The BBC, Coronavirus and population density

On March 31st an article by the BBC’s diplomatic correspondent Jonathan Marcus titled “Coronavirus: A ticking time-bomb for the Middle East” was published on the BBC News website’s ‘Middle East’ page.

The article is made up of comment on a number of locations in the region, including Israel, the Palestinian Authority administered territories and the Gaza Strip. [all emphasis added]

Israel:

“The virus has already arrived in the region. Israel – a country with a sophisticated Western-style health system and a significant capacity to mobilise resources – is already beginning to struggle with the potential consequences of the pandemic.

It is facing the self-same problems as experienced in Western Europe and the United States.”

Marcus did not provide any information to illustrate or substantiate his claim that Israel “is already beginning to struggle”.

“However, the Middle East has some specific problems that may exacerbate the crisis. Ways of life governed by religion, for example, play a significant part in the lives of many countries’ citizens.

Such communities may often be insular and slow to change their practices.

It is perhaps no accident that in Israel, its ultra-Orthodox Haredi community has been slow to adopt the recommended social distancing measures and has suffered disproportionately from the virus.”

While rates of infection have indeed been higher than average in some ultra-Orthodox communities, Marcus’ attribution of that solely to “ways of life governed by religion” ignores additional relevant factors such as poverty, population density and the difficulties of effective isolation for members of large families.

Interestingly, the BBC has repeatedly cited those three factors in its many reports on Coronavirus in the Gaza Strip and later on in his article Marcus himself referred to that territory’s population density.

According to the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics, population density in the Gaza Strip was 5,453 persons/km2 in mid 2019. The population density in Bnei Brak – one of the locations in Israel most seriously affected by Covid 19 – was 26,368 persons/km2 at the end of 2017 but apparently Marcus did not consider it necessary to inform readers of that fact. 

Towards the end of the article readers were told that:

“Even in democratic Israel, the pandemic has sparked a constitutional crisis with political repercussions. The need to tackle the coronavirus looks like forcing opposition leader Benny Gantz into a national unity government under Benjamin Netanyahu (something he said he would never do and a move which has split his new party asunder).

And the closure of the courts has delayed the corruption trial of Prime Minister Netanyahu, who looks like soldiering on in office.”

Israel of course has no written constitution and so the claim of a “constitutional crisis” is debatable. The political deadlock in Israel which has not been resolved by three general elections has been ongoing for a year and was not “sparked” by the pandemic.

As we have previously had cause to note, the courts in Israel have not been closed. Activity has been reduced in line with Ministry of Health instructions and the Judiciary’s website states:

The courts and employment tribunals will function under emergency measures whereby only urgent hearings will be held.”

PA controlled territories and Gaza Strip:

Marcus gave a politicised portrayal of the Gaza Strip – from which Israel disengaged in 2005 – and the areas which have been under Palestinian Authority control for two and a half decades as “Israeli-occupied”, despite going on to later contradict himself by describing the PA as a governing body and Hamas as “rulers”.

“Even in places where there is the absence of full-scale war, there are some alarming potential coronavirus crisis-points. The Israeli-occupied West Bank and the Gaza Strip are a case in point.

The Palestinian Authority, which governs in about 40% of the West Bank, is struggling with limited means to curtail the initial outbreak, with fears that close economic ties – workers travelling between Israel and the West Bank – have potentially been one vector for the spread of the virus.”

BBC audiences were not informed that the Palestinian Authority’s continued prioritisation of the payment of salaries for terrorists is one of the factors contributing to its “limited means”.

Marcus went on to give a qualified explanation of the reason for the counter-terrorism measures adopted by Israel and Egypt while whitewashing that terrorism by use of the euphemism “militants”. He failed to clarify that the Gaza Strip was transferred to Palestinian control almost 15 years ago and in theory – though not in practice since the violent Hamas coup in 2007 – is run by the Palestinian Authority.

“But the densely populated Gaza Strip presents an altogether more worrying case. The population there is isolated; the Palestinians are under effective blockade from both Israel and Egypt, who say it is a necessary security measure against militants.

There has been a long-running debate between Israel and the international community as to its abiding responsibilities for the territory. Israel’s troops have left and it insists that it is no longer responsible for events there, which is now the job of the Hamas rulers.

But if the pandemic sweeps through Gaza this may become a very difficult case to argue given the grip that Israel still retains from outside.

No wonder there have been calls from Palestinian experts and humanitarian agencies for the so-called Israeli “blockade” to be lifted, and for Palestinians in both the Gaza Strip, the West Bank and the Israelis to make common cause to fight the pandemic.”

Marcus made no effort to analyse the political motivations behind those “calls” (which, revealingly, do not appear to extend to Egypt) or to examine their validity in light of the fact that there is no restriction on the entry of medical supplies to the Gaza Strip. Neither did he bother to address the obviously relevant issue of what would happen were the blockade lifted, given that Palestinian terror factions in the Gaza Strip clearly have no intention of renouncing the terrorism which caused its implementation and indeed continue to issue threats.

“The head of Hamas in Gaza warned Israel if more ventilators for coronavirus patients were not brought into the Palestinian enclave then his terror group will “take them by force.”

“If ventilators are not brought into [Gaza], we’ll take them by force from Israel and stop the breathing of 6 million Israelis,” said Yahya Sinwar, according to Hebrew media reports.”

Marcus went on to describe well-reported (though not by the BBC) actions which have been publicly praised by the UN as “behind the scenes”.

“It would be nice to think that rivalries could be set aside for the time being during this period of global crisis. Behind the scenes Israel has been transferring some equipment to the Palestinians in the West Bank, and training courses have been running for medical personnel.”

As we see, while the BBC has repeatedly promoted the topic of population density in the Gaza Strip in its coverage of the Coronavirus pandemic, curiously that factor was completely ignored in Jonathan Marcus’ portrayal of outbreaks of Covid 19 in Israel.

Related Articles:

BBC re-promotes the usual Gaza narratives in multiple Coronavirus reports

Mapping BBC messaging on Gaza and Corona

BBC Radio 4 spreads inaccurate Gaza healthcare canard

BBC WS isolates narrative from context in another Gaza Corona report

More Corona-hooked Gaza Strip messaging on BBC WS radio

BBC News Channel grossly misleads on Israeli courts

Density is not destiny: Economist tweet misinforms on Gaza COVID-19 woes  (UK Media Watch)

BBC’s ‘Newsday’ gives a platform to ‘occupation’ propaganda

On March 6th one of the editions of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newsday’ included an item (from 04:36 here) relating to the previous day’s discovery of cases of Coronavirus in Bethlehem.

Presenter Krupa Padhy introduced the item:

Padhy: “…in the biblical city of Bethlehem a Palestinian official said they had closed the Church of the Nativity after suspicions that a number of Palestinians had caught the virus so I’ve been spending some time talking to Mustafa Barghouti who is a Palestinian MP and a doctor himself.”

Padhy refrained from informing listeners that the Palestinian Legislative Council – the parliament – has not convened since 2007 due to the Hamas-Fatah split and that Barghouti was last elected over 14 years ago.

Barghouti began by giving a reasonable account of the situation which included the following:

Barghouti: “There is a status of quarantine now imposed in Bethlehem area and in the whole of the West Bank to ensure that no more cases will be infected due to the fact that some of these people who have the disease have been in contact with other people. […] This is a very important precaution that is taken place by the Palestinian Authority.”

However as is usually the case when Mustafa Barghouti is interviewed by the BBC, he soon took advantage of the platform given to him for the promotion of politicised messaging.

Barghouti: “Of course you must understand that in the West Bank and Gaza we have [to be] very careful because we have a poor infrastructure due to the fact that we have been under Israeli military occupation for more than 52 years.”

Padhy: “Yes.”

The Gaza Strip has of course not been under “Israeli military occupation” for over 14 years and the Palestinian Authority has been in control of Areas A and B – including healthcare – for nearly a quarter of a century. Nevertheless, listeners heard no challenge to Barghouti’s false claims.

Barghouti: “In addition to that we are unable to control our borders or the movement because of Israeli restrictions as well so it’s complicated…”

Both the Palestinian Authority and Hamas have the ability to close crossings. The day before this interview the PA ministry of tourism announced a ban on foreign tourists and the PA prime minister announced limits on traffic between different areas.  

Barghouti: “It’s also important to understand that [what] we have here is a very complicated situation because we have a Palestinian Authority with very limited authority since we are under the military Israeli occupation and the decision to close down Bethlehem area completely was taken by an Israeli minister which means the Israelis can close down any Palestinian city any time they want without even consulting with us. So of course we have to take the burden of two things: the burden of this horrible disease and the necessity to encounter it every possible way and also the burden of the fact that we are not in control of our own freedom of movement, of our own borders.”

The Israeli minister to whom Barghouti referred is the Minister of Defence. As reported at the time by the Jerusalem Post, the decision to close the crossing between Israel and Bethlehem was taken together with the PA.

“Defense Minister Naftali Bennett announced on Thursday, in coordination with the IDF and Palestinian Authority (PA), a closure of Bethlehem due to concerns on the spreading of coronavirus. Both Israelis and Palestinians will be restricted from entering and leaving the city.”

The Times of Israel noted that:

“Israeli and Palestinian health officials held a meeting on Thursday to coordinate their responses, and shared information on the virus’s spread according to Israeli daily Haaretz.

COGAT, the Israeli defense body responsible for Palestinian civilian matters, said it had delivered 250 test kits to the Palestinians and was coordinating joint training sessions for Israeli and Palestinian medical workers.

COGAT said the closure of Bethlehem would apply to all Israelis and Palestinians, but not goods, which would continue to flow freely and would remain in place until further notice.”

Newsday’s worldwide audience of course heard nothing of such cooperation between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. Instead they got an entirely predictable but totally unchallenged dose of politicised messaging from a regular BBC interviewee who never passes up such an opportunity.

Related Articles:

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BBC News recycles a well-told Nazareth story

On February 16th the BBC News website chose to feature a fifteen year-old story on its ‘Middle East’ page using the headline “The unlikely hostel easing hostilities” and the sub-heading “An Arab-Jewish owned hostel caused controversy but is being held up as a symbol of change”.

The article itself – credited to a US-based freelancer called Lucy Sherriff who briefly visited Israel two months ago – is headlined “Crossing Divides: The hostel promoting tourism to ease Israel’s tensions” and it also appears on the BBC News website’s page devoted to “Crossing Divides” which is described as “A season of stories about bringing people together in a fragmented world.”

That, apparently, is the sole explanation for the BBC’s publication of a story which has been told on many occasions by various media outlets and other organisations, as well as by the entrepreneurs themselves, since the hostel first opened in Nazareth in 2005 just as the Second Intifada, which severely impacted tourism in Israel, was coming to an end.  

The messaging that Sherriff wishes to promote is amply clear.

“An Arab-Jewish owned hostel caused controversy but is being held up as a symbol of change

“After gruelling and lengthy renovations the hostel opened its doors to the public, and the tourists started to come.

“We definitely had some hard times,” Maoz says. “But now we see the whole old city has changed and there are so many shops and cafes and other hostels that have opened up because we have been here. I worked hard to meet everybody in the community, so they knew that I was here as a friend, and to help.”

Despite no longer living in Nazareth, Maoz still knows most of the shopkeepers by name, and is credited with helping to heal tensions and bring Jewish visitors into the city.”

Sherriff underlines her messaging with quotes and a five-year-old paper from an academic.

“”When I first heard about this hostel opening, I thought wow… this is unusual,” says Alon Gelbman, a professor of tourism management at Kinneret College in Galilee [sic]. “But it became a success story quite fast.” […]

A decade after the inn opened, Prof Gelbman decided to use Fauzi Azar as a case study for his paper on how tourism could be used to heal conflict and divided communities.

“The partnership became a symbol,” says Prof Gelbman. “Because we don’t see too much cooperation between Jews and Arabs.

“And the question we set out to answer was not ‘can peace promote tourism?’, but instead, ‘can tourism promote peace?’ Can we use tourism to encourage more peaceful and better relationships in communities?

“Can we use the fact that people are meeting each other, talking, becoming more familiar with other communities, to start a change, bottom-up?”

Prof Gelbman’s report, which he wrote with Daniel Laven, a professor at Mid Sweden University, concluded that tourism could indeed help create shared interests between communities that are characterised by cross-cultural conflict.”

“Shared interests” (as expressed in the article’s closing quotes from the two entrepreneurs) are of course not the same as “easing hostilities”, “heal[ing] conflict” or “promoting tourism to ease Israel’s tensions” and sharp-eyed Hebrew fluent readers may have noticed the political ‘Nakba’ graffiti in the background of the article’s second photograph.

While the majority of visitors to the BBC News website will of course not click on the link to read the academic paper, those who do will find quotes from “Interviewee B” who is the same Suraida Shomar Nasser appearing in Sherriff’s article.

“Interviewee B described the importance of engaging guests in this story in very strong terms:

I sit with guests – [and] many of them are Jews – and I share with them that [my] grandpa [Fauzi Azar] fought against the occupation. And [sometimes they] ask me, “Do you still call it occupation?” I say, “Excuse me, maybe for me it is still occupation.”. … . Sharing this story with [our] guests is giving us [an opportunity] … to tell [visitors] that here are Arab Christians. Ok, we have Israeli identity cards but it doesn’t mean that we don’t feel [a sense of] belonging to the Palestinians, or we are not Palestinians anymore. […]

Interviewee B sees the guesthouse as a potential empowerment vehicle for acknowledging and validating her family’s experience in this conflict. This is important because of Interviewee B’s minority status in Israeli society. The tourism element is also important here because it is the inn’s guests that create the opportunity to share this experience. Without guests, there would be no audience with which to transfer the story.”

There is no obvious reason for the BBC’s decision to publish this article at this particular time beyond the fact that its messaging and agenda fit the ‘Crossing Divides’ mission of telling “stories about bringing people together in a fragmented world”. However what BBC audiences find is a superficial report by a freelance journalist with no known Middle East expertise on a brief visit to Israel which casts no new light on one already well-told story and makes no effort to provide background information and context to what it blandly touts as “Israel’s tensions” and “divided communities”.

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BBC Radio 4 news implies previous existence of Palestinian state in US plan report

Over seven minutes of the January 29th edition of the half-hour Radio 4 programme ‘Midnight News’ was given over to the topic of the US administration’s “Peace to Prosperity” plan which had been made public several hours previously.

The first item in the programme’s introduction was presented using the absurd but long-promoted BBC myth that the result of resolution of the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians would be “peace in the Middle East”. [emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]

Newsreader: “President Trump has set out his plan for peace in the Middle East which has immediately been embraced by the Israeli prime minister but rejected by Palestinian leaders.”

The same myth was repeated when the newsreader commenced that lead item (from 00:59 here).

Newsreader: “President Trump has set out what he has called the most detailed peace plan ever offered for the Middle East, saying it’s a win-win for both Israelis and Palestinians. He announced his plan at the White House alongside Israel’s prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu but the Palestinians were not there as they had not been part of the process. Mr Trump’s proposal gives Israel sovereignty over all its settlements in the occupied West Bank while promising Palestinians statehood in the future if they meet certain conditions. Our Washington correspondent Aleem Maqbool has this report.”

Listeners were not told that the reason the Palestinians “had not been part of the process” was because they refused to take part. Neither were they given any clue as to what the “certain conditions” for Palestinian statehood (e.g. dismantling their system of salaries to terrorists and disarming Hamas) actually are

Aleem Maqbool began by repeating BBC framing seen in reports (see ‘related articles’ below) broadcast even before the US proposal had been revealed.

Maqbool: “At a raucous news conference at the White House standing beside the Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Donald Trump launched a plan the like of which, he said, had never been seen before. [recording Trump speaking] But as soon as the details started to be revealed it was very clear the win is really Israel’s alone.”

Listeners then heard a recording of Trump saying “…Jerusalem will remain Israel’s undivided – very important – undivided capital”.  

Maqbool: “Something that would have surprised few but would have made Palestinian hearts sink all the same. They have been wanting the return of occupied East Jerusalem to establish their own capital. Under Donald Trump’s plan Israel would not even have to give up any Jewish settlements it illegally built on occupied land. But the knife for Palestinians was twisted further when the US president released a map of his vision for a future Palestinian state. Large swathes of the most fertile West Bank land annexed for Israel. Palestinians no longer having a border with Jordan and relying entirely on Israel for access. The West Bank becoming in effect a cluster of tightly-controlled islands.”

Maqbool’s use of the phrase “the return of occupied East Jerusalem” inaccurately suggests to listeners that that location had previously been under Palestinian control (rather than under Jordanian occupation for 19 years). His partial portrayal of “Jewish settlements…illegally built on occupied land” denies listeners information concerning alternative views of that topic. His reference to “the most fertile…land” dovetails perfectly with PLO descriptions of the Jordan Valley. But it is his reference to “Palestinians no longer having a border with Jordan” which – even taking into account Maqbool’s previously displayed lack of knowledge of the region’s geography – perhaps misleads listeners most. None of the areas controlled by the Palestinian Authority since 1994 have a “border with Jordan” and a Palestinian entity with such a border has never existed.

Listeners then heard a recording of President Trump describing a letter he had sent to the PA president explaining that “the territory allocated for his new state will remain open and undeveloped for a period of four years. During this time Palestinians can use all appropriate deliberation to study the deal, negotiate with Israel, achieve the criteria for statehood and become a truly independent and wonderful state.”

Once again failing to explain to listeners that the decision not to be “at the negotiating table” was taken by the Palestinians themselves, Maqbool went on:

Maqbool: “Not how Mahmoud Abbas will see it. Of course Palestinians feared, given that only one side was at the negotiating table presided over by a historically partisan peace-broker, that the deal would be biased towards Israel. But some may have hoped for more concessions from the other side. Instead what they got was a clear US seal of approval for much that Israel has been trying to achieve. Prime Minister Netanyahu, who smiled and clapped through Donald Trump’s speech, could barely contain his pleasure when he spoke, saying the day was as historic as the one in 1948 on which US president Truman became the first world leader to recognise his country. [recording Netanyahu] The fear among some critics of this plan is that there is so little, if anything at all, that Palestinians can put their name to, that it could strengthen the hand of hard-liners in the region. Given the reaction already, Donald Trump’s so-called deal of the century is a pivotal moment but not one that brings Palestinians and Israelis together. Rather one that gives Israel the authorisation to continue and even broaden its occupation.”

Listeners were not informed exactly how Israel’s so-called “occupation” could be ‘broadened’ and neither were they told of the part of the plan which offers areas today under full Israeli sovereignty to a future Palestinian state.

Newsreader: “There were protests in Gaza and the West Bank with demonstrators burning posters of Donald Trump. In a televised speech the Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas said the proposals were impossible to accept. [recording Abbas] The militant group Hamas which controls Gaza called Mr Trump’s announcement aggression and nonsense. Khalil al Hayya is one of the group’s leaders.”

Al Hayya voiceover: “We warn all countries of the world and all entities who cooperate with this deal because we reject it as a Palestinian people and we will resist this deal in all forms.”

Listeners then once again heard the inaccurate suggestion that a Palestinian state with “borders” had existed before 1967. They were not told that no “borders” existed “before the 1967 war” or that the lines were actually the 1949 Armistice lines which were specifically defined as not being borders.

Newsreader: “Jordan said the only path to peace in the Middle East was to establish an independent Palestinian state based on its borders before the 1967 war. But Egypt urged both sides of the conflict to consider President Trump’s plan carefully, with a view to resuming negotiations and the former Middle east envoy Tony Blair said the Palestinians would be able to make progress if they engaged with the proposals. [recording Blair] With his thoughts on the deal, here’s our Middle East editor Jeremy Bowen.”

Bowen’s “thoughts” were of course exactly the same as those he had two hours earlier promoted on BBC television.

Bowen: “President Trump says he’s found a new way to make peace between Israel and the Palestinians. Israel will get the security it needs, Palestinians will get the state they crave. So far so good. Except that the Trump plan gives Israel’s prime minister Benjamin Netanayhu all he wants and offers Palestinians very little. A sort of state that will be truncated without proper sovereignty, surrounded by Israel’s territory and threaded between Jewish settlements. Essentially the message to the Palestinians is take it or leave it. They’re being told to accept that Israel has won and – with its American friends – will shape the future. If Palestinians refuse, the message continues, Israel will still get what it wants and they will be even worse off.”

Listeners then heard Bowen’s partisan interpretations of UNSC resolution 242 and ‘international law’, although he predictably had nothing at all to say about the “inadmissibility” of Jordan’s capture and subsequent occupation of territory assigned to the creation of a homeland for the Jewish people.  

Bowen: “The Trump document ignores UN resolution 242 that emphasizes the inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by war. It also sweeps aside international law saying that occupiers cannot settle their people on occupied land.”

Bowen closed – once again – with promotion of the view that the inevitable result of “anger, despair and hopelessness” for Palestinians he apparently believes to be non-actors devoid of agency is violence.

Bowen: “There is a chance Palestinians, whose leaders immediately rejected the plan, will be afflicted by more anger, despair and hopelessness. In a combustible part of the world, that is dangerous. The Trump plan is a gamble.”

Once again we see that – under Jeremy Bowen’s baton – BBC audiences were given an overwhelmingly one-sided view which promoted serious inaccuracies and deprived the corporation’s funding public of essential information necessary for them to make up their own minds about the US proposals.

Related Articles:

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BBC Two ‘Newsnight’ viewers misled on 1949 Armistice lines

The BBC’s Middle East editor’s framing of the US peace plan

Inadequately presented interviewees and an anonymous quote in BBC One Guerin report

BBC Radio 4’s preemptive framing of the ‘Peace to Prosperity’ plan

BBC’s ‘Newshour’ serves up ‘rumours and leaks’ with one-sided analysis

BBC Radio 4 promotes the ‘four decades of US policy’ myth – part one

Weekend long read

1) At the FDD Svante Cornell and Brenda Shaffer analyse ‘Selective Policies on Occupations, Protracted Conflicts, and Territorial Disputes’.

“Setting policies toward territories involved in protracted conflicts poses an ongoing challenge for governments, companies, and non-governmental organizations (NGOs). Since there are multiple zones of disputed territories and occupation around the globe, setting policy toward one conflict raises the question of whether similar policies will be enacted toward others. Where different policies are implemented, the question arises: On what principle or toward what goal are the differences based?

Recently, for example, the European Court of Justice (ECJ) decided goods entering the European Union that are produced in Jewish settlements in the West Bank must be clearly designated as such. At the same time, however, neither the ECJ nor the European Union have enacted similar policies on goods from other zones of occupation, such as Nagorno-Karabakh or Abkhazia. The U.S. administration swiftly criticized the ECJ decision as discriminatory since it only applies to Israel. Yet, at the same time, U.S. customs policy on goods imports from other territories is also inconsistent: U.S. Customs and Border Protection has explicit guidelines that goods imported from the West Bank must be labelled as such, while goods that enter the United States from other occupied zones, such as Nagorno-Karabakh, encounter no customs interference.”

2) At the Tablet Liel Leibovitz gives his view of the US administration’s peace proposal.

“There’ll be time enough, in the days and weeks to come, to parse the fineries of President Trump’s so-called Deal of the Century. For now, though, one thing must be said: The plan introduces an element that’s been sorely missing from Washington’s approach to the Middle East for at least two decades—reality.

Talk to any of our best and brightest diplomats, analysts, and pundits, and you may be forgiven for thinking the region was reached not by plane but by wardrobe. Like a sandy Narnia, the land imagined in Foggy Bottom was one governed not by people and interests but by concepts and frameworks, best understood not by hitting the ground but by visiting the Council on Foreign Relations.”

3) The JCPA documents Iranian opposition to the US proposal.

“As expected, President Trump’s peace plan received widespread condemnation from official Iranian spokesmen as well as most media outlets in Iran. […] Iranian media emphatically broadcast the condemnations of the plan by the Palestinian organizations (Hamas and Islamic Jihad) and by the Palestinian Authority Chairman, Mahmoud Abbas, and Hizbullah. The press called for a unified Muslim front against the plan.

Iranian leader Khamenei webpage presented an updated eight-minute video on January 29, 2020, describing all the “traitorous” peace treaties signed between Israel and the Arab states, including the Oslo Accords, Camp David (2000), the Arab Peace Initiative, and the “Deal of the Century.” At the end of the video, the Iranian solution is presented in which the Iranian leader stressed that the “military, political, ethical, and cultural activities must be continued in order to liberate Palestine until those who oppressed the Palestinians will agree to a Palestinian referendum.””

4) The ITIC provides a profile of the new leader of ISIS.

“British daily The Guardian has recently disclosed the identity of ISIS’s new leader who succeeded Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi (who died in a targeted killing by the United States on October 27, 2019). According to The Guardian, the new leader’s name is Amir Mohammed Abdul Rahman al-Mawli al-Salbi, and his codename is Haji Abdullah or Abdullah alQardash (The Guardian, January 20, 2020). The decision on the appointment of the new leader was taken by the Shura Council, ISIS’s supreme body authorized to take significant decisions of this kind. The change in leadership has so far passed quite smoothly. ISIS still refrains from revealing the name or the codename of the new leader, apparently due to security reasons, mentioning only the codename Abu Ibrahim al-Hashemi al-Qurashi.”

 

 

 

Inadequately presented interviewees and an anonymous quote in BBC One Guerin report

Following on from Jeremy Bowen’s report on the US administration’s “Peace to Prosperity” plan, viewers of BBC One’s ‘News at Ten’ on January 28th were presented with a report by Orla Guerin which was introduced by presenter Huw Edwards as follows:

Edwards: “At least ten Palestinians have been injured in clashes with Israeli forces amid protests against the plan that’s been unveiled in Washington. The demonstrations in the Israeli occupied West Bank came as the Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas said that his response to the Trump deal was ‘a thousand times no’. Our international correspondent Orla Guerin has spent the day in the West Bank gauging Palestinian opinions on the plan.”

Edwards did not bother to clarify that those opinions were given – and formed – before the details of the plan had even been made public. Guerin began her report at a crossing between Palestinian Authority controlled areas and Israel.

Guerin: “Bethlehem before sunrise. Palestinians rushing to a day’s work in Israel; those lucky enough to have permits. Movement is tightly controlled. That’s life under Israeli occupation. And few here today were expecting a new dawn from the White House.”

“Luck” of course has nothing to do with those work permits. Security considerations and the applicant’s absence of links to terrorism do. Guerin of course made no effort to inform viewers that between 1967 and the year 2000 there were no restrictions on movement and that such measures were only introduced after the Palestinians chose to launch the terror war known as the second Intifada.

She went on with a vox pop interview:

Guerin: “Do you have any hope for the peace plan from Donald Trump? No, no, no says Ibrahim, a father of seven. They don’t want to give the Palestinians their rights. The plan has failed even before it’s announced. A view echoed over coffee in Ramallah. That’s an hour away – or triple that if there are delays at Israeli checkpoints. Here we met some of the Oslo generation; Palestinians who grew up with the peace accords signed in 1993. They say the Trump deal ends that era and it’s time for a new strategy.”

Guerin’s coffee shop interviewees are of course not random Palestinians but inadequately presented selected activists. The first of those – portrayed by the BBC as a “community organiser” is Fadi Quran who works as campaigns director for the political NGO Avaaz and is fond of using the baseless ‘apartheid’ smear.

Quran: “It finally spells the death of the peace process that many assumed would lead to a Palestinian state and instead opens the door for us as a new generation to begin building a type of resistance movement based on what Nelson Mandela did.”

Guerin: “So this is the end of the peace process as we know it?”

Quran: “This is the end of what I would call the illusion of a peace process.”

Guerin then turned to an interviewee presented as a “writer”. Mariam Barghouti has had articles published at anti-Israel outlets such as ‘Middle East Eye’, ‘Mondoweiss’ and ‘MEMO’. Erasing the fact that Ramallah has been under exclusive Palestinian Authority control since 1995, Guerin asked:

Guerin: “Do you think you think you will still be living under occupation in ten years’ time, in twenty years’ time?”

Barghouti: “Everything, all Israeli policies against Palestinians are happening at such a high speed that it’s terrifying to think of where we’re gonna be five years from now.”

Guerin: “And tonight on the streets of Ramallah, a vow to return to the Intifada – the Palestinian uprising. The crowd here was small; sand and fury perhaps but also weariness and resignation. Well, Palestinian leaders have called for more protests tomorrow at what they have dubbed the fraud of the century. They have few other cards to play.”

Obviously Guerin does not consider negotiation to be one of the “cards” available to the Palestinians. She closed her report with an anonymous quote.

Guerin: “America and Israel are now moving in lockstep and the deal unveiled today has sent a stark message to the Palestinians. In the words of one analyst it boils down to this: you’ve lost, get over it.”

That unnamed analyst is Robert Malley of the NGO International Crisis Group (ICG). At least we now know what genre of Middle East analysis Orla Guerin prefers.

The BBC’s Middle East editor’s framing of the US peace plan

A report by the BBC’s Middle East editor which was aired in the January 28th edition of BBC One’s ‘News at Ten’ just hours after the presentation of the US administration’s “Peace to Prosperity” plan gives a good view of how the BBC has decided to frame that topic.

Presenter Huw Edwards’ introduction included the statement that “no Palestinian officials were involved” in the drafting of the plan but audiences were not informed of US efforts to get them onboard.

Interestingly, Edwards stepped a little outside the usual BBC framing according to which ‘the occupation’ is responsible for all the region’s ills with a mention of 1948 but quickly returned to the party line by claiming that efforts to secure an end to the conflict have been thwarted solely by the building of Israeli communities. Viewers of course heard nothing either from Edwards or from Jeremy Bowen about the Jordanian invasion and occupation of areas assigned to the creation of a Jewish homeland under the Mandate for Palestine.

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

Edwards: “Now President Trump has unveiled his plans for what he claims is a credible peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians, including a promise to keep Jerusalem as Israel’s undivided capital. Mr Trump announced the proposals at the White House alongside the Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The president said the deal would work but no Palestinian officials were involved and tonight they rejected the proposals as a conspiracy. Now at the heart of the conflict is a dispute over land, ever since the creation of the State of Israel back in 1948. The UN backs the creation of a separate Palestinian state but Israeli West Bank settlement on land captured back in 1967 has complicated that so-called two-state solution. Israel also captured the eastern half of Jerusalem which Palestinians want as the capital of a future state. Let’s go now to our Middle East editor Jeremy Bowen for the latest in Washington.”

Jeremy Bowen began his report by showcasing the commentary of anonymous “critics” and gratuitous bandying about of the ‘apartheid’ smear.

Bowen: “President Trump says he has a whole new way of making peace after years of failed negotiations, giving Israel the security it deserves, giving Palestinians the state they crave. But critics of what he’s proposing have used words like coercion of the Palestinians to describe what he’s talking about and even the word apartheid. So, the stakes are high but the chances of things getting better are low.”

He then presented his framing of the proposal.

Bowen: “In the East Room of the White House it felt more like a party than a press conference. Donald Trump and Benjamin Netanyahu congratulated each other. Their entourages clapped and whooped. […] And now comes a document that attempts to seal Israel’s victory in a century-long conflict, which Palestinians will read as surrender terms – not a peace proposal. It almost exactly replicates Mr Netanyahu’s deepest beliefs about Israel’s security and its right to the land most of the rest of the world says is occupied Palestinian territory.” […]

Once again BBC viewers were not provided with any factual historical context concerning Israel’s “right to the land”. Bowen went on:

Bowen: “In Gaza tonight Palestinians demonstrated. Their side has been deeply divided. Opposition to the Trump document could finally unite them. The Palestinians were already boycotting the Trump administration because of its root and branch support for Israel. The Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas wasn’t a party to the proposals and rejected them straight away.” […]

Yet again audiences were not informed that it was the Palestinians who chose not to be “a party to the proposals” or that Abbas’ rejection of the plan began long before its details were made public. Failing to provide any context to the Six Day War, Bowen attempted to frame the US proposal as being significantly different from previous ones but refrained from informing viewers of Palestinian rejection of all previous offers of statehood.

Bowen: “They’re arguing about land captured by Israel in the 1967 Middle East war. For a generation the international consensus has been that no peace is possible without a Palestinian state on the land, with a capital in Jerusalem. Today the land is sliced up by walls, wire and checkpoints. The Trump plan wants to throw out the old consensus, to offer a sort of state to the Palestinians if they agree to restrictions approved by Israel. And Israel has a chance to get bigger, with what looks like a green light to annex territory it wants, like here in the Jordan Valley.”

Making no effort to clarify that the US plan gives the Palestinians a chance to make the territory they control “bigger”, Bowen closed with cynical speculations concerning the timing of the publication of a plan which has been in the works for years and promotion of the orientalist view that the inevitable result of “frustration, anger and hopelessness” for Palestinians he apparently believes have no agency is violence.

Bowen: “The timing suits the two leaders: a distraction from elections and serious charges. High crimes and misdemeanors for Trump, bribery and corruption for Netanyahu. This may be the deal of the century for the Israeli government but it’s not for the Palestinians. It could create a sense of frustration, anger and hopelessness which in such a combustible part of the world is dangerous.”

Clearly BBC One viewers were not provided with an objective or informative view of the US administration’s proposals in this report. That, however, was obviously not its objective. The BBC Middle East editor’s superficial framing of the topic can be summed up in two sentences from the beginning and the end of his report:

“And now comes a document that attempts to seal Israel’s victory in a century-long conflict, which Palestinians will read as surrender terms – not a peace proposal.”

“This may be the deal of the century for the Israeli government but it’s not for the Palestinians.”

That, as far as Jeremy Bowen is concerned, is all BBC audiences need to know.

 

 

 

 

BBC News promotes partisan political narrative on Old City

On the afternoon of January 22nd the BBC News website published a report headlined “‘Go outside’: France’s Macron berates Israeli police at Jerusalem church”.

The BBC’s description of that “Jerusalem church” is as follows:

“The Church of St Anne, which dates back to 1138, is the best-preserved Crusader church in Jerusalem. According to Christian tradition, the crypt enshrines the home of the Virgin Mary and her parents.

It is located in occupied East Jerusalem, to the north of the hilltop site known to Muslims as al-Haram al-Sharif and to Jews as the Temple Mount.” [emphasis added]

The Church of St Anne is located in Jerusalem’s Old City. As we see, the BBC continues its long-standing practice of promoting the partisan political narrative according to which the Old City is categorised as “occupied East Jerusalem” without the provision of any of the essential context concerning Jordan’s belligerent attack on parts of the city and the subsequent nineteen-year occupation.

Interestingly, it took the BBC until the following day to add details to the story which were already known at the time of the report’s original publication.

“An Israeli police spokesman said that as President Macron’s delegation arrived at the Church of St Anne there was a “discussion” between Israeli and French security guards about who would be allowed to enter the site.

“The French president requested that the guidelines be respected and, based on the terms agreed upon ahead of time, an Israeli guard and a policeman escorted the president and his delegation inside,” he added.

“When the president and the delegation finished the visit, he apologised about the incident and shook hands with the security personnel.””

As we noted earlier this week, BBC audiences were not informed of the call published in an official Palestinian Authority newspaper to use violence to disrupt the event commemorating the Holocaust which was the background to the French president’s visit to Jerusalem. Had that context been provided, readers would of course have been better placed to understand this story.

Related Articles:

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BBC tells audiences location of centuries-old Jewish habitation is an ‘illegal settlement’

BBC’s Bateman shoehorns ‘occupation’ into Holocaust remembrance report

BBC’s Guerin gratuitously inserts ‘occupation’ into Holocaust remembrance coverage

BBC’s Guerin gratuitously inserts ‘occupation’ into Holocaust remembrance coverage

h/t GB

On the evening of January 22nd BBC audiences were presented with audio and filmed versions of a report by the corporation’s Istanbul based international correspondent Orla Guerin about an Israeli Holocaust survivor.

Listeners to BBC World Service radio’s ‘Newshour’ and those tuning in to BBC Radio 4’s ‘The World Tonight’ heard an audio version of Guerin’s report (from 18:13 here and from 20:38 here) in which her usual commitment to accuracy was on display:

Guerin: “Rina takes us to Yad Vashem, Israel’s Holocaust memorial centre: a sprawling compound hewn out of stone.” [emphasis added]

Yad Vashem was of course constructed using concrete.

However it was the filmed version of Guerin’s report – aired on BBC One’s ‘News at Ten’ and available here – which caused offence to many viewers. Towards the end of that report Guerin told audiences:

Guerin: “In Yad Vashem’s Hall of Names, images of the dead. Young soldiers troop in to share the binding tragedy of the Jewish people. The State of Israel is now a regional power. For decades it has occupied Palestinian territories. But some here will always see their nation through the prism of persecution and survival.” [emphasis added]

Given Orla Guerin’s long record of problematic Israel-related reporting one might wonder about the degree of judgement behind the BBC’s decision to send her to cover such a sensitive subject as Holocaust remembrance.

However, when one considers that by the time Guerin’s filmed report went on air, visitors to the BBC News website had already seen the gratuitous shoehorning of a context free reference to ‘occupation’ into an article ostensibly about the World Holocaust Forum event in Jerusalem, those editorial considerations perhaps become clearer.

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BBC’s Bateman shoehorns ‘occupation’ into Holocaust remembrance report

BBC’s Bateman shoehorns ‘occupation’ into Holocaust remembrance report

January 22nd saw the appearance of an article titled ‘Holocaust row bubbles as leaders gather in Israel’ in the ‘Features’ section of the BBC News website’s ‘Middle East’ page.

Written by the BBC Jerusalem bureau’s Tom Bateman, the article’s main theme is what he describes as “a row about the distortion of history by rival nationalist leaders in Europe”.

Referring to the Polish president, Bateman tells readers that:

“Mr Duda has said he will not attend this week’s Holocaust remembrance ceremony at Yad Vashem, the official memorial centre in Jerusalem. […]

Mr Duda complained that he has not been allowed to address the audience, whereas Mr Putin and other leaders will speak.”

He goes on to claim that what he again describes as “the row” over speaking arrangements at the Jerusalem event “has aggravated a bitter dispute between Russia and Poland – whose leaders have been armflexing over the war’s legacy”.

Bateman gives an overview of that Russian and Polish “armflexing” – which of course has been going on independently of the Jerusalem conference and which, as the BBC has itself reported, has its roots in a European Parliament resolution dating from last September.

He then moves on to the topic of the Polish legislation of 2018:

“Two years ago the Polish government made it illegal to say that the country was complicit in Nazi crimes during the Holocaust.

After an international outcry it later deleted parts of the law, but the controversy then engulfed Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

He supported the partial u-turn by signing a joint statement with the Polish prime minister.

That move was condemned by Yad Vashem who said the statement contained “grave errors and deceptions” and harmed the “historical memory of the Holocaust”.

Mr Netanyahu defended his move saying he had consulted Yad Vashem’s chief historian.”

Bateman’s literal ‘bottom line’ to a story ostensibly about Russian and Polish polemics relating to World War Two and the Holocaust comes in a section sub-headed ‘Betrayal of the Holocaust’. There he manages to reframe the story by uncritically quoting a contributor whose highly relevant political opinions are not revealed to BBC audiences – in clear breach of BBC editorial guidelines relating to “Contributors’ Affiliations”.

“But among his [Netanyahu’s] critics was the Israeli historian Prof Zeev Sternhell, a Jewish survivor of the Holocaust in Poland who escaped the Warsaw Ghetto as a child with the help of two Polish families.

He accuses Mr Netanyahu of embracing ultra-nationalists in Europe because they provide a counterweight to the EU’s “liberal wing” of France and Germany who are critical of Israel’s occupation of the Palestinian Territories.

“In order to get that alliance working he’s ready to pay a heavy price… And the heavy price is a betrayal of the Holocaust,” he says.” [emphasis added]

Significantly, Bateman did not bother to remind readers of more recent events which can hardly be described as “embracing” the Polish stance.

Neither did he offer readers any contrasting view to the predictably controversial claim from Professor Sternhell that Israel’s prime minister is ‘betraying’ the Holocaust in order to counter criticism of “Israel’s occupation” and apparently neither did he offer the right of reply to that allegation. 

Related Articles:

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