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.

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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.

BBC’s Corbin sidesteps prime issues in Balfour reports – part two

In part one of this post we began looking at two contributions from Jane Corbin to the BBC’s extensive Balfour Declaration centenary coverage: a filmed programme first aired on BBC Two on October 31st under the title “The Balfour Declaration: The Promise to the Holy Land” (available for a limited period of time in the UK here, transcript here) and a written article that appeared on the same day in the ‘features’ section of the BBC News website’s Middle East page under the headline “The Balfour Declaration: My ancestor’s hand in history“.

While both reports repeated themes seen in additional BBC coverage such as incomplete presentation of the entire text of Arthur Balfour’s letter, on the other hand they did present audiences with a very rare glimpse of the grave consequences of British restrictions on Jewish immigration.

Filmed: “In 1939, the British Government bowed to the pressure of the Arab revolt, drastically restricting Jewish immigration. The immediate consequences were to be disastrous for the Jews. The timing could not have been worse. Hitler’s Final Solution was soon to come into devastating effect.”

Written: “Leo was bitterly disappointed at the British cap on Jewish immigration and I visited Atlit, one of the British internment camps, with 80-year-old Rabbi Meir Lau. He spent two weeks here when he arrived in Palestine as an eight-year-old survivor of Buchenwald extermination camp. Many other refugees were turned back – to Europe.

“It was against humanity after six years of horror,” he said, shaking his head in sorrow as we walked along the rusty barbed wire fences. “Where was the nation of the United Kingdom then? Lord Balfour would not have believed it.””

Both reports informed audiences of the Arab refusal to accept the 1947 Partition Plan but in the filmed report Corbin provided a debatable motive for the ensuing attacks by Arab states.

Filmed: “…but the Arabs would not sign up to the UN plan. All-out war followed, as Arab armies from neighbouring countries invaded in support of the Palestinians.” [emphasis added]

In her written report Corbin presented a whitewashed portrayal of events:

Written: “But Arab countries refused to sign up to the UN’s plan and, in the violence on both sides that followed, hundreds of thousands of Palestinians fled or were forced to flee the new State of Israel.” [emphasis added]

Corbin’s filmed report inaccurately portrayed the PLO as having begun its life as a terrorist organisation after – and because of – the Six Day War rather than three years before any ‘occupation’ existed. 

Filmed: “The occupation sparked an armed struggle by the Palestinian Liberation Organisation, under its leader, Yasser Arafat. Exiled from Palestine, the PLO carried out hijackings and bombings on the international stage. They killed Israeli athletes at the 1972 Olympics. Israel sent hit squads to hunt down those responsible.”

Equally inaccurate was her portrayal of the Western Wall:

Filmed: “Israel insists that Jerusalem, the site of their holiest place, the Western Wall of the temple, must be their eternal undivided capital.” [emphasis added]

Her description of the al Aqsa Mosque was no less misleading:

Filmed: “The great mosques of Islam are here, too…”

Corbin presented a highly simplistic portrayal of the failure of the Oslo peace process to achieve its aim which refrained from adequately clarifying that negotiations continued after Rabin’s death and completely airbrushed the Palestinian Authority initiated second Intifada out of the picture.

Filmed: “Despite the hopes, the peace deal was quick to unravel, under pressure from extremists on both sides. The Palestinian Islamist group Hamas rejected the peace deal and set out to undermine it by bombing Israeli buses. And Yasser Arafat’s security forces failed to prevent the attacks. […]

 Two years after the agreement, a Jewish extremist opposed to giving up land for peace, assassinated Yitzhak Rabin. […]

The Oslo Accords are the closest I’ve ever known to the kind of peaceful ideal that Balfour and Leo Amery had for Palestine. But for me, despite the progress made, the death of Yitzhak Rabin spelled the end of the Oslo peace process…”

Written: “The optimism created by the historic handshake on the White House lawn between the leaders of Israel and the Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO) was shattered when a Jewish extremist assassinated Israel’s prime minister Yitzhak Rabin and the PLO’s chairman Yasser Arafat failed to stop suicide bombings launched by the Islamist extremist group Hamas.”

In typical BBC form, Corbin amplified Palestinian messaging by telling viewers of the filmed report that there is one prime “barrier to peace”: Israeli communities in Judea & Samaria and parts of Jerusalem.

Filmed: “Well, it may not look much but I’m actually now crossing over from Israel into the West Bank where the Palestinians live. And here, an even greater barrier to any peace deal has emerged: Israeli settlements built on occupied Palestinian land. Since Oslo, Israel has more than tripled the number of settlers in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. There are now more than 500,000 Israelis living in around 140 settlements. Heading north, I’m on my way to an Orthodox Jewish settlement called Tappuah. The international community considers all Israeli settlements illegal. It’s very different today than when I first came on the West Bank 30 years ago. So many more Israeli settlements on all the hills around and so many more Israeli settlers.”

While viewers of the filmed report got some insight into the issue of Hamas’ refusal to “ever recognise Israel’s right to exist” based on their conviction that Israel is “Arab” and “Islamic” land, readers of the written report saw nothing at all on that topic.

Corbin’s take-away messaging in both reports, however, completely ignored the uncompromising approach of Hamas and additional Palestinian factions as she promoted a narrative of equivalent blame for the absence of peace that completely failed to address the century-long key issue of the basic Arab refusal to accept Jewish self-determination in the region.

Filmed: “I do believe that Leo Amery was right when he thought violence wasn’t inevitable here. It resulted from the wrong political decisions. And I think that still holds true today.  For me, what’s needed is the kind of vision that Oslo brought. Strong and inspired leadership, a leap of faith on both sides. And without that, there’s a danger that time is running out. The bloodshed and intransigence will make peace impossible for decades still to come.”

Written: “Was Leo’s vision that Jews and Arabs could live and prosper together in peace doomed to failure and was violence inevitable? These were the questions I wanted to answer when I came to Israel again this time. […]

Leo never thought violence was inevitable here. He believed it was the result of wrong political decisions and the bloody and unpredictable events of history – as I discovered myself after the Oslo peace agreement.

Now there is a danger that extremism and intransigence on both sides will make peace impossible for decades still to come.”

Like most of the rest of the BBC’s Balfour Declaration centenary coverage, these two reports by Corbin promoted the narrative that implementation of that declaration was incomplete. In the filmed report Corbin even went so far as to describe its intention as “[t]he Balfour vision of Arabs and Jews living together in the same country”.

While the Balfour Declaration’s commitment to the establishment of a homeland for the Jewish people was eventually realised (some might say despite the best efforts of the British mandate), Corbin made no reference at all in either of her reports to the fact that part of the territory originally assigned to that purpose was subsequently made over by the British (with League of Nations approval) to the creation of the Arab state known today as Jordan.

Another very significant omission in both of Corbin’s reports – particularly in light of her repeated references to Palestinian refugees – is the subject of Jewish refugees from Arab and Muslim lands: people whose rights were also supposedly safeguarded by the Balfour Declaration but whose existence and story has barely been acknowledged in the BBC’s coverage of this centenary.

Related Articles:

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Jane Corbin’s BBC documentary on plight of ME Christians promotes jaded Israel-related narratives

One to watch: BBC’s Panorama on ‘The War of the Tunnels’

BBC’s Corbin sidesteps prime issues in Balfour reports – part one

 

 

BBC Radio 4’s ‘Today’ Balfour Declaration centenary special – part four

The fourth item (see the first here, the second here and the third here) relating to the Balfour Declaration centenary that was aired on the November 2nd edition of BBC Radio 4’s flagship news and current affairs show ‘Today‘ was an interview (from 02:36:33 here) with the Palestinian Authority’s Manuel Hassassian conducted by the programme’s co-presenter Mishal Husain.

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

Husain’s introduction to the item included the exaggerated claim that the Balfour Declaration “shaped the map of the Middle East”.

Husain: “A letter written a hundred years ago that shaped the map of the Middle East; seen by Israelis as the foundation stone for their country and by Palestinians as the beginning of a disaster. We’ve been marking the centenary of the Balfour Declaration on the programme this morning. After hearing from Israel’s deputy foreign minister earlier, we’ll be talking to a senior Palestinian in a moment.”

After listeners had heard – for the first time in the programme – a reading of the Balfour Declaration in full, Husain continued by upgrading the title of the head of the “Palestinian Representative Office” (rather than embassy, because the UK has not recognised a Palestinian state) in London.

Husain: “With us in the studio is Manuel Hassassian who is the Palestinian general delegate to the UK: effectively the Palestinian ambassador. […] We’ve been hearing the Israeli view already this morning that this is a moment of celebration for them. What do the words of the Balfour Declaration mean to you?”

Hassassian opened with promotion of a crucial element in the Palestinian narrative: the notion of Jews as European ‘colonialists‘. That falsehood went completely unchallenged by Husain.  

Hassassian: “This letter that Arthur Balfour has published…had published in the past, it’s a one sentence with 67 words that meant the destruction and the destitution of the Palestinian people. Bringing the Jews from Europe to Palestine, you know, that in itself, you know, was a crime against humanity. This is how we look at Balfour because today, when we go back retrospectively 100 years, we have seen how this letter had been…had become part and parcel of the mandatory rule of Great Britain over Palestine in facilitating the Jewish immigration and in creating a national home for the Jews without any respect to the political rights of 95%; then the Palestinians who were the majority…”

As was the case in the first three items in this programme (as well as in much of the BBC’s additional coverage of the centenary – see ‘related articles’ below), Husain then misrepresented the part of Balfour’s letter that referred to “the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities”.  

Husain: “Which…which are included in that letter, the second part of which does acknowledge that nothing in what has been said about Jewish…the creation of a national home for the Jewish people in Palestine should prejudice those rights. But from what you are saying it sounds as if your objection is to the first part as well: the creation in the first place of a home for the Jews in Palestine.”

Ironically, Hassassian then clarified to listeners what the BBC has put much effort into concealing before promoting some highly dubious ‘history’.

Hassassian: “And to the second part because it meant only the civil and religious rights. It did not mention the political rights and the Palestinians have fought the Arabs with the allied in order to get the promise of an independent Palestine.”

Husain: “Your objection to the first part of that – the creation of a home for the Jewish people in Palestine – that is at the heart of the creation of Israel.”

Hassassian: “Yes.”

Husain: “So you are…you are opposed to the existence of Israel today?”

Hassassian then advanced the inaccurate notion that the “second part” of the Balfour Declaration meant the establishment of a “Palestinian state”.

Hassassian: “Today it’s a different reality. We are talking about the second part which was not fulfilled – i.e. the independent Palestinian state. Now in 1988 we have made our painful historic concession in recognising the State of Israel. We have embarked on the peace process. We have signed the Oslo Accords. We have recognised the State of Israel on 75% of the land. Today we’re not talking about, you know, the extermination of Israel. What we’re talking is about the fulfilment of the second part of this Balfour Declaration.”

With Husain making no effort to clarify to listeners that some Palestinian factions do indeed have “the extermination of Israel”at the top of their agenda, he went on:

Hassassian: “Instead of celebrating and marking and adding insult to injury, I think we Palestinians would have expected the moral and historic responsibility to be shouldered by this government and to apologise to the Palestinian people and to go ahead in the execution of the second part by recognising the State of Palestine.”

Husain: “You mean the British government?”

Hassassian: “Yes ma’am.”

Husain: “And the foreign secretary Boris Johnson has spoken about that second part – the protection of the non-Jewish communities of the area that was then Palestine – as being unfinished business. So there is a recognition of what you are saying. “

Husain’s portrayal of the article by Johnson to which she refers is inaccurate: the British foreign secretary did not say “that second part” of the Balfour Declaration was “unfinished business”. He did however refer to “the vision of two states for two peoples” as proposed in the 1937 Peel Commission report – a proposal that listeners were not told was rejected by the Arabs at the time and again on repeated occasions.

Hassassian: “Well that recognition is equated to hollow promises. We have been hearing this for the last several years. That the…the recognition of the fact that there should be a two-state solution, that they are against settlement building and which is true: the British government has taken a stand – a firm stand – by accepting and voting for Resolution 2338 [sic – actually 2334]. But by the same token we haven’t seen any concrete action plan. No pressures have been put on Israel. No BDS on Israel products, you know…”

Husain: “The boycott, divestment and sanctions.”

Hassassian: “The boycott…yes and sanctions. We haven’t seen any concrete action. It’s talking the talk but not walking the walk. We do appreciate what Mr Johnson has said. We do appreciate the position of the British government when it comes to the support of a two-state solution but we don’t see any action. Look at the situation in Palestine. The two-state solution is slipping because of the continuous building of settlements by the Israelis.”

Failing to challenge the specious claim that the two-state solution is endangered by Israeli construction and making no effort to clarify to listeners that the building there is takes place in existing communities rather than – as Hassassian implied – new communities being built, Husain continued by raising a topic rarely discussed on BBC platforms: Palestinian responsibility. She refrained, however, from using the word terror and under-represented the number of victims of Palestinian terror.

Husain: “Right. Well let’s talk about the Palestinians’ own responsibility; about Palestinian actions that have been seen particularly since the Oslo Accords which you mentioned were signed. The Palestinian Authority was set up in 1993. Between 1994 and 2005 hundreds of Israelis died in attacks that were carried out by Palestinians and the numbers only came down after Israel built its security barrier…or wall. What that means is that the basic premise of Oslo – the exchange of land for peace – was never honoured and Palestinian violence is part of that.”

Hassassian: “I am really shocked at your question because you have negated the fact that thousands of Palestinians have died at the hands of the Israelis and that this apartheid wall is a political statement and it’s not for security reasons because they wanted to change the facts on the ground by building more settlements and carving Palestinian land. Why did they build this apartheid wall ten kilometres deep into the West Bank and not on their borders of 1967?”

None of those falsehoods promoted by Hassassian was even remotely challenged by Husain who went on:

Husain: “Mr Hassassian, we’ve talked already on the programme this morning to the Israeli deputy foreign minister and we’ve talked about the situation in the West Bank. I’m asking you to acknowledge the deaths of Israelis because of Palestinian attacks.”

Hassassian: “You…you…we have also to expect the acknowledgement of the Israelis for the death of thousands – and not hundreds – of Palestinians. I don’t think this is a fair statement. For us to acknowledge the death of hundreds of Israelis who are occupiers, who have been, you know, uprooting us from our land…”

Husain: “They were civilians. They were civilians, they were children on buses – just one example – that were targeted.”

Hassassian: “And there were…and we have hundreds… thousands of children have been killed by settlers and by the what’s so-called the IDF forces. I mean why do we talk about one side and not the other side? We are the occupied. We have the right to resist. We have the right to establish our own independent state. Why do we equate the occupier with the occupied? Is this a fair statement? It’s not a fair statement. We have the right to resist because we have the inalienable right for self-determination.”

Husain: “But listening to you it seems to me that the chances of peace, the chances of a process that leads to the establishment of a Palestinian state, is further away than ever.”

Hassassian: “No. My position as Palestinian ambassador [sic] is to promote the two-state solution. I personally have always believed that political accommodation and negotiations is the only way out of this quagmire. I believe that no military solution will ever be a solution. I believe that convulsive violence breeds more violence.”

Husain made no effort to question Hassassian regarding his claim that he promotes the two-state solution even though he is on record as promoting a very different ‘solution’.

“The Palestinian Ambassador to UK, Professor Manuel Hassassian, said ideally he would prefer a one-state solution but pragmatically and politically the two-state solution is the best option that the Palestinians could realistically achieve. Although, he said even that seems to be rather impossible under the current political climate.” September 2016

“Manuel Hassassian, the Palestinian Authority’s diplomatic representative in the UK, condemned the Balfour Declaration. He said the Palestinians had been denied the right to self-determination and their basic human rights “due to the pledge by Great Britain to the Zionists”.

He said the Palestinian “right of return” was a “sacred right” and that the “non-Judaisation of the state of Israel is our red line”.” November 2013

“There is no two state solution. Democracies don’t fight each other. If Israel is a democracy I would claim that the Palestinians are also a democracy. If democracies cannot fight each other then why not have one state?; one man, one vote.” January 2013

“Ladies and gentleman, there is no two state solution left. We have to look to other, what I call, ingenious ideas and look outside the box and the only thing that comes to my mind is very simple; there is only one solution, which is a one state solution.November 2012

Hassassian continued with yet more falsehoods and context-free claims that went completely unchallenged:

Hassassian: “We have done our share as Palestinians in order to promote peace. But look at Israel? What did Israel do? Since the Oslo agreement they have quadrupled the building of settlements. They have killed many thousands: two wars against our people in Gaza. So where is the intention of peace on the other side? On the occupier that claims to be a democracy?”

The final part of the interview was devoted to the topic of the Hamas-Fatah ‘reconciliation with Husain raising the issue of the significance of Hamas’ refusal to recognise Israel in the context of its potential participation in a Palestinian unity government and Hassassian claiming that the Palestinian Authority is “trying to bring Hamas on board in a political programme that will recognise the State of Israel”.

Notwithstanding Mishal Husain’s atypical question regarding Israeli victims of Palestinian terror, this lengthy interview – over ten minutes long – obviously primarily provided a platform for yet more amplification of PA/PLO messaging concerning the Balfour Declaration centenary.

In all, listeners to the ‘Today’ programme on November 2nd heard over thirty-three minutes of coverage relating to that topic during which the part of the Balfour Declaration relating to the “civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities” was misrepresented no fewer than six times. They did not, however, hear even one mention of the part of the same text that states that “nothing shall be done which may prejudice […] the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country”.

Related Articles:

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More Balfour Declaration agitprop promotion on the BBC News website

BBC News portrays propaganda installation as a “museum”

BBC report on UK Balfour dinner follows standard formula

More BBC Balfour Declaration centenary reporting from Yolande Knell – part one

More BBC Balfour Declaration centenary reporting from Yolande Knell – part two

BBC Radio 4’s ‘Today’ Balfour Declaration centenary special – part one

BBC Radio 4’s ‘Today’ Balfour Declaration centenary special – part two

BBC Radio 4’s ‘Today’ Balfour Declaration centenary special – part three

 

 

 

 

BBC adds superfluous punctuation to US and Israeli statements on Hamas

On October 19th a report relating to a statement put out by the US envoy Jason Greenblatt appeared on the BBC News website’s Middle East page under the title “Hamas must disarm to join Palestinian unity government – US“.

Mr Greenblatt’s statement read as follows:

“All parties agree that it is essential that the Palestinian Authority be able to assume full, genuine, and unhindered civil and security responsibilities in Gaza and that we work together to improve the humanitarian situation for Palestinians living there.  The United States reiterates the importance of adherence to the Quartet principles: any Palestinian government must unambiguously and explicitly commit to nonviolence, recognize the State of Israel, accept previous agreements and obligations between the parties – including to disarm terrorists – and commit to peaceful negotiations. If Hamas is to play any role in a Palestinian government, it must accept these basic requirements.”

The BBC’s reporting of that statement erased its reference to the Quartet principles – thereby (once again) steering readers to the inaccurate view that the conditions described are solely the view of the US and excluding the existing agreements between Israel and the PLO from its framing of the story. Superfluous use of scare quotes around the word terrorists was also evident.

“The United States says the militant Islamist movement Hamas must lay down its weapons if it is to play a part in a new Palestinian government. […]

US special envoy Jason Greenblatt said any Palestinian unity administration would need to recognise the State of Israel and disarm “terrorists”. […]

In a statement issued on Thursday, Mr Greenblatt said it was essential that the PA was able to “assume full, genuine, and unhindered civil and security responsibilities in Gaza” and that the humanitarian situation there was improved.

He also stressed that “any Palestinian government must unambiguously and explicitly commit to non-violence, recognise the State of Israel, accept previous agreements and obligations between the parties – including to disarm terrorists – and commit to peaceful negotiations”.”

Later on in the article readers were told of the Israeli view and once again unnecessary punctuation around the words terror and terrorism (that was not present in the original document paraphrased by the BBC) was added by the BBC.

“…Benjamin Netanyahu […] insisted he would “not conduct diplomatic negotiations with a Palestinian government that relies on Hamas” unless the following conditions were met:

  • Hamas recognises Israel, “desists from terrorism” and disarms
  • The bodies of Israeli soldiers and civilians held by Hamas are returned
  • The PA exercises full security control in Gaza
  • The PA continues to act against Hamas “terror infrastructure” in the West Bank
  • Hamas severs its ties with Iran
  • Funds and humanitarian equipment continues to flow into Gaza only via the PA”

While the BBC’s report included paraphrased quotes from a Hamas official taken from an AFP article on the same topic, the corporation did not update its report to include comments made by Hamas leader Yahya Sinwar later on the same day, as reported by Ha’aretz.

“Hamas will not disarm, recognize Israel or cut off ties with Iran, as Israel and the United States are demanding of it, Yahya Sinwar, the organization’s leader in the Gaza Strip, said on Thursday. […]

Meeting with Palestinian youths, Sinwar declared, “The discussion is no longer about recognizing Israel but about wiping Israel out.”

He said Hamas would disarm “when Satan enters paradise,” and that no one can force it to disarm. “There’s not one minute of the day or night when we aren’t building up our military might.” […]

At Thursday’s meeting, Sinwar discussed the demand that Hamas cool its relationship with Iran. He stressed that Hamas is not willing to sever its ties with Iran. “Anyone who thinks we’ll sever ties with Tehran is delusional,” he said. “Our relationship with Iran or Egypt or any Arab or Muslim state provides us with strategic depth.””

If BBC audiences are to understand this issue fully, they obviously need to be informed that the statements concerning a Palestinian unity government put out by the United States and Israel are in line with the Quartet Principles. The BBC’s policy of placing the word terror and its derivatives in scare quotes and its failure to inform audiences of the extremist response from Hamas’ leader in the Gaza Strip also clearly hinders audience understanding of the story.

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Superficial BBC reporting on Hamas-Fatah ‘unity’ returns

Visitors to the BBC News website’s Middle East page on September 17th found the headline “Hamas says it is ready to hold elections” under which they were told that:

“The Palestinian militant group signals it is ready to end its feud with Fatah and hold elections”.

The link leads to a similarly titled report – “Hamas says it is ready to hold first elections since 2006” – which in its original version included closing sentences wrongly implying that the policy document published by Hamas in May replaces its 1988 charter.

The current version of the report includes statements that – in light of the BBC’s chronic avoidance of coverage of internal Palestinian affairs – audiences may have had difficulty following.

“The Palestinian militant group Hamas says it is ready to dissolve the committee that rules Gaza and hold a general election for the first time since 2006.”

BBC audiences were not told of the creation of that ‘administrative committee’ earlier this year or of the significance of that move by Hamas in prompting Mahmoud Abbas’ subsequent financial sanctions against the Gaza Strip.

“Fatah’s deputy leader Mahmoud al-Aloul gave a tentative welcome to the news and called for other issues to be resolved, including control of border crossings.”

BBC audiences were not informed of the election of al-Aloul to the position of vice-chair of Fatah in February.

A series of Palestinian ‘unity governments’ – or proposals for them – have repeatedly come to a swift end in the past but the BBC’s report includes just one opaque sentence on a factor of prime importance to audience understanding of the significance of this latest announcement from Hamas.

“It is not yet clear whether Hamas is ready to place its security forces under Mr Abbas’s control – a major sticking point in the past, Associated Press reports.”

Exactly three years ago a BBC report on the ‘unity government’ of the time included a very similar statement:

“However, a Hamas official told the Associated Press that there were still disagreements over who should be responsible for paying civil servants in Gaza, and whether the PA’s own security forces would be allowed a significant presence in the territory. He described the deal as “partial”.” [emphasis added]

Now as then, the BBC makes no effort to clarify to its audiences that any ‘unity government’ which refrained from disarming Hamas’ terrorist militia in the Gaza Strip would fail to meet the Palestinian Authority’s commitments under existing agreements with Israel.

Neither does it inform readers that if Hamas and other terrorist groups are not disarmed by a PA ‘unity government’ and the territory not brought under the sole control of PA security forces, then the Gaza Strip – along with the rest of the PA-controlled areas – will find itself in a ‘Lebanon-style’ situation whereby the actions of a foreign-sponsored terrorist organisation can continue to spark conflict whenever that suits its own (or its sponsor’s) agenda.

Another important aspect of this story is pointed out at the Times of Israel:

“The main problem with the timing from Fatah’s point of view is that in three days, Abbas is due to meet with Trump on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly in New York.

One can only imagine how Abbas’s meeting with the United States president will be perceived if he will have just agreed to form a national unity government with a terror group, and especially if he speaks about reconciliation with Hamas in his UN address.

Abbas will want answers from Trump about his administration’s as-yet-unstated commitment to a two-state solution. It would be odd for Abbas to talk up a Palestinian state after agreeing to share power with a group that calls for the destruction of Israel.”

It was of course Abbas’ decision to opt for ‘reconciliation’ with Hamas in April 2014 which brought months of talks between Israel and the Palestinians to an end.

As was the case when the last ‘unity government’ failed to get off the ground three years ago, once again we see that the BBC’s superficial reporting on a potential Hamas-Fatah reconciliation falls far short of providing its funding public with comprehensive information needed to understand the story.

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BBC fails to clarify to audiences significance of PUG failure to disarm Hamas

Dumbed down BBC reporting on the Palestinian Unity Government continues 

 

 

 

Israeli guest tells BBC’s ‘Hardtalk’ host: ‘you rewrite the history’ – part two

In part one of this post we discussed the first half of an edition of ‘Hardtalk‘ broadcast on June 28th in which Stephen Sackur interviewed former Israeli defence minister Moshe Ya’alon.

The programme is available in the UK on iPlayer here or alternatively here. An audio version that was broadcast on BBC World Service radio on June 30th is available here.

Following Sackur’s invocation of the campaigning political NGO ‘Breaking the Silence’ and his amplification and endorsement of that group’s claim that “the moral consequence of prolonged occupation of the Palestinian people” is “the corruption of young Israelis who serve that occupation”, Ya’alon replied:

“What is the choice? To allow the Palestinians to have Hamastan in the West Bank as well – like in the Gaza Strip? You know we are not deployed any more in Gaza.”

Sackur then indulged in some condescending finger wagging.

“You keep saying ‘what is the choice’. You have to believe in the values of your particular state.”

Ya’alon replied:

“We keep the values. I kept the values. I fought to [for] the values.”

Sackur then came up with the following accusation:

Sackur: “In 2002 you described the Palestinian people as a cancer.”

Ya’alon: “I didn’t do it.”

Sackur: “Well you did because the Israeli media reported it.”

Ya’alon:”So? It doesn’t mean that I said it. I didn’t say it. Nevertheless, you pick certain quotations…”

Sackur: “Did you sue them for claiming that you’d described the Palestinian people as – I’m quoting directly – like a cancer?”

Ya’alon: “I didn’t say that.”

Sackur: “You said ‘invisible but an existential threat’.”

Ya’alon: “No; it’s something very different but nevertheless, you know, I prefer…”

Sackur: “How would you have felt if a Palestinian leader had described the Israeli Jewish people as a cancer? How would you have felt then?”

Ya’alon: “I didn’t do it. Why don’t you…I deny it.”

Sackur: “So you’re accusing the Israeli media of peddling a lie.”

Ya’alon: “You know there are so many false allegations, misquotations or whatever.”

Despite Sackur’s disingenuous claim to be “quoting directly”, Moshe Ya’alon did not describe the Palestinian people “as a cancer”. What he did say – at a conference in August 2002 at the height of the second Intifada – according to a report by Maariv is that:

“The struggle against the Palestinians keeps me awake at nights. It is like a threat with cancerous dimensions and attributes. Namely, it is a threat that is not always visible, but it is devastating and very dangerous. Just like cancer, sometimes the patient is not clearly told he is sick. The current Palestinian leadership does not recognize Israel and does not want us to go on living in our country.”

In an interview with Ha’aretz the same week he clarified:

“When I look at the overall map, what disturbs me especially is the Palestinian threat and the possibility that a hostile state will acquire nuclear capability. Those are the most worrisome focal points, because both of them have the potential of being an existential threat to Israel. […]

There is something surprising in the fact that you see the Palestinian threat as an existential threat.

The characteristics of that threat are invisible, like cancer. When you are attacked externally, you see the attack, you are wounded. Cancer, on the other hand, is something internal. Therefore, I find it more disturbing, because here the diagnosis is critical. If the diagnosis is wrong and people say it’s not cancer but a headache, then the response is irrelevant. But I maintain that it is cancer. My professional diagnosis is that there is a phenomenon here that constitutes an existential threat.”

In a Knesset committee meeting the following month Ya’alon again clarified his statement:

“There is a difference between what was published and what I said, stressed Yaalon […] I did not say that the Arabs are cancer. I said that I identify the potential for an existential threat with cancerous attributes. […] I ask those attacking me to call me and confirm with me what I said.”

Stephen Sackur, however, has deliberately taken a misquotation that was clarified fifteen years ago and used it to advance a false smear, which he then ‘supports’ using the risible claim that everything reported by the Israeli media is true.

From there the interview continued with Sackur asking questions about the US president’s regional initiatives before embarking on supercilious preaching on the topic of the approach that he obviously thinks should be taken by an Israeli prime minister.

Sackur: “If I may say so you sound just like Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu. You spent the first part of this interview saying that he was no longer qualified to be Israel’s prime minister. You clearly want his job but your positions on all of the key elements of this – the fact you won’t talk about a two-state solution, you won’t talk about land for peace – you seem to be just like Binyamin Netanyahu.”

“So your strategic vision is just the same as Netanyahu’s.”

“Well that’s hardly going to inspire the Israeli public to shift from him to you.”

Sackur then moved on to another topic, claiming that:

“There are pragmatic leaders in the Sunni Arab world, let’s say Saudi Arabia, let’s say Jordan, Egypt, who may well be interested in a long-term alliance of sorts with Israel against Iran if Israel were prepared to make concessions on the Palestinian issue which would let the Arabs in. But you’re not ready to do that, are you?”

He introduced another falsehood:

“But the Arabs are not going to buy that as long as you continue to refuse to contemplate the two-state solution and give Palestinians their dream of statehood.”

This interview presented an opportunity for BBC audiences to have their understanding of why years of negotiations have failed to produce results greatly enhanced.

However, rather than making the most of the opportunity to allow viewers to hear from an Israeli who has served in key positions – including a three-year post as head of military intelligence – and gain insight into why, like many other Israelis, someone who supported the Oslo process later arrived at the conclusion that it was a mistake, Stephen Sackur was obviously much more interested in aggressively promoting his own patronising opinions, his political agenda and his amateur psychological diagnoses of an entire nation.

Unfortunately for the BBC’s funding public, that has long been par for the course in Sackur’s interviews with Israelis.

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Israeli guest tells BBC’s ‘Hardtalk’ host ‘you rewrite the history’ – part one

On the same day that Moshe Ya’alon resigned from the post of Minister of Defence in May 2016, the BBC World Service aired a radio programme with the extraordinary title “Has Israel Lost its ‘Moral Compass’?”

That BBC fixation on the ‘moral health’ of Israeli society was again in evidence when, on June 28th, Ya’alon gave an interview to the BBC World News channel programme ‘Hardtalk‘.

The interview is available in the UK on iPlayer here or alternatively here. An audio version that was broadcast on BBC World Service radio on June 30th with the following synopsis is available here.

“Moshe Ya’alon served in the Israel Defence Force for 38 years including as Chief of Staff from 2002 to 2005. He then entered politics and served as Minister of Defence for three years until his resignation in May 2016. At the time warned that Israel had been taken over by “dangerous and extreme elements.” He wants to run for prime minister at Israel’s next election and he tells HARDtalk’s Stephen Sackur “I found too many politicians generating hatred against someone, against the Arabs, against leftists, against the media, against the Supreme Court, which is a challenge”.”

That same theme was also amplified in a clip from the interview that was promoted separately on social media and on the BBC News website.

“Certain Israeli politicians are moving towards racism, the former defence minister Moshe Ya’alon has told BBC Hardtalk’s Stephen Sackur.

“I found too many politicians generating hatred against someone, against the Arabs, against leftists, against the media, against the Supreme Court, which is a challenge,” said Mr Ya’alon, adding he thought it could be dealt with.

“This is not the vast majority of politicians, but it is unfortunately not stopped by the prime minister and that is why I had too many disputes with him,” he said.

Mr Ya’alon resigned from the government in May 2016 and warned that Israel had been taken over by “dangerous and extreme elements”.”

The focus on that theme will of course be unsurprising to anyone familiar with the BBC’s long-standing and recurrent portrayal of Israel as ‘shifting to the right’. Host Stephen Sackur made sure that the first part of the interview was similarly devoted to the topic of Israel’s ‘moral health’ using a succession of statements-cum-questions.

“Israel has just marked and celebrated 50 years since the victory in the Six Day War but you seem to feel right now there are some very serious questions about the direction Israel is going in and about national cohesion. Why are you so worried?”

After Ya’alon had spoken about a “relatively calm” security situation, Sackur asked:

“So it’s not an existential security threat that you feel is most concerning to Israel today?”

Ya’alon then pointed out that Israel’s vibrant democracy includes independent law enforcement authorities, expressing confidence in the ongoing investigation into allegations of corruption concerning Netanyahu. Sackur continued:

“But it’s not just about Netanyahu is it? I mean you said this not long ago; it caused a real stir in Israel. You said ‘to my great sorrow extremist and dangerous elements have taken over Israel and in particular the Likud party and are shaking the foundations of the country and threatening to hurt its residents. Those are very powerful words.”

“Extremism, you said, extremism in your own government that you loyally served for 7 years.”

After Ya’alon had pointed out that Israel’s “vibrant society” means that he is able to criticize the government, Sackur pressed him further:

“You also have a responsibility to be clear about what you mean so I want you to tell me exactly what you mean by this extremism you see from inside the Israeli government.”

Although Ya’alon expressed confidence that “we are able to deal with it” in relation to what he described as “too many politicians generating hatred against someone”, Sackur was not done.

“Isaac Herzog – formerly of the Labour party, now the Zionist Union – he coined this extraordinary word. He called it the ‘fascistisation’ of Israel under Netanyahu. Sounds like you’re almost agreeing with him.”

“You would use that phrase – fascistisation – would you?”

Ya’alon clarified that “it is not the vast majority of politicians” stating that “it is unfortunately not stopped by the prime minister and that’s why I had too many disputes with him”, to which Sackur responded:

“I am very puzzled as to how you could sit in cabinet as, I think, deputy premier for 3 or 4 years and then as defence secretary – the senior security post in the cabinet for –what – more than three years serving as a loyal ally of Binyamin Netanyahu and then you fall out with him after 7 years of service and come out saying that he’s fostering extremism and possibly fascistisation of Israel. It seems extraordinary.”

In response to Ya’alon’s statement that the issues arose around the time of the 2015 election Sackur interjected:

“What; he [Netanyahu] suddenly changed, did he?”

A significant proportion of the interview was also devoted to discussion of allegations concerning a third party not afforded the right of reply, despite that condition being stipulated in BBC editorial guidelines.

“We’ll get to the bigger strategic picture in a moment but let’s just stick to the internal politics of Netanyahu, the Likud party and the right-wing in Israel because you have become a critic now but you’ve been intimately involved for an awful long time. How can you say that you have absolutely no doubt that Binyamin Netanyahu is guilty of these allegations – all of which he absolutely adamantly denies – some of which concern his personal behaviour, some of which concern the behaviour of others – to do with a defence contract particularly involving submarines which Netanyahu himself isn’t involved with but people close to him are. You say you have no doubt that…if he is not indicted, you say, I will go on a speaking tour and tell all. What is it you know that the rest of Israel doesn’t?”

“People don’t change their spots, do they? I mean you say Netanyahu somehow flipped in 2015 around the time of the election. You’d served him by then for – what – six years. You can’t tell me that the man you knew for six years became somebody completely different after that election.”

Relating to the allegations of corruption against Netanyahu, Sackur quipped:

“Well of course he denies it.”

After Ya’alon had once again expressed confidence in the ability of the Israeli law enforcement authorities to “deal with it properly”, Sackur commented:

“Netanyahu dismisses everything you say about him with a smile and says that you are just desperate to try to launch your own political career; frankly a political career which looks right now like it’s really struggling.”

Sackur then returned to the topic of Israel’s ‘moral health’, dabbling in pseudo-psychological analysis of “the Israeli psyche”.

“Is…ahm…is this not just about Netanyahu? Do you think this is about something corrosive at the heart of the Israeli state which says something about Israeli values today?”

“It’s not just about money and corruption in politics though, is it? It’s about values connected to the very biggest of pictures. For example Israel’s continued occupation after 50 years of the West Bank and what that does to the Israeli psyche and to young Israelis in particular.”

Sackur continued with a selective presentation of Rabin’s approach to the peace process of the type that is commonly found in BBC content.

“You’re the same Moshe Ya’alon who supported Rabin, supported the two-state process, supported Oslo.”

Opting not to enhance audience understanding of the topic of the peace process by exploring further Ya’alon’s statement that his views on Oslo changed when he was “exposed to the details when I became the head of the intelligence”, Sackur insisted:

“Rabin continued to believe. Rabin – and I lived in Israel in Israel at the time and I remember it very well – Rabin repeatedly said Israel has no choice: we simply have to make peace with our enemies. There is no alternative.”

“He[Rabin] never gave up on the two-state solution.”

After Ya’alon reminded him for a second time of Rabin’s final speech in the Knesset, Sackur slightly changed his tack.

“My point is not just about the two-state solution. It’s about the idea of no alternative. Just the other day Ehud Barak – another chief of staff of the Israeli defence forces, another former prime minister – said that this government – he’s talking about the Netanyahu government – is putting the country on the path to becoming an apartheid state and it should be brought down if it fails to change course.”

Ya’alon then listed the repeated Palestinian rejections of peace offers and partition, to which Sackur responded:

“But as Israelis do you not have a duty to keep searching, to keep working for a solution? Because if not, your own people will suffer the consequences.”

After Ya’alon had noted that the Palestinians have their own parliament, government and president, audiences got some noteworthy insight into the kind of politicised sources used by Sackur as the basis for his ‘questions’ and statements.

“But, forgive me, you do rule them [the Palestinians] and I just…look, because I knew I was going to talk to you today I did a little bit of research about your post as defence minister and what happened. A series of reports crossed your desk from UNICEF in 2013 saying the ill-treatment of children who came into contact with the military detention system in the West Bank appears to be widespread, systematic and institutionalised. Human Rights Watch; a very detailed report how Israeli security forces use unnecessary force to arrest and detain Palestinian children as young as eleven, choking them, throwing stun grenades at them, beating them in custody. These are reports that crossed your desk as defence minister: the work of your IDF. This is what the occupation means.”

Former IDF Chief West Bank Prosecutor Lt.-Col. (res.) Maurice Hirsch addressed that UNICEF report quoted by Sackur in an interview given to the Jerusalem Post earlier this year.

“Hirsch said that UNICEF’s March 2013 report, which made headlines in countries and government offices on multiple continents, had an “almost zero” connection to reality in terms of the law or the applicable facts. […]
“Having started a dialogue with UNICEF, it soon became clear that we weren’t necessarily dealing with another UN organization that was just Israel-bashing… I realized that much of the report was basically plagiarized from a previous report by DCI [Defense for Children International] Palestine,” and that “the actual authors themselves didn’t necessarily understand what had been written… or have the factual background to understand the reality,” commented Hirsch. […]

“The unfortunate side of the discussions was that even though I had unequivocally shown the UNICEF members that what they had written was factually and legally flawed, they remained stubborn in their refusal to put out a clear statement that the initial report was simply erroneous.””

Sadly for the BBC’s reputation for accuracy and impartiality, Stephen Sackur’s “little bit of research” obviously did not include familiarising himself with the full background to that UNICEF report and he is clearly unperturbed by the records of political campaigning groups such as DCI Palestine and Human Rights Watch (frequently quoted and promoted in BBC content).

Sackur then came up with the grossly inaccurate claim that led Ya’alon to charge him with “rewriting the history”.

“Your government – that is the Netanyahu government which you loyally served until 2016 – decided not to negotiate with the Palestinians.”

After Ya’alon had clarified that the Palestinians were the party that in fact refused to continue the nine months of negotiations that took place in 2013/14, Sackur tried to sidestep his inaccuracy by invoking yet another political NGO popular with the BBC‘Breaking the Silence‘.  

“With respect, minister; you’re playing this tit for tat game of who was responsible for the breakdown of talks. I’m trying to dig to something deeper about the morals, the values, the cohesion of an Israeli society that has always prided itself on having the very best of humane values. And I’m putting it to you, if you listen to Israeli soldiers who have served the occupation like Yehuda Shaul of ‘Breaking the Silence’ – a group that is now opposed to the occupation of former IDF soldiers – he says this is the moral consequence of prolonged occupation of the Palestinian people; that is, the corruption of young Israelis who serve that occupation.”

The interview then took an even more bizarre turn which will be discussed in part two of this post.

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