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

Half a day before the launch of the US administration’s “Peace to Prosperity” plan on January 28th, BBC Radio 4’s ‘Today’ programme aired an edition which included several reports concerning a document which had at that stage not yet been made public.

Listeners heard a report from the BBC’s Jerusalem correspondent Tom Bateman (at 10:03 here), a news bulletin (at 2:02:46) during which Bateman told audiences that “the Palestinians say it [the US plan] would entrench apartheid” and another report by Bateman (at 2:48:40) based on vox pop interviews with people in Jerusalem.

The main item in that programme (from 2:10:04) included interviews with three people. Presenter Nick Robinson began by once again promoting the unsupported claim that the US administration calls the document ‘the deal of the century’ and adding another. [emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]

Robinson: “It will be the deal of the century Donald Trump has long boasted; a plan which he’ll unveil today and which it’s claimed can produce what has eluded the world for decades – peace in the Middle East. It has though been drawn up without consultation with the Palestinians. The president of the Palestinian Authority has refused to even take a call from Donald Trump. That is in stark contrast to the presence at the White House yesterday of a beaming Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s prime minister.”

Listeners first heard from the BBC’s Middle East editor Jeremy Bowen who repeated a speculation he had already made on the same programme three days earlier, claiming that “the agenda followed by Israel’s prime minister Mr Netanyahu has very much been absorbed by the Trump plan”. Bowen’s talking points included the claim that the plan is unlikely to succeed “if the objective is to bring peace to the area” and promotion of the Palestinian narrative concerning the Oslo Accords, which of course do not mention the two-state solution at all.

Bowen: “Since Oslo in 1993 – the Oslo Agreements – the underlying principle under all the negotiations that have been taking place is the so-called two-state solution. An independent Palestine alongside Israel. But the indications are that Trump wants to change that and perhaps get to a point where they say to the Palestinians ‘look, you’re not going to get it. Accept it; take what we’re offering now, much less than what you hoped for’.”

Bowen went on to promote additional speculation concerning “the timing of this initiative” – speculations which were shown later in the item to dovetail with PLO talking points.

Bowen: “…they [Trump and Netanyahu] are both men who need something else going on […] I think that the message from Netanyahu is ‘look, you don’t want to see me in court or even in jail’.”

In fact, more or less as Bowen was promoting that hypothesis, Netanyahu withdrew his request for parliamentary immunity.

Robinson’s next interviewee (from 2:13:12) was former national security advisor to the Israeli prime minister Yaakov Amidror and, refraining from reminding listeners that the US administration has been working on the plan for several years, he began by “putting to him the thought that this was really all about domestic politics” – a theory dismissed by Amidror.

Robinson went on:

Robinson: “…is what we call the two-state solution – the idea of a separate Palestinian state – is that going to be buried today?”

Amidror: “ As far as we know the deal includes an independent Palestinian state and if it will be adopted by the Israelis – by the Knesset or by the government – it will be the first time that formally Israel is adopting such [a] solution which was not mentioned in the Oslo Accords at all.”

Despite the BBC having repeatedly promoted the myth that the Oslo Accords were based on the concept of a two-state solution, Robinson showed no interest in expanding that point in order to enhance audience understanding and instead went on to ask whether “that state will be what they, the Palestinians, want as a state”.

Amidror: “No, it will not be the state that the Palestinians want. The state the Palestinians want does not include Israel at all. They want a Palestine all over from the Mediterranean into the Jordan River. As always the Palestinians say no before they know the details of the plan. Never in the history did the Palestinians agree to negotiate with the Israelis based on any offer by us or by the Americans.”

Robinson did not ensure that listeners heard any further detail on the obviously relevant topic of the Palestinian agenda.

The final interview in that item (from 2:17:24) was with a person Robinson had earlier described as “the Palestinian ambassador in this country”.

Robinson: “Listening there to that in the studio is the Palestinian ambassador to the UK. Ambassador Husam Zomlot joins us.”

In 2018 the BBC corrected a similar misrepresentation of Mr Zomlot’s title after BBC Watch pointed out that according to its definition, the title ambassador means that the individual represents a state and that – as the BBC’s own style guide rightly says – there is no Palestinian state at this time. 

Despite the US plan not having been published at the time this interview was conducted, listeners nevertheless heard from Husam Zomlot (who, as readers may recall, gave a briefing to BBC journalists before the related 2019 economic workshop) that “this is neither a deal nor a plan and it definitely has nothing to do with peace”. Zomlot’s hyperbolic description of the US plan as “the scam of the century” and “fraud on every count” was not challenged by Robinson before Zomlot went on to inadvertently demonstrate the similarity of his talking points to those of the BBC’s Middle East editor.

Zomlot: “It’s fraud on every count as was alluded to by your correspondent Jeremy just now. Today the Israeli Knesset is discussing the criminal charges and the immunity. Today – is that a coincidence? The impeachment process and hearing also today and yesterday. Is that a coincidence?”

Zomlot later went on to state (as he has done in the past) that the two-state solution is a “concession”.

Zomlot: “It was actually a concession we made to accept international legality, international legitimacy that decided that the resolution of this will be on the basis of two-state solution on the 1967 borders, that Israel will end its occupation that began in 1967 and there will be a sovereign independent State of Palestine with East Jerusalem as its capital and a fair resolution to the issue of refugees.”

Robinson made no effort to clarify to listeners that there is no such thing as “1967 borders” or to ensure that listeners understood the thinking behind Zomlot’s later declaration that the Palestinians will not “further compromise the 22% of Palestine”. He did however later tell listeners that “Trump and Netanyahu” are “obsessed with Hamas” because they “believe that Iran is the greatest threat on the planet, that Hamas is allied to them”.

Zomlot’s later attempt to create equivalence between the situation of the Palestinians and the events of the Second World War, including the Holocaust, did not prompt any challenge from Robinson.

Zomlot: “…it isn’t about Palestine now. It is about the premise and the heart of international order that was established by Europe, by the United Kingdom, by your legal brains. It’s about the horrors of the Second World War. Only yesterday we remembered the never again of what happened in the Second World War.”

While there is nothing remotely surprising about Zomlot’s talking points there is sadly also nothing surprising about Robinson’s failure to challenge them in a way which would help BBC audiences see past the propaganda and develop a more rounded view of the topic – a view which is likewise noticeably absent from the BBC Middle East editor’s analysis. As we see, half a day before the US administration had released its plan into the public domain, BBC Radio 4 had already framed the topic in overwhelmingly negative terms.

Related Articles:

Snark and speculation on BBC Radio 4’s ‘Today’

BBC’s Tom Bateman misleads on the Oslo Accords

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 News website amends inaccurate Palestinian envoy title

BBC journalists get a ‘briefing’ from a past interviewee

BBC’s Tom Bateman misleads on the Oslo Accords

A report headlined “Trump’s Middle East peace plan: Smiles and sorrow on the ground” was published on the BBC News website’s ‘Middle East’ page late on January 28th. Written by the corporation’s Jerusalem-based correspondent Tom Bateman, much of the article recycles vox pop interviews in Jerusalem which appeared in his audio report aired on BBC radio 4’s ‘Today’ programme (from 2:48:40 here) earlier the same day.

The written report, however, commences with an inaccurate and misleading portrayal of the Oslo Accords. Bateman writes:

“Palestinians and Israelis know from decades of history that past peace initiatives are strewn with turbulence, division and bloodshed.

But the Oslo Accords of the 1990s also left a structure in place, however fragile, that was meant to become the basis for a permanent peace – the so-called “two-state solution”.

It calls for an independent Palestinian state made up of the West Bank and Gaza with East Jerusalem as its capital, alongside a secure state of Israel along the territorial lines shown on the map before the 1967 Middle East war.”

The Oslo Accords in fact make no mention of the two-state solution and do not ‘call for’ a Palestinian state. They certainly do not dictate that the end-product of negotiations would be “along the territorial lines shown on the map before the 1967 Middle East war” – i.e. the 1949 Armistice Agreement.

That was made clear by by Martin Indyk, the former U.S. ambassador to Israel, in a piece for the Atlantic marking the 25th anniversary of the agreements in which he wrote: [emphasis added]

“The Oslo process was supposed to have provided the blueprint, with its requirement for a series of confidence-building interim steps that would help Israeli and Palestinian leaders absorb the political costs of the difficult compromises needed finally to achieve peace. The Oslo Accords did not spell out those compromises; they did not provide for a Palestinian state, nor for a solution for Jerusalem, which both sides seek as their capital, nor for the Palestinian refugees who claim a “right of return.” They only provided that the final-status issues were to be negotiated and concluded within five years of the signing.”

As our colleagues at CAMERA pointed out when the New York Times promoted (and subsequently corrected) the same inaccurate claim last year:

“Virulent critics of Israel acknowledge the same. In the New Yorker, Rashid Khalidi wrote that “In Oslo and subsequent accords, the Israelis were careful to exclude provisions that might lead to a Palestinian political entity with actual sovereignty.” Palestinian statehood, he continued “are never mentioned in the text.” Avi Shlaim stated in the Guardian that the Accords “did not promise or even mention an independent Palestinian state at the end of the transition period,” and reiterated in the Journal of Palestine Studies that “The most basic criticism [of the Accords] was that the deal negotiated by Arafat did not carry the promise, let alone a guarantee, of an independent Palestinian state.”

In the New York Times itself, Henry Siegman pointed out that “The Oslo accords obligated Israel to engage in negotiations of ‘final status’ issues, but the accords provided no hint as to what Palestinians had a right to expect as the outcome of those negotiations. Indeed, the very term ‘Palestinian state’ did not appear in the accords.”

So how did Tom Bateman come to promote those inaccurate and misleading claims about the Oslo Accords? As we have previously documented, since December 2016 the BBC has taken it upon itself to repeatedly amplify the PLO’s maximalist interpretation of the ‘two-state solution’ and an additional example of amplification of PLO talking points is evident later on in Bateman’s article:

“The Trump document says applying Israeli sovereignty to the settlements would be compensated by land swaps to Palestinians. It would also recognise Israeli sovereignty over the strategically important Jordan Valley, a key swathe of land in the West Bank important for agriculture running along the border with neighbouring Jordan. […]

But Palestinians say the move will entrench apartheid.”

Bateman makes no effort to inform his readers why Palestinian smears concerning ‘apartheid’ are redundant.

Sadly for members of the BBC’s funding public trying to understand this story, instead of accurate reporting and impartial analysis, all Tom Bateman has to offer is regurgitated PLO talking points.

Related Articles:

NY Times errs on Oslo and two-state solution  (CAMERA)

UK Media Watch prompts Financial Times correction to false Oslo claim  (UK Media Watch)

Examining the BBC’s claim of Palestinian support for the two-state solution

 

 

UK Media Watch prompts Financial Times correction to false Oslo claim

Cross posted from UK Media Watch

A recent article in the Financial Times (Netanyahu vows to extend Israeli sovereignty in West Bank, Sept. 10) includes the following claim about the 1993 Oslo Peace Accords.

Extending Israeli sovereignty to the sprawling settlements that divide up the occupied West Bank would make it extremely difficult for future prime ministers to live up to pledges made in the 1993 Oslo Peace Accords to negotiate a possible withdrawal of Israeli forces in order to facilitate the birth of a Palestinian state.

However, the agreement did not pledge Israel to facilitate the birth of a Palestinian state.

As our CAMERA colleagues have noted previously, this fact was made clear by by Martin Indyk, the former U.S. ambassador to Israel, in a piece for the Atlantic marking the 25th anniversary of the agreements. The Oslo Accords, he wrote, “did not provide for a Palestinian state.” He also re-emphasized that the two-state solution is “a concept that is nowhere mentioned in the Oslo Accords.”

Moreover, the New York Times, responding to a complaint from CAMERA in April, corrected an article which similarly claimed that the Oslo Accords committed both sides to a two state solution.

To their credit, shortly after we notified the Financial Times journalist of this error, the passage was revised, and no longer alleges that Oslo committed Israel to the creation of a Palestinian state.

Extending Israeli sovereignty to the sprawling settlements that divide up the occupied West Bank would make it extremely difficult for future prime ministers to live up to pledges made in the 1993 Oslo Peace Accords to negotiate a settlement with the Palestinians.

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Weekend long read

1) The ITIC takes a look at Hezbollah’s media empire.

“The “resistance society,” created by Hezbollah with massive Iranian support, is based on three legs: The first leg is Hezbollah’s military system. This system is designed to operate against Israel but also supports Hezbollah’s hold of the Shiite population. The military system places Hezbollah in a political power position in the internal Lebanese scene and provides it with major influence on the decision-making process in Lebanon; the second leg is a large-scale network of institutions contributing to the improvement of the socioeconomic situation of the Shiite population and strengthening its support of Hezbollah; and the third leg is a media empire which plays an important role in disseminating the ideology and political messages of Iran and Hezbollah in Lebanon, the Middle East and throughout the rest of the world. Such an extensive media empire in the possession of a terrorist organization is unprecedented among terrorist organizations operating around the world.”

2) At Tablet magazine, Tony Badran proposes that Any Way You Slice it, Hezbollah Had a Very Bad Month.

“The dust is still clearing, but what’s clear is that Israel’s operation reflects a new security footing towards Hezbollah that is being put into effect at the same time the U.S. increases pressure on the group on other fronts. All told, it’s plain that August did not end auspiciously for Hezbollah. First, Israel seemingly resumed operations in Lebanon against Hezbollah and Iranian missile capabilities. Then shortly after, the U.S. Treasury Department sanctioned the Lebanon-based Jammal Trust Bank, which it described as Hezbollah’s “bank of choice.” These actions mark an important shift in both Israeli and U.S. policies, which is likely to deepen Hezbollah’s strategic dilemma.”

3) At the BESA Center, Professor Hillel Frisch explains how The EU Is Battling Israel in Area C.

“Ever since a decision in January 2012, the EU has been expressly committed to the expansion of illegal Palestinian settlement in Area C in conjunction with the PA. This is in blatant disregard of the Oslo accords, which the EU purports to uphold. The object is to create continuous Palestinian settlement throughout the West Bank and thereby isolate and strangle Israeli communities.”

4) Yoram Schweitzer and Orna Mizrahi discuss The Complexity behind Hezbollah’s Response to Israel’s Attacks at the INSS.

“Hezbollah’s limited and calculated response so far points to its desire to avoid, at this stage, a widening of the confrontation with Israel, both out of considerations linked to the situation facing its patron Iran and due to its interest in preventing a calamitous war in Lebanon. Compounding these considerations are also independent reasons. Hezbollah is currently under political pressure: additional countries have designated it as a terrorist group, and Arab countries, responding to the attack on IDF vehicles in Avivim, even accused it of irresponsible behavior. In addition, Hezbollah is in economic distress due to the direct sanctions imposed on it by the United States.”

The BBC’s double standards on annexation

Back in April the BBC got rather excited about a pre-election statement made by the Israeli prime minister concerning the possibility of annexing Israeli communities in Area C.

An article headlined “Israel PM vows to annex West Bank settlements if re-elected” informed audiences that “Senior Palestinian official Saeb Erekat” referred to such a move as a violation of international law and the BBC’s Arab affairs editor described Netanyahu’s comments as “potentially explosive” and bound to rouse “Palestinian fury” and “international condemnation”.

A commentator brought in by BBC Radio 4 described any such move as “another severe blow for the Palestinians” which “would cause massive riots across the West Bank”. The BBC’s Tom Bateman told visitors to the BBC News website that “the possibility of Israel annexing parts of the occupied West Bank” indicate that Israel has undergone “a marked shift to the right”.

BBC World Service radio audiences were informed by Bateman that the idea of annexing Israeli communities means that “the prospect of the internationally held formula – a two-state solution with Israel and the Palestinians – really moved even further to the margins”. Listeners to a business programme on the same station heard about “an aggressive move…in the West Bank”.

That “vow” has of course not materialised in the five months since it was made but in recent days another regional leader decided to take unilateral steps concerning Area C.

“The Palestinian Authority announced over the weekend that it has decided to cancel the division of the West Bank into Area A, B and C according to the Oslo Accords the Palestinian Liberation Organization had signed with Israel in 1993 and 1995. 

From now on, the PA will treat all West Bank territories as Palestinian territories under its sovereignty. […]

Palestinian Minister of Local Government Majdi al-Saleh, who is backed by Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh, asked the district leaders and branch heads in Shtayyeh’s office to broaden the master plan for Palestinian towns at the expense of open and green spaces bordering them, without regard to the existing divisions. Saleh explained that the directive was received following instruction from the PA to cancel the division of Areas A, B and C.”

Not only have BBC audiences not been told that the PA’s Oslo Accords breaching annexation (the addition of an area or region to a country, state, etc.) of Area C is a ‘violation of international law’ or “potentially explosive” or detrimental to the two-state solution – they have not been informed of it at all.

Revisiting a BBC journalist’s claim about ‘Palestinian land’

Back in April 2013 we documented some less than impartial Tweets from the then BBC Jerusalem bureau correspondent Wyre Davies.

As was noted here at the time:

“The site of the Al Mahrour (also spelt Al Makhrour) restaurant is situated in Area C where, according to the Oslo accords signed willingly by the representatives of the Palestinian people, Israel has administrative and security control.

The restaurant was constructed without planning permission or the appropriate building permits and hence was the subject of a demolition order issued in 2005 and carried out in May 2012. The restaurant was then rebuilt – also illegally without the necessary planning permission or building permits. The restaurant’s owner/constructor was given the opportunity to appear before the planning committee of the Civil Administration. A second demolition order was issued and that was carried out on April 18th 2013. The electricity line to which Davies refers was also illegally connected.”

The story did not however end there. In late July the High Court of Justice handed down a ruling which – as the Times of Israel reported – brought a long legal battle to a close.

“Israeli security forces demolished a family’s home and restaurant near Bethlehem on Monday, ending a nearly 15 year-long legal battle against the Palestinian locals led by a subsidiary organization of KKL-JNF Jewish National Fund.

The razing of the Cassia family’s compound followed a High Court of Justice ruling last month that rejected the Palestinians’ last ditch petition against the demolition orders.

 The property, located between the villages of Battir and Beit Jala south of Jerusalem, are located in Area C of the West Bank, where Israel exercises civilian and military control.

The Cassia family claims to have owned the property for generations. To prove ownership, they provided Israeli authorities with a so-called malia document, which shows property tax payment from when Jordan controlled the West Bank.

However, the Defense Ministry on several occasions over the past two decades rejected their requests for building permits, saying the tax paper was not enough to prove ownership under Israeli law.

Nonetheless, the family went ahead and built on what long had been agricultural lands in 2005, constructing a large home as well as a restaurant and a farm. The Civil Administration – the Defense Ministry body that authorizes construction in Israel-controlled Area C of the West Bank, issued demolition orders and razed several structures in the decade and a half that followed, but the home and restaurant had remained standing as the Cassias fought the orders in court.

In 2017, Himanuta, a KKL-JNF branch organization known for purchasing lands in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, joined the state’s legal efforts against the Cassias, coming forward with documents showing that they purchased the land in 1969, which the court accepted as legitimate.”

In other words, Wyre Davies’ claim that the restaurant was located “on Palestinian land” has been shown to be inaccurate. That, however, is what happens when BBC correspondents make blanket assumptions based on a politically motivated narrative which inaccurately portrays all locations beyond the 1949 Armistice lines as “occupied” and “Palestinian”.  

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BBC’s Wyre Davies Tweeting for illegal building

More repetition of the BBC’s partial narrative on construction

On the afternoon of July 31st the BBC News website published a report headlined “Israel backs West Bank homes for settlers and Palestinians” on its ‘Middle East’ page.

Unfortunately for any reader hoping to gain a better understanding of the broader topic behind the specific story, the report offered nothing but a repeat of well-worn framing intended to advance a particular political narrative.

As usual the report employs partisan terminology to describe Israelis living in places the BBC believes they should not and the communities and region in which they reside. [emphasis added]

“Israel has approved the construction of 6,000 new homes for Jewish settlers and 700 homes for Palestinians in the occupied West Bank.

The decision about new homes in settlements further extends the Israeli presence in the West Bank.”

As usual readers are presented with a partial portrayal of ‘international law’.

“Israeli settlements in the West Bank are seen as illegal under international law, although Israel disputes this.”

Moreover, embedded into the report is a video narrated by the Jerusalem bureau’s Yolande Knell which first appeared in June and in which it is claimed that ‘international law’ not only applies to places but also to people.

 Settlers are seen as illegal under international law but Israel rejects that.” 

Later on – under the sub-heading “Why are settlements such an issue?” – the report claims that:

Israel has settled about 400,000 Jews in West Bank settlements, with another 200,000 living in East Jerusalem.”

Of course Israelis residing in Judea & Samaria and parts of Jerusalem which were illegally occupied by Jordan between 1948 and 1967 do so because that is their own personal choice and not because they were “settled” there by any Israeli government. The use of that terminology is a nod to the claim that Israeli towns and villages in those regions are ‘illegal under international law’ based on the Fourth Geneva Convention which states “[t]he Occupying Power shall not deport or transfer parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies”.

The article tells readers that:

“It is not clear whether the Palestinian homes would be new constructions or merely legal approval for 700 already existing homes in what is known as “Area C” of the West Bank – where Palestinian villages often lie close to Israeli settlements, and where Israel has full control of the territory.”

It does not however inform audiences that “Israel has full control” of Area C – including planning -because the Palestinians agreed to that nearly twenty-four years ago and the absence of that information means that readers are unable to put the predictably unquestioned and unqualified Palestinian claims promoted in the next two paragraphs into their correct context.

“The Palestinian leadership dismissed the announcement, saying it rejected any Israeli construction or controls over Palestinian construction in the West Bank.

It said it was “evidence of the dark colonial mentality of the rules [sic] in Israel and which ignores all United Nations resolutions, international law and the signed agreements”.”

Providing no evidence to support its claim concerning a plan which has not even been published, the report goes on:

“The move comes ahead of a visit by US President Donald Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner, who heads the White House’s faltering attempts to broker a peace deal.”

As has so often been the case in the past, the BBC conceals the fact that in 1995 the US Congress passed the ‘Jerusalem Embassy Act’ – a law declaring that “Jerusalem should be recognized as the capital of the State of Israel; and the United States Embassy in Israel should be established in Jerusalem no later than May 31, 1999.”

“In 2017 Mr Trump announced that the US recognised Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, overturning decades of official US policy.”

While the BBC continues to ignore allegations of corruption at the top of UNRWA management and the related suspension of funding by Switzerland and the Netherlands, readers are also told that:

“Last year the US stopped contributing to the UN Relief and Works Agency (Unrwa), which has been supporting Palestinian refugees since 1949.”

UNRWA was actually only set up in December 1949 and clause 6 of the relevant UN resolution refers to the commencement of “direct relief and works programmes” from January 1st 1950.

Readers see more unquestioning amplification of Palestinian messaging with no alternative view and no information concerning Israel’s past evacuations of communities in Sinai, the Gaza Strip and northern Samaria provided.

“What happens to the settlements is one of the most contentious issues between Israel and the Palestinians – Palestinians say the presence of settlements makes a future independent state impossible.”

The report closes with a characteristically euphemistic portrayal of past events:

“Peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians have been at a standstill since 2014, when a US-brokered attempt to reach a deal collapsed.”

Readers are not informed that those negotiations actually collapsed because, in addition to breaching an undertaking to avoid acts of accession to international institutions during the period of negotiations, the Palestinian Authority chose to opt for ‘reconciliation’ with Hamas.

As is the case in any BBC report concerning building tenders and construction in the areas occupied by Jordan for nineteen years, the corporation once again demonstrates that its professed commitment to ‘impartial’ reporting is pure fiction.

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BBC News again sidesteps an issue that does not fit the narrative

Last year we noted the significance of the BBC’s failure to adequately inform its audiences about Palestinian violations of agreements signed with Israel within the framework of the Oslo Accords concerning freedom of access and worship at holy sites located in areas under Palestinian Authority control.

The BBC’s narrative on ‘East Jerusalem’ omits relevant context

“Obviously Israeli Jews are not able to visit the synagogue in Gaza City today and visits to additional sites on that list are either virtually impossible or severely restricted. Some of those holy and historically important sites have been vandalised, including Joseph’s Tomb which – as the BBC reported at the time – was set ablaze by Palestinian rioters in October 2015. 

Holy places to which access is supposedly guaranteed by the Oslo Accords have also been the scene of numerous terror attacks and planned attacks…”

The last time the BBC showed any interest in such a story was in March and that was because two Palestinians were killed while throwing explosive devices at soldiers securing visitors.

In that report readers were told that Joseph’s Tomb in Schem (Nablus) “has been a source of friction in the past” but the BBC refrained from clarifying that “friction” actually means repeated Palestinian attacks on both the site itself and the security forces guarding visiting worshipers.

This week the Israeli media reported that during the monthly visit:

“IDF forces found a pipe bomb near Joseph’s Tomb during preparations before the arrival of 1,200 Jewish worshipers to the compound in Nablus. The bomb was neutralized in a controlled explosion. 

Disturbances broke out as the worshipers entered the tomb, as rioters burned tires and threw stones at IDF forces. The soldiers responded with riot dispersal means, and the prayer services continued undisturbed.”

Under the terms of its charter the BBC is of course obliged to “provide impartial news and information to help people understand and engage with the world around them”. While in recent weeks the corporation has repeatedly amplified a PA promoted narrative touting the demise of its interpretation of the two-state solution, the BBC continues to be notably less interested in informing audiences about the Palestinian Authority’s failure to uphold agreements already signed nearly a quarter of a century ago.

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Do BBC audiences get the ‘range and depth of analysis’ promised?

The BBC’s explanation of the first of its public purposes includes the following:

“It should offer a range and depth of analysis and content not widely available from other United Kingdom news providers…so that all audiences can engage fully with major…global issues…as active and informed citizens.”

In contrast to that fine declaration, here is an example of actual practice taken from an article published on the BBC News website’s ‘Middle East’ page on July 20th under the headline “Benjamin Netanyahu becomes Israel’s longest-serving leader”.

“As head of the right-wing Likud party, Mr Netanyahu has a reputation as a hardliner on the Israel-Palestinian peace process.

Although he carried out a partial withdrawal from the city of Hebron in the occupied West Bank in 1998 – handing most of it over to the Palestinian Authority – he is a staunch opponent of the land-for-peace formula.

He has since declared there will be no more evacuations of Jewish settlers or settlements under his rule, nor the creation of a fully fledged Palestinian state.”

The redeployment of Israeli troops from 80% of Hebron – in accordance with the protocol signed during Netanyahu’s first term as prime minister – took place in January 1997 rather than in 1998 as claimed by the BBC.

In those three short paragraphs the BBC tells its audiences that Netanyahu is “a hardliner”, supposedly justifying that description with the claim that he is “opponent of the land-for-peace formula” and will not evacuate Israeli communities or agree to a Palestinian state.

Audiences are given no explanation of what the “land-for-peace” formula is, how it originated or whether or not it has been successful and hence are not provided with the tools to judge Netanyahu’s alleged opposition to it for themselves. They are not informed that the two examples of treaties signed by Israel and Arab countries based on the concept of ‘land-for-peace’ – the agreements with Egypt and Jordan – have resulted in what some Israelis might describe as ‘land-for-not-war’ rather than peace.

The BBC’s would-be cameo refrains from mentioning the cases in which Israeli withdrawal from territory – for example parts of Gaza and Judea & Samaria in the early 1990s and the Gaza Strip in 2005 – not only failed to bring peace but was actually followed by greater violence. No mention is made of the effects that has had on perceptions of the concept of ‘land-for-peace’ in Israel: according to that BBC definition of a ‘hardliner’, it would include a significant proportion of the Israeli public as well as people such as former Labour politician Eitan Cabel, the ‘Blue & White’ party’s Moshe Ya’alon and writer A.B. Yehoshua.

Significantly, the BBC’s portrayal erases Palestinians (and their multiple refusals to accept ‘land for peace’ offers) from the picture entirely, promoting the narrative that Israel alone – and specifically its current prime minister – is responsible for the absence of peace.

A further example of how the BBC is more interested in narrative than fact comes in the article’s closing lines.

“He [Netanyahu] faces a tough challenge from political opponents seeking to topple him in elections on 17 September. Among them are another former prime minster, Ehud Barak, and a former military chief-of-staff.”

According to the latest opinion polls, Netanyahu’s ‘Likud’ party is on track to secure 32 Knesset seats in the election in two months’ time while Ehud Barak’s ‘Israel Democratic Party’ is polling four to five seats.

The BBC’s “depth of analysis” apparently defines that as a “tough challenge”.  

BBC Radio 4 listeners are told of ‘Palestinian air’

The July 11th edition of the BBC Radio 4 programme ‘From Our Own Correspondent’ included an item described as follows in its synopsis:

“More than 25 years on from the Oslo Peace accords, close friendships between Palestinians and Israelis are still rare. Charlie Faulkner attends a Shabbat meal in Jerusalem where an Israeli woman invites a former Palestinian prisoner to her home.”

Presenter Kate Adie introduced the item (from 11:25 here) with an inaccurate portrayal of the aims of the Oslo Accords, a one-sided explanation of factors supposedly making a two-state solution “more remote” and the same unevidenced claim about friendships between Israelis and Palestinians. [emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]

Adie: “It’s more than 25 years since the Oslo Peace Accords were signed, aiming to fulfil the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination. The accords led to the creation of a Palestinian Authority with limited self-governance of the West Bank and Gaza and raised hopes for a more peaceful future. But now the ultimate goal of establishing a Palestinian state as part of a two-state solution seems more remote than ever amid rocket attacks and air strikes and an Israeli government taking a hard-line approach. Close friendships between Palestinians and Israelis are rare but Charlie Faulkner has come across a personal attempt to bring people together.”

Charlie Faulkner is not a BBC employee: she describes herself as “an independent journalist” currently located in Amman and has written for several Qatar-linked outlets includingMiddle East Eye’, ‘The New Arab’ and ‘Al Jazeera’.

Faulkner’s story was about what she claimed was “a very unusual dinner party” at the home of someone described as “Jewish American” despite having lived in Israel for twelve years.

“In just a few moments Susan – a Jewish American in her 60s – would be inviting Suli – a former Palestinian prisoner – into her home for Shabbat dinner even though she’d never had a conversation with a Palestinian before. It was Susan’s daughter, 33-year-old Noa, who’d orchestrated this unusual get-together.”

Although family names are absent from Faulkner’s account, Noa appears to be Noa Yammer – communications director for ‘Hand in Hand’ – and ‘Suli’ is apparently Sulaiman Khatib who has previously appeared in BBC content. Carefully avoiding the word terror, Faulkner told listeners:

“Suli, now in his mid-forties, was imprisoned for 10 years at the age of 14 after attacking two Israeli soldiers. Having informally joined the Fatah movement, one day he and a friend decided to steal the soldiers’ weapons. During the attempt – and in a moment of blind fury – Suli and his friend stabbed them. Luckily the soldiers survived, he said, and after his release from prison he focused on achieving peace. He’s the founder of a group called ‘Combatants for Peace’ and gives speaking tours around the world. This year he’ll publish a book he hopes will humanise both sides of the conflict.”

Radio 4 listeners were given no factual information about the activities, agenda and funding of the political NGO ‘Combatants for Peace’.

Again with no evidence provided to support the claim, listeners were told that:

“Encounters between Israelis and Palestinians like this are incredibly rare, set against an often tense political background. […] The conversation quickly turned serious. Israel’s Independence Day was taking place the following week and Suli’s organisation had planned a joint Israeli-Palestinian Memorial Day service the evening before. He invited Susan to attend. Immediately she bristled but answered very honestly. She said she felt that attending would be disrespectful to the sacrifice made by Israeli soldiers who had died for the country.”

Faulkner made no effort to explain to listeners that that annual event – held on what is Israel’s Remembrance Day for fallen soldiers and victims of terrorism – is considered by many to be controversial with “critics accusing it of legitimizing terrorism and equating Israel’s fallen soldiers and those who attacked them”.

Listeners heard Faulkner’s descriptions of her protagonists’ “attachment to the land”, with one including superficial references to the Six Day War and the Palestinian refugee issue – and promoting the notion of “Palestinian air”.

“Having spent most of her life teaching religious studies, Susan explained that through her faith she felt a real attachment to the land. She also emphasised that the family had sacrificed some quality of life to be there.”

“Suli pointed out his own family’s attachment to the land and how his cousin in Jordan, whose parents were among the thousands of Palestinians who fled or were expelled during the 1967 war, is not allowed to return. His cousin often longs to breathe in Palestinian air, said Suli, and on those days he climbs Mount Nebo from which he can see Jerusalem and the village where Suli’s family still live.”

More one-sided framing followed:

“He talked about how his village on the outskirts of Jerusalem, called Hizme, has continued to suffer under what he describes as an ever-tightening grip of the Israeli authorities.”

Terrorist incidents in and around that village were of course not mentioned in Faulkner’s account.  

Israelis, however, were painted as largely intolerant.

“We talked about a social media post Noa had shared showing empathy for innocent Israelis and Palestinians caught up in the 2014 Gaza conflict. It had unintentionally sparked a highly emotional backlash from some friends and relatives. ‘We’re talking about these people’s children on the front lines’ Susan exclaimed. These people had seen Noa as siding with the enemy. […] Susan said she was proud of the way her daughter could hold both sides in equal esteem, suggesting she maybe wasn’t able to do so herself.”

‘From Our Own Correspondent’ promises BBC audiences “[i]nsight, wit and analysis from BBC correspondents, journalists and writers from around the world”. This report did not include any of those elements and was remarkably superficial and uninformative. It did, however, promote an inadequately portrayed political NGO, marginalise Israeli concerns and contribute to the inaccurate framing of the Oslo Accords and the supposedly ever “remote” two-state solution that has been quite frequently evident in recent BBC reports.