BBC R4’s ‘Today’ highlights Quaker hypocrisy but still fails listeners

The final item in the November 22nd edition of BBC 4’s ‘Today‘ programme related to an announcement put out a few days earlier by the UK Quakers. In that announcement the Quakers stated that their church would not “invest any of its centrally-held funds in companies profiting from the occupation of Palestine” while simultaneously stating that “we do not believe we currently hold investments in any company profiting from the occupation”.

Apparently unaware of the UK Quakers’ existing practices – including a seven and a half year-old “decision to boycott goods produced in Israeli settlements built in occupied Palestine ‘until such time as the Israeli occupation of Palestine is ended’“, presenter Justin Webb introduced the item (from 2:54:08 here) by telling Radio 4 listeners that:

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

Webb: “The Quakers – the Religious Society of Friends – do not generally upset people. They regard themselves as peaceful, cooperative, thoughtful. So when they became the first British church to disinvest from any company that profited from activities in the occupied Palestinian territories it raised eyebrows – and more: the president of the Board of Deputies of British Jews said it was appalling.”

Webb went on to introduce two contributors: the recording clerk of the Quakers – Paul Parker – and James Sorene of BICOM. Parker’s response to the question “why was the decision taken?” likewise included references to “Palestinian territory”.

Parker: “Well this is really a moral and spiritual question for us. Being a Quaker means letting your faith determine the choices you make in life and for us that includes how we use our money and where it comes from. We’ve been listening to and watching the situation in Israel-Palestine, which is a region of the world that we know well, and feeling increasingly that we can’t support businesses which profit financially from the occupation of…of Palestinian territory. The settlement…ahm…Israeli government policy on settlements in Palestinian territory is illegal under international law and so we don’t think it’s morally defensible to profit from companies or to invest in companies which profit from that occupation. So we’ve adjusted our investment policy to [unintelligible] that.”

Obviously it would have been helpful to listeners trying to reach an informed opinion on this story had they been told at this point that all Israeli communities are located in Area C which – according to the Oslo Accords signed by Israel and the PLO as representative of the Palestinian people – has yet to have its final status determined in negotiations between the two parties and therefore it is at best premature to describe those areas as “Palestinian territory”. Likewise, it would have been helpful to listeners had they been informed that the same Oslo Accords place no limitations whatsoever on building in Israeli communities in Area C and that the claim that such towns and villages are “illegal under international law” is by no means the sole legal opinion on the topic.

However Justin Webb did not bother to provide his audience with any of that relevant information before bringing in James Sorene and neither did he challenge a very obvious red herring subsequently introduced by Paul Parker.

Parker: “We would absolutely agree that dialogue is the only way out of this. For a viable, peaceful solution to happen, without recourse to some of the terrible violence that we’ve been seeing in the region over the last many years, we do need to sit down and talk to each other. Our experience is though that the policy around settlements is making that dialogue harder. It’s…it’s skewing the conversation, making it very difficult for people to meet and talk on equal terms.”

Listeners were not told that the BDS campaign that the Quakers have publicly supported for the last seven and a half years opposes ‘normalisation’ – i.e. talking to Israelis – or that its ‘end game’ is not a “peaceful solution” but the eradication of the Jewish state. Neither were audiences informed that “policy around settlements” has been shown in the past to have no effect whatsoever on “dialogue”: the Palestinians have managed to hold talks when construction was taking place in Judea & Samaria and managed not to hold talks when it was frozen. Justin Webb also failed to challenge Parker’s claim that pressure needs to be brought exclusively on one party to the conflict.

Parker: “And so this decision not to invest in companies which profit from the occupation is really a non-violent way of saying we need to bring some pressure to bear on the Israeli government to change how they approach this situation.”

Webb did however manage to place the existence of Israeli communities in a region designated by the League of Nations for the creation of a Jewish homeland in the same category as “terrible things” including genocide.

Webb: “And the point being of course that there are all sorts of governments who do terrible things around the world. Are you also disinvesting from companies that, for instance, have investments in Myanmar which is accused of genocide?”

When Parker replied that “our policy is at the moment specific to the occupation of Palestine”, Webb asked:

Webb: “Are you saying that you would not invest in other places where governments are, in your view, oppressing people or is it just in Palestine?”

As noted here on numerous occasions in the past, the BBC’s ‘style guide’ instructs journalists not to use the term Palestine because “[t]here is no independent state of Palestine today…rather, it is still an aspiration or an historical entity”.  

While Justin Webb’s focus on the hypocrisy of this latest announcement from the Quakers is obviously relevant to the story, it is unfortunate that he made no effort to provide listeners with additional essential information. The fact that for so many years BBC audiences have been denied information concerning the aim of the BDS campaign, denied information concerning legal opinions which do not follow the BBC’s chosen narrative on ‘international law’ and presented with a monochrome and politically partisan view of ‘settlements‘ clearly hampers the ability of listeners to reach an informed opinion of this story.  

Related Articles:

Pacifist Aggressive: the Quaker echo chamber which empowers terrorism (UK MediaWatch)

Examining the BBC’s claim that Israeli building endangers the two state solution

 

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Weekend long read

1) At the FDD, the Institute for Science and International Security documents “New Information about the Parchin Site“.

“A great deal of on-the-ground information about Iran’s Parchin site has publicly emerged.  This site was involved prior to 2004 in high explosive testing related to the development of nuclear weapons.  The new information, mainly in the form of Iranian documents and photos, is from an archive seized by Israel in Tehran, a fact that was publicly revealed on April 30, 2018 by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.  He reported that this archive shows that in 2003 Iran was operating a nuclear weapons program, codenamed AMAD Plan, which aimed to build five nuclear weapons and prepare an underground nuclear test site, if a political decision was made to test. The Parchin site was a key part of that nuclear weapons research and development effort.”

2) Dr Shiraz Maher has published an essay titled “The primacy of praxis: clerical authority in the Syrian conflict”.

“A close look at the competing claims, actors, and movements for authority within the Syrian civil war reveals three distinct periods of political and religious influence: that of Syrian scholars, who were the first to inject religious language into the revolution; that of Salafi scholars predominantly from the Gulf; and lastly, that of jihadi organizations like ISIS and Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham, who were active on the ground.

This paper focuses on which figures relied on action—rather than theoretical abstraction—to establish legitimacy and authority on the ground in Syria. Tracing the conflict from the first clerical attempts to coordinate the Syrian opposition to the conflict’s regionalization, and, later, internationalization, this paper demonstrates that the words of actors on the ground are more likely than those of far-off figures—however popular—to resound effectively.”

3) At the JCPA, Yoni Ben Menachem takes a look at the background to a story first reported by the Jerusalem Post’s Khaled Abu Toameh.

“On October 13, 2018, Sheikh Akhram a-Sabri, preacher of the al-Aqsa Mosque, issued a fatwa (ruling in Islamic law) stating that anyone who sells property in the Old City of Jerusalem to Jews no longer belongs to the Islamic religion.

“We will not accept his repentance, and he will not be buried in a Muslim cemetery,” Sabri declared. […]

On October 20, 2018, the Jerusalem police and the Israel Security Agency (ISA) apprehended Adnan Gheith, the PA’s Jerusalem governor, and Jihad al-Faqih, director of the PA’s intelligence office in east Jerusalem, both of whom are supporters of Gen. Majid Faraj. They were arrested on suspicion of abducting a Beit Hanina resident (whose name is known to the author), a known realtor dealing in land and property, whom they suspected of selling a property in the area of Herod’s Gate in the Old City.

The realtor is an Israeli citizen who also holds a U.S. passport.”

4) Also at the JCPA, Nadav Shragai discusses a Jordanian request.

“Jordan has asked Israel to allow it to build a fifth minaret on the Temple Mount, on the eastern wall of the Mount, facing the Mount of Olives. The Jordanian request is not new, and as far as it is known, at least at this stage, Israel does not intend to allow it. This issue has again been put on the public agenda, along with other matters relating to the ties between Jordan and Israel on the Temple Mount, in light of Jordan’s decision not to renew the lease agreement for land in Naharayim and the Arava, which Israeli farmers have been working for the past 25 years.”

Weekend long read

1) Einat Wilf gives her view of “The Fatal Flaw That Doomed the Oslo Accords” at The Atlantic.

“Ultimately, sooner or later, all wars and all conflicts end, with a bang or with a whimper. There is no reason to assume that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is more intractable than others. But if we have learnt anything over the past 25 years, it is that being ambiguous about the simple fact that neither side is going to have the entirety of the land does no one any favors. Israelis will have to accept the fact that they cannot build settlements all over the West Bank, and Palestinians will have to accept the fact that they cannot settle inside Israel in the name of return. The sooner both sides hear and internalize these simple, cold, hard truths, the sooner we will be able to speak of hope again.”

2) At the Jerusalem Post Khaled Abu Toameh brings some views of Ahed Tamimi who in recent months has repeatedly been described by the BBC as “an icon”.

“During a visit to France last weekend, Tamimi appeared in a photo with Salah Eddin Medan, a member of Polisario, the rebel national liberation movement fighting since 1975 to end Morocco’s presence in the Western Sahara.

The photo enraged many Moroccans, who are now saying they regret having backed the campaign to support Tamimi after she was arrested and brought to trial for slapping an IDF soldier in her village last year. […]

“Many Palestinians are asking how come Ahed Tamimi is receiving all this attention from the international media,” said a Palestinian journalist in Ramallah. “There’s a feeling that someone is trying to turn this girl into a big hero and an icon. There are thousands of Palestinians in Israeli prison and no one seems to care. The large-scale attention she’s receiving raises many doubts. The Western media seems to be more interested in her than the Palestinian and Arab media. The Western media is trying to create a Palestinian hero.””

3) At the JNS Yaakov Lappin discusses how “Iran’s activities could ignite a dangerous fire“.

“Traditionally, Iran’s program was to traffic sophisticated weapons to its Lebanese proxy, Hezbollah. But this has run into major trouble in the form of an Israeli counter-program to disrupt this arms flow.

So Iran is trying new tricks, including giving Hezbollah the ability to domestically produce its own guided, heavy rockets.

That would give Hezbollah the ability to threaten Israel with massive projectiles, like the Iranian-designed Fateh 110 rocket, which can carry a half-ton warhead, and to do so with firepower that is accurate. The difference between accurate and inaccurate firepower is major. If Hezbollah can precisely hit the most sensitive Israeli targets—be they civilian or military—its ability to strategically threaten Israel grows significantly.”

4) The JCPA’s Yoni Ben Menachem reports on a new Hamas unit linked to the ‘Great Return March agitprop.

“Over the past two weeks, Hamas has created a new unit called, “The Night-time Deployment Unit.”

The purpose of the unit is to strike against IDF soldiers deployed on the Gaza border during the night and to break the routine of incidents on the border ending in the evening hours or on only one day of the week. […]

The establishment of the new unit is part of Hamas’ strategic decision to ramp up again the incidents on the border following the failure to secure a calm through the Egyptian-sponsored negotiations. The tactic is part of the strategy to pressure Israel to remove the blockade of the Gaza Strip.”

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

When, on September 5th, Israel’s High Court ruled that an order suspending the demolition of the illegally constructed encampment of Khan al Ahmar would be lifted in seven days, the BBC’s London-based Middle East editor obviously smelt a story. As seen here earlier, he travelled to Israel and produced an audio report on the story on September 13th

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

The demolition order was not carried out on September 13th but a few recently placed shipping containers were removed. The following day bulldozers were brought in to remove barriers of rocks which had been set up by local and foreign activists to hamper the still pending demolition process.

Jeremy Bowen and his crew were present in Khan al Ahmar on September 14th and three days later, a filmed report titled “The West Bank village facing demolition” was aired on ‘News at Ten’ on BBC One and the BBC News channel.

“The UK says that Israel’s commitment to a fair and lasting solution to the Palestinian conflict is being undermined by its plans to demolish a village on the West Bank. The United Nations and European Parliament have also being highly critical – saying the move jeopardises any chance of a two-state solution being found in the region. The village of Khan al-Ahmar is home to some 200 residents, but sits on a main road that runs through the West Bank. Our Middle East editor Jeremy Bowen sent this report on the plight of those living there.”

In that filmed report Bowen recycled narratives and deliberate omissions previously seen in his radio report. Once again BBC audiences were not informed that Khan al Ahmar is located in Area C which, under the terms of the Oslo Accords, is under Israeli control pending final status negotiations. Once again he amplified a narrative suggesting that the Jahalin Bedouin tribe had arrived in the area over sixty years ago– despite contradictory evidence. And yet again Bowen did not bother to inform BBC audiences that the Bedouin make no claim to own the land on which they erected their encampment. [emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]

Bowen: “In this conflict disputes that look small come with big consequences. It’s dawn in the Judean Desert – occupied by Israel, claimed by Palestinians as part of a future state. In the village of Khan al Ahmar it’s time for Hussam, Kassem and Asil – sleeping outside as it’s still hot – to get up for school. Their mother is making breakfast. Their Palestinian Bedouin community settled here after they were expelled from the new State of Israel in the 1950s. But now the Israeli Supreme Court has ruled that the village was built without permission so the state can demolish it.”

Viewers then heard from a person described as the “village preacher”.

Abu Dahook: “It is as if we are waiting to die. That is easier than being forced out of our home to an unknown fate.”

Yet again Bowen did not bother to clarify to viewers that, far from facing an “unknown fate”, the residents of Khan al Ahmar have been offered free plots of land with already existing connections to utilities close by – at a cost of over $2 million to the Israeli tax payer.

Once again ignoring photographic evidence, Bowen repeated the narrative according to which the encampment existed before 1967, while inaccurately claiming that it is ‘surrounded’ by “Jewish settlements” and giving viewers a partisan representation of “international law”.

Bowen: “Khan al Ahmar was established before Israel seized this territory. It’s almost impossible for Palestinians to get building permits here. The UN says Israel discriminates in favour of Jewish settlements which surround the village and are illegal under international law.”

Misrepresenting what the bulldozers were doing at the site on September 14th Bowen went on:

Bowen: “Israeli forces try to block off an access road. Tension has risen since the village lost its final appeal. It’s a ritual after more than 50 years of occupation. Palestinians and their supporters protest. With its military, bureaucratic and political power, Israel prevails. This is a very nasty scuffle. Not lots of people involved but it’s very symbolic and all this is important because it’s about control of this land. Not just now, but in the future. Everything that happens here is politicised and deeply connected to this long and very bitter conflict.”

He then introduced a topic unrelated to the Khan al Ahmar case – which he refrained from telling BBC audiences has been the topic of court cases for the past nine years.

Bowen:”And now there’s President Trump. He’s Israel’s cheerleader; recognising Jerusalem as its capital, expelling Palestinian diplomats from the US and cutting aid to refugees. He’s targeted Palestinian hospitals in Jerusalem, ending a $25 million grant. Pediatric dialysis and cancer wards have lost a quarter of their budgets. Lives, they say, are at risk.”

Viewers next saw an interview with a hospital official apparently filmed on September 13th.

Nammour: “You know we could not believe that, you know, sick children – children with cancer – will be used by any [unintelligible], by an American government. It’s incredible.”

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

Nammour: “Yeah but I mean why would?…this is politics. Why would a child who has cancer pay the price?”

Neither Bowen nor his interviewee bothered to inform viewers that by September 9th – the day after the US announcement and at least four days before this interview was filmed – the Palestinian Authority had already announced that it would make up the deficit.

Declining to tell BBC audiences which “major concessions” Palestinians have already made, Bowen went on:

Bowen: “On their side of the Jerusalem wall, for the Israelis these are days that smell like victory. Pressure, President Trump believes, will push the Palestinians into more major concessions. The danger is that one-sided coercion could mean violence, not peace.”

Viewers then saw part of an interview with Israel’s Minister of Education which was also promoted separately on the BBC News website along with another version of this report.

Bennett: “President Trump has brought fresh thinking to a region that’s been fairly stagnant in terms of its methodologies and ideas.”

Bowen: “But do you think it’s a good idea to take some really quite severe actions which actually hurt ordinary people and not leaderships?”

Bennett: “Well what Trump is telling the Palestinians: if you think you’ll continue inciting against Jews and killing Jews and somehow time is on your side, you’re wrong. You’ve got to act. You’ve got to move. Let’s make peace. Don’t wait on the sidelines because time is not on your side.”

Bowen closed his report with amplification of the notion that the relocation of squatters from an illegally constructed encampment on land to which they have no claim is a “war crime”.

Bowen: “Down the desert road from Jerusalem the big issues of the conflict are in play. The UN and the Red Cross say forcing the people of Khan al Ahmar out of their village would be a war crime. But at the heart of this are families losing homes, children losing their school and pain for yet another generation.”

Notably the BBC’s Middle East editor – whose job it is to “make a complex story more comprehensive or comprehensible for the audience” – chose yet again not to tell the BBC’s funding public that the EU has also carried out illegal construction at Khan al Ahmar and other sites in the vicinity or that the Palestinian Authority and various NGOs have for years used the encampment’s residents as political pawns.

To do so would of course hamper the narrative to which Jeremy Bowen has self-conscripted and which he elected to promote in this report as well as subsequent ones which will be discussed in part two of this post. 

Related Articles:

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

Omission and imbalance in BBC report on ‘Bedouin village’

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

 

 

 

Behind a BBC News video on Gaza airport

On September 12th a filmed report was posted on the BBC News website under the headline “Gaza’s abandoned airport in ruins” and with the following synopsis:

“In 1998 the Yasser Arafat International Airport was built in Gaza.

It was seen by many as a symbol of Palestinian sovereignty, soon after the Oslo Accords were signed by Israel and the Palestinians, in a move towards peace.

But by 2001, the airport was no longer operational.”

Viewers of the report were told that:

“These are the ruins of Gaza’s international airport. Yasser Arafat International Airport opened in 1998, costing $86m. But no planes have taken off or landed here since 2001. The runway is scattered with litter from nearby refugee camps. But this place was once seen as a symbol of Palestinian sovereignty. The airport was opened soon after the Oslo Accords which were a bid for peace between Israel and the Palestinians. But Israeli-Palestinian relations broke down. The airport was destroyed by Israel during the Second Intifada. The International Civil Aviation Organisation condemned the destruction of the airport and urged Israel to allow it to reopen. Gaza currently has no functioning airports.”

As we see, BBC audiences were given scant background information concerning the circumstances behind the airport’s closure and failure to subsequently reopen. Interestingly, in April 2005 – over two years before the Gaza Strip was taken over by the Hamas terror faction – a BBC reporter had already noted that:

“The Palestinian leadership says it is time to re-open the airport.

But Israel says no. Gaza is home to militant groups like Hamas that have struck at Israeli soldiers and civilians many times. Israel worries that its enemies might use the airport to smuggle in weapons.

The Palestinian security forces are widely regarded as being riddled with members who are sympathetic to – or even active in – militant groups.

The Israelis say they don’t believe that they would run the airport securely.”

Neither were viewers of this report told that the Oslo Accords also included a clause titled “Security of the Airspace” according to which Israel was to maintain control of Gaza’s airspace. Following Israel’s disengagement from the Gaza Strip in the summer of 2005, an Agreement on Movement and Access was signed between Israel and the Palestinian Authority which included the following clause on aviation: 

“The parties agree on the importance of the airport. Discussions will continue on the issues of security arrangements, construction, and operation.”

Two months later, in January 2006, the Palestinian Legislative Council elections brought significant gains for Hamas, which went on to take over the Gaza Strip in a violent coup in June 2007, with the result that the co-signer of that agreement – the Palestinian Authority – lost all influence there.

So while BBC audiences were correctly told that Israel had been “urged to allow it to reopen“, they were not informed why Israel might consider an international airport situated literally meters from its border and controlled by a terrorist organisation which does not co-operate with Israel on anything – let alone aviation safety and security – and which has been responsible for hundreds of terror attacks and the firing of thousands of missiles against Israeli civilians, to be a security concern.  

But why were BBC audiences presented with this report now? The 20th anniversary of the opening of the Gaza Strip airport is still over two months away and while one may surmise that this report has some connection to this month’s anniversary of the signing of the Oslo Accords, a rather more mundane reason may be equally relevant.

On the same day that the BBC’s report emerged, AFP’s Gaza office produced a filmed report from the exact same location and with some strikingly similar visuals.

BBC report

AFP report

BBC report

AFP report

However, unlike the BBC version, AFP’s report also included contributions by officials from the Palestinian Aviation Authority and the Gaza Civil Aviation Authority who, it appears from a written AFP report published on the same day, accompanied the agency’s journalists to the location.

“Zuhair Zomlot, coordinator of the Civil Aviation Authority in Gaza, joined AFP on the tour.”

The reopening of the Gaza Strip airport has of course long been on the wish-list presented by Hamas during negotiation of assorted ceasefire agreements. Now an AFP Gaza bureau report produced in cooperation with Gaza based officials has apparently been recycled into a context-free ‘stocking filler’ BBC video which does nothing to provide audiences with the information needed for full understanding of how the fact that “Gaza currently has no functioning airports” is connected to Hamas terrorism.

Related Articles:

BBC News drops Associated Press, expands links with AFP

Weekend long read

1) At the JCPA Nadav Shragai discusses the threats against Arab residents of Jerusalem ahead of upcoming municipal elections.

“Ten weeks before the local elections in Jerusalem on October 30, 2018, terrorist organizations are increasing the pressure on east Jerusalem residents to stay away from the voting booths and maintain the boycott of Jerusalem’s municipal elections as in the past. While the pressure grows, this time surveys and some new, different voices reflect a desire among many Arab east Jerusalemites to participate in the elections. They seek to become part of the municipal establishment so that they can wield influence and channel budgets into services and infrastructure for the Arab neighborhoods.”

2) At the INSS Yohanan Tzoreff analyses the recent PLO Central Council meeting.

“The Central Council meeting took place in the shadow of a threat to the PLO’s status as the exclusive representative of the Palestinian people, and the possibility of a solution imposed on the Palestinians that would sever the Gaza Strip from the West Bank. In addition, there is evidence of some desire to isolate Abu Mazen himself given his opposition to any measure that might promote the Trump administration’s policy in the region, especially any measure that Abu Mazen regards as liable to cause a split among the Palestinians. The rhetoric at this conference therefore featured threats and warnings against any action harmful to Palestinian national interests and liable to play into the hands of the United States and Israel, which ostensibly aim to perpetuate the split among the Palestinians, prevent formation of a Palestinian state according to the framework outlined in 1988, and promote the “deal of the century” that President Trump’s emissaries have drafted over the past 18 months. The conference was marked by the absence of the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (DFLP) from the discussions, in protest at having its representatives excluded from PLO offices and what was described as a takeover by Fatah of the PLO and general Palestinian national decision making.”

3) At the FDD Benjamin Weinthal and Julie Lenarz take a look at “Iran’s forgotten persecuted Christian minority“.

“Christianity, of course, is not alien to Iran where it arrived in Persia not long after the death of Christ. There are believed to be an estimated 350,000 Christians in Iran, with a growing trend toward converting to Christianity. Iran’s Statistical Center reports 117,700 Christians in a country of just over 82 million people.

The real number of Iranian Christians probably exceeds 350,000 because of the anti-Christian conditions they face in the country. Turning inward not to expose oneself to the dangers of practicing Christianity has become a survival strategy in Iran.

The law heavily discriminates against non-Muslims, who have been barred from all influential positions in central state organs since the Islamic Revolution of 1979. Blasphemy and apostasy remain capital offences.”

4) As the 25th anniversary of the Oslo Agreement approaches, Joel Singer gives his view at the Fathom Journal.

“It then became clear that Arafat was prepared to make bold choices only with regard to less important issues. When the parties reached the important issues, Arafat constantly sought internal Palestinian consensus. Such a consensus necessarily required that Arafat’s positions on permanent status agreement issues be acceptable to the PLO’s arch enemy Hamas, an organisation that rejected the Oslo Agreement and whose main objective continued to be the destruction of the State of Israel. In other words, rather than De Gaulle, Nixon or even Anwar Sadat, Arafat ultimately proved himself to be unwilling and incapable.

Arafat’s heir, the non-charismatic Mahmoud Abbas (known as Abu Mazen), while perhaps a bit more willing, especially with regard to maintaining security cooperation with Israel, is even less capable of making the kind of historic decisions that are required to bring an end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. No wonder, therefore, that the Oslo-based peace process has all but come to a standstill.”

BBC Radio 4’s peace process tango for one – part one

According to the old adage it takes two to tango but an edition of the BBC Radio 4 programme ‘Analysis’ – which self describes as a “programme examining the ideas and forces which shape public policy in Britain and abroad, presented by distinguished writers, journalists and academics” – managed to disregard that maxim throughout the overwhelming majority of its 27 and a half minutes.

Titled “The Middle East Conundrum” and presented by Edward Stourton, the programme – aired on July 2nd and repeated on July 8th – was described in the synopsis as follows:

“Edward Stourton asks if there any chance of a long-term solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Tensions have been rising following the move of the US Embassy to Jerusalem and the deadly clashes at the border between Israel and Gaza. The peace process – if it exists at all – seems to be in deep freeze. The idea of a two-state solution does not appear to be getting any closer, while a one-state solution would effectively mark the end of a Jewish state. Does Israel have a long-term strategy?” [emphasis added]

The programme began with a recording of a report by the BBC’s Middle East editor Jeremy Bowen. [emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]

Bowen: “Palestinians call these protests the Great March of Return. For many of the young people who rushed the borer wire with Israel, it was a one-way journey.”

Stourton: “In mid-May, as Israel marked its 70th anniversary and the United States moved its embassy to Jerusalem, some 60 Palestinians were killed during protests along the Gaza border. The story’s dropped out of the headlines but the protests and the dying have continued in a steady attrition. 16 people have been killed since then and the casualty figures over the past two and a half months are now estimated at over 120 dead and more than 14,600 wounded.”

Stourton made absolutely no effort to provide listeners with essential context on the topic of why those ‘protests’ took place and who organised and funded them. He likewise refrained from informing audiences that over 80% of those killed have been shown to have links to various Gaza based terror factions

Stourton: “For this programme we’ve been asking a question that used to make headlines and was once prominent in foreign ministerial in trays: is there a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict? Here’s a Palestinian perspective.”

Although unnamed, listeners then heard from Sari Nusseibeh.

Nusseibeh: “Each side has become more uncertain of the other. Each side has become less interested, less hopeful of a final or permanent solution with the other. So we have been left in some kind of limbo.”

Stourton: “Here’s the view of a veteran negotiator.”

Also unnamed, that negotiator is Martin Indyk.

Indyk: “Yeah, I think that it is a depressing situation and it didn’t have to be this way. And I do feel a sense of responsibility. Having been involved in the effort over 35 years the sense of failure weighs heavily and especially because in the process of trying to resolve it, a lot of people have died on both sides.”

With no Israeli view presented, Stourton then went on to mislead listeners by referring to “Israel’s frontiers before the Six-Day War”. Those “frontiers” were of course armistice lines which were specifically defined in the 1949 Armistice Agreement as not being borders.

Stourton: “A two-state solution to the conflict with a border drawn roughly along the lines of Israel’s frontiers before the Six-Day War in 1967 is still the starting point for most Middle East diplomacy and polls suggest it’s still the most widely supported solution among Israelis and Palestinians. But it now seems so remote that people on both sides have begun to talk as if it’s a goal that will never be reached.”

Stourton then went on to reveal why Radio 4 was broadcasting an overtly one-sided programme on what – given the state of the region as a whole – it ridiculously insists on describing as “the Middle East conundrum” and “Middle East diplomacy”.

Stourton: “And because Israel is – unlike the Palestinian Authority – a fully functioning state with military superiority, we’ll be focusing on whether its government has a long-term vision of what the future might look like.”

He continued:

Stourton: “I should say at the outset that we’ve had great difficulty in persuading those members of the coalition now in power who have a reputation for bold thinking on this subject to talk to us.”

The programme’s framing – which can be boiled down to ‘how a succession of Israeli prime ministers rejected the two-state solution and so failed to make peace’ – then came into view:   

Stourton: “One way to approach the subject is through the life and career of the current prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu and our story begins before Israel even existed, in the debates of early Zionists and the split between pragmatists like Israel’s founder David Ben Gurion and the so-called revisionist movement which counted Mr Netanyahu’s father among its supporters.”

Another unidentified voice – belonging to journalist Anshel Pfeffer – was then heard.

Pfeffer: “Well Professor Ben Zion Netanyahu believed in that very forceful, almost militaristic, way of bringing the Zionist programme to fruition; that the Jews shouldn’t compromise on any of their rights to the land of Israel, that there should be no weakness in any way shown towards the Arabs or towards international powers. Much less pragmatic approach than was being shown by the…by Ben Gurion’s Workers Party.”

Stourton: “Is it fair to say those ideas had a very profound impact on his son?”

Pfeffer: “No doubt about it.”

Stourton: “Anshel Pfeffer who’s just published a biography called ‘Bibi – The Turbulent Life and Times of Benjamin Netanyahu’. Mr Netanyahu first really claimed international attention at the event which raised the curtain on what became known as the peace process: the Madrid Conference in 1991. He was the prime minister’s spokesman and a real master of the sound-bite.”

Listeners then heard an archive recording:

Netanyahu: “We now have Israel that is ringed with a circle of talks. And we hope that it will replace the circle of guns that surrounds us: that this will bring peace.”

Stourton: “His boss, the prime minister Yitzhak Shamir, had – like Netanyahu senior – been a hard-liner in the days before Israel’s founding and the Americans, who sponsored the conference, had a tense time persuading him to come. Dennis Ross was a member of the American team and he doesn’t think Mr Shamir had accepted the idea of a two-state solution.”

Ross: “I think in Shamir’s case it was not so much he thought it was leading to a two-state solution. It’s just said it was leading to the unknown.”

Stourton: “Do you think he had a vision of where he wanted to end up?”

Ross: “He said that a couple of times to us that you know this is a process that’s beginning now and the issues – the real final status issues – will be dealt with after he was no longer there. I think his real approach was not driven by an objective of what he wanted as much as it was driven by a process that he hoped could be stretched out to the point where any risk that Israel might be running could be managed.”

Stourton: “The Madrid Conference did not in itself produce much movement but it was followed by the so-called Oslo Accords, negotiated in great secrecy in the Norwegian capital, which created a Palestinian Authority and gave the Palestinians a measure of autonomy. The Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and a new Israeli prime minister, Yitzhak Rabin, shook hands on the deal on the White House lawn in 1993.”

After a recording of the former US president Bill Clinton speaking at that event, Stourton introduced his next contributor.

Stourton: “But even then many Israeli leaders were reluctant to accept the idea of full statehood for the Palestinians. Yossi Beilin – now a prominent opposition figure in Israeli politics – was a key player in the Oslo negotiations.”

Yossi Beilin in fact retired from political life a decade ago, in 2008.

Beilin: “Only after the agreement with the PLO it became quite apparent that the two-state solution would be the solution but even then, until Rabin’s murder he never spoke about the full two-state solution. He spoke about a Palestinian entity which will be less of a state or something like that.”

Six minutes into the programme, listeners had by now heard three Israeli prime ministers described as opponents of the two-state solution. So would they hear portrayals of the views of Palestinian leaders of the same era on that topic?

Stourton: “In the Oslo Accords the PLO recognised the State of Israel and Israel recognised the PLO as the representative of the Palestinian people. Movement on the Israeli side was matched by movement among moderate Palestinians. Sari Nusseibeh is a leading Palestinian intellectual and was a prominent champion of the two-state solution.”

While there are those who would disagree with Stourton’s portrayal of Nusseibeh, notably Stourton did not ask him for the PLO leader’s views of the two-state solution at the time.

Nusseibeh: “Well it seemed to me at the time on the Israeli side there were enough Israelis who seemed to also be saying they wanted to end the occupation, return to the ’67 borders, be content with the state they have within those borders and they were basically beginning to force a recognition of the Palestinian right of self-determination. And it seemed at the time to me that this would do as a kind of fair solution. It’s not the best solution, but as a fair solution. And on the Palestinian side, especially in the occupied territories, people also seemed to be struggling for primarily for a life of freedom, of independence, of dignity, of self-rule. So on both counts it seemed to me that this would be a good settlement.”

Stourton: “Bibi [sic] Netanyahu however did not change his thinking. In 1993 – the year of that arresting handshake between Messrs Arafat and Rabin on the White House lawn – he published a book called ‘A Place Among the Nations: Israel and the World’ in which he argued for firm limits on the amount of autonomy the Palestinians should be given.”

Listeners then heard what is presumably a quote from that book (which was actually published five months before that White House lawn ceremony) which was – for some reason – read in an American accent.

“Under any conception of autonomy Israel should retain the powers and prerogatives of the sovereign including such matters as military defence, foreign affairs and control of the currency and foreign trade while the Arab population could manage many areas of daily life.”

Anshel Pfeffer then told listeners that the book “basically remains Netanyahu’s blueprint” and that in it “Netanyahu presents his version of Jewish history, his version of Jewish nationalism” and that he “pushes away any kind of Palestinian claim” and “denies the fact that there is such a thing as Palestinian nationalism in any historical sense. He treats it as being very much a manufactured notion of the mid-20th century”. Pfeffer went on to claim that the book presents  “Netanyahu’s plan for the future, for what kind of a peace solution can seriously bring peace to the Middle East and ensure Israel’s prosperity and success in the future”.

Stourton: And what does that look like in his book?”

Pfeffer: “Well it doesn’t look like the two-state solution if we have to be very honest. His solution is that Israel does not have to make any kind of concessions towards the Palestinians because Israel is in a much larger battle  for survival, not with the Palestinians but with the wider Arab world and with radical Islam and with Iran.”

By this time listeners were a third of way in to the programme and yet had not heard a single word about the terrorism that followed that White House lawn handshake in 1993 and the fact that the number of Israelis murdered by Palestinian terrorists in the five years after the Oslo Accords was higher than in the fifteen years before they were signed.

Describing Arafat as “the PLO leader” while failing to clarify that he was by that time also the president of the Palestinian Authority, Stourton then went on to present a debatable picture of the Camp David summit and to portray the second Intifada as something that just “began” rather than the pre-planned terror war that it actually was.

Stourton: “The high point of hopes for a two-state solution came in the summer of 2000 when Bill Clinton brought another Israeli prime minister, Ehud Barak, and the PLO leader Yasser Arafat together for 2 weeks of talks at Camp David [….]. They came tantalisingly close to a deal but they failed to get there. Two months later the second Intifada – or Palestinian uprising began. It was the beginning of the slide to today’s stalemate. Martin Indyk served two terms as the American ambassador to Israel.”

Indyk: “If we look for the tipping point it really goes back to trying to identify when the population on both sides decided that the other side had evil intent rather than benign intent. The outbreak of the Intifada convinced Israelis that giving up territory or promising to give up territory was only going to lead to more violence – and it was horrendous violence. On the other side I think the Palestinians became convinced that Oslo just brought them more settlements and more occupation. It didn’t actually lead to ending the occupation.”

Of course Indyk’s claim that Oslo “brought…more settlements” is inaccurate – as the BBC has itself reported in the past. Stourton then moved on to another Israeli prime minister.

Stourton: “In the aftermath of the Intifada Israel elected a prime minister with a reputation as the hardest of hard-liners: Ariel Sharon. He surprised everyone by deciding to withdraw from the Gaza Strip.”

Listeners heard an archive report from Orla Guerin which included the following:

Guerin “The night sky over Gaza suggests victory but on this historic night, remember this: there is no peace deal and no Palestinian state and Israel still controls the borders here.”

Stourton: “The logic behind his withdrawal plan – and there was talk of it being extended to the West Bank – was to create separate homes for Palestinians and Israelis not by negotiation but by unilateral Israeli action and on Israel’s terms. But that ran counter to the principle at the heart of all previous peace talks: the idea that Israel would give up land in exchange for peace.”

Indyk “Mahmoud Abbas…begged Sharon to negotiate an agreement for Israel’s withdrawal so that he would have commitments that he could impose – or at least try to impose – on the Palestinians, including on Hamas.”

Listeners were not informed that relevant agreements had already been signed – including the 1995 Israeli-Palestinian Interim Agreement on the West Bank and the Gaza Strip which laid out exactly the kinds of “commitments” Indyk claimed were lacking.  

Stourton: “Hamas, the radical Palestinian group formally dedicated to the destruction of Israel, won elections not long after the Israeli withdrawal and later secured its power in Gaza by force.”

Indyk: “But Sharon, you know, was insistent on doing a deal with George W Bush rather than with the Palestinian leadership so the withdrawal was without any understanding, any commitment on the Palestinian side, any arrangements. It was effectively pulling out and throwing the keys over the fence.”

Stourton: “So we see the impact of that still today, do we?”

Indyk: “Profoundly, profoundly because Israel withdrew, went through the incredible pain of uprooting the…the settlers there and what it got in return was rockets. Hamas’ rockets. And so that sent a message to Israelis that, you know, giving up territory doesn’t get you peace.”

In other words, BBC audiences heard Hamas terrorism – and conclusions subsequently drawn by the Israeli public – framed as having been caused by Israel’s unilateral disengagement from the Gaza Strip.  Notably they did not hear any mention of foreign funding of Hamas.

By this time the programme was almost at its half-way point and BBC audiences had first and foremost heard how a succession of Israeli prime ministers failed to make peace. In the second part of this post we shall see whether or not any balance was introduced into the latter half of the discussion.

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

Although the BBC has been telling its audiences that “the Palestinians want East Jerusalem to be the capital of a future Palestinian state” for many years, since the US president’s announcement of recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital on December 6th 2017 that messaging has been promoted on a variety of BBC platforms on an almost daily basis.

BBC portrayals of the topic usually include the narrative seen in a frequently reused backgrounder on Jerusalem produced by Yolande Knell in which audiences were led to believe that a Palestinian capital in “east Jerusalem” is an already agreed component of the two-state solution rather than a topic to be discussed in final status negotiations.

“Of course, Palestinians see things starkly differently. They want east Jerusalem as their capital.

And that’s part of the long-standing international formula for peace here, known as the “two-state solution”.

Knell also portrayed the two-state solution in terms that dovetail with the PLO’s interpretation of that term.

“Basically the idea that an independent Palestinian state would be created alongside Israel, along the boundaries that existed before 1967, it’s written up in UN resolutions.” [emphasis added]

Of course the prime motivation behind Palestinian claims to a capital in the parts of Jerusalem occupied by Jordan between 1948 and 1967 is control over Temple Mount but the BBC repeatedly fails to adequately clarify that important point to its audiences.

Neither does it bother to inform them of the Palestinian Authority’s record on upholding agreements it has already signed with Israel regarding other holy places.

Under the terms of the Oslo Accords, freedom of access to and worship at holy sites was guaranteed.

“The agreement guarantees freedom of access to and freedom of worship at the holy sites, and defines access arrangements for the holy places located in Areas “A” and “B”. With regard to Rachel’s Tomb in Bethlehem and Joseph’s Tomb in Nablus, special arrangements are set out in the agreement which will also guarantee freedom of access and freedom of worship.”

“ARTICLE 32
Religious Sites

  1. Responsibility over sites of religious significance in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip (hereinafter – “Holy Sites”) will be transferred to the Palestinian side. In Area C, this responsibility will be transferred gradually to Palestinian jurisdiction that will cover West Bank and Gaza Strip territory except for the issues that will be negotiated in the permanent status negotiations, during the further redeployment phases, to be completed within 18 months from the date of the inauguration of the Council.
  2. Both sides shall respect and protect the listed below religious rights of Jews, Christians, Moslems and Samaritans:
  3. protection of the Holy Sites;
  4. free access to the Holy Sites; and
  5. freedom of worship and practice.
  6. a. The Palestinian side shall ensure free access to, respect the ways of worship in and not make any changes to, the Jewish Holy Sites listed in List No. 1 of Schedule 4.
  7. The Palestinian side shall ensure free access to, and respect the ways of worship in, the Jewish Holy Sites listed in List No. 2 of Schedule 4 .
  8. Schedule 4 shall be updated commensurate with the gradual transfer of responsibility in accordance with paragraph 1.
  9. The holy site of Nebi Musa shall be under the auspices of the Palestinian side for religious purposes.
  10. During religious events that take place three times a year and other special occasions that shall be coordinated with the Israeli authorities, Palestinians shall have the right to religious pilgrimage to the Al-Maghtas [in Jordan – ed] under the Palestinian flag. Safe passage will be provided from the Jericho Area to Al-Maghtas for this purpose.”

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 – most recently on January 15th when an explosive device planted at the entrance to Joseph’s Tomb was discovered just before a visit by worshippers. That incident did not receive any BBC coverage whatsoever.

Some of the religious sites included in the Oslo Accords – Rachel’s Tomb and the Cave of Machpelah – have been the subject of motions instigated by the Palestinian Authority and passed by UNESCO that are designed to negate their Jewish heritage. Holy sites in Jerusalem have also been the subject of deliberately politicised UNESCO resolutions denying Jewish history.

Despite its public purpose obligation to provide audiences with “impartial news and information to help people understand and engage with the world around them” the BBC has not produced any content relating to the failure of the agreement that the Palestinians signed over two decades ago to guarantee freedom of access for Jews to religious sites under the control of the Palestinian Authority and to safeguard those sites.

However, the BBC’s copious multi-platform amplification of the simplistic narrative according to which a Palestinian capital in ‘East Jerusalem’ is the “formula for peace” continues apace.  

Related Articles:

Inaccuracy and omission in BBC backgrounder on Jerusalem

BBC WS listeners get a homogeneous view of US aid to Palestinians – part two

As we saw in part one of this post, an item (from 30:05 here) aired in the January 3rd edition of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour‘ that purported to examine the question of “who would lose out the most if President Trump followed through on his threat to cut funding to the Palestinians?” opened with promotion of the views of the PLO’s Hanan Ashrawi and then went on to feature a fellow at a think-tank who has advocated for sanctions against Israel.

The third and final interviewee in the item did nothing to counter its homogeneous portrayal of the topic. Presenter Julian Marshall introduced him as follows:

Marshall: “And Ziad Khalil Abu Zayyad is international spokesman for President Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah party. So could the Palestinians really do without this American money?”

Abu Zayyad: “Well the thing is that when the Palestinian Authority was established it was the result of the Oslo Agreement and it came as a solution – a temporary solution – while the Israeli occupation continued. Now according to the international law the occupation power takes all the responsibility – all the services needed for the people and of course also security matters.”

Marshall: “So…so you are suggesting that if the United States cut off funding to the Palestinian Authority, the Palestinian Authority might find it very difficult to administer the Palestinian territories and that the onus should be on Israel to take over that administration or funding?”

Referring to a scheduled PLO meeting (reportedly themed “Jerusalem is the exclusive capital of Palestine”) Abu Zayyad replied:

Abu Zayyad: “Absolutely. The PA would collapse immediately and if the PA collapse then this would also affect our Central Council meeting that will be happening at the middle of this month and with the decision that it would take. The PA is a temporary authority and it functions according to the funding that is coming from the mediators. Now since the US is not a mediator anymore and now they’re trying to blackmail the Palestinian leadership by saying that they won’t give funding anymore, then absolutely the result would be the collapse of the PA and according to the international law – not our law – Israel would be responsible of all the matters and all the services that are needed.”

Abu Zayyad of course refrains from reminding listeners that when the Oslo Accords were signed and the Palestinian Authority created, foreign donor countries expected to see the PA engage in serious negotiations with Israel in order to bring an end to the conflict. He also appears to be able to ignore the dissonance in the fact that while the PA has chosen to loudly proclaim that the US no longer has a role as a mediator, he claims that mediators are committed to providing the PA with funding and objects to any cut in US aid.

Marshall: “But setting aside the instability that you say the collapse of the Palestinian Authority might create as a result of a loss of US funding, a recent poll has found that half of the Palestinians surveyed views the Palestinian Authority as a burden on the Palestinian people – that they would be quite happy to see it go.”

Abu Zayyad: “Well they won’t be happy. I mean listen, we have been…since 1965 we have been in a revolution calling for the freedom of the Palestinian people. Now if Israel is ready to come and take responsibility then let them come and take the keys and face the new situation they will face, which is that the will be ruling two million and a half Palestinians that will be calling for equality and human rights. Which means that Israel will have two choices – either to create an apartheid system by not giving the basic rights for the Palestinians that would be under their control or to include them as citizens in one state on all the historical land of Palestine which would by all means end the Zionist dream of having a Jewish state for the Jewish people.”

Refraining from clarifying to listeners that Abu Zayyad’s reference to 1965 – the year of Fatah’s founding – means that their “revolution” is against Israel itself rather than “the occupation”, Marshall went on:

Marshall: “You…you seem to be saying that this threat by President Trump could backfire on him.”

Abu Zayyad: “Absolutely. The biggest loser is Israel and I’m quoting from here the Shabak – which is the Israeli intelligence service – and the IDF – which is the Israeli defence army – saying that any miss with the money being paid for the budgets of the PA would explode the situation in the face of Israel and therefore they recommended several times for the Israeli prime minister Netanyahu not to do such a thing. The Palestinian leaders have made it clear – the president made it clear – that they are not here to sit and rule on nothing but they want a democratic and independent Palestinian state and if we can’t achieve it, so the institutions that came out as a result of Oslo, then we will be looking into other options. And all the options are on the table for us for this.”

Marshall: “Ziad Khalil Abu Zayyad, international spokesman for the Palestinian Fatah party.”

As we see, listeners to this item heard three views in all – two from Palestinians and one from a think-tank fellow with a record of being less than neutral. No American or Israeli views were sought by the programme’s producers. Audiences were told that any cut in US aid to Palestinians would cause the Palestinian Authority to collapse with detrimental results for Israel, European and American interests and the Middle East peace process. They were twice told that the US president is ‘blackmailing’ the Palestinians.

Listeners did not however hear anything at all about Palestinian Authority corruption and misuse of donor funding – including for salaries for people who do not work and for the purpose of providing financial rewards for terrorists and their families. Neither did they hear even a word about the problematic aspects of UNRWA or the arguments (which have been discussed long before the US remarks concerning aid were made) for and against cutting its funding.

Clearly this item’s framing of the issue was narrow, superficial and monochrome and failed to provide audiences any views and information that would contradict the homogeneous chosen narrative on the story. 

Related Articles:

BBC WS listeners get a homogeneous view of US aid to Palestinians – part one

 

 

 

Four BBC radio reports on the same topic promote politicised themes

Listeners to BBC Radio 4 and BBC World Service radio recently heard four different radio reports on the same topic.  The maker of those reports, Linda Pressly, described one of them as “a different window on the region” – but is that actually the case?

In fact, all four of those reports repeated politicised themes frequently seen in BBC content.

One of those themes is promotion of the umbrella term ‘occupied West Bank’ without any distinction being made between the places under complete Palestinian Authority control (Area A), those where the PA administers civilian life and Israel is responsible for security (Area B) and those under Israeli administration (Area C) – as laid out in the Oslo Accords agreement signed by Israel and the Palestinians.

The first of Pressly’s reports about Arabian horses was aired on November 25th in the BBC Radio 4 programme ‘From Our Own Correspondent”. Presenter Kate Adie told listeners (from 12:22 here) that:

“In the occupied West Bank though, among ordinary Palestinians, there’s been a resurgence of interest in these horses.”

In that report, Pressly visited two locations: Al Bireh – in Area A and under complete PA control since 1994 – and Anata in Area B.

The second report was broadcast on November 30th in an edition of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour’. Presented James Menendez’s introduction (from 18:00 here) included both use of the term ‘occupied West Bank’ and another increasingly seen theme: portrayal of Israeli Arabs as “Palestinian Israelis”.

“In the occupied West Bank equestrian sport has been growing in popularity over the past decade and the breeding of Arabian horses […] is a passion shared by both Jewish and Palestinian Israelis as well as those who live in the West Bank…”

In that report Pressly visited Silwan in Jerusalem which she described as follows:

“The area known as Silwan by Palestinians and as the City of David by Jewish Israelis tumbles down the hillside in East Jerusalem. It’s one of the most heavily contested parts of this city…”

Pressly also visited a riding centre in Jericho – located in Area A and also under complete PA control since 1994. Despite that fact, listeners heard a young show-jumper say that:

“My goal is to represent Palestine and tell people that we’re there, we can do things while we are occupied, that we don’t give up.”

Also on November 30th, listeners to BBC Radio 4’s ‘Crossing Continents’ heard a much longer version of the same report – titled ‘Pride, Passion and Palestinian Horses’ – in which Pressly’s “journey in the occupied West Bank”, as she termed it, included visits to Al Bireh (Area A), “East Jerusalem”, Anata (Area B), Turmus Ayya (Area B) and Hebron (Area A).

“In the West Bank hundreds of families share a passion for breeding horses. Amid the narrow streets and cramped apartment buildings small stables can be found with owners grooming beautiful Arabian colts and fillies. These new breeders are now making their mark at Israeli horse shows where competition to produce the best in breed is intense. As Palestinian and Israeli owners mingle on the show ground, political differences are put to one side as they share a passion for the Arabian horse.
For Crossing Continents, Linda Pressly follows one Palestinian owner and his colt as they navigate their way through Israeli checkpoints to the next big event in the Israeli Kibbutz of Alonim. Winning best in show is the plan but will they even get there?”

As can be seen from that synopsis, another theme promoted in this report and in the very similar one broadcast on the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Assignment on November 30th and December 3rd was that of “Israeli checkpoints”.

Early on in the report (06:53), Pressley told listeners that in what she calls the West Bank, “the geography’s complicated; carved up as it is between the Palestinian Authority and Israeli control and punctuated by Israeli military checkpoints”.

During her visit to Anata, listeners heard her local fixer say that since the second Intifada “the Israelis are not allowed to come into Palestinian areas” but no explanation was given.

At 12:04 listeners heard Pressly’s sketchy portrayal of the paperwork needed for the horse breeder from Turmus Ayya – Ashraf Rabi – to show his horses in Kibbutz Alonim in the Galilee district.

Pressly: “To go to Alonim in Israel from the West Bank through one of the military checkpoints his horses need certificates issued by the Israel Arabian Horse Society. And Israel is closed to Palestinians from the West bank with no travel or work permit.”

Rabi: “As I’m a Palestinian so sometimes they don’t give me permit to go. Sometimes my horse doesn’t pass because the soldier who’s on the checkpoint he will return the horse back. […]

Whether or not those “certificates” needed by the horses include medical/vaccination paperwork was not made clear and so listeners were left with the inaccurate impression that passage through crossings between PA controlled areas and Israel depends on the caprice of those staffing them.

Pressly later introduced another element into the checkpoints theme:

Pressly: “Ashraf Rabi’s anxiety about Israeli checkpoints is shared by the Palestinian horse owning community and it’s compounded by the absence of specialised veterinary facilities and equine vets on the West bank, especially if there’s a medical emergency.”

She then visited a person in Hebron identified only by his first name – ‘Rashad’ – and listeners heard a story concerning his horse, Burak.

Pressly: “At the age of four Burak developed colic. He needed an operation. The only option was to get him to a hospital in Israel.”

Rashad [translated]: “We ordered a horse-box, got to the checkpoint. The horse-box waited six to eight hours and they wouldn’t allow him to go to the hospital. I asked them at the checkpoint why aren’t you allowing him to go? He has his papers, everything is correct. They wouldn’t. So I called the hospital. An Israeli vet he came and he took him to the hospital.”

Pressly: “It was too late. Burak died as he arrived at the hospital.”

The possibility that it was not the horse’s paperwork – but rather than of the person accompanying it – that was problematic was not raised. Pressly continued:

Pressly: “Israel’s restriction on free movement is a source of huge antipathy among West Bankers – not just horse owners. For Israel, insecurity and the recent wave of killings of Israeli soldiers and civilians by Palestinians in attacks at checkpoints justify the constraints. In 2015 the National Arabian Horse Show in Alonim was cancelled at the height of what’s been called the stabbing intifada. As far as we know, Burak’s the only horse to die after being held at a checkpoint.”

Remarkably, that highlighted sentence was Pressly’s sole attempt to explain to listeners why security measures are necessary at crossings and checkpoints – and it even misled listeners by claiming that Palestinian attacks during the past two years took place “at checkpoints” and implying that security measures commenced relatively recently. Listeners heard nothing whatsoever about the Palestinian violence during the second Intifada that actually made such security measures necessary and the word ‘terror’ was – predictably – completely absent from all of her reports.

In all four of her reports Pressly told BBC audiences that “love for Arabian horses trumps the divided politics of this troubled region”. More is the pity then that Pressly deviated from reporting on those animals and the people who raise them and ventured into just such politics by promoting well-worn, context-free, politicised themes seen all too often in BBC content.