BBC’s Plett Usher continues to promote her Israel narratives

In December 2017 the BBC News website published an article titled “Trumplomacy: Key takeaways from Jerusalem policy shift“. In March 2019 the BBC News website published an article titled “Trumplomacy on Golan Heights: What it all means”.  

The latest article in the ‘Trumplomacy’ genre by the BBC’s US State Department correspondent Barbara Plett Usher appeared on the BBC News website’s ‘Middle East’ page on April 12th under the headline “Trumplomacy: Where are things at with the Mideast peace plan?”. [emphasis in bold added]

The main image illustrating the article is captioned “Secretary of State Mike Pompeo (R) recently became the first high-ranking US official to visit Jerusalem’s Western Wall last month”. In fact previous American visitors to the site have included the US President, Vice-President and former UN ambassador.

Although Israel’s president will only begin meeting with representatives of the lists which won seats in the Knesset in last week’s election on April 15th in order to hear their recommendations for the candidate who should be tasked with forming the next government and that person will then have 28 days in which to do so (with the possibility of a two-week extension), Plett Usher already ‘knows’ what sort of new government Israel will have:

“With a newly elected right-wing government taking shape in Israel this is a good time to check in on the status of the Trump administration’s peace plan.”

Under the sub-heading “How has the [US] policy changed?” Plett Usher instructs readers to:

“Remember that the formula for peace negotiations has been: two states based on the borders of Arab territory seized by Israel in the 1967 war, with mutually agreed land swaps; sufficient security arrangements; a just solution for Palestinian refugees; and negotiations to settle the fate of Jerusalem, the occupied eastern part of which Palestinians claim as their capital.”

While Plett Usher does not specify the source of her “the formula for peace negotiations”, her description is apparently based on non-binding UN General Assembly resolutions such as 3236 and/or the extinct 2003 Quartet road map.

Interestingly, Plett Usher does not bother to inform her readers that the Oslo Accords – the one agreement which resulted from actual negotiations between Israel and the PLO – did not specify the two-state solution as “the formula”.

Significantly, while portraying the “fate of Jerusalem” as the sole issue to be resolved in negotiations, Plett Usher fails to inform audiences that under the terms of the Oslo Accords, other topics she portrays as ‘givens’ – borders, refugees and settlements – are also to be resolved in permanent status negotiations.

Instead Plett Usher promotes the false notion of pre-1967 “borders”, failing to clarify that those were actually armistice lines which were specifically defined in the 1949 Armistice Agreement as not being borders. Equally revealing is Plett Usher’s description of land assigned by the League of Nations to the creation of a Jewish homeland which was belligerently occupied by Jordan and Egypt in 1948 as “Arab territory” and her prior reference to “the occupied Palestinian West Bank”.

In other words Barbara Plett Usher has unquestioningly adopted and promoted the PLO’s stance on that issue.  She goes on:

“But the White House has declared that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel, cut funds to the UN agency that looks after Palestinian refugees, and accepted Israel’s unilateral annexation of other occupied territory, the Golan Heights.”

A journalist with integrity would clarify that the US announcement recognising Jerusalem as Israel’s capital city specifically stated that – in contrast to the impression Plett Usher is trying to create – it had no bearing on negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians.

“Today’s actions—recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and announcing the relocation of our embassy—do not reflect a departure from the strong commitment of the United States to facilitating a lasting peace agreement. The United States continues to take no position on any final status issues. The specific boundaries of Israeli sovereignty in Jerusalem are subject to final status negotiations between the parties. The United States is not taking a position on boundaries or borders.”

And if bringing up the topic of cuts in US funding to UNRWA, a journalist devoted to informing readers would also have explained the background to that decision, the controversies surrounding that UN agency and the broader issue of Palestinian refugees.

Going on to reference the anti-Israel BDS campaign, Plett Usher likewise fails to inform readers of that campaign’s aims, thereby denying them the ability to judge the statement she paraphrases.

“The state department’s new envoy to combat anti-Semitism, Elan Carr, has reinforced this Israeli narrative in US policy.

He told us that boycotting goods made in Jewish West Bank settlements was anti-Semitic, even though the settlements are illegal under international law and have expanded to such a degree many question whether a Palestinian state is still viable.”

Plett Usher then bolsters her article’s core messaging to readers with a quote sourced from an organisation she once again signposts as “liberal”.

“The administration’s embrace of the Israeli government’s right-wing positions has alarmed liberal American Jewish organizations.

“What they’ve done so far tells you what they intend to lay out,” says Jeremy Ben-Ami of the J Street lobby group. “They have no intention to lay out what could conceivably resolve the conflict. Instead they will tie American government positions to those of the farthest right of Israel’s political spectrum.””

In her final section – sub-headed “What about the Palestinian reaction?” – Plett Usher qualifies the description of people convicted of violent attacks against Israelis.

“Mr Abbas is very unpopular. But on a recent trip to Jerusalem I was told anecdotally that Palestinians have at least given him credit for standing firm on their three core issues: Jerusalem, refugees and maintaining funds to Palestinian prisoners – whom the Israelis regard as terrorists – despite financial pressure.”

Although the US administration’s proposal has yet to be revealed, the Palestinian Authority has already made its rejection of it amply clear. Nevertheless Barbara Plett Usher’s aim in this article is to convince BBC audiences that when it does appear, that plan is destined to fail because it ‘embraces’ the positions of “the farthest right of Israel’s political spectrum” rather than because the Palestinians have made it a non-starter.

While Plett Usher’s promotion of that narrative comes as no surprise, it is unfortunate that BBC audiences continue to be fed commentary which does little to enhance their understanding of this and additional topics from a person whose impartiality on issues relating to Israel has long been in plain sight.

Related Articles:

Palestinian falsehoods on Christianity amplified by BBC’s Plett Usher

Partial portrayals of international law in three BBC reports

BBC News framing of Iranian activity in Syria continues

BBC WS ‘Newshour’ messaging reflects that of anti-Israel group

BBC report that breached impartiality rules still intact online 12 years on

NY Times Errs on Oslo and Two-State Solution (CAMERA)

 

 

 

 

 

Inaccuracies in BBC WS ‘Newsday’ report on Israel election

Listeners to the later edition of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newsday’ on April 9th heard a five-minute item replete with factual errors and misleading claims.

The item was introduced (from 04:23 here) by a presenter who managed not only to pronounce the Israeli prime minister’s first name in three different ways in 44 seconds but also inaccurately described him as Israel’s “longest-serving prime minister”. In fact, only if Netanyahu is still prime minister on July 17th 2019 will he overtake David Ben Gurion – currently Israel’s longest-serving prime minister.

The presenter also failed to note that whether or not what she described as “imminent criminal indictments” against Netanyahu will be filed depends upon hearings to be held in the coming months. [emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]

Presenter: “Let’s take you to Israel now…eh…Israelis are going to the polls today as the country’s longest-serving prime minister Benyamin [sic] Netanyahu faces his toughest challenge yet. Plagued with controversies and under the shadow of imminent criminal indictments for bribery, fraud and breach of trust, many are still tipping him to win. Let’s speak now to our Jerusalem correspondent Tom Bateman. Tom, it’s been described as almost a referendum on Benjamin Netanyahu’s rule but now he has a real contender and a challenger…eh…in the former…general – or retired general – Benny Gantz. Let’s talk about Benny Gantz for a minute. What’s he promising and why has he proven such a strong challenger to Binyamin Netanyahu?”

Bateman: “Well Benny Gantz was a chief of the Israeli army. He was actually in position under Mr Netanyahu’s leadership when he was prime minister in this last term.”

Netanyahu’s latest term in office began in May 2015 following elections in March of that year. Benny Gantz retired from army service in February 2015 and so – while Gantz was chief of staff during parts of two of Netanyahu’s earlier terms in office, Bateman’s claim that he was “in position” during “this last term” of Netanyahu’s office is clearly inaccurate.

Bateman went on to promote false equivalence while describing a Hamas rocket attack on a moshav in central Israel last month.

Bateman: “He oversaw the military operation – the all-out conflict between Hamas in Gaza and Israel – in 2014 so he is an experienced general. He entered the race after…they have to have a three year…ah…period of rest away from the military or politics because former generals in Israel are usually pretty hot stuff when it comes to Israeli politics and they can be very popular. He entered this race and he has put up a very serious challenge to Benjamin Netanyahu who, remember, likes to portray himself as the guarantor of Israel’s security. That has been his number one pitching point to the Israeli public and so to have this former chief of staff to come in and who has said that in his view Mr Netanyahu has not been effective on the security front. There has been a military flare-up again between Hamas and Israel during the election campaign and Mr Netanyahu’s rivals, including Mr Gantz, were quick to jump on that and say that he should have been tougher.”

Presenter: “And Mr Netanyahu has been appealing to the Right-wing voter base. How and…and…will that make a difference in the way that people vote given how close the challenge is?”

Once again avoiding the topic of the effects of Palestinian terrorism on Israeli public opinion and the tricky question of how a two-state solution could come about under Palestinian leadership split between Fatah and Hamas, Bateman promoted PLO messaging on the topic of ‘settlements’.

Bateman: “Well the Israeli public has shifted to the Right over the decades, particularly since the Left in Israel saw its last high-water mark in the 1990s in the Oslo peace accords – the peace process with the Palestinians – which has very much been frozen and in many ways begun to fall apart since then. Particularly the Israeli youth are…many of them vehement supporters of the Right wing and Mr Netanyahu. And I think even during this campaign we have seen him tack further to the Right and in the closing days of the campaign he said that he would phase the annexation of Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank, so extending Israeli sovereignty formally over those settlements which have grown in number since he was last elected into office. They’re illegal under international law although Israel disputes this but fundamentally they are seen by the Palestinians as the single biggest obstacle to them establishing a future state. And so what we have seen in this election, I think, with that further appeal to the Right wing is the prospect of the internationally held formula – a two-state solution with Israel and the Palestinians – really moved even further to the margins.”

In addition to Bateman’s promotion of the BBC’s standard partial mantra on ‘international law’ we see that he also promotes the inaccurate claim that the number of what the BBC chooses to call ‘settlements’ has “grown” since Netanyahu was “last elected into office” – i.e. since the previous election in March 2015.

In June 2017 the BBC itself reported that work had begun on what it described as “the first new Jewish settlement in the occupied West Bank for more than 20 years”. That community – Amichai – will house former residents of Amona which was evacuated in February 2017. No additional new communities have been built by the Israeli government in the past four years and proposals to legalise outposts built without government consent have not progressed. It is therefore unclear on what evidence Bateman bases his assertion that “settlements…have grown in number” since March 2015.

The item continued:

Presenter: “And I mean we…we talk about Mr Netanyahu of course facing a tough challenge but he’s also, you know, facing…ehm…he’s…he could be removed from office under criminal indictments. Mr Netanyahu still faces charges of corruption. How is that affecting, you know, his campaign and how’s that affecting the support for him?”

Bateman: “Well among his most loyal supporters, I mean they’re…they’re…they’re fiercely loyal of [sic] him. They know about the allegations – some might even believe them – but they really don’t care.”

Presenter: “Hmm.”

Only at that point in the item did listeners hear an accurate portrayal of “what will happen next” in relation to the repeatedly referenced legal cases involving Netanyahu but no information was provided concerning Israeli law in such a situation.

Bateman: “I think it possibly has had some effect and it has allowed Benny Gantz to pick up some votes from the Right wing although most of the votes he has taken seem to be coming from the Left. As for what will happen next, well we’re due at some point later this year – the Israeli attorney general – to give Mr Netanyahu a hearing and then those charges could be formally laid against him so you will then have a sitting prime minister with a formal indictment against him which would be a rare or unprecedented situation in Israeli politics and what may happen over the coming days, if he wins the election he has to put together a coalition government. Perhaps there will be a price to membership of the coalition in that parties and their leaders will have to say that they would support him through that process and not resign from government which would then precipitate a collapse of the government and then potentially another general election.”

Once again we see that the profuse amount of BBC coverage of Israeli affairs and the permanent presence of BBC staff in Jerusalem does not preclude shoddy and inaccurate reporting which misleads audiences around the world.  

Related Articles:

Another Israeli election, another BBC claim of a ‘shift to the right’

BBC News glosses over repeated Palestinian violence at holy site

Visitors to the BBC News website on March 20th found a report titled “Two Palestinians killed in clashes in Nablus” which opened as follows:

“Two Palestinian men have been killed in clashes with Israeli forces in the occupied West Bank.

The Israeli military said explosive devices were hurled from a car at troops guarding Jewish worshippers at Joseph’s Tomb in the city of Nablus.

The troops opened fire, killing two assailants, it added.”

The report later went on to inform readers that: [emphasis added]

“Joseph’s Tomb – which is revered by Jews and Muslims as the burial place of the son of the biblical patriarch Jacob – has been a source of friction in the past.

It is in an area under Palestinian civilian control, but Jewish pilgrims are permitted to visit several times a year under Israeli military protection.”

Also of significance to Christians, the site is in fact:

“…located inside Area A of the West Bank, under complete Palestinian Authority control. The IDF bars Israeli citizens from entering Area A without prior authorization.”

The BBC did not bother to explain to readers of this report the meaning of the phrase “a source of friction in the past”. The last time audiences saw any BBC reporting on such so-called “friction” was in October 2015 when Palestinian rioters set fire to the tomb. Since then repeated attacks on both the site itself and security forces guarding visiting worshippers have gone unreported. For example:

February 2016: “Israeli forces clashed with Palestinian protesters while Israelis prayed at Joseph’s Tomb on the outskirts of the West Bank city of Nablus late Monday night, as Jewish worshipers entered a holy site for a monthly pilgrimage.”

April 2016: “Palestinian residents of Nablus threw rocks and burning tires at IDF soldiers as they escorted hundreds of visitors to a Jewish holy site in the West Bank city overnight Wednesday-Thursday.”

June 2016: “Palestinian security forces managed to push back protesters who were advancing on the Joseph’s Tomb shrine late Saturday. According to Hebrew media reports, the protesters tried to set the site on fire. The demonstration began Saturday night after the Palestinian Health Ministry reported that a wounded Palestinian teen, said to have been hurt by IDF fire on Thursday after allegedly trying to throw a firebomb at Jews praying at the site, had taken a turn for the worse in hospital.”

August 2016: “…Palestinian residents of Nablus threw rocks and burning tires at IDF soldiers and Border Police as they escorted 24 busloads of visitors to Joseph’s Tomb near the West Bank city.”

September 2016: “An IDF soldier was shot and moderately wounded while guarding a group of religious Jews visiting the Joseph’s Tomb holy site, in the northern West Bank city of Nablus, early Thursday morning, the army said. […] Local residents also rolled burning tires and threw rocks and Molotov cocktails at troops guarding the area.”

September 2016: “Palestinian rioters clashed with IDF troops in Nablus early Thursday as hundreds of Jewish worshipers visited a pilgrimage site in the West Bank city. Youths threw rocks and Molotov cocktails at IDF troops guarding a group of religious Jews visiting the Joseph’s Tomb holy site, the army said.”

December 2016: “Rioters burned tires and threw Molotov cocktails and rocks at security forces protecting the pilgrims…”

February 2017: “A soldier was lightly wounded when an improvised explosive device was thrown at him near the West Bank city of Nablus early Thursday morning, the army said. The soldier’s unit was on patrol in the Balata refugee camp as a group of Israeli Jews visited a pilgrimage site on the outskirts of the northern West Bank city.”

December 2017: “Also overnight, the army led a group of some 500 Jewish worshipers to the Joseph’s Tomb holy site in the northern West Bank city of Nablus. During the visit, local residents clashed violently with the troops, throwing rocks and burning tires, the army said.”

January 2018: “Army sappers detonated a cellphone-operated explosive device that was apparently planted by Palestinians at the entrance to the Joseph’s Tomb holy site in the city of Nablus early Tuesday morning, ahead of a visit by approximately 1,000 Jewish worshipers, the army said.”

April 2018: “A Palestinian hurled explosives at Israeli soldiers protecting a crowd of Jewish worshipers in the West Bank city of Nablus overnight Wednesday-Thursday, causing no injuries or damage, the army said.”

September 2018: “Violent clashes broke out between Palestinians and Israeli security forces that entered Nablus late Wednesday night to secure the northern West Bank city ahead of the pilgrimage of some 1,500 Jewish worshipers to the Joseph’s Tomb holy site. […] Footage from the scene shows demonstrators hurling stones and Molotov cocktails at the Israeli convoy entering the city.”

November 2018: “Clashes broke out in the northern West Bank city of Nablus overnight Tuesday after Israeli security forces entered the city to escort Jewish worshipers to the Joseph’s Tomb holy site, the army said. According to an Israel Defense Forces statement, Palestinians hurled firebombs at security forces and shot at their armored cars, before troops drove them back with tear gas and live fire. Inside the tomb, soldiers discovered two makeshift explosive devices, the army said. Both were defused by sappers.”

As has been noted here in the past freedom of access to and worship at holy sites was supposedly guaranteed under the terms of the Oslo Accords signed by the PLO over two decades ago.  

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 chooses to euphemistically frame regular breaches of that agreement as “friction” attributed to the site itself rather than to the Palestinians actually throwing firebombs, explosives or rocks.

Related Articles:

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

BBC News’ account of TIPH story sidesteps violent incidents

On the evening of January 29th the BBC News website published a report titled “Hebron: Palestinians denounce Israeli decision to end observer mission” on its ‘Middle East’ page.

The report actually includes two separate stories, the first of which was presented to readers as follows: [emphasis added]

“The Palestinian Authority has condemned Israel’s decision not to renew the mandate of a foreign observer force in the divided West Bank city of Hebron.

The Temporary International Presence in Hebron (TIPH) has deployed unarmed civilians for more than 20 years to report on human rights violations.

But Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu accused the observers of “acting against” his country.

Palestinians said Israel was showing contempt for international agreements.

Saeb Erekat, of the Palestine Liberation Organisation, called on the UN to deploy a permanent international force across the occupied West Bank in response.”

Later on readers were told that:

The TIPH was established in 1994 in the wake of an attack by a settler at the Ibrahimi Mosque that left 29 Palestinians dead. The force was deployed for three months but its mandate was not extended.

The 1997 agreement saw the TIPH return to Hebron, with Denmark, Norway, Italy, Sweden, Switzerland and Turkey contributing observers.

Its mission is to assist in “monitoring and reporting efforts to maintain normal life in the city of Hebron, thus creating a sense of security among the Palestinians”.

The TIPH presents its findings to Israel and the Palestinian Authority, both of which are required to agree every six months to extend the force’s mandate.”

The BBC’s report did not adequately clarify to audiences the one-sided nature of the TIPH’s mandate. As Professor Eugene Kontorovich notes:

“The anti-Israel bias of TIPH is built into its mandate, which tasked organization members with the one-sided mission of “promoting by their presence a feeling of security” for Palestinians in Hebron. Protecting Jews from constant terrorist attacks is not part of their job description.” 

Nowhere in the BBC’s report was there any mention of the incidents involving TIPH personnel which took place last year – the assault of an Israeli child by a Swiss member of the group and the slashing of the tyres of an Israeli owned vehicle by an Italian member. As the Jerusalem Post notes, those incidents were a factor in the call to review the renewal of the TIPH mandate.

Predictably the report erased from its section on the background of Hebron all mention of the city’s Jewish history, including the fact that Jews lived there uninterrupted for hundreds of years until the 1929 massacre. Readers did however see a dubious ‘religious importance’ rating.

“Hebron has been a flashpoint for decades.

The city is the location of the Tomb of the Patriarchs/Ibrahimi Mosque, which is revered by Jews, Muslim and Christians as Abraham, Isaac and Jacob’s burial place. The site is the second holiest in Judaism and the fourth holiest in Islam.

Under a 1997 agreement, 80% of Hebron is under the full control of the Palestinian Authority and the other 20% is under full Israeli control.

The Israeli-controlled sector is home to about 40,000 Palestinians and several hundred Jewish settlers living in settlement compounds. The presence of the settlers there is considered illegal under international law, although Israel disagrees with this.”

The 1997 Hebron Protocol was of course signed by Israel and the PLO and it followed on from the 1995 Interim Agreement signed by the same parties and witnessed by the USA, Russia, Egypt, Jordan, Norway and the EU. Apparently the BBC would have its audiences believe that the PLO signed an agreement facilitating the residence of Israelis in Hebron in violation of “international law”.

The second story in this BBC report is unconnected to the article’s subject matter. It relates to an incident which took place on January 26th, the details of which are as yet unclear and which is currently under investigation. In the original version of the report BBC audiences first got a one hundred and eighty-five word account of one version of the story.

“There was no immediate response from the UN, but the Organisation for the High Commissioner for Human Rights did express deep concern about an unrelated incident in the West Bank village of al-Mughayyir on Saturday in which a Palestinian man was shot in the back and killed.

OHCHR spokesman Rupert Colville told reporters in Geneva that its monitoring suggested Hamdi Taleb Naasan died after a group of up to 30 Israelis from the nearby Israeli settler outpost of Adei Ad attacked Palestinian farmers in their fields and then fired live ammunition towards al-Mughayyir.

The confrontation led to six villagers being shot with live rounds, leaving three of them in a serious condition, he said, adding that it was unclear whether any settlers were also injured.

“When Israeli security forces did finally intervene, the main focus of their action appears to have been to disperse the Palestinian villagers using tear gas,” Mr Colville said.

“Three more Palestinians were injured by live ammunition after the intervention of the security forces. However it is not clear at this point whether they were shot by settlers or by soldiers.”

After being told that the army is investigating the incident, readers then got a fifty-three word long account (including an unhelpful link to a Ha’aretz article requiring subscription) of the other version of the incident.

The settlers have said the troops also used live ammunition, and that the confrontation began when a teenager was attacked and stabbed by Palestinians on the outskirts of al-Mughayyir.

According to the settlers, armed civilian emergency responders who came to the teenager’s aid opened fire in self-defence after villagers threw stones at them.”

So while violent acts by foreigners in the TIPH ‘peacemaking’ delegation were excluded from this report, one version of an as yet unclarified story was allocated three and a half times more coverage than the other.

 

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

 

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