Issue neglected by BBC is topic of Knesset bill

In January the BBC responded to a complaint concerning its selective coverage of a speech made by the Palestinian Authority president at a PLO meeting as follows:

“He gave a two-hour speech and we have selected what we believe to be the relevant sections as far as the topic in hand is concerned.

We don’t believe the rest of Mr Abbas’s comments are relevant, or reveal anything that was not previously known– our report contains a section entitled “Did he say anything new?”.

Out of his full speech, you have made a selection of comments that you felt were of note – we believe we have carried the most newsworthy and there will be many more from such a long presentation that will not get reported.” [emphasis added]

As was noted here at the time:

“Obviously the BBC does not believe that – even at a time when the topic of foreign donations to the Palestinians is in the news – its audiences needed to know that Abbas pledged to continue the PA’s policy of making payments to convicted terrorists – a subject that it serially under-reports.

“There is an important matter, and it is the issue of the payments to [the families of] the martyrs, to the families of the martyrs and the prisoners. We steadfastly refuse to stop these payments, and we will not allow anyone to infringe on the payments to the families of the martyrs, the wounded, and the prisoners. They are our sons, and we will keep paying them money.””

Along with other outlets the ITIC reports that:

“At its February 27, 2018, weekly meeting headed by Rami Hamdallah, the Palestinian national consensus government authorized the PA general budget for 2018. It stands at $5 billion, with an income of $3.8 billion. Mahmoud Abbas gave final authorization.”

Readers may be aware that around 7% of the PA’s annual budget is typically allotted to payments for terrorists and their families and that in 2017 – when the annual budget was $4.48 billion – the PA’s financial rewards for terrorism amounted to over $340 million.

A bill relating to those PA payments to terrorists recently passed its first reading in the Knesset.

“Fifty-two MKs supported the bill introduced by MK Elazar Stern (Yesh Atid) and a group of MKs, which would deduct welfare payments paid out by the Palestinian Authority to Palestinian prisoners and their relatives from tax revenues Israel transfers annually to the PA. Ten lawmakers voted against the legislation. 

During the debate which preceded the vote, MK Stern said ”In this law there is no coalition or opposition. In the current situation there is an incentive to engage in terror activities, and this postpones peace. Palestinians themselves have testified during interrogations that they continued to engage in terror in order to be imprisoned and receive more money. This law is meant not only to promote the safety of the citizens and residents of the State of Israel, but also to promote peace.””

The bill’s co-sponsor MK Avi Dichter noted that the PA’s 2018 budget would allocate even more money for terror rewards.

Should a version of that bill eventually become law, BBC audiences can expect, as in the past, to see reporting on the withholding of tax revenues to the PA. However audiences will be highly unlikely to understand the background to such reports seeing as the corporation serially avoids providing any serious reporting on the issue.

In one rare and brief mention of the topic last May, the BBC’s Middle East editor came up with a portrayal that is not only devoid of the word ‘terrorism’ but compares Israeli soldiers to convicted Palestinian terrorists.

“In his opening remarks, Mr Netanyahu said that if the bomber in Manchester was Palestinian, and his victims were Israelis, the Palestinian Authority would be paying a stipend to his family.

He was referring to a Palestinian Martyrs’ fund. It pays pensions to people it regards as victims of the occupation, including the families of individuals who have been killed attacking Israelis. There is also a fund to support Palestinians who have been imprisoned by Israel. The Palestinians have compared the payments to the salaries Israel pays to soldiers.”

The only other mention of the issue in BBC News website reporting over the last year came in the form of a paraphrased quote from the US ambassador to Israel in which the BBC replaced the word ‘terrorists’ with ‘militants’.

Obviously it is high time for BBC audiences to see some serious, accurate and impartial reporting on this topic.

Related Articles:

A BBC backgrounder claims ‘sketchy’ evidence of PA terror rewards

BBC News silence on PA terror rewards continues

PA’s salaries for terrorists in the news again – but not at the BBC







No BBC coverage of energy sector agreements between Israel and the PA

The topic of Israel’s withholding of tax revenue transfers to the Palestinian Authority has cropped up time and time again in the BBC’s Middle East coverage over the years. However, the BBC has repeatedly failed to adequately inform audiences of the relevant context of the PA’s massive debt to the Israel Electric Corporation and the reasons why that debt has accumulated.

BBC promotes selective narrative on PA economy

Critical omission in BBC News report on PA tax revenues

BBC again avoids informing audiences about PA debt to Israel

Multiple breaches of BBC editorial guidelines in BBC WS’s ‘Business Matters’ report from Bethlehem

Last week an agreement was reached in an effort to try to solve the perennial problem of that PA debt to the IEC.pylons

“Israel and the Palestinian Authority signed an agreement on Tuesday to resolve the Palestinians’ outstanding debt of almost NIS 2 billion ($530 million) to the Israel Electric Corporation.

Under the agreement, the PA will pay Israel NIS 570 million ($132 million), putting an end to the 10-year debt crisis. The balance of NIS 1.5 billion ($397 million) will be paid in 48 installments, according to AFP, which added that a portion of the debt — likely interest accrued over the years — is expected to be waived. […]

A joint Israeli-Palestinian committee will be formed to oversee the transfer of responsibility to the PA of power lines that supply electricity to Palestinian cities in the West Bank.”

The same week also saw an additional development in the energy sector.

“Israel and the Palestinian Authority agreed to move ahead with plans to build a gas pipeline to Gaza in an effort to boost energy and water supplies to the Hamas-run Palestinian enclave. […]

A source in the PA told The Times of Israel that Palestinian officials were told the Israeli political echelon gave the go-ahead Tuesday. Israel and the Palestinians are set to jointly request funding for the pipeline from a number of donor countries. A committee comprised of representatives of such donor states is set to meet in New York later this month. […]

Earlier this month, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced that the Netherlands will help Israel build the Israel-Gaza pipeline.

“We want to help the population of Gaza and the first step is to improve the supply of energy and water… including laying a gas pipeline,” Netanyahu said during a two-day visit to The Netherlands at the beginning of this month.”

Given that the topic of the chronic electricity crisis is a regular feature in BBC reporting from the Gaza Strip (and frequently inaccurately attributed to Israel), one might have expected the corporation to report this news. However, neither of those examples of cooperation between Israel and the PA has received any BBC coverage.

Multiple breaches of BBC editorial guidelines in BBC WS’s ‘Business Matters’ report from Bethlehem

In addition to the two parts of the report aired in the May 20th edition of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Business Matters’ which have already been discussed on these pages (see here and here), the segment included a report (also promoted as a separate clip) from Bethlehem by Marie Keyworth.

The synopsis to the separately promoted clip – titled “Making Ends Meet In The West Bank” – promotes the same inaccurate claim about roads made by Roger Hearing in his introduction to the segment.Keyworth WB

“The modern map of the West Bank is a mind-boggling jigsaw of areas under the control of Israel or the Palestinian Authority, as well as settlements and roads linking settlements, that Palestinians cannot use. So how do the 4 million Palestinians in the West Bank do business in such difficult circumstances? Marie Keyworth has been finding out.”

As we noted here earlier, the vast majority of routes are completely open to use by all, with PA registered vehicles excluded from less than 15 kms of roadway in Judea & Samaria.

Making no effort whatsoever to inform listeners that the Palestinian Authority has had total control over Bethlehem for the last nineteen and a half years in accordance with the Oslo Accords, Keyworth opens her report with the following claim:

“Now to many minds the West Bank will conjure up an image of conflict and indeed it has a chequered past. The whole area is under military occupation by Israel and the restrictions that country has imposed on the West Bank are having a huge effect on the economy.”

Keyworth makes no attempt to introduce the all-important context of terrorism past and present and listeners then hear three anonymous voices making the following statements:

“It’s very hard and there’s not a lot of work and people are scared.”

“I can say in one word – it’s miserable because every day we have a struggle. We face the Israelien [sic] law and the Israelien [sic] army.”

“The life here is like…here we are living in a big prison. We just survive for every day. We can’t predict for anything…for like the occupation, the wall, all of these things which surround Bethlehem.”

Notably, the inaccurate claims that the anti-terrorist fence is a “wall” and that it ‘surrounds’ Bethlehem were not edited out. Keyworth continues:

“From the falafel restaurant to the taxi driver, everyone here seems to have a complaint about this occupation.”

She then goes on to interview someone she introduces only as “Sam Bahour – a Palestinian-American businessman”. As readers are no doubt aware, the BBC’s editorial guidelines on impartiality stipulate “the importance of clearly summarising the standpoint of any interviewee where it is relevant and not immediately clear from their position or the title of their organization” but Sam Bahour’s affiliations and political activism get no mention from Keyworth.

Another of Keyworth’s interviewees is an accountant employed by the PA’s education department, identified only as Khaled. Listeners hear him say:

“My last time I got paid in full was in November 2014 and after that we started to have 60% per month.”

Keyworth adds:

“Khaled’s salary was cut because Israel stopped paying the PA the customs tax it collects on its behalf. The move is widely seen as Israel’s punishment for the Palestinians taking their case to the international courts. This money makes up 70% of the PA’s budget so when it’s not transferred, all ninety thousand employees in the West Bank get a pay cut. Now Israel has released some of the money but it’s not the first time this has happened and Khaled expects at some point it’ll all happen again.”

This of course is not the first time the BBC has reported on the topic of tax revenues and yet again the critical context of the PA’s considerable debts to Israel is excluded from the picture. As a recent World Bank report explains:

“Net lending, which mainly represents payments to Israel for electricity, continues to form a major drag on the PA’s budget. In 2014, it was 35 percent higher than the previous year and ran 70 percent above its budget target. The major cause of net lending is that funds collected from consumers through electricity bills are used by Local Government Units to finance expenditures rather than pay bills to the Israeli Electricity Company (IEC) – the main electricity supplier. A share of the unpaid amount is deducted by Israel from the PA’s clearance revenues, and is called net lending. The rest accumulates as debt which, according to IEC, stood at about USD 0.5 billion as of March 2015.”

BBC World Service listeners, however, know nothing of all that: instead Marie Keyworth leads them to believe that Israel is ‘punishing’ the Palestinians.

Keyworth’s account of how some Palestinians became refugees is no less economical with context, erasing completely from view the attacks on the nascent Jewish State by surrounding Arab countries and others:WS WB

“When the State of Israel was created more than 60 years ago, many Palestinians found their villages fell within the new Israeli boundaries. Those living in the villages south of Jerusalem and Hebron left and moved here to the Dheisheh refugee camp south of Bethlehem.”

Also notable is the fact that in addition to the fact that two interviewees – ‘Mohammed’ and the PA’s Minister of Economy – promote the notion of a link between unemployment and violence (as is also the case in the final section of the segment), Keyworth herself presents the following ‘question’ to the COGAT officer she interviews:

“By increasing security you inevitably constrict the economic freedom of the people in the West Bank, which in turn creates more animosity and more negativity and makes people more angry, which eventually makes the security situation even more serious.”

Like the other sections of this programme, Keyworth’s report conforms to a specific political narrative and has a very obvious agenda. Once more listeners are left with a take-away message which includes only passive Palestinians exempt from any responsibility for their past and present decisions which have affected their lives and their economy.

Whilst that certainly makes for nice, simple story-telling, it does not fulfil the BBC’s public purpose remit of building “a global understanding of international issues” by providing audiences with an objective, impartial, factual and accurate portrayal of the Palestinian economy.

Related Articles:

BBC Business accuracy fail on Gaza tomato exports

Mainstreaming anti-Israel rhetoric on the BBC World Service

BBC WS’s ‘Business Matters’ misrepresents the status of Area C in report on PA economy

BBC World Service’s Hearing reveals the political foundations of a ‘business’ report


Contact and Complaints – BBC World Service

How to Complain to the BBC

BBC Editorial Guidelines

NYT reports on a topic consistently off the BBC radar

As we have noted here on numerous previous occasions (most recently just last month), when reporting on the topic of Palestinian Authority tax transfers, the BBC has persistently failed to adequately inform its audiences of the related issue of the scale of the PA’s outstanding debts to Israeli companies and bodies.pylons

The largest of those debts is to the Israel Electric Corporation but – despite having staff in both Jerusalem and Ramallah – the BBC has avoided reporting that story, as indeed it does many other Palestinian issues.

On May 5th the New York Times published an article titled “Palestinians’ Unpaid Electric Bills in the West Bank Thicken Tension With Israel” which includes information that has not been made available to those getting their news from the BBC.

“Collectively, the 22,000 residents of the Tulkarm camp in the northern West Bank have amassed $15.2 million in unpaid electric bills over at least 10 years, part of a yawning Palestinian power debt of $430 million that is at the core of the latest breakdown in relations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. […]

Ms. Zeidan and her neighbors face neither fines nor service cutoffs, creating the widespread impression that there are no consequences for ignoring the bills. Israel briefly cut power to two Palestinian districts in February, but a large-scale blackout in Palestinian communities would most likely set off a diplomatic crisis. […]

Residents of the camp are too poor to pay, Mr. Sallameh said, and they see electricity as the responsibility of the Palestinian Authority, which the refugees widely despise. “Let those dirt bags pay for us” is a common refrain, he said. […]

Elsewhere in the West Bank, the Israel Electric Corporation sells power to Palestinian municipalities and distribution companies, but, Mr. Milhem said, Israel holds the Palestinian Authority broadly responsible for payment. The World Bank found that some municipalities collected customers’ payments but used them to offset general expenses rather than passing them on to the Israelis.”

The article also notes the internal Palestinian frictions which exacerbate the problem of the PA’s massive debt.

“The World Bank estimated in November that Palestinians had failed to pay for 58 percent of the power they used in 2013, up from 37 percent in 2010.

About 40 percent of the power debt is from Gaza, where Hamas, the militant Islamist Palestinian political faction, has ruled since 2007. The World Bank says that Hamas collects payments from Gaza’s 1.8 million residents but refuses to hand the money over to the Palestinian Authority because of its rivalry with Mr. Abbas and his Fatah party.”

The issue clearly has broader implications too.

““The current system doesn’t make sense, especially if we want to build a functioning Palestinian state,” said Steen Lau Jorgensen of the World Bank, which has extensively studied the issue of electricity in the region.”

Whilst the BBC does cover the topic of PA tax revenues whenever it comes up, this essential aspect of the background to the story remains under-reported by the media organization which claims to be “better placed than many to make sure that we report both sides of the story”.

Related Articles:

BBC again avoids informing audiences about PA debt to Israel

BBC promotes selective narrative on PA economy

BBC advances Palestinian narrative on ‘E1′

BBC fails to report PA’s cancellation of electric bills



BBC again avoids informing audiences about PA debt to Israel

On March 27th the BBC News website informed its readers that Israel’s withholding of Palestinian Authority tax revenues had “crippled the Palestinian economy” and was responsible for “fuelling violence” in PA controlled areas.

“The decision to freeze the tax transfers to the PA, which provide two-thirds of its income, forced it to cut by 40% the salaries of thousands of government employees and announce an emergency budget.

On Wednesday, the governor of the Palestinian central bank said the tax transfer freeze was leading to a rapid economic deterioration and leaving the banking system dangerously exposed.”

By April 6th the PA’s financial situation had apparently become miraculously less precarious because the Palestinian president was able to refuse the sum of $400 million transferred by Israel.

In an article titled “Palestinian Authority rejects Israel tax transfer” the BBC reported that:PA tax transfer

“Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas says he has refused to accept hundreds of millions of dollars of tax revenues unfrozen by Israel.

Mr Abbas says he returned the money because Israel deducted a third to pay for what it called utility bills.

He has threatened to take Israel to the International Criminal Court (ICC) unless the full amount is released. […]

Speaking at a rally in Ramallah, President Abbas demanded the tax revenues in full.

“We are returning the money. Either they give it to us in full or we go to arbitration or to the ICC. We will not accept anything else.””

The BBC’s report does not make any attempt to inform audiences on the debatable issue of whether or not such a topic even falls under the ICC’s jurisdiction. Later on readers are told that:

“Israel says it has deducted the cost of services provided to the Palestinian population, including electricity, water and hospital bills.

The government made the decision to restart payments two weeks ago but warned at the time that it would make deductions from the transfer.”

In line with previous reports on the same subject, the BBC fails to inform its audiences of the scale of the Palestinian Authority’s debt to Israeli bodies. As Reuters noted in its report on the same story, in February 2015 the combined debts of the Palestinian Authority and the Jerusalem District Electric Company (JDECO) to the Israel Electric Corporation (IEC) stood at around $492 million. The Jerusalem Post has further details:

“The PA, as well as the Jerusalem District Electricity Company (JDECO) – the Palestinian electricity firm servicing the east Jerusalem, Bethlehem, Ramallah and Jericho areas – collectively owe the IEC, NIS 1.9b, the Israeli company said. […]

Of the NIS 1.9b. owed to the IEC, about NIS 1.2b. comes from areas serviced by JDECO, while the remaining NIS 700 million is owed directly by the PA, covering areas in the Gaza Strip and the northern and southern West Bank, the IEC spokeswoman said.

The NIS 1.2b. debt comes only from areas within the PA and not from east Jerusalem, JDECO’s CEO, Hisham Omari, said. […]

With the bulk of the Palestinian debt hailing from JDECO regions, however, Omari attributed the ongoing financial crisis to three main problems.

The first, he said, is the failure of the PA to take enforcement measures against those who steal electricity from the JDECO grid.

“Up until this moment, we have not seen any progress from the PA to punish people who are stealing electricity, even though they [passed] a law,” Omari told The Jerusalem Post.

“Till this moment, there wasn’t any implementation.”

The second problem, according to Omari, is the fact that many Palestinian government offices do not properly pay their JDECO electricity bills.

The third problem he identified is the grave situation impacting the 12 refugee camps within his jurisdiction, in which residents fail to pay for their electricity at all.”

The BBC’s failure to report on that last topic has been noted here previously.

In addition to its debt to the IEC, the Palestinian Authority has also incurred significant debts to the Israeli water company Mekorot (16.7 million shekels as of May 2014) and to Israeli hospitals in which Palestinians have been given medical treatment (34 million shekels as of May 2014).

So, whilst the BBC devotes an entire article to the amplification of Mahmoud Abbas’ amateur dramatics, it once again refrains from making any effort to inform its audiences of the background to the latest installment of this long-running story.

Critical omission in BBC News report on PA tax revenues

On March 27th the BBC News website ran a report titled “Israel to resume tax transfers to Palestinian Authority“. One aspect of the BBC’s portrayal of that story is particularly revenues art

The article opens:

“Israel is to stop withholding tax revenues collected on behalf of the Palestinian Authority (PA), a move that has crippled the Palestinian economy. […]

Israel’s military had reportedly warned that the policy was fuelling violence.”

Later on readers are told that:

“Defence Minister Moshe Yaalon, the Israeli military and the Shin Bet domestic security service all recommended the move.

It did not give their reasons, but Israeli media reported earlier this week that military commanders had said the policy was fuelling violence in the occupied West Bank.”

However, actual reports in the Israeli media present a decidedly less simplistic picture than the one promoted by the BBC. Israel Hayom, for example, reported that:

“Defense officials said various factors have contributed to the latest security assessments suggesting that an escalation in Judea and Samaria may be imminent, including the deadlocked Israeli-Palestinian peace process, the Palestinian Authority’s recent moves in The Hague, and the overall instability in the Middle East.

One military official said the defense establishment had recognized an increase in attempts to direct terrorist activity across Judea and Samaria by Hamas leaders in the Gaza Strip, as well as by Turkey-based Hamas commander Saleh al-Arouri.

Islamic Jihad has also increased its activity on the ground, as has the Tanzim, a Fatah militant faction.

Another defense source said the nature of the next round of violence is unknown, and the military is preparing for a number of possible scenarios in Judea and Samaria, including widespread unrest, riots, and clashes between civilians and security forces.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has a vested interest in curbing tensions on the ground, the source said, adding that Abbas’ ability to reconcile the dissonance between the relatively stable security situation and the unstable diplomatic situation is growing weaker.

Following Abbas’ application for membership in the International Criminal Court, effective April 1, Israel has suspended the transfer of tax revenue it collects on behalf of the Palestinian Authority. The IDF believes the move, which has aggravated the PA’s dire economic situation, may contribute to any potential flare-up of unrest on the ground.”

Ha’aretz reported:

“On the West Bank there has been a significant rise in recent months in Hamas attempts to activate terror squads by means of the external command headquarters in Turkey and the Gaza Strip. Both the Palestinian Authority and Israel have arrested dozens of Hamas men from the West Bank, members of various groups suspected of planning terror attacks. Islamic Jihad has also increased its military activity, mainly in the northern West Bank. Israel has also identified renewed activity, independent and unmonitored, by members of Tanzim, the popular movement of Fatah, some of whose members defy the PA. There is a fear that in the event of an escalation in terror Tanzim members will once again take part, as happened during the second intifada.”

And Ynet reported:

“Ynet has learned that IDF officials have recently presented the political echelons with the possible security ramifications for Israel’s economic sanctions. According to army officials, growing economic tensions in the Palestinian market in the West Bank served as a catalyst for riots and even terror attacks, breaking the relative calm the West Bank has enjoyed in recent years. […]

Meanwhile, the IDF are preparing for a possible escalation in the West Bank, both spontaneous and organized. The different scenarios include multi-site riots involving thousands of protesters, some armed, throughout the West Bank; simultaneous terror attacks; kidnapping and infiltration attempts; and a possible end to security coordination with the Palestinians, which they say is very unlikely, though a number of such cases have happened at a local level.

Though IDF say coordination will continue, if only because it is in the Palestinians’ interest to maintain control over its areas in the West Bank and to be able to present itself as the legal representative of the Palestinians, and not as a terror organization. The Palestinian Authority wants to avoid bolstering Hamas (currently said to be backed by roughly half of the Palestinian population).

They also fear Hamas involvement in the West Bank, and other attempts by young Tanzim – a militant offshoot of Fatah –  supporters to set up terror cells in the area. Those youths, they say, are no longer bound by the “Prisoners Commitment” which prevents PLO officials from returning to the ways of terror. In Nablus, security forces rounded up some of these youths, especially in the Lata refugee camp.”

In other words, the withholding of tax revenues is far from the sole factor – as the BBC would have its audiences believe – which is “fuelling violence” in PA controlled areas.

The rise of Hamas terrorist activity in PA controlled areas is not a new phenomenon. It is, however, one which the BBC has consistently under-reported since last summer and – as we see in this article – it continues to do so.