The BBC recently re-uploaded the 2017 audio series by its Middle East editor Jeremy Bowen called ‘Our Man in the Middle East’.
Our analysis of the episodes relating to Israel can be found below:
The BBC recently re-uploaded the 2017 audio series by its Middle East editor Jeremy Bowen called ‘Our Man in the Middle East’.
Our analysis of the episodes relating to Israel can be found below:
“Jeremy Bowen explores Gaza, the Palestinian territory controlled by Hamas, the Islamic resistance movement. It’s not a place you would chose [sic] for a Mediterranean holiday, though the Palestinians used to dream of developing a tourist industry, he says. “Israel could recapture Gaza in days if it wanted to. But then it would be responsible for around a million children and about the same number of angry adults. Palestinians can’t destroy a state as strong as Israel. But Israel can’t bludgeon Palestinians into submission either.””
Refraining from informing audiences that hopes of economic development in the Gaza Strip were killed off by, among other things, the Islamist take-over of the territory, Bowen opens the programme with the theme promoted in that synopsis. [emphasis in italics in the original]
“Gaza is not a place you’d choose for a Mediterranean holiday although the Palestinians used to dream of developing a tourist industry. The beaches are sandy and run for 25 miles along the Mediterranean from the top right-hand corner of Egypt. It’s no wider than 7 miles and, apart from the short Egyptian border, it’s entirely surrounded by Israel. Since 2006 [sic] the Palestinian group Hamas – the Islamic resistance movement has controlled it.”
“Palestinians often call Gaza the world’s biggest jail and it’s hard to argue. Many spend whole lives there without being able to leave. I’ve met thirty-something men who’ve never left.”
Bowen’s portrayal does not clarify to listeners that on average around a thousand people exit Gaza via the Erez crossing every day for medical treatment, commercial, academic or sporting activities or religious trips. He refrains from making any mention of the existence of the crossing into Egypt at Rafah, or why that crossing is so frequently closed by Egypt.
Bowen then gives some historical background but refrains from clarifying that the Gaza Strip was included in the territory allotted for the creation of a homeland for the Jewish people by the League of Nations.
“Gaza was one of the historic towns of Palestine; a small place surrounded by fields and sand dunes when it was captured by Egypt in Israel’s 1948 war of independence. Tens of thousands of Palestinian refugees fled there to escape the Israeli advance or because they were forced out of their homes at the point of a gun.”
The siege – and subsequent evacuation – of Kibbutz Kfar Darom in 1948 is of course not included in Bowen’s account. He goes on:
“Israel captured Gaza from Egypt in 1967 and finally pulled out its soldiers and settlers in 2005, though it still controls who goes in and out by land, sea and air.”
Bowen makes no mention of the fact that agreements on movement and access from and to Gaza were signed by Israel and the Palestinian Authority after Israel’s disengagement from the Gaza strip in 2005. Failing to clarify to listeners why residents of a territory that has been under PA and then Hamas rule for the last twelve years are still classified as refugees or why refugee status is inherited, Bowen goes on:
“These days almost two million people live in the Gaza Strip. About two-thirds of them are descendants of the original refugees. Refugee children are taught at schools run by the UN. Their future is bleak. The UN predicts that Gaza might become uninhabitable by 2020 if there’s no end to the conflict with Israel.”
Ignoring the fact that Egypt saw fit to adopt similar counter-terrorism measures to those introduced by Israel after the violent Hamas coup in 2007 and failing to mention the rise in terrorism that was the cause of those measures, Bowen continues:
“Israel put Gaza under a severe blockade in 2007 after Hamas took over. To overcome it, Palestinians built a network of smuggling tunnels into Egypt. […] For years after Hamas took over Gaza and the Israeli blockade bit hard, almost everything except the most basic commodities was smuggled in from Egypt through the tunnels.”
In fact, smuggling tunnels existed in the Rafah area long before 2007. Bowen’s portrayal of that issue does not include any information concerning the taxes and tariffs levied by Hamas on smuggled goods. Ignoring Egyptian actions against the tunnels, Bowen tells listeners that:
“Israel used to bomb the tunnels to uphold their blockade and because weapons were also smuggled through them. The blockade, the bombing and Israeli fears about Hamas weaponry all ramped up the tension.”
Having told listeners that the Hamas-Fatah split is rooted in “the death of Yasser Arafat”, Bowen goes on to refer to the Hamas Charter in the past tense.
“Hamas had a charter calling for its [Israel’s] destruction and was designated by Israel and the West as a terrorist group. The crunch came after Hamas unexpectedly won the elections in 2006. The Americans, proselytising hard for democracy, had pushed for the vote. But it didn’t produce the result they wanted. A few months later I was in the office of one of the top diplomats at the State Department in Washington DC. He sat back in his chair. ‘Of course’ he said ‘ it’s the wrong result. We’re going to have to overturn it’. The Americans gave full backing to Israel’s policy of isolating Gaza to put pressure on Hamas.”
Once again, Hamas terrorism is absent from Bowen’s tale. After a long account of his personal recollections of pre-Hamas coup inter-factional fighting in Gaza and a conversation with Mohammad Dahlan, Bowen tells listeners:
“After I left Gaza that time the feud between Fatah and Hamas became a mini civil war. Hamas won and Fatah officials including Dahlan rushed to the Israeli checkpoints to escape with their lives.”
Listeners hear a brief reference to missile attacks against Israelis without the groups that execute the attacks being named and without mention of any of the victims of such attacks.
“Living either side of the border wire – in Gaza or Israel – can be difficult and dangerous. Going through even one rocket attack on the Israeli side, let alone dozens in a day, is terrifying – as I found out.”
However, Bowen soon returns to form:
“When the wars flare up more Palestinians are killed than Israelis, including many more civilians.”
Bowen then revisits a report he produced in 2009 concerning Dr. Izzeldin Abuelaish.
“An Israeli tank had shelled his home and killed three of his daughters.”
Bowen fails to tell listeners of the background to that the tragic incident but goes on to promote one of his usual pseudo-legal misinterpretations of the Law of Armed Combat and the term ‘disproportionate‘.
“The laws of war say belligerents shouldn’t use disproportionate force. Israel always denies doing so when it attacks Gaza but the evidence suggests that it does. The Israelis claim to take great care not to kill civilians but they use heavy weapons in densely populated areas, making civilian casualties certain.”
“I’ve never seen any evidence of Hamas forcing civilians in Gaza to stay in the firing line. But Israelis repeat time and again that Hamas hides behind human shields.”
The programme closes with Bowen opining that the terror organisation whose activities and abuses he has downplayed throughout the whole report should be party to negotiations.
“Until matters change in Gaza there will be more wars between Hamas and Israel. Change means a new attempt at peace with the participation and consent of all sides. Right now, there is no chance of that happening.”
Perhaps one of the more disturbing points emerging from this series of programmes by the BBC’s Middle East editor is the fact that the passage of time has done nothing to alter his opinions and analysis.
Having publicly claimed that he did not come across human shields in the few days he was in Gaza in the summer of 2014, three years later he cannot accommodate the ample evidence that shows otherwise. Having promoted his own pseudo-legal interpretations of the Law of Armed Combat in his 2014 reporting from Gaza, he is incapable of subsequently adjusting that view in line with the facts.
That, of course, is what happens when the agenda takes precedence over the actual story.
“The BBC’s Middle East editor Jeremy Bowen looks back over the life of Yasser Arafat. Thousands of his supporters turned out when the Palestinian’s body was flown back into Ramallah on the West Bank. “Love him or hate him, he was Mr Palestine,” says Bowen. “In death as well as in life he was the symbol of the Palestinian people and their struggle for independence – much more than a politician.” The Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s view was that Arafat was ‘ a murderer and a pathological liar’.”
Originally broadcast on June 15th under the title “Guns and Olive Branches“, the programme now opens with notification that “this programme has been edited since broadcast” – but BBC audiences are not informed what that editing entailed and the BBC’s ‘corrections and clarifications‘ page does not include any related information.
The programme begins with Bowen’s recollections from November 2004 and an interpretation of Arafat’s sartorial propaganda that unquestioningly endorses the notion that the State of Israel is actually “Palestine”. [all emphasis in italics in the original]
“Even his keffiyeh – his black and white headscarf – carried a message. Arafat always wore it pushed back behind his left shoulder and down the front of his chest on the right, broad at the top, tapering down to the south: the shape of Palestine.” [emphasis added]
Listeners repeatedly hear Bowen refer to a Palestinian “struggle for independence” with just one brief and inadequately explained reference to the fact that the said “struggle” was actually intended to wipe Israel off the map and with no mention made of the absence of any claim to “independence” during the nineteen years that Palestinians lived under Jordanian and Egyptian occupation.
“Yasser Arafat, leader of the Palestinians since the 1960s, was one of the world’s most famous or notorious people – depending on you view of Palestinian nationalism. Love him or hate him, Yasser Arafat was Mr Palestine.”
“In death as well as life, Arafat was the symbol of the Palestinian people and their struggle for independence; much more than just a politician.”
“Yasser Arafat’s position as the human embodiment of Palestinian hopes for independence were [sic] sealed in 1974 when he was invited to address the United Nations.”
“Yasser Arafat was born in 1929 and spent most of his childhood in Cairo. He fought in the Arab-Israeli war in 1948 and went on to found Fatah – a group that wanted to destroy what it called the colonialist, Zionist occupation of Palestine.”
“His [Arafat’s] last three years, spent under siege by Israel in the wrecked Muqata in Ramallah, made him even more of a symbol of the Palestinian struggle for independence and freedom. Palestinians still don’t have a state.”
Listeners also hear repeated references to an ‘unequal’ conflict – with no explanation of the fact that the Palestinians were junior players in a wider conflict between the Arab states and Israel.
“Other, more cautious Palestinians called Arafat a madman at first because of his desire to take on the much stronger Israelis.”
“His critics said a wiser leader might have finished the job. But a wiser man might not have started such an unequal fight.”
Bowen erases the Arab League’s role in the creation of the PLO.
“Egypt’s president Nasser had founded the PLO to control Palestinian nationalists. Arafat used it to unite Palestinian factions, to campaign for international recognition and most of all, to fight Israel.”
Throughout the item Bowen refrains from describing Palestinian attacks against Israelis as terrorism in his own words and promotes the ‘one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter’ myth.
“Many Israelis regarded Arafat as an unreformed terrorist. They blamed him for decades of attacks, including the suicide bombs that had killed hundreds of Israeli civilians in his last few years.”
“Arafat was a prime mover behind many attacks. Fatah and other Palestinian factions shot, bombed and hijacked their way into the headlines. In 1972 Fatah gunmen calling themselves Black September killed 11 Israeli athletes and a German policeman at the Munich Olympic games.”
“Some Palestinians believed they were winning the argument that their cause was just. Other Palestinians said the armed struggle – terrorism in Israeli eyes – meant they could no longer be ignored.”
Listeners hear context-free references to the Six Day War, the Yom Kippur war and the first Lebanon war.
“His [Arafat’s] first attacks in the mid-1960s weren’t more than pin-pricks. But his moment came in 1967 in the months after Israel inflicted a crushing defeat in only six days on the armed forces of Egypt, Jordan and Syria.”
“The Middle East was boiling. The Palestinian-Israel conflict was at a new pitch and there was a full-scale war in 1973. Israel narrowly came out ahead.”
“They [Israel] invaded Lebanon in 1982 where the Palestinians had established what amounted to a mini-state.”
Bowen misrepresents the first Intifada as ‘non-violent’, erasing from audience view the Israelis murdered during that period of PLO orchestrated violence as well as some 1,000 Palestinians executed by their fellow Palestinians – with Arafat’s approval.
“What changed everything was entirely unexpected. In December 1987 an Israeli truck collided with a car, killing 4 Palestinians. Protests exploded into a full-blown uprising: the Intifada. Images of Palestinian children taking on tanks with stones went around the world and became a symbol of the oppression inherent in the occupation.”
“Palestinian rage and frustration exploded again in 2000 but this time there were armed clashes and unlike the first Intifada, the Palestinians lost the propaganda battle when suicide bombers killed many Israeli civilians.”
Bowen’s portrayal of the Oslo Accords era erases the Palestinian terrorism that immediately followed the signing of the agreement and fails to inform listeners of Arafat’s role in the pre-planned second Intifada terror war.
“But Israel and the Palestinians signed an historic peace deal and Arafat was allowed to live in the occupied territories.”
“The peace process was flawed for both sides but for a few years there was a lot of hope. Then the Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated by a Jewish extremist who wanted to kill the chance of peace as well.”
A recording of Saeb Erekat speaking in 2004 which further gives listeners an inaccurate impression of Arafat’s role in the campaign of terrorism that surged in the autumn of 2000 was selected by Bowen for inclusion in this programme..
Erekat: “I’m afraid if Mother Theresa were to be our president, Nelson Mandela were to be our prime minister, Martin Luther King to be our speaker and Mahatma Gandhi would be our chief negotiator, the Israelis would find a way to link them to terrorism and some voices in Washington would echo that. The question wasn’t Arafat.”
Throughout the item Bowen repeatedly promotes a romantic image of Arafat as a charismatic “revolutionary”.
“As Israelis settled into their occupation of the West Bank, Arafat took the fight to them, moving around in disguise and organising hundreds of attacks. Israel hit back in 1968 with a major military operation at the Karameh refugee camp in Jordan which had become a big Fatah base. […] The battle established Arafat’s legend. He was on the cover of Time magazine and the young revolutionary gave countless interviews.”
“For the first time posters of Arafat started appearing wherever there were Palestinians. They’d never had a leader with his charisma. By the summer of 1969 Arafat was chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organisation.”
“Arafat swaggered into the General Assembly in New York wearing combat fatigues and sunglasses. He delivered his most famous lines: ‘I come to you bearing an olive branch in one hand and a freedom-fighter’s gun in the other. Do not let the olive branch fall from my hand’. Arafat repeated that last warning three times. He was offering Israel a choice: peace or war.”
“The General Assembly gave him a standing ovation though among Arab leaders Arafat had plenty of enemies. He’d wanted to carry a pistol into the hall to make his point and had to be persuaded that an empty holster would do just as well. I remember the outrage among Jewish friends at my school in Cardiff that he’d even been allowed to speak. For Israelis, Arafat was an arch-terrorist and his olive branch was a joke.”
“Arafat was caught between his obligations under the peace process – satisfying the Israelis and the Americans – and his self-image as a revolutionary focusing the frustration and anger of his people.”
“It was always strange being in the same room as one of the most famous faces in the world. His legend was always there with him to be deployed at all times for his dream of Palestine. If being the human form of so many people’s’ hopes was a burden – and it must have been – he didn’t show it.”
Bowen’s own view of Arafat is further clarified at the end of the item.
“Back in 2004 outside the hospital in Paris where Arafat was dying, I felt that for all his weaknesses, his unique position as the father of his nation gave him a strength that genuine peace-makers would miss.
Recording Bowen: Yasser Arafat may have been part of the problem over the years but he’s also been part of the solution as well. And when he finally goes, his enemies – the Israelis and the Americans who’ve tried to isolate him – may find that far from it being easier to reach some kind of stability in the Middle East, it may even be more difficult.”
Bowen completely whitewashes Arafat’s cultivation of the culture of personal and organisational corruption that hallmarked the Palestinian Authority under his rule, as well as his funding of terrorism.
“Arafat preferred yes-men to straight talkers, tolerated corruption and he wasn’t much interested in the nitty-gritty of building a state. But for most Palestinians he was a national icon.”
Similarly, Bowen whitewashes Mahmoud Abbas’ incitement and glorification of terrorism.
“Abbas has never had Arafat’s charisma and even though he’s condemned Palestinian violence many times, the current Israeli government says he’s not a partner for peace.”
One of the more egregious parts of this programme comes towards its end when Bowen resuscitates an old canard:
“Some say Arafat was poisoned by Israel. His body was exhumed and tests found high levels of radioactive Polonium in his remains. The results were not conclusive but most Palestinians are convinced.”
As Bowen knows full well, those “high levels” of Polonium were pronounced by experts who tested them to be “of an environmental nature”. Both the French and Russian investigating teams ruled out foul play and the investigation closed two years ago, with the French prosecutor saying “there is no case to answer regarding the death of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat”.
Nevertheless, the man whose job description is to “make a complex story more comprehensive or comprehensible for the audience” dishonestly promotes the notion that “the results were not conclusive”, thereby suggesting to BBC audiences that long-standing but entirely unproven Palestinian messaging on that topic may not, after all, be baseless propaganda.
Once again, Jeremy Bowen’s standards of adherence to BBC editorial guidelines on accuracy and impartiality are on full view in this programme – together with some revealing insights into his own views of a man responsible for the deaths of thousands of Israelis and Palestinians.
“Jeremy Bowen describes the incident as the worse [sic] day of his working life – the day he and his colleagues came under fire from the Israeli Defence Force. Bowen’s driver Abed Takkhoush was hit when the crew of an Israeli tank fired a shell across the border wire into Lebanon. It hit the back of his Mercedes taxi while he was sitting in the driver’s seat phoning his son.”
Bowen has of course publicly revisited that incident on numerous occasions in the past (see ‘related articles’ below) but this programme once again provides insight into the approach taken by the man the BBC chose to be responsible for all its Middle East coverage twelve years ago.
In this report, Bowen’s scene-setting fails to provide listeners with any background information or context concerning the reason why the Israeli army was in Lebanon in the first place and he fails to clarify that Hizballah did not only act against – or because of – Israeli forces.
“We were looking forward to the day ahead down south on the border with Israel. It was a big story. The Israelis were ending an occupation of a broad swathe of South Lebanon that had lasted 18 years. They’d been driven out by an insurgency mounted by Hizballah – the Shia Muslim militia that head become a highly effective guerilla force with the help of Iran and Syria.”
Later on Bowen tells listeners that:
“By the mid-90s the main fight was in south Lebanon between the Israeli occupiers and Hizballah. Israel claimed self-defence and called Hizballah terrorists. Hizballah regarded themselves as a legitimate resistance to occupation and so did most Lebanese.”
Bowen refrains from explaining why there was no Hizballah ‘resistance’ to the Syrian occupation in Lebanon or to inform listeners of the 1989 Taif Agreement and the fact that under that agreement, all militias – including Hizballah – were supposed to have been disarmed and disbanded.
Although in previous accounts Bowen has said “I’d been talking to my literary agent on the phone” at the time of the incident in which his driver was killed, in this programme his version is slightly different.
“The big mistake I made was deciding to stop to do a piece to camera overlooking an Israeli village. I discovered later that journalists and Israeli civilians were watching from a picnic spot as I got out of the car with Malik. I thought we were safe where we were but I didn’t realise that an Israeli battle tank had us in its sights.” […]
“I said to Malik ‘let’s get up there to help him’. Malik’s face was contorted. ‘No’, he said, ‘don’t do it. Abed is dead; he can’t have survived that and if you go up there too, they’ll kill you’. When cautiously I moved towards Abed’s body I heard bullets fizzing over my head and ducked back into cover. A team from the Times later said they heard the tank crew saying on the radio that they’d get the other two with the heavy machine gun. I’ll feel guilty till my last day that we stopped to film there.”
Bowen adds further context-free anecdotes of Israeli actions, telling listeners that in 1996:
“We joined a UN convoy that was trying to reach besieged civilians. The Israelis turned it back with some heavy shelling.”
“Once, the Israelis were shelling the coastal highway from a war ship to stop people getting to southern Lebanon.”
And – while failing to clarify that the two-week Israeli operation in Lebanon in 1996 came after Hizballah shelled Israeli communities, injuring dozens of civilians:
“106 civilians were killed in a single incident in 1996 by Israeli shelling. They’d been sheltering in a UN peace-keeping base in a village called Qana in south Lebanon. Hundreds more were wounded. The UN didn’t accept Israel’s explanation that Hizballah had fired Katyusha rockets at them from close to the base. I’d been in a briefing in the Israeli Defence Ministry that claimed they knew everything that went on in south Lebanon but that day they said they didn’t know they were killing civilians even when UN liaison officers begged them to stop.”
Bowen goes on to use language that does not adhere to BBC editorial standards of impartiality.
“Qana’s dead were buried together. At the funeral I met Hassan Balhas; a young man who’d been left paraplegic by a stray Israeli bullet. 35 members of his family were killed in the massacre.” [emphasis added]
Listeners are also told by Bowen that:
“I’ve been to the homes of Israelis killed by Lebanese and their families’ grief is tragic to see. But there’s been just so much more of it in Lebanon where civilians have suffered disproportionately at the hands of Israel.” [emphasis added]
Going back to the May 2000 incident, Bowen tells listeners that his driver:
“…did stop four years later on the day the Israeli army killed him. The Israeli military said the tank fired at us because they thought we were terrorists. That wasn’t the first assumption of Israeli civilians who were watching from their side of the border whose reaction was caught in video collected by a BBC investigation into Abed’s death.”
Listeners then hear an unidentified voice explaining that video.
“People are now saying in Hebrew this car was shot, it was shot from here. Some civilian is saying ‘they hit a civilian car – we’re going to have Katyushas now’. ‘This is very bad’, he’s saying.”
In fact, the Hebrew speaker is not heard using the term “civilian car” but the word “vehicle”. Bowen goes on:
“I went to see a general in the Defence Ministry in Tel Aviv. He asked for some understanding. ‘Look’, he said, ‘there were young boys in that tank and they’d been warned they might be attacked by terrorists. They were scared’. I wasn’t very sympathetic. They were in a tank and we were civilians.”
Bowen has of course told that part of the story before too and is on record as refusing to accept the results of the IDF investigation into – and apology for – the tragic incident. Hence, seventeen years on the BBC’s Middle East editor is still using his position to promote the notion that it was impossible for Israeli soldiers to mistake three men travelling in a war zone in a car with Lebanese plates, and carrying camera equipment, for Hizballah terrorists dressed – as was very often the case – in civilian clothing.
He then closes the item with an oblique, but clear, insinuation:
“Fighters in every war, on every side, dehumanise their enemies. They regard them as something less that living and breathing people who can feel love and fear and happiness. That way, it’s much easier to kill.”
Jeremy Bowen will no doubt continue his efforts to promote his version of this story for as long as the BBC and additional media outlets continue to provide him with the platform to do so. Nevertheless, it is worth bearing in mind that the man who repeatedly tells that story from that particular angle is also the person who for the last twelve years has been entrusted with ensuring that what BBC audiences are told about Israel meets editorial standards of accuracy, impartiality and objectivity.
Episode six of Jeremy Bowen’s 25-part BBC Radio 4 series ‘Our Man in the Middle East’ was broadcast on May 22nd. Titled ‘Crossing the Divide’, the programme begins with a tale highlighting Bowen’s unfamiliarity with the subject of gas fittings before moving on to broader subject matter.
Bowen: “It felt like every part of life was touched by the conflict; it was exhausting. It might have been more fun to live in Tel Aviv, which feels like another country. It’s a hedonistic, mainly secular city on a Mediterranean beach. In the winter I’ve scraped the ice off the car in Jerusalem to find an hour later in Tel Aviv that people are strolling in shirt sleeves in the sun. Sometimes Israelis who live there say they’re in a bubble that lets them forget the conflict. Jerusalem was the opposite: everything was infected by the conflict. And, whenever I drove past Ben Gurion airport I fantasized about catching a plane home.” [emphasis added]
Bowen: “The peace process was collapsing after the assassination of Israel’s Prime Minister Yizhak Rabin. It was all bad news – but that’s what journalists like.”
Listeners then hear undated, context-free snippets from some of Bowen’s past reports, including the claim that in Hebron, “Jewish settlement still takes up one fifth of the town” without any clarification regarding the relevant Hebron Protocol. Bowen continues:
Bowen: “I read more, spoke to more people and started to understand why life could be so difficult. As for Jerusalem – my adopted home – the city had been desired and venerated for 3,000 years by a procession of dynasties and peoples. Struggle and conflict were normal. It took two or three years but to my surprise Israel, the occupied Palestinian territories and Jerusalem – especially Jerusalem – started pulling me in. […]
Even the food tasted of the ethnic tangle. Not just the old Israeli and Palestinian argument about who invented falafel and hummus. I learned about the heritage of Jews who’d emigrated to Israel from North Africa, Yemen and Iraq by eating their food, usually in the raucous streets around West Jerusalem’s main market; Mahane Yehuda. These days its edges have been blurred by gentrification and the fact that food has become fashionable.”
As he did with Tel Aviv, Bowen erases the topic of the terror attacks on Mahane Yehuda market during that time period from his account. His rare mention of Jewish refugees from Arab lands (which he fails to identify as such) continues:
Bowen: “[…] But in the 1990s Mahane Yehuda was a noisy, teeming symbol of the ethnic divide between Israeli Jews. Brown-skinned Mizrahis from the Middle East and North Africa who felt excluded by European Jews – the pale-faced Ashkenazis from Poland, Russia and Germany who created the Israeli state and often behaved as if they owned it.”
Bowen then gives a potted history rife with deliberate omission of relevant context. Failing to tell listeners of the pogroms that prompted the First Aliyah, erasing the arrival of Jews from Yemen in the same period and refraining from clarifying the significance of the particular area to the Jewish people, he says:
Bowen: “European Jews started emigrating from Russia in 1882. An Austrian journalist Theodor Herzl pioneered the idea of Zionism – creating a state for the Jews – and organized the first Zionist congress in 1897. The Zionists wanted Palestine but Arabs already lived there. In the end, Jewish immigrants from Europe outmanoeuvred and out-fought Palestinian Arabs and built a state in waiting.” [emphasis added]
In other words, Bowen recycles his long promoted theme of ‘European’ Jews taking over ‘Arab land’, erasing from audience view the existing Jewish communities in Jerusalem, Hebron, Tsfat and elsewhere. Failing to explain why the British were in Palestine and with no mention of the League of Nations Mandate for Palestine he goes on:
Bowen: “At the end of the Second World War the bankrupt and exhausted British were reduced to holding the ring as Arabs and Jews fought a civil war.” [emphasis added]
Bowen’s use of the phrase ‘holding the ring’ inaccurately implies to listeners that the British Mandate authorities were not involved in the conflict despite actions such as restrictions on Jewish immigration both before and after the war. As the BBC’s own profile of the Arab League states, the creation of that body was “mooted in 1942 by the British” and its agenda was primarily devoted to “preventing the Jewish community in Palestine from creating a Jewish state”.
After a BBC archive recording from March 1948, Bowen continues:
Bowen: “Britain turned the problem over to the United Nations. The UN voted to partition Palestine into two states with Jerusalem under international control. The Jews agreed, the Arabs did not. As the British left in the summer of 1948, David Ben Gurion read Israel’s declaration of independence.”
He fails to clarify that the Partition Plan limited the period of international control over Jerusalem to ten years, why the Arab nations rejected it or that the Arab refusal to accept the recommendations of UN GA resolution 181 meant that it became irrelevant. The latter omission enables him to go on to inaccurately tell BBC audiences that Israel acquired land to which it was not entitled.
Bowen: “Ben Gurion became Israel’s first prime minister. The neighbouring Arab states invaded to try to strangle the new Israel at birth. They failed. Israel, victorious, took much more territory than the UN had given it. Palestinians use the Arabic word ‘naqba’ which means catastrophe to describe what happened to them in 1948. Up to 760,000 Palestinians fled or were expelled. Their descendants are still refugees.” [emphasis added]
Failing to explain why the Six Day War happened or to mention subsequent Israeli withdrawals from Sinai and the Gaza Strip, he continues:
Bowen: “Another war came in 1967 which created the current shape of the conflict. In six days Israel added the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, Gaza and the Golan Heights. From the beginning Israelis set about building a new country and made sure every part of government did its bit, including the town planners.”
Listeners then hear a recording of undated archive report by Bowen:
Bowen: “It’s very hard for Palestinians in Jerusalem to get permission to build. A lot of their houses have been demolished recently. Most building permits here are issued to Jews. Yasser Arafat believes that Israel is trying to squeeze Palestinians out of Jerusalem. At the Palestinian legislature today he said that he’d lost patience with Israel. Palestinians, he said, had to defend their rights in Jerusalem with all means. Building more homes for Jews in the desert to the east is part of Israel’s latest scheme to strengthen its grip on Jerusalem. This is land captured by Israel in 1967. Its future was supposed to be negotiated with the Palestinians.”
Bowen fails to clarify to listeners that the final status negotiations stipulated in the Oslo Accords never came about because Arafat chose instead to launch the Second Intifada terror war.
Bowen: “Meron Benvenisti was the Israeli deputy mayor and chief planning officer of Jerusalem during much of the 1970s. Twenty years later he stood with me on the Mount of Olives; the hill that overlooks the Old City.”
Benvenisti: “Each housing project fits into a strategic plan. It’s not the planners who are planning Jerusalem; it’s the politicians who are planning Jerusalem. The politicians are planning Jerusalem as generals who are planning a battlefield.”
Bowen: “Benvenisti explained how roads could be as much about nation building as traffic. That extended to the occupied territories, he said. Israel girded Jerusalem with roads as it sliced up the West Bank which Palestinians want for a state. Many are political highways, aimed at controlling Palestinians, safeguarding Jewish settlers and strengthening the occupation. ‘You know’, Benvenisti said, ‘we’ve spent millions and used all the energy of the state to try to make this city more Jewish. But despite all that, the ratio of Jews to Arabs in Jerusalem is the same as it was in 1967. They make more babies than we do’. Demography is politics here too.”
While that information concerning birth rates has been out of date for several years, Bowen of course does not question his politically motivated interviewee’s use of it to support his questionable claims.
Using the Arabic pronunciation of the name of the Jerusalem neighbourhood Ein Kerem and with a context-free reference to Dir Yassin, Bowen continues:
Bowen: “Ayn Karem where we lived is a desirable Israeli suburb. But until 1948 it was a Palestinian village. The Palestinians in the village fled after Jewish forces carried out their most notorious massacre of the 1948 war in a neighbouring village called Dir Yassin. For the new Israeli state to be Jewish, the Palestinians could not be allowed back. Laws were passed that permitted the state to seize property that landlords had – in Israeli legal terms – abandoned. The reality was that they weren’t allowed back to reclaim it and that applied to Ayn Karem too. Most of the Palestinian villages that were captured by the new Israeli state in 1948 were blown up or bulldozed. Ayn Karem survived. Its traditional stone houses were given to new Jewish immigrants from North Africa.
Israel absorbed hundreds of thousands of Jews who no longer wanted or were permitted to live in Arab countries. A Moroccan synagogue still exists in Ayn Karem but most of the elegant Arab houses have been bought up and modernized by well-off secular Israelis.” [emphasis added]
Significantly, Bowen’s sketchy portrayal of Jewish refugees from Arab lands sanitises the widespread government-led persecution and violence against them and refrains from informing listeners of the property and lands they left behind. He closes the programme as follows:
Bowen: “I used to like running in Jerusalem forest, just up the hill from Ayn Karem. It’s a beautiful spot and I puffed my way round it. The forest tells part of the story of the conflict too. It was planted in the 1950s, covering terraced hillsides that were once worked by Palestinian farmers who lost their lands in 1948. On my jogging route a German wagon from the Second World War projected out of the trees on a fragment of railway line leading back to the past. It’s part of Yad Vashem; Israel’s centre for remembrance of the six million Jews who were killed by the Nazis.
We’re all made by our history. The Holocaust is one reason why Israel often feels vulnerable despite its armed forces, its nuclear weapons, hi-tech economy and its alliance with the United States. It also made absolute the moral case for the establishment of a state for the Jews in Palestine. I learnt a lot about the conflict running through the forest and looking down the valley at Ayn Karem. For Palestinians the forest and the village are symbols of dispossession – among many others. For Israelis they’re part of their hard-won independence and their remarkable success and a reminder of their survival. If the two sides can’t make peace with history, they’ll never make peace with each other.”
Bowen’s basic story is, as ever, a very simple one: according to him, white “pale-faced” Europeans took over a land inhabited by passive ‘indigenous’ Arabs. In order to promote that politically motivated version of events, he has to omit context and relevant background information which would enhance BBC audiences’ understanding of the story as it stands today. As we once again see, Jeremy Bowen has no problem at all doing that.
BBC Bowen still misleads about Jewish refugees (‘Point of No Return’)
On May 18th listeners to BBC Radio 4 heard the fourth part in Jeremy Bowen’s series of programmes ‘Our Man in the Middle East’.
Titled ‘Jerusalem’, the programme is both rambling and predictable, with Bowen’s portrayal of the city focusing on blood, violence, religion, power and nationalism at the expense of any mention of its diversity and eclectic coexistence.
From his opening sentences onward, Bowen places the spotlight firmly and exclusively on ‘the conflict’:
“The first thing to understand about the struggle for Jerusalem is that they’re fighting over a tiny piece of land. Down there in that walled compound around the golden dome is the single most contested piece of land in the Middle East; probably the most contested piece of ground in the world.”
Following reminiscences of a poorly explained incident during the first Intifada, Bowen tells audiences that:
“The incident in Azariya was a soft introduction to the hard reality of the city of peace – which is the Hebrew translation of Jerusalem. In real life I can’t think of a city with a more blood-stained history. Tension, hatred and violence simmer alongside piety. Sometimes they’re part of it.”
Seeing as the name Jerusalem in English and other European languages derives from Latin and Greek translations of Hebrew texts, it would clearly have been more accurate for Bowen to refer to the Hebrew meaning of Jerusalem rather than “translation”.
Recalling his first trip to Jerusalem, Bowen downplays Palestinian terrorism – including international aircraft hijackings – by making a generalised and falsely equivalent reference to “violence in the Middle East”.
“When I changed planes in Zurich I saw flights to Israel had their own separate terminal [sic]. A small armoured car lumbered behind the bus to the aircraft. Violence in the Middle East had leaked into the rest of the world.”
Following archive recordings of news reports of events including the Munich Olympics massacre and the Entebbe operation, Bowen indulges himself with the claim that mere reporting from the region – rather than inaccurate or biased reporting – sparks objection.
“The tectonic plates of religion and culture come together in Jerusalem. When they move, we all feel it. Reporting the conflict between Arabs and Jews is a great way to make enemies. Many people feel connected to it even if they’ve never been to the Middle East.”
The man who once invented a new quarter in the Old City of Jerusalem goes on to provide a context-free account of “access restrictions” which again erases Palestinian terrorism and violence from the picture.
“Jerusalem is one of the most complicated issues and you can get a good idea just by walking around the walled Old City, which is what I’m going to do. I’m going in through Damascus Gate which is the main entrance for Palestinians more or less. It’s early evening so the shops are starting to close up. There’s a boy there who’s shouting out; selling bread to the Palestinians going home. There used to be more people selling things outside Damascus Gate: women who’d wear embroidered village dresses selling herbs. Now you see fewer of them these days and the reason for that is that they simply can’t get into Jerusalem and that’s because of the access restrictions that Israel has put in.”
In a section about “European imperial powers”, Bowen once again promotes his misrepresentation of the Hussein-McMahon correspondence to BBC audiences.
“In fact the British were without any humility at all, carving up the Middle East, making contradictory promises to Arabs and Jews and setting them up for conflict.”
Bowen goes on to give an inaccurate description of the Western Wall.
“So it’s dark now and the moon’s out and I’m at the place really that is the hub of it all. This is the Western Wall Plaza; the big open space going down to the…what was known for many hundreds of years as the Wailing Wall; the holiest place in the world for Jews to pray.”
The Western Wall is of course the holiest site at which Jews can currently pray but Bowen refrains from informing his listeners that Jews are not allowed to pray at the holier site of Temple Mount due to objection by the Waqf.
Delaying the start of the Muslim siege of Jerusalem by two years, Bowen tells listeners that:
“Then in 638 Arab followers of the new religion of Islam besieged the city. It was by Jerusalem’s blood-soaked standards a peaceful conquest.”
Later he recycles a visit he made to an archaeological site in 2014, telling listeners that:
“East Jerusalem was captured by Israel from Jordan in the 1967 war and it’s claimed by the Palestinians as capital of their future state.”
No further context is provided and as was the case in his original report, audiences are not told of Jordan’s belligerent occupation of part of the city in the 19 years prior to the Six Day War or that those nineteen years were the only time that the city was divided.
Quoting writers Amos Elon (whom he calls Amos Alon), Amos Oz and Mahmoud Darwish, Bowen closes the item while reinforcing his main message:
“It’s impossible in Jerusalem to disentangle religion from power.”
In summary, Radio 4 listeners heard nothing new: the same jaded themes that Bowen has promoted over the last 25 years have simply been recycled and condensed into this latest item. Deliberately short on context, downplaying Palestinian terrorism and misrepresenting history, Bowen’s report tells BBC audiences nothing of real life in a city which is much more than just part of the much wider conflict.
The digital edition of the Radio Times recently included an interview with the BBC’s Middle East editor Jeremy Bowen which is part of the promotion campaign for his current BBC Radio 4 series ‘Our Man in the Middle East’.
Titled “Jeremy Bowen on reporting in the Middle East: “I kept getting dreams about having to bury the cameraman”“, the article opens with context-free presentation of a story which Bowen retells at every opportunity and an unverifiable allegation:
“When Jeremy Bowen offered to relive more than a quarter of a century of Middle East reporting for a new “personal” 25-part Radio 4 series, I wonder if he had bargained for the memories it would unleash. Death, depression, and years on the road in near-constant danger have all left their mark on one of the BBC’s most distinguished correspondents.
Today is proving particularly tough because he’s writing about Abed Takkoush, his Lebanese driver who was killed by Israeli mortar fire in May 2000 while they were covering Israel’s withdrawal from Lebanon. Bowen, 57, suffered “symptoms of PTSD”, and retreated from the field for a time to co-host a relaunched BBC Breakfast show with Sophie Raworth.
“It was a really, really awful event, Abed’s death and its repercussions,” he says. “His wife died not long after, sadly; she had cancer and I’m sure it was related to the grief. Some of his kids went off the rails for a while… they were teenage boys and suddenly they didn’t have a dad.” He still sometimes works with Abed’s nephews, who are also drivers.” [emphasis added]
Later on in the article, readers find the following:
“As well as being attacked physically – in 2013 he was caught in crossfire from the Egyptian military in Tahrir Square in Cairo – the veteran reporter is regularly ambushed verbally. He remains indignant about being ticked off eight years ago by the BBC Trust for breaching the corporation’s guidelines on accuracy and impartiality during his reports on the history of 1967’s Six Day War. A pro-Israel group in the US accused him of bias on 24 occasions; the BBC Trust fully or partially upheld three of the allegations.
“That was totally unjust. The complaints were made by professional complainants, including one in the United States… [who] intended to give ammunition to [the BBC’s] enemies. I was backed very well in private by the management; I wasn’t backed well enough in public by them.””
One of the two complaints which eventually reached the BBC Trust’s Editorial Standards Committee was submitted by CAMERA. The aim of that complaint was of course to ensure that BBC audiences were provided with accurate and impartial information in a report concerning a particularly significant Middle East event. However, Jeremy Bowen is clearly unable to accept that fact, preferring instead to promote the bizarre notion that it was “intended to give ammunition to [the BBC’s] enemies” – whoever they are supposed to be.
Eight years have passed since that BBC Trust ESC ruling about which Bowen “remains indignant” and remarkably, his ability to accept and embrace criticism does not appear to have improved over the years. As was noted by CAMERA in 2009:
“Instead of admitting error, Bowen and others in the BBC redoubled their commitment to the flawed article, spending their time (and British stakeholder resources) coming up with disingenuous defenses to the article’s distortions.”
The subject has been raised by Bowen in interviews before and as we can see from this latest one, the man entrusted with ensuring that all BBC reporting on Israel meets standards of accuracy and impartiality has made no progress whatsoever in the decade since the article which was the subject of the complaint was published – and is still apparently entirely convinced of his own infallibility.
The first episode in Jeremy Bowen’s new BBC Radio 4 series of programmes about the Middle East was aired on May 15th.
The programme – titled “The Giant Awakens” – is ostensibly about the build-up to the First Gulf War in 1991. However, around a third of the episode is actually devoted to other topics and a transcript of most of that section of the programme was also uploaded to the programme’s webpage under the title “The three most significant foreign interventions in the Middle East“.
Bowen tells Radio 4 listeners and website visitors that: [emphasis in bold added, emphasis in italics in the original]
“Big powers have intervened in the Middle East to reshape it to their requirements since ancient times.
It’s strategically placed, connecting Europe with Asia and Africa. It’s the home of the world’s three great monotheistic religions. And for the last 100 years or so, great powers have needed its oil reserves – the biggest in the world.
Two imperial grandees created – and some say cursed – the modern Middle East when they carved up the Ottoman Empire at the height of the First World War. One was a French diplomat, Charles Francois Georges Picot; the other, Sir Mark Sykes, was British.
The Sykes-Picot agreement was designed to win the peace for Britain and France. It defined zones of influence in the Middle East for the two imperial powers. Borders of new states came later.
But to win the war, the British had already made promises to the Arabs.
The Sharif of Mecca, Hussein Ibn Ali, led an Arab revolt against the Ottoman Turks. In return, he believed the British had promised him an independent Arab kingdom across much of present day Saudi Arabia, Syria, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Israel and the Palestinian territories.
Hussein kept his word. The duplicitous British did not.
The requirements of Empire came first. The promise of Arab self-determination was part of the collateral damage.”
Bowen is of course referring to the Hussein-McMahon correspondence. However, as has been previously noted here on several occasions, Sir Henry McMahon himself pointed out in a letter to the Times in 1937 that the claim that Hussein was promised all of the territory described by Bowen is incorrect.
That point had earlier been clarified in the British government’s White Paper of 1922.
“With reference to the Constitution which it is now intended to establish in Palestine, the draft of which has already been published, it is desirable to make certain points clear. In the first place, it is not the case, as has been represented by the Arab Delegation, that during the war His Majesty’s Government gave an undertaking that an independent national government should be at once established in Palestine. This representation mainly rests upon a letter dated the 24th October, 1915, from Sir Henry McMahon, then His Majesty’s High Commissioner in Egypt, to the Sharif of Mecca, now King Hussein of the Kingdom of the Hejaz. That letter is quoted as conveying the promise to the Sherif of Mecca to recognise and support the independence of the Arabs within the territories proposed by him. But this promise was given subject to a reservation made in the same letter, which excluded from its scope, among other territories, the portions of Syria lying to the west of the District of Damascus. This reservation has always been regarded by His Majesty’s Government as covering the vilayet of Beirut and the independent Sanjak of Jerusalem. The whole of Palestine west of the Jordan was thus excluded from Sir Henry McMahon’s pledge.” [emphasis added]
Nevertheless, the BBC – and the man whose job it is to “make a complex story more comprehensive or comprehensible for the audience” – continues to promote that politically motivated myth.
“Within 20 years, a Palestinian scholar called Sykes-Picot a shocking document – the product of greed, stupidity and double-dealing.”
That “Palestinian scholar” was George Antonius and he was actually born in 1891 in Lebanon to an Eastern Orthodox Christian family. Having graduated from Cambridge, Antonius became a civil servant in the British Mandate administration in Palestine. The phrase quoted by Bowen appears in Antonius’ 1938 book ‘The Arab Awakening’ and it was refuted by Efraim Karsh in his book ‘Rethinking the Middle East’ (from page 58).
“Another vision of the future cut across Hussein Ibn Ali’s hopes: Zionists lobbied Britain, successfully, to support the idea of a Jewish state in Palestine.
In November 1917, Britain’s foreign secretary Arthur Balfour declared that Britain would “view with favour the establishment of a national home for the Jewish people”. Britain also promised “that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine.”
Making promises to both sides built a deadly contradiction into the Balfour Declaration. By the early 1920s, Arabs and Jews in Palestine were killing each other. They are responsible for what they’ve done. But Britain started the fire.
For Palestinians the Balfour Declaration was a milestone on the road to catastrophe. For Israelis it led to statehood.
A century on it’s still politically resonant – triumphant or toxic, depending on your view of history.”
Bowen’s promotion of the notion that the Balfour Declaration includes “a deadly contradiction” is of course the product of his own chosen political narrative. Notably, he fails to inform BBC audiences that the principle expressed in the Balfour Declaration was given the unanimous stamp of approval by the League of Nations in 1922 and that in the same year, 77% of the territory originally designated to the Jewish homeland was given over to the Hashemites when Transjordan was created.
In the audio version listeners next hear Bowen say:
“Earlier this year Britain’s Foreign Secretary, Boris Johnson, showed Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu round his grand corner office overlooking St James’ Park.”
A recording of the British Foreign Secretary showing Arthur Balfour’s desk is then heard before the report goes on:
“The deals made in World War One were designed to strengthen the British and French empires. The Ottoman Empire was breaking up after nearly 500 years and the European imperial powers were creating a new order in the Middle East.”
Jeremy Bowen’s presentation of this topic is far from accurate and impartial and it is clearly motivated by the political narrative he has chosen to adopt and advertise. Unfortunately, there is nothing new about that: the politicised misrepresentation of this subject by the gatekeeper of the BBC’s Middle East content goes back many years. However, that misrepresentation is all the more egregious at a time when political campaigns concerning the Balfour Declaration are in the news.
Although it did take nearly four years, the BBC has finally given its Middle East editor a foodie slot as suggested on these pages in 2013.
“Over these 25 programmes, Jeremy reflects on the present and the past of the Middle East, after reporting from the region for more than a quarter of a century. He combines first-hand accounts from the front line with an in-depth look into the region’s history. He has witnessed endless wars between individuals, religious groups and full-sized states, jostling for military, political and economic power. He has interviewed dictators, fanatics and fundamentalists as well as the ordinary people caught up in their dangerous games. In that time, the past has always been present, providing motivation and political ammunition. Bowen has made headlines himself and he has paid a personal price, coming under fire and losing a colleague in the course of reporting – on the worst day, he says, in his life.”
The incident to which that last sentence refers took place in 2000 and has been revisited by Bowen on numerous occasions since.
Of the six episodes advertised so far, three relate to Israel:
Thursday, May 18th – “Jerusalem“:
‘BBC Middle East Editor Jeremy Bowen reflects on the allure and intractable challenge of the Holy City. “The tectonic plates of religion and culture come together in Jerusalem,” he observes. “When they move, we all feel it.”‘
Friday, May 19th – “Recipe for Disaster“:
‘How the assassination of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin changed the region’s history, as remembered by BBC Middle East Editor Jeremy Bowen. “No political killing in the twentieth century was more successful,” he argues, observing the dramatic effects on the Oslo peace process. “Perhaps there was a moment for peace, and it came, and went.”‘
Monday, May 22nd – “Crossing the Divide“:
‘How a gas container explains the divide between the Israelis and the Palestinians. Jeremy Bowen, the BBC’s Middle East Editor, was only trying to warm his home during the winter in Jerusalem. During the process, he discovered that the Palestinians are even at loggerheads over simple things like heating. “It’s a place where the conflict is always in your face. So is religion, ” he says.’