More PLO propaganda and polemic on BBC WS radio – part one

As we saw in an earlier post the PLO’s Saeb Erekat was provided with a sympathetic BBC Radio 4 platform three days after the Palestinian Authority envoy in London gave a briefing to BBC journalists.

Erekat also appeared in an item over eight minutes long billed “Newshour speaks to one of the most senior and long serving Palestinian officials” (from 30:05 here) aired on the same day – June 20th – on the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour’ presented by Razia Iqbal.

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

Iqbal: “The most intractable of conflicts between Israel and the Palestinians has been on the Trump administration’s agenda since Mr Trump went into the White House. His son-in-law Jared Kushner has been tasked to come up with what Mr Trump has dubbed ‘the deal of the century’. As part of that peace plan the US is hosting an economic summit in Bahrain next month – next week in fact. Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia will be present but the Palestinians say they were not consulted and are boycotting the summit. I’ve been speaking to Saeb Erekat who is currently the secretary general of the Palestine Liberation Organisation and is the chief Palestinian negotiator. I began by asking him why Palestinian officials are boycotting the summit.”

The accuracy of Iqbal’s claim (which frequently crops up in BBC content) concerning the origin of the phrase ‘the deal of the century’ is questionable. Erekat began by recycling a theme he had used in his ‘Today’ programme interview aired earlier in the day.

Erekat: “Today, June 20th, Trump has been [in] office for 28 months. Did you hear the term occupation by any of them? Did you hear the term two states by any of them? Did you hear the term settlements are illegal by any of them? Did you hear Palestinians have the right to determination by any of them? They feel they can dictate a solution on me. In the last speech Jared Kushner gave he said if Palestinians accept what we offer then they are good, they can govern their people. If they don’t accept what we offer, they’re corrupt and they’re not fit to govern.”

Razia Iqbal did not bother to intervene to inform listeners that what Erekat was referring to was an interview rather than a “speech” and that Kushner did not say the things attributed to him by Erekat. Neither did she ask her interviewee how – if as he just alleged, the Trump administration had not used the term two states in 28 months – he managed to agree with them on a two-state solution as he next claimed.

Erekat: “I engaged with them – the Trump administration – in 37 meetings in 2017. We gave every possible chance. We signed agreement. We have an agreed terms of reference – international law, Security Council resolutions – and we agreed on two-state solution. Now what the American administration is doing is destroying these terms of reference, destroying international law, destroying the two-state solution. And they’re telling me – once they finish their negotiations with Netanyahu and the Israeli settlement council which they adopted their plan – ‘come here, boy, we know what’s best for you and if you don’t accept this you’re going to be related to Bin Laden, you’re corrupt and you’re not good to govern Palestinians’.”

That unsupported claim concerning “the Israeli settlement council” went unquestioned by Iqbal just as it did in the Radio 4 interview.

Iqbal: “OK, let’s look at the issue…the allegation of corruption. When you talked about how the Americans are saying that we will look at the Palestinian situation in terms of their needs as opposed to what you want, which is your rights, isn’t it true to say that there is corruption absolutely at the heart of the Palestinian Authority; that there is mismanagement of funds?”

Erekat: “I think that it’s really unfair to say this. I’m not saying that we’re perfect. I’m not saying that we’re not doing mistakes. We’re as normal as you in Britain, as Americans, as anywhere else. But [laughs] take American aid: they have never given us a single dollar directly. They have an agency called United States International Development Agency; they spend their money through it. So do the British and the French and the Germans and the Japanese and anybody else. So do I deserve to have occupation because I am corrupt? Do I deserve to have occupation because I cannot govern myself as Kushner says?”

Failing to clarify that ‘occupation’ was the outcome of attacks launched by Arab states, Iqbal went on to blame the PA’s financial situation in part on “the occupation”.

Iqbal: “It’s not about those two things being correlated. It’s about answering questions of accountability. So if the Palestinian ministers are going to give themselves more than 60% pay rises when the economy of the Palestinian Authority is on its knees, clearly informed by the occupation but also informed by mismanagement.”

Erekat predictably skirted round that issue and went on to make the inaccurate claim that the Oslo Accords included the term ‘two-state solution’ with no correction from Iqbal.

Erekat: “This was a mistake and we do mistakes and this mistake is being corrected but the point is I am under Israeli occupation. I am not independent. I entered a contract with Israel, the PLO – the Palestine Liberation Organisation, the Israeli government – under the auspices of the Americans, the Europeans, the Arab, to achieve the two-state solution. Now we have an American administration that’s saying ‘no – it’s not gonna be two states. Jerusalem is not, can’t be Palestine capital. Palestinians don’t have their actual determination and they must accept this’. And these people…the conflict is political, is about territory, is about narratives. It’s not a religious conflict. Judaism to us as Christian and Muslim Palestinians was never a threat, is not a threat, will never be a threat.”

Failing to provide her worldwide listeners with any examples of the blatant antisemitism that comes regularly from Palestinian officials and the incitement to religious war put out by both Hamas and the Palestinian Authority, Iqbal asked:

Iqbal: “And are you saying that the Americans are casting it as a religious conflict?”

Erekat: “Absolutely. When the ambassador – so-called ambassador – Friedman says that it’s God who recognised Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and when Pompeo the Secretary of State would say that God sent Trump to save the Jews, they are turning this into a religious conflict and this should be a red line to anyone.”

The BBC itself reported at the time that Mr Pompeo “said it is “possible” that President Donald Trump was sent by God to save Israel from Iran” but Iqbal refrained from challenging Erekat’s claims.

The rest of this interview will be discussed in part two of this post.

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Omission in BBC reporting on Israel and the EU

Using the Eurovision Song Contest as a hook (and tag) another BBC reporter apparently in Tel Aviv for that event – diplomatic correspondent James Landale – published an article titled “Why Israel eyes the EU with distrust” on the BBC News website on May 20th.

Landale also produced an audio version of that report which was aired on BBC Radio 4’s ‘Today’ programme on May 18th (from 01:48:35 here) and the central messaging of both reports is the same.

“…Israel’s love of Eurovision the competition has also illustrated its more ambiguous attitude to Europe the continent.

If you speak to Israelis, some will tell you how Europe is their biggest trading partner, how they love going on holiday there and of their many ancestral family connections.

Yet many also say they see Europe as a source of anti-Semitism, a place where the Holocaust is becoming less prominent in the minds of a new generation of young people.

And many also see Europe as a source of what they see as unfair criticism for their government’s policies towards Gaza and the West Bank, coupled with a failure to understand Israel’s existential security threat. […]

Many see it as an organisation that has taken sides in their conflict with the Palestinians, others condemn it for providing aid that sometimes ends up in the hands of groups like Hamas, which the EU regards as a terrorist organisation. […]

This sentiment is fanned by Israel’s recently re-elected prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, who before Christmas described the EU as “hostile and hypocritical”.”

Among Israelis, readers were told, “[t]here is little attempt…to understand a European political culture that favours liberal democracy and emphasises human and civil rights”.

Landale also informed BBC audiences that:

“European diplomats take some of this criticism with a pinch of salt and say the EU is a “useful whipping boy” for Israel at a time when it is so close to the Trump administration.”

However Landale made no attempt to delve further into how the generalised opinions he presented may have come about. Had he done so, he could have told BBC audiences about an issue that the corporation has long avoided: the fact that the EU has for years carried out illegal construction at sites in Area C.

Under the terms of the Oslo Accords, Area C is of course under Israeli control and that includes planning permission. The status of the area is, according to that EU backed agreement, subject to final status negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians. Nevertheless, a European Commission report from September 2014 openly stated that “the European Union and Palestinian Authority are actively promoting planning and construction in Area C, which, if successful, will pave the way for development and expansion of the Palestinian Authority’s control over Area C.”

Another example of such EU activity has come to light in Gush Etzion.

““Over the course of the past two years, activists from the Arab town of Al Khader, backed by P.A. and European Union funding, occupied the ruins of two ancient shomerot  (watchman’s huts) – primitive stone structures used by passing shepherds or farmers as shelter from the elements—that dot the landscape in the Jerusalem and Sataf areas. They renovated these abandoned structures and turned them into homes – and from that point, in very short order, totally new structures have been added in the surrounding area.”

The signs posted on the refurbished buildings, proudly bearing the European Union emblem, explain that the site is an ancient village – Shoshkhalah – despite the fact that aerial photos paint a completely different picture. In the past two years, more than 15 homes have been built in this “village,” each connected to solar power infrastructure and water tanks paid for by the Europeans.

Analysis of aerial photos from 1967, as well as historic maps dating back to 1880, prove that there was never any settlement of any kind at the site.”

Interestingly, while BBC audiences can by now probably recite the corporation’s mantra on Israeli ‘settlements’ and ‘international law’ by heart, the repeated appearance of Palestinian/EU constructed outposts under the guise of ‘humanitarian assistance’ is not considered newsworthy – even by a senior BBC correspondent purporting to cast light on Israeli attitudes towards Europe.

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BBC Business ‘forgets’ to clarify that quoted academic is BDS campaigner

An article headlined “How tech is bringing Israelis and Palestinians together” appeared in the ‘features’ sections of the BBC News website’s ‘Middle East’ and ‘Business’ pages on the morning of April 30th. Written by Melissa Jun Rowley, most of the article focuses unremarkably on various “technology partnerships” but some interesting framing is also in evidence.

Paragraph three of the article tells readers that:

“…Israeli-Palestinian relations have been relentlessly grim ever since the foundation of Israel in 1948 and the subsequent Arab-Israeli conflict that has been rumbling on ever since.”

The word subsequent of course means “coming after something in time” but “grim” Israeli-Palestinian relations and the Arab-Israeli conflict of course did not commence following – and as a result of – “the foundation of Israel in 1948” as Rowley’s framing suggests.

Another notable point concerns some of the six images used to illustrate the article. Three of the photographs show people who participate in some of the programmes it features. One is a video first published by the BBC in December 2018. One is an image of torn Palestinian and Israeli flags captioned “In a fractured land, many young people from opposite sides never meet each other”. The final image shows buildings (in Givat Ze’ev, but readers are not given the location) with the caption “Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank are one of many contentious issues in the region”.

Interestingly, out of “many contentious issues” the BBC chose to exclusively highlight “Israeli settlements” rather than, say, Palestinian terrorism or the Palestinian refusal to accept the existence the Jewish state.

Rowley’s take-away messaging comes at the end of the article.

“But will such collaborations lead to a stronger economy for the region and potentially a resolution of the conflict?

That remains unlikely, believes Magid Shihade, faculty member at the Institute for International Studies at Birzeit University on the West Bank, while onerous trade restrictions remain in place.

Under the Paris Protocol between the Palestinian Authority and the Israeli government, Palestinians cannot import what they like from abroad and are prevented from developing their own products freely.

“The first step for change is to remove all Israeli restriction in trade, thus letting Palestinian and Israeli businesses collaborate on an equal footing,” says Mr Shihade.

But Israel believes such restrictions are necessary to maintain its security in the troubled region.”

The 1994 Paris Protocol was of course signed by the PLO rather than “the Palestinian Authority” and was incorporated into the Oslo II agreement of 1995. Rowley fails to provide any proper explanation of her dubious claim that “Palestinians cannot import what they like from abroad and are prevented from developing their own products freely” which apparently relates to restrictions on dual-use goods which can be used for terrorism.

Neither does Rowley bother to inform readers that while her quoted ‘authority’ Magid Shihade is not an economist, he is a ‘one-stater’ who co-founded the ‘US Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel’ as well as (together with his wife) another pro-BDS group called ‘Pakistanis for Palestine’.

The Paris Protocol is seen by the BDS movement as part of the cooperation with Israel which it rejects and in 2007 PACBI (The Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel) recommended that the BDS campaign “Build pressure on PA officials for ending normalization with Israel (end security coordination, rescind Paris Protocol on economic cooperation, etc.)”. It therefore comes as no surprise to see BDS campaigner Magid Shihade advocating the annulment of that treaty.

Unfortunately it is equally unsurprising to see the BBC amplifying a position taken by the anti-peace BDS campaign without full disclosure – as required by BBC editorial guidelines on impartiality – of the ‘particular viewpoint’ of the sole academic ‘expert’ quoted in this article.  

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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.

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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.  

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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.

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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.”