The omission in a BBC WS opinion piece based interview

On July 1st an opinion piece by former IDF Spokesman Peter Lerner was published in the Ha’aretz newspaper under the title “Should Israel Open Its Borders to Desperate Syrian Refugees?“.

On July 4th the BBC World Service programme ‘Newshour‘ conducted an interview with Peter Lerner based on that opinion piece and some of the points made in it were brought up while another – interestingly – was not.

Presenter James Menendez introduced the item (from 38:29 here) as follows: [emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]

Menedez: “Syrian government troops and their militia have been closing in on rebels in Daraa province, prompting more than a quarter of a million people to flee their homes – that’s according to the UN. But there is nowhere for them to go: the Jordanian border is closed, so too the border with Israel across the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights. A few days ago Israel’s hardline defence minister Avigdor Lieberman said on social media that while Israel was prepared to continue to offer humanitarian assistance to civilians, it wouldn’t accept any Syrian refugees. Well one man calling for a change in that policy is Peter Lerner – for many years a spokesman for the Israeli Defence Forces. This is what he told me on the line from northern Israel, close to the Syrian border.”

In fact, what Lerner called for in his article was rather more nuanced than its presentation by Menendez suggests:

“While Lieberman’s zero refugee policy is morally questionable, the reasoning behind it may be reports in Israel last week citing intelligence sources suggesting Iran is trying to abuse operation Good Neighbor to infiltrate terrorists into Israel.

Israel should make exceptions to its ‘no entry’ policy for refugees, especially orphaned children who are in dire need.” [emphasis added]

In the ‘Newshour’ interview Lerner began by briefly outlining the medical assistance and humanitarian aid Israel has been supplying for the past five years before saying:

Lerner: “So I don’t think that Israel has officially stated that there’s a policy of not opening the border and I think that at the current situation we need to assess that policy and suggest perhaps more assistance, more help – perhaps to facilitate orphaned children that might need assistance and keep them out of harm’s way.”

In his article Lerner also brought up another possibility:

“But if Israel is unwilling to permit refugees to enter its territory, the government now needs to establish a safe zone on the eastern side of the border.

On the international front, the success of a safe zone for displaced Syrians will only be successful if it can truly be safe. Russia alone can secure the required assurances that Assad’s troops and its militias keep at a safe distance. The IDF will have to protect the people that flee to the sanctuary, supply food, shelter, sanitation and medical aid.”

In the radio interview he made a brief reference to that idea which was not picked up by Menendez.

Lerner: “I also think that on the other side of the border there needs to be an international effort to establish an area where people can come and gather…”

Menendez then asked:

Menendez: “In terms though of what Israel should do at the border – I mean does it mean opening the border to all those who may be asking for refugee status, all those who may need medical help?”

After Lerner had explained that the Syrians have for decades been “told that Israel is the arch-enemy” and cited “reports in the Israeli media that Iran was attempting to infiltrate terrorists on this platform”, Menendez jumped in:

Menendez: “Do you…just on that point, do you believe that intelligence assessment that Iran may try to use any greater access across the border to infiltrate people into Israel?”

Lerner: “Absolutely. […] Where there is a hole it is potentially and usually abused. Now the reality on the ground means that Israel needs to take that into consideration but I definitely think that there’s more room than a zero entrance policy. I’m not talking about a widespread opening but I think, you know, a bit more compassion towards people that are actually in dire need.”

Menendez apparently did not comprehend the points made by his interviewee.

Menendez: “What about taking in refugees on a formal basis? As we know, Syria’s other neighbours have taken in hundreds of thousands of refugees – why not Israel?”

Lerner once again explained that “Israel is officially in a state of conflict with Syria” and that no “friendly mechanisms” exist before going on:

Lerner: “But that’s exactly my point. I think that there is room for more compassion and not necessarily opening the border because Israel hasn’t got the means or the ability to accept tens of thousands of refugees…”

The interview ended soon after that with listeners hearing nothing at all about one of the other main points raised in Lerner’s article:

“Israel must also appeal to UNDOF (the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force), the UN peacekeeping force to review its mandate. UNDOF was established in 1974 to monitor and supervise the ceasefire between Israel and Syria that ended the Yom Kippur War. In the absurd reality of the Middle East, that is what they continue to do today. There are over 1000 deployed UN personnel that could immediately assist the people in need. However, since the Syrian civil war began, UNDOF has vacated most of its observer camps in the Syrian Golan Heights.”

Obviously listeners’ understanding of the story would have been enhanced had the fact that there are UN soldiers deployed in the vicinity of thousands of displaced Syrians been mentioned in this item. But for some reason the BBC chose to omit that information. 

Related Articles:

BBC News ignores Israeli aid to displaced Syrians

 

 

 

Advertisements

BBC News ignores Israeli aid to displaced Syrians

Those who read an article titled “Syria war: Air strikes knock out hospitals in Deraa” on the BBC News website on June 27th learned that:

“Up to 50,000 people have been displaced by the fighting in the past week. […]

The United Nations said the government’s artillery and air strikes had prompted between 45,000 and 50,000 people to flee their homes in Deraa province and head towards Jordan and the Golan Heights.

It warned that the displaced population was in urgent need of humanitarian assistance, and that southern border communities would soon be overwhelmed because Jordan had said it would not allow in any more refugees.” [emphasis added]

Readers of another article on the same topic that was published on the afternoon of June 28th under the headline “Syria war: Air strike on Deraa shelter kills 17 civilians” were told that:

“UN officials said on Tuesday that between 45,000 and 50,000 people had fled their homes in Deraa province and head towards Jordan or the Golan Heights. They warned southern border communities would soon be overwhelmed because Jordan had said it would not allow in any more refugees.”

photo credit: IDF

On the morning of June 29th it was announced that the Israeli army had delivered tons of humanitarian aid to displaced Syrians during the night.

“The IDF delivered about 60 tons of humanitarian aid to the Syrian Golan Heights on Thursday night after some 120,000 fled the southwestern part of the country in the wake of the Syrian army’s onslaught in the area.

During the special overnight operation, some 300 tents, 13 tons of food, 15 tons of baby food, three pallets of medical equipment and medicine and some 30 tons of clothes and shoes were transferred into Syria from four different spots on the border.

The aid was transferred to Syrian refugee camps in the southern and central parts of the Syrian Golan. The camps, located near the border with Israel, house several thousands of Syrians under poor conditions with no access to water, electricity, food or other basic necessities.”

Despite having reported the UN’s call for humanitarian assistance the BBC News website did not produce a new report or even update its June 28th article to inform audiences of the Israeli delivery of aid to displaced Syrians.

Update:

Later versions of an article published on the BBC News website on July 2nd (three days after the aid had been delivered) under the headline “Syria war: 270,000 displaced by fighting in south-west” inform readers that: