BBC News gives a sentimental account of the first Intifada

December 9th marked thirty years since the beginning of the first Intifada and on December 20th the BBC News website published a filmed report on that topic made by Eloise Dicker and Nida Ibrahim and headlined “‘It was an uprising from the heart’“.

“This picture of a woman throwing a stone at Israeli forces in Beit Sahour became iconic and the woman’s identity remained a mystery, until now.

Thirty years on, she has spoken to the BBC about the photograph.”

Whether or not that photograph can really be described as “iconic” – i.e. widely recognised – is of course debatable. BBC audiences are told that:

“This picture of a woman throwing a stone was taken almost 30 years ago but the woman’s identity was not known. The stone was aimed at Israeli forces in Beit Sahour, a village in the occupied West Bank.”

The woman – Micheline Awwad – then identifies herself in the photograph.

Awwad: “This is Micheline. It’s me. Of course it’s me.”

Viewers are then told that:

“In 1987, Palestinians began an “intifada”, or uprising, against Israeli rule. It lasted until 1993. Violent clashes led to the deaths of around 1,400 Palestinians and 271 Israelis.”

Although those statistics are credited to B’tselem, a look at the political NGO’s website shows that the total figures it gives for Palestinian casualties between December 9th 1987 and December 31st 1993 are lower by 196 than the number presented by the BBC. The subject of the nearly one thousand Palestinians killed by other Palestinians in those years did not make it into this BBC film.

The film goes on to give more statistics credited to B’tselem, with the number of Israelis killed during the second Intifada lower than those provided by official sources.

“There was a second intifada in 2000. Around 3,392 Palestinians and 996 Israelis were killed.”

The film then returns to Awwad.

Awwad: “I was wearing a black skirt and top, a yellow scarf and yellow heels. There was a special Mass at the church. Otherwise I wouldn’t have worn that outfit for a protest. When I saw the Israeli army approaching young men and confronting them, I followed the young men. When I started running – I couldn’t run with those shoes – I took them off and carried them. I didn’t know someone was taking a picture. It was an uprising from the heart. Young men and women passionately took to the streets. But not anymore. Young men and women today don’t want this.”

The BBC then inserts the following:

“There were calls for another intifada after the US recognised Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. Palestinians want the east of the city to be a capital of a future Palestinian state.”

Notably, viewers were not told that there were also “calls for another intifada” on numerous other prior occasions too. The film closes:

Awwad: “I have two sons. If, God forbid, one of them gets injured and dies, I’ll be heartbroken for life. Let my son stay at home – I’ll go out. Of course I would go out.”

“Micheline Awwad now works in a hotel. She doesn’t have the yellow heels any longer.”

In addition to the wording in this film, its visuals are also worthy of note. Throughout much of the film viewers see close-up shots of Awwad. However, they also see seven different images of photographs taken during the first Intifada – four of which show women in passive poses. None of the images including men – one of which features a priest – depict Palestinian acts of violence. Israeli soldiers with truncheons and guns are however shown in three of the images.

In the past the BBC has promoted the myth that the first Intifada was ‘non-violent’ (see ‘related articles’ below) and has completely erased Israeli casualties from its accounts. While it is therefore good to see those casualties finally acknowledged, this film nevertheless perpetuates the BBC’s long-standing romanticisation of type of Palestinian violence all too often euphemistically portrayed (if at all) as ‘protest’.

Related Articles:

BBC promotion of the myth of a non-violent first Intifada

Romanticising rocks and stones: BBC on the first Intifada

 

 

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BBC WS radio promotes a problematic report yet again

Readers may recall that at the beginning of June the BBC World service aired a politicised report ostensibly about young Palestinians and culture in a series titled ‘A Young World’ that was aired on a programme called ‘The Compass’. As was noted here at the time:

“Clearly Nida Ibrahim went far beyond her remit of providing BBC World Service audiences with an insight into how young Palestinians “express themselves culturally” and instead exploited the platform to promote copious amounts of politicised messaging and delegitimisation of Israel without any right of reply being given.

The BBC cannot possibly claim that this report meets its supposed standards of accurate and impartial journalism.” 

The creator of that report – BBC Arabic’s Nida Ibrahim – was interviewed on the July 7th edition of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘The Fifth Floor’ (available from 15:27 here) with the item described as follows in the synopsis:

“Nida Ibrahim, who reports for BBC Arabic from Ramallah, has been talking to young Palestinians for a documentary series about the lives of young people around the world. The Palestinian Territories has the youngest population in the Middle East, but politics and administration are dominated by older generations. Nida says young people are finding different ways of expressing themselves.”

The secondary purpose of the item was obviously to further promote that previous problematic report.

Presenter David Amanor introduced the item thus:

Amanor: “To Ramallah now in the West Bank: a small city with a young population. Average age is under 21 and it’s a similar story throughout the Palestinian territories which has the youngest population in the Middle East. So when the BBC decided to do a series about the lives of young people, BBC Arabic’s Nida Ibrahim waved a flag: they’re over here! Nida is based in Ramallah…”

While this particular item avoided the politicised messaging and delegitimisation of Israel heard in Ibrahim’s original report, at its close, Amanor directed listeners to the original problematic programme.

“Nida Ibrahim in Ramallah. Her documentary is on the BBC website. Just search for ‘A Young World’.

 Obviously it is disturbing to see the BBC engaging in further promotion of such a biased and politicised report.

Related Articles:

BBC WS radio report on Palestinian culture exploited for one-sided political messaging 

BBC WS radio report on Palestinian culture exploited for one-sided political messaging

BBC World Service radio has a programme called ‘The Compass’ which describes itself as providing listeners with “the essential take on big ideas, issues and trends from the 21st century”.

Recently that programme ran a four-part series called “A Young World” that was presented to audiences as follows:

“What’s it like living in a country where most people are young? We look at four aspects in four countries across the world.”

That series included episodes from Uganda, Sierra Leone, the Philippines and – on June 4ththe Palestinian Territories.

“The Palestinian territories have the youngest population in the Middle East with a median age under 21. How do these young people express themselves culturally? Nida Ibrahim, the BBC’s Ramallah producer, finds the challenges of conservatism and poverty mean that artists and performers find they have to struggle to be recognised – with many only able to find an audience via new media.”

However, that report by Nida Ibrahim did not only relate to culture and society within areas currently controlled by the Palestinian Authority. Ibrahim made a clear political statement by also including parts of Jerusalem under her ‘Palestinian Territories’ umbrella, despite the fact that the standing of those areas is still subject to final status negotiations. Ibrahim also repeatedly strayed away from the topic of how young Palestinians “express themselves culturally” in order to promote a blatantly political narrative peppered with references to “the occupation”.

From 4:50 minutes into the programme Ibrahim visits a hip-hop artist in Shuafat refugee camp in Jerusalem.

“So we’re here at the Shuafat refugee camp that was initially built 50 years ago to host 500 refugees but now it has around 12,500 refugees registered at the United Nations but some say the real number is double that.”

In fact, as a visit to UNRWA’s website shows, the claim is not – as Ibrahim implies – that the “real number” of refugees in Shuafat is “double” but that the number of residents, not all of whom are refugees, is around 24,000. She continues:

“There is no proper garbage collection system. People have to put their garbage in…collect their garbage in skips awaiting for the UN to come and pick it up. There’s no police presence. The Israelis do not usually come here; they think it’s dangerous and there might be clashes with the Palestinians. And the Palestinian police is not allowed in because this is considered the Jerusalem area that they don’t have control over.”

Her interviewee gives a similarly context-free portrayal.

“Everything is hard over here, from walking in the street to wanting to go out at night, crossing checkpoint every time, being controlled by the situation. Sometimes I get depressed […] Young kids in my neighbourhood got shot and killed last year and it was terrible. It’s a very violent place. You have to show others that you’re tough enough so they don’t mess with you because there’s no police, there’s no ambulance.”

In fact, a police station was opened in Shuafat a month before Ibrahim’s report was broadcast. Listeners hear nothing of the violence regularly instigated by Shuafat residents or of the presence of Hamas in the camp.

Nida Ibrahim then goes to meet another musician in another part of Jerusalem and listeners hear an entire section of the report that has nothing whatsoever to do with cultural expression of Palestinian youth.

“While it’s very easy for Mohammed to go to that part [of Jerusalem], I as a West Banker – although I have a permit – I have to go through a checkpoint that involved long wait. Let’s see how that goes. Here we go. So it happened that I had to queue a little bit and then I was allowed in through a high turnstile. Only three people are allowed in at a time and then I put all of my belongings including my shoes in the metal detector and then I turned up at the window, showed my permit. They took my finger prints and they said I’m free to go. Had to go through a few other turnstiles.”

After speaking to that interviewee Nida Ibrahim goes to meet a woman who presents herself as Sireen Sawafteh – a volunteer with the ‘Jordan Valley Solidarity Campaign’ – from a small village in the north of the Jordan Valley”. That village is Tubas, which is located in Area A.

Listeners hear the following conversation between Nida Ibrahim and Sireen Khudiri Sawafteh after the latter states that she joined a theatre group after she was arrested in 2013.

Ibrahim: “Who arrested you and how long have you been arrested?”

Sawafteh: “I was arrested by Israeli forces for six month; four months in jail and two months home jail [house arrest]. Also it was two months isolation; that was the most horrible moment.”

Ibrahim: “Could you give us a little bit of an idea why you were arrested? Is it related to your activism work?”

Sawafteh: “After two months of being in isolation I hear the reason in the court and I just laughed. They said you are arrested because you a threatening the security of Israel through ideas which you are sharing on Facebook. Could you imagine how many people they could arrest for that reason?”

Ibrahim: “Was it a specific sentence?”

Sawafteh: “No, no, no. They have nothing. Even there is no proof…nothing to say in the court.”

Listeners do not hear any official Israeli response to the allegations put forward by Sawafteh and of course they are not told that even according to Palestinian sources, her Facebook posts included a picture of her with a gun and contact with entities in Syria and Gaza.

The programme continues with Sawafteh telling a context-free story about a child she happened to meet that likewise has nothing at all to do with the topic of ‘cultural expression’.

Sawafteh: “He was working for four hours collecting stones. He did a line of stones. And I went closely to him and I asked him what are you doing? He said to me something I think you will not understand it. And then he said ‘OK, come follow me but if I will teach you why I do that you have to help me’. I said OK. Then he said ‘look at the thing which is under the stones’. I looked; it was an electricity cable. I said ‘OK it’s an electricity cable’ but I didn’t understand what I’m doing. He said ‘OK, listen; two days ago we received a demolition order and I am worried if the Israeli bulldozer will come and they destroy our house they will confiscate the electricity cable. So I wanted to hide these electricity cable to make it safe because I would like to watch TV’.

Ibrahim’s next interviewee is a graduate of the Academy of Arts in Ramallah who, despite presented as being “back on a break from studying his Master’s degree in France”, tells listeners that Palestinians cannot travel.

“Me working as an artist is a part of fighting, of resistance. Because you’re really controlled not just by the state also by the Israeli occupation because they all the time want to control your thoughts. They don’t want anyone to know there’s a life happening in Palestine…and this is one of the way we resist. You always scared of what they going to do with you. They don’t let you travel for example or they’re questioning you all the time.”

Clearly Nida Ibrahim went far beyond her remit of providing BBC World Service audiences with an insight into how young Palestinians “express themselves culturally” and instead exploited the platform to promote copious amounts of politicised messaging and delegitimisation of Israel without any right of reply being given.

The BBC cannot possibly claim that this report meets its supposed standards of accurate and impartial journalism.