” in the Gaza Strip.

Listeners then heard a reference to an aspect of the story rarely discussed by the BBC: that of UNRWA as an employer of Palestinians.

Doucet: “So and it’s not just schools; it’s also health facilities. I mean in effect entire families they depend on this for their sole source of income?”

Knell: “That’s right; of course UNRWA is also a major employer. 22,000 teachers in those schools that I’ve just mentioned. If you go to Palestinian refugee camps you will find that there are also clinics run by UNRWA that is providing many of the services such as rubbish collection.”

Knell went on to mention a story from July not previously covered by the BBC.

Knell: “…already we’ve seen protests, particularly in Gaza in recent weeks – a sit-in at the UNRWA headquarters there – as the first rafts of cuts have hit and about a thousand people were told that they were going to have their contracts ended.”

Doucet then introduced her second contributor.

Doucet: “But we do know that there are urgent meetings going on in the region including the Arab capitals…where millions of Palestinian refugees rely on UN support. And we reached UNRWA’s spokesperson Chris Gunness just as he was boarding a plane in the Jordanian capital Amman.”

BBC World Service audiences then heard Chris Gunness repeat talking points he used back in January when the US administration announced a cut to its UNRWA contribution. They also heard Gunness claim that his clients – rather than Yazidi, Syrian or Yemeni refugees living in temporary shelters – are “some of the most marginalized and fragile and vulnerable communities in the Middle East” with no challenge from Lyse Doucet.

[33:25] Gunness: “The impact will be absolutely devastating. It’s likely to be widespread, profound, dramatic and unpredictable because – let’s make no mistake – some of the most marginalized and fragile and vulnerable communities in the Middle East are going to likely suffer because of this. 562,000 schoolchildren receiving an UNRWA education every day. 1.7 million food insecure people. 3.5 [sic] patients coming to our clinics every day. We do assistance to disabled refugees, to women, to vulnerable children. The list goes on and as I say, the impact on them is likely to be utterly devastating.”

Doucet then asked Gunness “but what is your reply to the critics?” before playing part of an interview with Dr Jonathan Schanzer of the FDD heard in another BBC radio programme.

Schanzer: “This was a decision that was long time coming. For several years now we’ve been hearing about calls for reform within UNRWA. UNRWA has been slow to respond to the allegations that, for example, it has allowed Hamas to exploit some of its operations, that it has inflated the number of refugees making it virtually impossible for the Israelis and Palestinians to reach peace and that their budget has been over-inflated. Amidst these calls, UNRWA has dragged its feet and now the Trump administration, which is looking for really any excuse to cut budget, has found a new target.”

[34:52] Gunness: “Well it’s very interesting that just a few months ago the US administration was praising the high performance of UNRWA. They expressed praise for our reforms; we’ve been doing root and branch efficiency reforms – that was just a few months ago.”

If that sounds familiar it is because BBC audiences heard Gunness say the exact same thing in January:

“As far as reform is concerned, UNRWA has always been open to reform and the United States, most recently to our commissioner-general on a visit to Washington in November, was fulsome in its praise of UNRWA and its reforms.”

As noted here at the time:

“Despite the rosy picture painted by Gunness, past US donations to UNRWA have not come without conditions and criticism.”

Gunness went on:

Gunness: “On the specific allegations, whenever there’ve been accusations for example about militants leaving weapons in our schools or weapons components in our schools in Gaza, we were the first to come out and condemn and call for an investigation, which we did. When Hamas built tunnels under our schools we discovered them. We condemned it. So that allegation I reject absolutely.”

Having seen no BBC coverage of that latter story and others, listeners would of course be unaware of additional UNRWA related issues.

Gunness then repeated another previously made claim:

Gunness: “On the question of refugee numbers, the General Assembly have endorsed our methodology that we…err…confer refugee status through the generations exactly as the UN’s other refugee agency UNHCR does and the General Assembly has, as I say, approved this. If any single member state wants to try and bring that case, that accusation, to the General Assembly they’re very welcome to do that but our mandate remains. It cannot be changed unilaterally by a member state and, you know, as I say we’ve got the mandate. What happens now is we have less money to implement it but the mandate remains the same despite this decision by the Trump administration and we will do everything we can to implement it.”

Speaking to the BBC World Service in January, Gunness claimed that:

Gunness: “The reason why UNRWA’s budget runs out when it does is because the number of refugees we serve goes up and up and up because without a political resolution of their plight, their children remain refugees and that is the case with UNHCR refugees and other refugee populations around the world.”

As was pointed out here at the time:

“Unlike its sister agency, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), which is responsible for millions of non-Palestinian refugees worldwide, it [UNRWA] does not have an active program for “local integration” of refugees where they now reside nor “resettlement” in third countries.”

And:

“UNHCR confers derivative refugee status on the basis of family unity where there is a relationship of dependency. “As a matter of general practice, UNHCR does not promote the reunification of … grandchildren… unless they can be determined to be eligible under the principle of dependency.” This can mean financial dependency, “but also taking emotional dependency into consideration.” […]

It is true that, UNHCR’s basic standard is the nuclear family and that subsequent generations are given derivative refugee status only on an exceptional basis while UNRWA automatically grants grandchildren and great-grandchildren refugee status. But UNRWA defenders such as Gunness can argue that the two agencies are guided by the same basic principles.”

Once again a BBC WS presenter failed to challenge Gunness’ intentionally misleading presentation of that issue or to raise the relevant issue of ‘refugees’ that hold Jordanian or Palestinian citizenship. Doucet also refrained from questioning Gunness about the discrepancy between the number of registered refugees and actual refugees in Lebanon which came to light last year and an UNRWA official’s related claim that UNRWA’s figures do not necessarily reflect “deaths or relocation”.

Doucet next asked Gunness about alternative sources of funding and then went on to put a political slant on the story while ignoring the fact that when the US made its previous announcement concerning UNRWA donations in January, it specifically urged other nations to “step in and do their part“. 

[36:58] Doucet: “It’s clear that Israel and also the new US administration wants to take the issue of refugees off the negotiating table. They want to look at the so-called peace process in a different way. Do you believe that you’re a victim of that?”

Gunness took that cue to deflect criticism of UNRWA and proceeded to provide an example of why many consider UNRWA to be a political lobbying body.

Gunness: “Certainly it feels as if, given the praise for our reforms, that there are other forces at work. But let’s be very clear: you cannot airbrush out of the equation 5.4 million people. These are individuals with rights, including the right to self-determination, to a just and durable solution and whatever else must happen, if there is to be a peace dispensation it must be based on international law, it must be based on UN resolutions and of course the refugees themselves must be consulted. As I say, they cannot simply be airbrushed out of history. These are people who’ve been a UN protected population for 70 years and we have a continuing obligation towards them.”

Doucet went on to ask Gunness about “the mood” in Amman where, she pointed out, there are “so many refugees…dependent on UNRWA funding” but without clarifying that the vast majority of them are Jordanian citizens. After Gunness had spoken of “real alarm”, “panic and alarm” and “dramatic and unpredictable consequences”, Doucet further pursued her point.

Doucet: “Jordanian officials are even warning that this could be explosive. There could be security consequences.”

After Gunness had spoken of “the consequences of having 2 million angry, ill-educated, hungry people in Gaza on the doorstep of Israel”, Doucet closed that conversation and re-introduced Yolande Knell and the theme of a link between the US decision to stop contributions to UNRWA and “what’s happening in the peace process”. Knell took up the baton, promoting Palestinian messaging on that topic.

At 41:36 Doucet brought up a topic rarely discussed in BBC content.

Doucet: “What about the criticism that neighbouring Arab states, you know, keep the Palestinians generation after generation as refugees, denying them rights, as a political bargaining chip with Israel?”

Failing to mention the Arab League decision of 1959 designed to do exactly that, Knell responded:

Knell: “Well it depends on the different countries. There has been the different response to the Palestinian refugee issue. Certainly Jordan would point out that it has given citizenship to many of those Palestinian refugees but those in Syria and in Lebanon, it’s important to remember, they are still considered to be stateless. They are kept as refugees and the governments of those countries have said that it would be against the Palestinian interests, against the interests of their nationalist struggle if they were to be absorbed as citizens in those countries. This is an extremely sensitive issue for Palestinians and there are lots of Palestinian people that have lived their life in limbo from one generation to the next. They have very much kept alive this hope of returning back to land which now is inside Israel – something which both Israel and the United States say is unrealistic but which the different parties including the Palestinians say can only be solved through negotiations; not by just taking an issue off the table.”

With no mention made of the real motivation behind promotion of the ‘right of return’ issue, Doucet brought what she described as “a very sensitive, a very crucial story” to a close.

As we see BBC World Service audiences heard unchallenged UNRWA messaging together with promotion of Palestinian talking points in a long item which once again did little to contribute to their understanding of the background to this story.

Related Articles:

Unravelling years of BBC statistics on Palestinian refugees in Lebanon

An eleven minute BBC WS report on UNRWA funding – part two

As we saw in part one of this post the August 30th afternoon edition of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour‘ led with a very long item described in the synopsis as follows:

“Jordan’s foreign minister has warned that cuts to the funding of the UN agency for Palestinian refugees, UNRWA, could be “extremely destabilising”. Ayman Safadi reacted to reports that the United States had decided to cut all funding it gives to UNRWA. The US had already announced a big reduction of contributions earlier this year.”

Following an introduction by presenter Julian Marshall and a report from the BBC Jerusalem bureau’s Yolande Knell, Marshall introduced his interviewee (from 04:13 here).

Marshall: “And the head of UNRWA has today been visiting Jordan – home to 2 million Palestinian refugees – where he’s been having talks with the Jordanian foreign minister Ayman Safadi and after that meeting we spoke to Mr Safadi. I asked him first what are his thoughts on UNRWA’s funding crisis.”

Readers may recall that back in May Yolande Knell also interviewed a Jordanian minister on the same topic. Then as now, no effort was made to explain to BBC audiences how that country’s decision to attack the nascent Jewish state in 1948 contributed to the creation of the Palestinian refugee situation.

From 04:31 listeners heard (on a bad phone line) Ayman Safadi claim that UNRWA’s budget deficit “is threatening its ability to continue to offer vital services to over 5 million Palestinian refugees in its 5 areas of operation” and that “failing UNRWA would ultimately translate into depriving 560 million [sic] Palestinian kids from their right to education, millions other from very, very important services that UNRWA provides in terms of health services and other emergency services”.

[05:28] Marshall: “And would you hope that other states will come forward to make up the shortfall?”

Safadi mentioned his country’s role in “putting together the Rome conference” and resulting and subsequent contributions from other countries before claiming that:

Safadi: “It’s not only in terms of financial responsiveness […] but also the political message is that UNRWA is linked to the refugees issue and I think this support we’re seeing translates [into] political support that UNRWA should continue to fulfil its mandate and that the refugees [issue] is a final status issue that should be addressed on the basis of UN resolution.”

Choosing not to expand on the issue of the exploitation of refugees for political leverage, Marshall changed the subject:

Marshall: “Why do you think the United States is doing this?”

Having stated that “we have recognised the logic of the argument the US has made about burden sharing”, Safadi went on to say:

Safadi: “In Jordan we have 122,000 kids that go to UNRWA schools. The pressure therefore is enormous.”

Marshall could at that point have enlightened listeners by asking Safadi why UNRWA is providing services to nearly 2 million people who hold Jordanian citizenship but instead he continued to pursue his previous line of questioning.

[08:44] Marshall: “Ahm…you said that you accepted the US logic about the need for more burden sharing and yet President Trump has made it quite clear in public statements and Tweets that he thinks that the Palestinians are ungrateful and he’s hoping that this might push them back towards the negotiating table.”

Safadi’s response to that question included:

[09:07] Safadi: “There is a humanitarian dimension to UNRWA that cannot be ignored and there’s also a political dimension that also must be emphasised because given the stalemate of the peace process, given the loss of hope, given the despair that has developed as a result of failure to get any traction [on] peace efforts, I think we need to be careful what message we send to the people. To make sure that we send a message of hope, that their livelihoods, their rights, are not forgotten and [unintelligible] to receive due attention by the international community.”

Once again Marshall chose to sidestep the issue of refugees deliberately kept in that status for political reasons. Apparently referring to reports from earlier in the month, he went on to ask:

[10:04] Marshall: “Has the United States discussed with Jordan at all the possibility of giving the money directly, that it might otherwise given [sic] to UNRWA, to you the Jordanian government to help with your 2 million Palestinian refugees?”

Safadi: “That’s a non-starter for us. That’s an issue that we will never accept again because…”

Marshall: “But has…has the United States proposed it?”

Safadi: “Some ideas have been floated and our answer was – it was probably the shortest conversation – such discussions the answer is no. We cannot do that. That will be a destabilizing factor because that will give the message that the right of refugees are being compromised so that’s something that we will not accept. It is not the right thing to do because it can only destabilise people. It will only send the wrong message about where we’re going. Palestinian refugees are under a UN mandate. That mandate has to continue until the refugees issues is dealt with as a final status issue – again, in accordance with the resolution. Jordan will never step in to shoulder the responsibilities UNRWA is shouldering. That said, I need to just state that over and above the services that UNRWA delivers in Jordan, Jordan is the largest contributor to Palestinian refugees. Our budget, our government budget, includes about $1.7 million that we spend on supporting services to Palestinian refugees in Jordan.”

Safadi repeated his “not the right thing to do” and “destabilising” themes yet again before Marshall closed the interview there – choosing once again to sidestep the important question of why UNRWA – financed as it is by donations sourced from tax-payers in other countries – should have to provide services for some 2 million people who – remarkably – audiences were not informed throughout this whole 11 minute long item are actually Jordanian citizens.

This interview with a senior minister from a country where some 40% of UNRWA clients live could obviously have been employed to provide BBC audiences with much-needed enhancement of understanding of the background to the ‘UNRWA in financial crisis’ story that the BBC has been reporting since January. Unsurprisingly given the corporation’s record on this story, once again that opportunity was passed up.

Related Articles:

An eleven minute BBC WS report on UNRWA funding – part one

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

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

BBC News report on US aid cut excludes relevant context

BBC’s special report on Palestinian refugees avoids the real issues

 

 

 

 

An eleven minute BBC WS report on UNRWA funding – part one

The day before the US State Department announced its intention to cease contributions to UNRWA, the August 30th afternoon edition of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour‘ led with a very long item described in the synopsis as follows:

“Jordan’s foreign minister has warned that cuts to the funding of the UN agency for Palestinian refugees, UNRWA, could be “extremely destabilising”. Ayman Safadi reacted to reports that the United States had decided to cut all funding it gives to UNRWA. The US had already announced a big reduction of contributions earlier this year.”

The item began with an introduction (from 00:54 here) from presenter Julian Marshall. [emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]

Marshall: “But we begin in the Middle East where the UN agency known as UNRWA which provides services to about 5 million Palestinian refugees now faces a funding crisis as a result of American cuts. In January this year the United States, which provides around a quarter of UNRWA’s budget, announced that it would be cutting its contribution to 60 million from 350 million. This is what President Trump said at the time at the Davos Economic Forum.”

Recording Trump: “When they disrespected us a week ago by not allowing our great vice-president to see them and we give them hundreds of millions of dollars in aid and support; tremendous numbers – numbers that nobody understands. That money’s on the table. That money’s not going to them unless they sit down and negotiate peace.”

Marshall: “And this week it was being reported that the United States had decided to cut funding to UNRWA altogether as the Trump administration announced it would also be ending the $200 million a year it gives to the Palestinian Authority. Well this squeeze on the Palestinians seems to be part of a broader strategy by the United States to try to shape any future peace settlement between Israel and the Palestinians. Washington has already relocated its embassy in Israel to Jerusalem while America’s UN ambassador Nikki Haley told a conference in the US this week that the right of Palestinians to return to Israel should be reviewed. Let’s speak first to the BBC’s Yolande Knell in Jerusalem. And Yolande; how is the money dispersed by UNRWA spent?”

[02:41] Knell: “Well it provides a lot of services to the 5 million people who are registered as refugees – Palestinian refugees – all around the Middle East. It provides to them schooling; there are 711 UNRWA schools, 526,000 pupils, just to give you a sense of the scale. It also provides healthcare, clinics in many of the refugee camps…ahm…places like Gaza, people really rely on those. There are 8 refugee camps in Gaza. Many of the 1.3 million refugees there also receive food aid from UNRWA.”

Marshall: “And the money that the United States gives bilaterally to the Palestinian Authority – do we know how that’s spent?”

Knell apparently does not know “how that’s spent” because she failed to answer that question and quickly changed the subject back to UNRWA.

Knell: “We’re not given a complete breakdown on how the funds are spent but we know that really since the beginning of the year there’s been this huge budget deficit for UNRWA and the announcement that came through just a couple of weeks ago is that it had received about $238 million in additional contributions. It’s been running a campaign called ‘Dignity is Priceless’. It’s had a lot of pledges from Arab states in particular. At the moment the agency is still short of 200 million it says but it was in doubt about whether the UNRWA schools which operate around the Middle East would be able to open for the start of the new term but yesterday and in the coming days we’re seeing those schools opening again. But UNRWA’s saying that it would be forced to close them again in a month if it doesn’t find additional new funding.”

Marshall: “Yolande, many thanks. The BBC’s Yolande Knell in Jerusalem.

As has been documented here, the BBC has lent its weight to that UNRWA funding campaign in recent months – for example:

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

As has also been documented here, since the story concerning US donations to UNRWA broke in January, none of the BBC’s related reports have provided its audience with any in-depth examination of the agency’s purpose, its agenda, its record or its efficiency.

BBC audiences have been told countless times that there are over 5 million Palestinian refugees – but not why their number has increased rather than fallen during the last 70 years or why in all that time they have not been integrated in host Arab countries.  

BBC audiences have likewise been repeatedly informed that UNRWA provides education and health services to Palestinian refugees but they have not been told why people who live under the rule of fellow Palestinians in the Gaza Strip or the PA controlled areas do not get those services from the governments to which they pay taxes or why, 70 years on, there are still ‘refugee camps’ in those locations.

As we see above, neither Julian Marshall nor Yolande Knell made any attempt in this item to enhance their listeners’ understanding of this story beyond UNRWA’s talking points.

In part two of this post we will see whether or not Julian Marshall posed the Jordanian foreign minister any questions which would help enhance audience understanding of the fact that the majority of just over 2 million people registered as Palestinian refugees who live in Jordan hold Jordanian citizenship and yet still get services from the UN agency.

Related Articles:

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

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

BBC News report on US aid cut excludes relevant context

BBC’s special report on Palestinian refugees avoids the real issues

BBC WS radio’s Newshour invents an Israeli ‘ban’

Listeners to the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour‘ on September 2nd heard presenter James Coomarasamy introduce an item (from 18:56 here) as follows:

Coomarasamy: “When a classical music radio station plays the music of Richard Wagner it’s not usually a problem – unless, that is, the radio station is in Israel where Wagner’s music is banned from broadcast or being played in public because of the composer’s links to Adolf Hitler and the Nazi party. On Friday night a programme on Israel public radio broke that boycott, playing part of Wagner’s Goetterdaemmerung opera and the complaints inevitably flooded in. Israel public radio has now apologised and said that it won’t happen again.” [emphasis added]

That highlighted claim from Coomarasamy is inaccurate: there is no ‘ban’ on playing Wagner’s music in public in Israel.

In 1938 the Palestinian Symphonic Orchestra (which later became the Israel Philharmonic) decided to exclude Wagner’s works from its repertoire following the Kristallnacht pogroms. That evolved into a long-standing and broad consensus that public performances of the composer’s music would offend many members of the public – especially Holocaust survivors – and so radio stations and orchestras generally refrain from playing Wagner’s works.

In the rest of the programme’s coverage of that story listeners heard one perspective: that of the founder (in 2010) of a group called the ‘Israel Wagner Society’.

The same Jonathan Livny was quoted in a BBC News website report on the same story which appeared on September 3rd under the headline “Israel public radio apologises for playing Richard Wagner music“. That article, however, managed to present the story to audiences accurately:

“In its apology, the broadcaster said the editor had erred in his “artistic choice” and Wagner would not be played.

The Israeli Public Broadcasting Corporation added that it recognised the pain such a broadcast would cause among Holocaust survivors. […]

Wagner’s music is not banned in Israel but is not played due to widespread public opposition.”

Oddly, the same minor domestic Israeli story was also featured (from 2:06:33 here) in a news bulletin aired in the September 3rd edition of BBC Radio 4’s ‘Today’ programme. In contrast to the BBC World Service, reporter Steve Jackson managed to accurately describe a “long-standing convention that his [Wagner’s] music is not played in Israel”.

Breaches of the BBC Academy ‘style guide’ continue

As we have had cause to note on several occasions in recent months, the BBC Academy’s “journalists’ guide to facts and terminology” (published in the wake of the 2006 Thomas Report on the impartiality of BBC coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict) states:

“There is no independent state of Palestine today, although the stated goal of the peace process is to establish a state of Palestine alongside a state of Israel.

In November 2012 the PLO secured a vote at the UN General Assembly, upgrading its previous status as an “entity” so that the UN now recognises the territories as “non-member observer state”.

The change allows the Palestinians to participate in UN General Assembly debates. It also improves the Palestinians’ chances of joining UN agencies.

But the UN vote has not created a state of Palestine (rather, it failed in its bid to join the UN as a full member state in 2011 because of a lack of support in the Security Council).

So, in day-to-day coverage of the Middle East you should not affix the name ‘Palestine’ to Gaza or the West Bank – rather, it is still an aspiration or an historical entity.

But clearly BBC journalists should reflect the changed circumstances when reporting on the UN itself and at the Olympics, where the International Olympics Committee recognises Palestine as a competing nation.

Best practice is to use the term Palestine firmly and only in the context of the organisation in which it is applicable, just as the BBC did at the Olympics – for example: “At the UN, representatives of Palestine, which has non-member observer status…”” [emphasis added]

Over the past few months BBC audiences have heard both contributors and BBC journalists refer to ‘Palestine’ with increasing frequency – for example:

BBC amends style-guide breach in R4 synopsis

Hamas ‘Hardtalk’ interview rebuts BBC messaging, perpetuates inaccuracies – part one

BBC R4 FOOC report on Palestinian music promotes one-sided politics

Inaccuracy, omission and oddity in a BBC Radio Ulster item on Israel – part two

BBC R4 airs partisan portrayal of Jenin masked as ‘entertainment’

Another example of BBC journalists ignoring their own corporation’s definition of best practice was heard in the August 20th edition of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour‘ when, during an item concerning the death of Uri Avnery (from 38:15 here), presenter Paul Henley asked his Israeli interviewee:

Henley: “Do you think he was disappointed that his vision for peace between Israel and Palestine was not achieved in his lifetime?”

As the BBC Academy rightly notes, “[t]here is no independent state of Palestine today, although the stated goal of the peace process is to establish a state of Palestine alongside a state of Israel”.

Nevertheless, BBC journalists continue to refer to a non-existent state – paradoxically even while discussing the failure of the process which has to date not brought it into being.  

Superficial BBC WS reporting on Gaza truce discussions

The August 17th afternoon edition of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour‘ included an item (from 48:46 here) which was introduced by presenter Rebecca Kesby using the standard sanitised BBC portrayal of the ‘Great Return March‘ violent rioting and with the firing of hundreds of rockets and mortars at Israeli civilians by terror factions erased from audience view.

Kesby: “Egypt has taken on a big task, apparently organising and implementing a truce deal between Israel and Hamas in the Gaza Strip. The agreement is reportedly aimed at calming weeks of border clashes between the Gaza Strip and Israel and is planned ahead of the Muslim Adha feast which starts next week.”

On the same day, however, Israeli media outlets reported that Hamas officials had stated that no agreement would be reached before Eid al Adha.

“A member of the Hamas terror group’s political bureau said Friday that internal Palestinian talks on a long-term ceasefire agreement with Israel were put on pause until the conclusion of a Muslim holiday later this month.

“Today we finished a round of consultations in Cairo with the Palestinian factions regarding the calm [ceasefire deal] and the reconciliation” between Hamas and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah party, Izzat al-Rishq wrote on his Twitter account, according to Channel 10 news.

“We made clear that we insist that all steps be in a national framework. We presented our vision regarding the calm and we heard ideas and comments from the brothers in the factions,” added al-Rishq, one of the Gaza-based terror group’s top leaders abroad.

“God willing the efforts will renew after the holiday” of Eid al-Adha, a Muslim feast that begins on Tuesday and lasts until the end of next week.”

Kesby then went on to introduce Anshel Pfeffer of Ha’aretz and BBC audiences were told that the potential truce includes several factors.

Pfeffer: “The main component of the deal – which is an unofficial understanding, not a written treaty that either side is signing – is that Hamas is committed to a complete ceasefire.”

Listeners were not told that Hamas’ interpretation of “a complete ceasefire” does not – as the Times of Israel explains – in fact include what Kesby euphemistically described as “border clashes” in her introduction.

“Hamas does not view the ongoing “popular protests” along the border, or the kite and balloon arson attacks that have burned over 7,000 acres of southern Israeli land, as a violation of any such agreement. As far as Hamas is concerned, those attacks are part of the popular Palestinian struggle against Israel. If Hamas does reach a long-term ceasefire deal with Israel, the terror group insists it will be obligated to cease rocket and mortar fire, but nothing more. […]

Conversely, Hamas says it will not agree to such a truce unless Israel stops bombings its facilities in the Gaza Strip, which have caused considerable damage to its infrastructure in recent weeks. […]

Israel has carried out such strikes in response to arson attacks and particularly egregious violence at the protests, and is unlikely to accept an arrangement in which it would agree to halt such responses while Gazans remain free to riot and burn Israeli farmland.”

Pfeffer went on:

Pfeffer: “The next elements are that both Israel and Egypt will reopen the crossings into Gaza, both for people coming in and out – that’s the Egyptian crossing at Rafah – and for cargo which goes in from the Israeli side at the Kerem Shalom crossing. Another component is that the fishermen of Gaza will be able to put out to sea to a much wider area and what is perhaps most problematic – and that’s something which is going to be in the future – opening further negotiations through the Egyptians on prisoner exchanges and the larger plan of infrastructure building in Gaza.”

While BBC audiences have in the past heard plenty about border crossings, fishing zones and infrastructure in the Gaza Strip, listeners may well have been confused by the reference to “prisoner exchanges” because – as noted here previously – the corporation has produced no reporting concerning the Israeli civilians held by Hamas in the three years that their imprisonment has been publicly known.

Later on Pfeffer mentioned the Palestinian Authority “who don’t really like to see all this happening without them being involved” but listeners were not told that the day before this report was aired, Mahmoud Abbas had refused to meet the Egyptian intelligence chief to discuss the issue.

Kesby then came up with a totally irrelevant question:

Kesby: “Yeah, you mention Mahmoud Abbas and Fatah. We don’t think they’ve been part of these talks at all, do we? And that may not be the only stumbling block: will all this get through the Israeli parliament?

Pfeffer: “Well the parliament doesn’t have to vote on it. It’s not a formal peace treaty; it’s just a ceasefire agreement.”

Pfeffer went on to say that most Israeli cabinet ministers “have agreed in principle to the plan” and that “the real stumbling blocks” are “some minority within Hamas leadership who are reported to be against” before stating that this is the test which will determine the chances of “something more comprehensive” that will “allow people in Gaza to finally begin enjoying a better level of infrastructure and some kind of freedom of movement in and out of the Gaza Strip.”

As we see, BBC World Service listeners were given inaccurate information about the timing of this potential truce and misled with regard to its terms. Audiences heard nothing about the Palestinian Authority’s stance which would enhance their understanding of factors liable to prevent any significant agreement from coming about, including the fact that PA officials have said that “if any deal were reached, the Ramallah government would stop all financial assistance it provides to the Strip”. And once again, the subject of Israeli civilians held prisoner by Hamas was ignored by the BBC.

Related Articles:

The glaring omission in the BBC’s portrayal of Gaza truce negotiations

 

 

 

BBC News website audiences misled by recycled delayed mail story

h/t Tomer Ilan

As was noted here last year when the BBC began working with the AFP news agency:

“…unlike many other media outlets that use agency produced material, the BBC does not usually inform its audiences at the top of an article that the content was provided by an agency. Audiences hence have no way of knowing whether the information they receive does in fact come from the ‘trusted‘ BBC or from agencies which do not necessarily adhere to the corporation’s editorial guidelines.”

On August 14th AFP published a report by Hossam Ezzedine about delayed post addressed to people living in Palestinian Authority controlled areas. That report was picked up by numerous other media outlets including the BBC which, on August 15th, published an article headlined “Palestinian mail blocked by Israel arrives eight years late” on the BBC News website’s Middle East page.

The only indication that the story was sourced from an agency came in two indirect quotes from AFP:

“An official told AFP it would take another two weeks to sort and deliver.”

“The Israeli military’s Co-ordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (Cogat) told AFP that an agreement was in the works but gave no further details.”

BBC audiences were told that:

“Packages, letters and even a wheelchair intended for Palestinians have arrived in the occupied West Bank after Israel released years of undelivered mail.

The post, which includes internet orders that never arrived, had been held in Jordan since 2010 and was released under a one-time agreement.”

The explanation for the delay given to BBC audiences is as follows:

“Ramadan Ghazawi, who works at the post office in Jericho, said the items appeared to have been blocked on security or administrative grounds. 

Israel controls entry to the West Bank via the border with Jordan.

In a statement issued on Tuesday, Palestinian Authority Communications Minister Allam Moussa accused Israel of having failed to implement a memorandum of understanding signed in 2016 that would have allowed international mail to enter the Palestinian Territories without first going through the Israeli postal service.

The Israeli military’s Co-ordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (Cogat) told AFP that an agreement was in the works but gave no further details.”

So what is the real background to this story?

The 1995 Interim Agreement between Israel and the PLO includes clauses relating to postal services. However, Arab countries which do not recognise Israel refuse to send postal items to areas under the control of the Palestinian Authority via the Israel Postal Authority. In 2009 steps were taken to try to solve that problem.

“The [Israeli] Communications Ministry and the corresponding PA bureau are reportedly close to finalizing an agreement which would allow the Palestinians to receive mail from other Arab countries.

 Arab nations will not use the Israel Postal Service, which currently supplies the PA with international mail services. Israel is interested in signing the agreement in order to ease communications between Palestinian and their families abroad. […]

Yigal Levi, the Communications Ministry’s director of postal services, met with his Palestinian counterpart Mahmood Diwan several days ago and the two agreed to form a joint committee aimed at finding a solution which would allow the Palestinian Authority to use Jordanian postal services.”

In September 2016 a memorandum of understanding was signed.

“Until now, Israeli conducted global postal affairs for the Palestinians, including financial transactions. Mail would come first to Israel, which then transferred it to local Palestinian post offices in the West Bank and Gaza.

That system changed on Sunday, when the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT) and PA Minister for Civil Affairs Hussein al-Sheikh signed a memorandum of understanding to give the Palestinians postal rights. […]

“The MOU is designed to gradually regulate direct transfer of mail from around the world to the Palestinian Authority through Jordan via the Allenby Bridge,” COGAT said.”

As Ha’aretz reported, work on that issue continues.

““About a year ago, an in-principle agreement was signed between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. The memorandum of understanding has not yet resulted in a direct transfer, and the subject is in the advanced stages of being worked through. There is therefore no direct mail transfer at this time,” COGAT said in a statement.

“However, as a gesture, and in a step that went beyond the letter of the law, COGAT, with the assistance of the Ministry of Communications and the Customs Authority, allowed a one-time transfer of approximately ten and a half tons of mail that had been held in Jordan,” the statement concluded.

Hussein Sawafta, director of the Palestinian postal service, said that Israel held up the mail because it was not properly addressed to the Israeli postal service. Sawafta said the mail was released last week and workers are now sorting through mounds of letters and packages.” [emphasis added]

As we see, readers were by no means provided with the full background to this story (not least the relevant issue of the refusal by Arab countries to use the existing system) and the BBC’s report amplified inaccurate claims from Palestinian Authority Communications Minister regarding the 2016 memorandum of understanding which mistakenly led audiences to believe that Israel is exclusively to blame for the fact that the delivery of items including “even a wheelchair” was delayed.

BBC News also posted the report on Facebook and some of the responses allowed to remain standing on that BBC account included – not for the first time – offensive statements, comments “Holding Jews collectively responsible for actions of the state of Israel” and antisemitic Nazi analogies. For example:

Moreover, the day after the BBC News website recycled that misleading AFP article, the BBC Jerusalem Bureau’s Tom Bateman went to Jericho to report on the same story for the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour’ (from 45:06 here). Bateman’s report indicates that the BBC is aware of the fact that efforts had been made in the past to reach an agreement whereby not all post destined for PA controlled areas would have to come through the Israeli postal system (although he did not bother to inform listeners that the context was the refusal of Arab countries to use the Israeli postal services) and that the BBC also knows that past understandings have not yet “been implemented or not implemented in full”.

Significantly, however, the BBC did not bother to update its online report with that information.