Revisiting a BBC Radio 4 Christmas report from the Gaza Strip

Readers may recall that last year’s BBC Christmas programming included a report by Mishal Husain which was aired on BBC Radio 4’s ‘Today’ programme on Christmas Eve.

“This time last week we were reporting from Gaza and for its small Christian community this of course is the time of year when many dream of getting to Bethlehem which isn’t, after all, that far away to celebrate Christmas. However, given the blockade maintained by Israel – it says of course that’s for security reasons – travelling to the West Bank requires special permission which many do not get. Mishal Husain went to meet Palestinian Christians at one church in Gaza City.”

As was noted here at the time, Husain was conspicuously silent on the topic of how many Christians actually currently live in the Gaza Strip and her report was obviously intended to promote the politically motivated narrative that Gaza’s Christian population lives happily under Hamas rule, with its only tribulations caused by Israel.

Last week Israel’s Channel 12 aired an interview (in Hebrew and Arabic) by Arab affairs correspondent Ohad Hemo with a Christian who escaped the Gaza Strip four months ago.

“Since Hamas came to power in the Gaza Strip the Christians living there have become scapegoats and the targets of that organisation as well as Salafist extremists. Due to their difficult situation most have fled and from a community of 4,200 people, now only a few hundred remain. Kamal Tarazi was there until recently. Four months ago he managed to escape: “Hamas people took over my home and turned it into a command post”, he recounts. […]

‘They put me in a number of prisons and Hamas’ prison is all just beatings and psychological torture’ he recalls. According to him the harming of the Christians in Gaza has become routine and does not stop even during times of conflict.  […]

‘They harass and harm the Christian public and Christian institutions, churches and charities’.”

The calibre of Mishal Husain’s reporting on the topic of challenges faced by the Christian community in the Gaza Strip is again all too apparent. 

Related Articles:

BBC Radio 4’s selective framing of the “hardships” of Gaza Christians

BBC Radio 4’s inaccurate claim about Israel’s Christian community

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Weekend long read

1) At ‘Lawfare’, Matthew J. Aiesi presents a legal view of the incendiary attacks launched from the Gaza Strip.

“…Israel has also been subjected to frequent attacks by incendiary balloons. By early June of this year, these attacks had destroyed approximately 4,300 acres of land, and more has been destroyed since then. Yet news reports on the incendiary balloons often fail to identify the balloons for what they are—a war crime. […]

As Hamas has been using them, these incendiary balloon attacks violate numerous rules and customs of warfare—principally concerning the targeting of civilians and the use of indiscriminate weapons. The attacks also likely violate the prohibition on the use of incendiary weapons in this context.”

2) MEMRI reports on views of the PA’s handling of an incident earlier this year.

“On April 26, 2019, an urgent appeal by the largely Christian residents of the Palestinian village of Jifna, in the Ramallah and Al-Bireh district, was circulated on social media. Addressed to Palestinian Authority (PA) Prime Minister and Interior Minister Muhammad Shtayyeh, it followed a violent incident that had taken place in the village the previous night. The villagers stated in the appeal that armed “rabble” headed by “an influential individual in Ramallah district” had burst into the village, and that gunmen had fired their weapons and thrown rocks and firebombs at their homes, shouting “racist and sectarian” ISIS-like slogans, including demands that they pay jizya – the poll tax levied on Christians and Jews living under Muslim rule as a protected and subjugate class. The residents called on Shtayyeh to bring the attackers to justice in order to deter others from similar actions against them. […]

The violent incident in question reignited previous criticism of treatment of the Christian minority in Palestinian society, and the PA’s lenience in dealing with anti-Christian activity, as well as the handling of this particular incident.”

3) At the Washington Institute Michael Herzog analyses ‘Israel’s pushback in Syria’.

“Of all the threats in Israel’s strategic landscape, Iran’s ambitions and developing military capabilities in neighboring Syria and Lebanon have ranked highest in recent years in the attention of Israeli decisionmakers and strategic planners. These ambitions and capabilities, which carry serious strategic-military implications, have been relentlessly advanced by an Iranian regime deeply hostile to Israel and, if unchecked, could yield dangerous results in the foreseeable future. On the spectrum of threats, Iran’s push to build a formidable military front against Israel in Syria and Lebanon, with a complementary envelope in Iraq, fits somewhere between the immediate yet modest (Hamas in Gaza) and the long term and extremely menacing (Iran with nuclear arms). This balance of its severity and relative immediacy explains why it has ranked so high for Israeli decisionmakers in recent years. In turn, the Iranian effort has driven Israel to push back militarily even at the risk of sparking a major confrontation, a policy that in Israel enjoys wide public and political consensus.”

4) UK Media Watch is Celebrating 10 years of promoting accurate coverage of Israel.

“Ten years ago, a small group of dedicated activists concerned about inaccurate and inflammatory coverage of Israel in the British media, and the antisemitism such reporting often fuels, had an audacious idea: to take on the Guardian, the central address for such bias.

The blog established by this group in August 2009 was called CiF Watch, reflecting our initial focus on the Guardian’s online home for op-eds and commentaries, known as ‘Comment is Free’ (‘CiF’). The first post at CiF Watch pledged to expose and combat the bigoted and one-sided nature of the Guardian’s obsessive focus on Israel and, by extension, the Jewish people.”

 

 

BBC Radio 4’s inaccurate claim about Israel’s Christian community

h/t JO

The December 26th edition of the BBC Radio 4 programme ‘World at One’ included an item relating to the UK Foreign Secretary’s announcement of a review into the plight of persecuted Christians around the world.

Presenter Jonny Dymond introduced that item (from 07:24 here) as follows: [emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]

Dymond: “More than 200 million Christians are at risk of persecution around the world – a number that has risen sharply over the past few decades according to the Foreign Office. In Christianity’s home – the Middle East – the numbers speak for themselves. Four fifths of Iraq’s Christians have fled or been killed. In Israel and the Palestinian territories as those following other religions have grown sharply in number, the Christian population has shrunk. Today the Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt ordered a review into the persecuted Christians around the world and how much help they get from the UK.”

The item continued with a recording of Mr Hunt speaking about his announcement and a report about Christians in Pakistan.

Let’s take a closer look at Dymond’s claim that “in Israel….the Christian population has shrunk”.

According to Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics, at the year’s end in 1949 there were 34,000 Christians living in Israel. A year later that number had risen to 36,000. By year’s end 1960 Israel’s Christian population numbered 49,600, by 1970 -75,500, by 1980 – 89,900, by 1990 – 114,700 and by year’s end 2000 there were 153,400 Christians living permanently in Israel (the bureau’s figures do not include foreign residents). By the end of 2017 the Christian population of Israel had grown to 171,900 people, just under 80% of whom are Arab Christians mostly living in the north of the country.

In other words, in contrast to Dymond’s claim that the Christian population of Israel has “shrunk”, throughout the first 70 years of Israel’s existence it steadily grew from 34,000 to 171,900. At the end of 2018 Israel has around 175,000 Christian citizens who make up around 2% of the total population.

Had Dymond confined himself to saying that in the Palestinian territories – the parts of Judea & Samaria governed for decades by the Palestinian Authority and the Gaza Strip now under Hamas control for over a decade – the Christian population has shrunk, he would have been correct. However, his inclusion of Israel in that claim is inaccurate and, particularly in an item about persecution of Christian communities, materially misleading to BBC audiences. 

Related Articles:

BBC Radio 4’s selective framing of the “hardships” of Gaza Christians

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BBC Radio 4’s selective framing of the “hardships” of Gaza Christians

h/t FB

On the morning of December 24th BBC Radio 4’s Today programme aired yet another report produced during Mishal Husain’s recent visit to the Gaza Strip.

Presenter Justin Webb introduced the item (from 1:42:48 here) as follows: [emphasis in bold added]

Webb: “This time last week we were reporting from Gaza and for its small Christian community this of course is the time of year when many dream of getting to Bethlehem which isn’t, after all, that far away to celebrate Christmas. However, given the blockade maintained by Israel – it says of course that’s for security reasons – travelling to the West Bank requires special permission which many do not get. Mishal Husain went to meet Palestinian Christians at one church in Gaza City.”

Having described the scene at a reception for a “visiting delegation from Jerusalem” and spoken to a couple of children, Mishal Husain further amplified that introductory messaging.

Husain: “But the hardships of life here are not far away, especially at this time of year.”

Unidentified Woman: “There is no real Christmas in Gaza. We used to long for Christmas so we could travel and go to Bethlehem but none of the young people this year got permission. We don’t really feel the Christmas spirit in Gaza.”

Husain: “Permits to travel are difficult to obtain, as they are for other Palestinians who live here. Christmas is no exception as Sister Maria de Nazerat – a nun who came here from Argentina – explains.”

Sister Maria: “They need a special permission from Israel. They ask a lot of time but not always will receive the permission or maybe some of them can have permission or on the same family some of them no. For example the children has permission and the parents no. Every year it’s a very difficult situation because they wait, they hope, they want to go pray in Bethlehem but most of them cannot go.”

Throughout this report Mishal Husain is conspicuously silent on the topic of how many Christians actually currently live in the Gaza Strip. In April of this year the Catholic News Agency reported that “[i]n the past six years the number of Christians in the Gaza Strip has plummeted from 4,500 to just 1,000”. In contrast to Husain’s claim, Christmas (and Easter) is an exception: every year special arrangements are made for Palestinian Christians by COGAT and those pertaining to Gaza residents this year can be seen below.

In other words, permits were available for the Christian population of the Gaza Strip and while the number of applications made is unknown, according to a report in the Jerusalem Post “[s]ome 600 individuals received special permits for the holidays”. So as we see, the BBC’s claim that “many do not get” travel permits fails to reflect the fact that 60% of the Gaza Strip’s Christian population did receive them.

The second theme promoted by Husain in this report involves whitewashing the problems faced by Christians in the Gaza Strip. Husain introduced “the parish priest Father Mario de Silva”.

De Silva: “We don’t have problems to worship God here and we are doing our work.”

Husain: “Because some people might wonder what it is like with Hamas governing Gaza. Is that a problem for the community?”

De Silva: “Not at all. They never did any problem to us about religious or…”

While one can of course comprehend Father de Silva’s recurrent promotion of that messaging, the BBC should have been able to tell its audiences that the true picture is actually somewhat different.

“Rami Ayyad owned a religious bookstore in Gaza. He had been involved in numerous charitable organizations and was also a member of the Baptist Church. His store and charity organization, the Bible Society, had been a frequent target of Muslim extremists. A grenade was thrown at the building during protests over the publication of a Danish cartoon that depicted the prophet Mohammed. Ayyad had also received continuous death threats for his perceived missionary work. He was married with two small children, and was just two weeks shy of his 30th birthday when [in October 2007 – Ed.] he was found shot in the head and stabbed multiple times 10 hours after he was kidnapped from his store.

One Christian leader expressed his fear after months of increased attacks: “This latest incident is aimed at sending a message to all the Christians here that we must leave. Radical Islamic groups are waging a campaign to get rid of us and no one seems to care.” Many in Gaza’s tiny Christian community, including the Baptist Church’s full-time pastor and twelve of Ayyad’s bookstore employees, fled to the West Bank to escape further violence. 

The head of Gaza’s Roman Catholic Church, Rev. Mauel Musallem, said he knows seven families that sold their properties in Gaza and left for safer pastures in the aftermath of Ayyad’s slaying. Fifteen more were preparing to do the same, he said.”

In 2012 reports of cases of forced conversions to Islam came out of the Gaza Strip. This year Gaza’s Christians have been warned in flyers distributed by an armed terror group that ‘celebrating Christmas is evil’.

Nevertheless, Radio 4 listeners heard nothing of such incidents in a report obviously intended to promote the politically motivated narrative that Gaza’s Christian population lives happily under Hamas rule, with its only tribulations caused by Israel.

Related Articles:

BBC Radio 4 ‘Today’ Gaza Strip special – part one

BBC Radio 4 ‘Today’ Gaza Strip special – part two

BBC Radio 4 ‘Today’ Gaza Strip special – part three

BBC Radio 4 ‘Today’ Gaza Strip special – part four

BBC Radio 4 ‘Today’ Gaza Strip special – part five

Mishal Husain does ‘life in Gaza’ for BBC One TV

 

 

Weekend long read

1) At the Jerusalem Post Lahav Harkov highlights an issue ignored by the BBC in all its generous coverage of the US’ recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

“Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas claims that he is a defender of Christian Arabs in areas under his control. He repeatedly said that Jerusalem is a Muslim and Christian – but not Jewish – holy city in his speech to the Organization of Islamic Cooperation last week.

But the Palestinians’ track record, even before putting a damper on Christmas this year, should leave Christians skeptical.

In 1950, the Christian population of the Bethlehem area was 86%, according to the National Catholic Reporter. Today, it’s only 12%, and Christians are only 2% of the Palestinian population, even though they were more than twice that a generation ago. The situation in Gaza, controlled by the terrorist group Hamas, is even worse. When Hamas took control in 2006, there were 6,000 Christians, and as of a year ago, there were 1,100. In Israel, the Christian population has stayed mostly stable at around 2%, growing by about 5,000 in the past 20 years.”

2) Writing at the Globe and Mail, Matti Friedman describes the Jerusalem that BBC audiences never see.

“When President Donald Trump announced on Dec. 6 that the United States would recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and move its embassy here, Arab leaders called for “days of rage” and a chorus of Western observers predicted an explosion. The predictions were predictable; Jerusalem is always said to be on the brink of catastrophe, and headlines are always reporting “tensions.” […]

After Mr. Trump’s announcement, amid warnings of “explosive” repercussions, I got e-mails from friends abroad, wondering whether I was worried, or whether I was safe. That Friday, a crowd of reporters gathered at the Old City’s Damascus Gate to document the violence that was supposed to erupt. But little happened; the protesters were outnumbered by journalists, and everyone went home. There weren’t spontaneous mass celebrations on the Jewish side or mass disturbances on the Arab side. The past week has been fairly normal.”

3) Seth Frantzman of the Jerusalem Post investigates Qatari investment in Gaza.

“In October 2014, in the aftermath of the Gaza war (Operation Protective Edge), the UNRWA (United Nations Relief and Works Agency) estimated that more than 100,000 homes had been damaged or destroyed in the fighting, affecting 600,000 people. A total of $5.4 billion was pledged toward reconstruction efforts at an international conference in Egypt.

Two years later, only 51% of the pledged money had been disbursed. According to research by the Brookings Institution, Qatar was one of the biggest spenders investing in Gaza, with $216 million sent to the Strip by December 2016, part of a budget of $1.4b. it has pledged and spent in the last five years on Palestinians. […]

Israel has long known that cement imported to Gaza is diverted to be used by Hamas for building terrorist infrastructure, including tunnels. In a May 2016 speech, then-Foreign Ministry director-general Dore Gold said that for every 100 sacks of cement imported to the Gaza Strip, “only five or six are transferred to civilians.” He said that of the 4 million tons of building materials transferred to the Strip between October 2015 and May 2016, some of it had been “seized and used to build new attack tunnels.”

Qatar’s role in Gaza’s reconstruction puts it in a bind. Since June 2017 its neighbors in the Gulf have severed relations, accusing it of supporting terrorism. Doha’s support for Hamas is a central dispute between it and Riyadh.”

4) Israel’s state archivist Yaakov Lozowick writes about (and links to) the maps used by the British military in its Palestine campaign a century ago.

“Should we visit Tel Aviv? The name of the British map is Jaffa, and about the only part of modern Tel Aviv you’ll find is Sarona, and miles to the north the tiny Arab village of Sheikh Muannis, where Tel Aviv University is today. Also, the map helpfully notes the sand dunes at the center of today’s Tel Aviv.

But wait. That’s actually a bit odd. Tel Aviv was founded in 1909; at least a small version of it ought to have been on the British military maps printed in May 1917? Well, I recommend looking at the bottom right corner of the map, where it says that it’s a reprint made in May 1917, from… The Palestine Exploration Fund maps, surveyed in 1878!

This makes these maps even more interesting, because they tell us two very interesting things. The first is that when the British military map-makers needed to prepare maps with which to conquer Palestine, the most recent ones they had at hand were 39 years old, but they weren’t troubled because they knew that not much had changed between 1787 and 1917. Moreover, they were able to use the maps because their assumption about the limited change was basically correct. Here and there some changes had been made on the ground, such as the founding of the Jaffa suburb of Tel Aviv; but these changes weren’t significant enough to bother the military planners.”

Political narrative and inaccuracy in BBC Two’s ‘Alternativity’ – part two

As we saw in part one of this post, much of the first half of the BBC Two commissioned ‘documentary’ titled ‘Alternativity’ which was aired on December 17th presented audiences with an overwhelmingly one-sided portrayal of Israel’s anti-terrorist fence.

The only explanation of why the structure had to be constructed came nearly a quarter of the way into the programme in the grand total of twenty-seven words from Danny Boyle. Viewers saw no images of any of the dozens of suicide bombings which brought about public demand for that counter-terrorism measure and did not hear from even one Israeli whose life was affected by Palestinian terrorism.

That first part of the programme also focused on the Bethlehem area, although interestingly – given the film’s declared subject matter – the problems facing Christians in that city and the sharp decline in their numbers since the PA took control of Bethlehem were not among the topics addressed. At 22:07 narrator Olivia Colman set the scene as Danny Boyle was taken to another location.

Colman: “Bethlehem has the largest Christian population in the occupied Palestinian territories. But the nativity isn’t just a Christian story and Danny’s nativity needs to be relevant to all so he’s visiting the mainly Muslim city of Hebron. Peace talks in the mid ’90s carved the West Bank up into areas A, B and C under Palestinian, combined and Israeli control respectively. But Hebron is especially contested with Jewish settlers occupying specific streets and sometimes specific houses. Here, the heavily defended settlers come and go as they please. But Danny’s guides – Fadi, a Christian and Saeed, a Muslim – are both Palestinians. And neither of them are allowed into the parts of Hebron claimed by the settlers.”

Obviously no viewer lacking background knowledge on Hebron (i.e. the majority) would understand from that ‘explanation’ that the agreement concerning that city signed by Israel and the Palestinians almost twenty-one years ago divided it into two parts: H1 – under Palestinian control – and the smaller H2 – under Israeli control. Not only does this programme fail to explain that the presence of Jews in Hebron is the result of that agreement, but the history of Jews in Hebron – including the fateful 1929 pogrom by Arabs – is completely erased.

At 23:15 viewers see Boyle on a street in H2 on what we later learn is Shabbat – Saturday.

Boyle: “It’s like a ghost town, isn’t it? It’s like a Western, isn’t it? It’s like a showdown or something. It’s crazy to think like that but it makes you feel like that, doesn’t it?”

Having later come across a family out walking, Boyle – clearly no firearms expert – tells viewers:

Boyle: “So that’s extraordinary to see a man out walking peacefully on the Sabbath with his wife and his child in a buggy and he’s got a AK47 [sic] or whatever the machine gun [sic] is…it’s a machine gun [sic]. So his statement that he’s making about what he expects to find, to protect his family – which is a natural instinct – is terrifying really.”

Boyle does not however bother to give viewers any idea of the scale of terror attacks in that area either in the past or in recent months. Standing on Emek Hevron street, Boyle then (22:40) presents pure conjecture as ‘fact’.

Boyle: “And the Star of David on the doorways which is declaring that obviously the…that in these circumstances, declaring that this is…this will become a settlement home…is shockingly reminiscent of something we all…one of the worst horrors of the world. That’s a bit mind-boggling.”

BBC Watch contacted a resident of that area and was informed that the Stars of David painted on those buildings are actually graffiti painted by unknown parties. Additional examples of graffiti on the same street can be seen in the photographs here on the right. 

The doorways mentioned by Boyle are in fact entrances to small Arab market shops that were closed during the second Intifada due to Palestinian violence. Not only are those shops unsuitable for conversion into “a settlement home” – they have never even been considered for that purpose.

As we see, therefore, Danny Boyle – who earlier on in the programme admitted that the nearest he had previously ever been to the region was Majorca – has (presumably with a bit of help from his ‘guides’) let his imagination run wild – and presented his own uninformed assumptions as fact.

Moreover, he appears to be making an oblique reference to Nazi confiscation of Jewish property – an analogy that would be considered antisemitic according to the IHRA working definition adopted by the British government.

Again failing to provide crucial context, the narrator subsequently tells viewers that: “Not all of Hebron has been settled”.

Later on in the film viewers see footage of preparations for the Balfour Declaration centenary ‘street party’ at the Walled Off hotel that was generously covered by the BBC at the time. That segment includes the following statement from the hotel manager:

Salsaa: “This [the Balfour Declaration] is the origin of the modern conflict in the Middle East. Millions became refugees, thousands died and hundreds of thousands suffered because of this.”

At 33:11 the narrator tells viewers that:

Colman: “Most Jewish settlers live in fortified settlements accessible by Israeli-only roads.”

That claim is of course inaccurate and misleading: there are no restrictions whatsoever on the roads leading to the vast majority of communities in Judea and Samaria. She goes on:

Colman: “There are virtually no Jewish people in Bethlehem and Israeli citizens are warned that entering any part of the city is dangerous.”

Boyle then further displays the level of his ‘regional expertise’, telling BBC Two viewers (33:31) that Israelis and Palestinians are “the same nation”.

Boyle: “It’s very difficult, clearly. Certainly I think that one of Banksy’s purposes is to try and illuminate that actually, although this is the same nation, the chances to interact are reduced so enormously by this wall and everything that comes with this wall. So that kind of division means that it’s very, very difficult to get Israelis to come and visit openly and certainly obviously to speak on camera about it. So that’s a big, big problem that we have.”

Needless to say, that problem was not overcome: viewers of this hour-long programme did not hear even one Israeli view.

In a segment of the film about the children participating in the nativity play (in which it is implied that parents might not want their children to take part because of the ‘risk’ of them being shot by the IDF), viewers see a seven year-old child presented only as Sofia and are told that “her father got arrested two days ago”. The narrator then informs BBC audiences (43:07) that all of Israel is “occupied” land and reinforces the previously promoted inaccurate notion that ‘millions’ of Palestinians became refugees in 1948.

Colman: “Over a million Palestinians live in camps which they were settled in when their lands were occupied after 1948. It’s been alleged that Sofia’s father leads the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine in the Dheisheh camp where her family lives.”

Viewers are not informed that the PFLP is a terrorist organisation and although Sofia’s mother is seen giving her tearful account of her husband’s arrest and the story is promoted again later in the film, the mother is not named and so the story remains unverifiable.

It is blatantly obvious that the aim of this BBC commissioned film was not – as BBC Two’s controller claimed in the PR – to present “a challenging and provocative exploration” of the nativity story. Rather, the seasonally relevant topic of Christmas was merely a hook upon which to hang an hour of serially inaccurate and politically biased amplification of an anti-Israel narrative, made all the more attractive to British audiences by the inclusion of ‘national treasure’ names such as Banksy, Olivia Colman and Danny Boyle.

The methodology behind this film can in fact be summed up by one of its scenes (from 34:15) in which an unnamed woman with a British accent who is helping organise Banksy’s Balfour Declaration ‘street party’ agitprop tells the camera that:

“The global news outlets will pick this up a) because it’s Banksy b) because it’s Palestine. People love stunts. They love big, brash stunts. They love it!”

And indeed a big, brash star-studded stunt is exactly what the BBC’s funding public paid for in this BBC collaboration with the agitprop of an anonymous political activist. What they did not get, however, was anything resembling an accurate and impartial programme that would contribute to their understanding of the complex topics that are the components of this story – including that of the issues facing Christians living under Palestinian Authority rule.

Related Articles:

Political narrative and inaccuracy in BBC Two’s ‘Alternativity’ – part one

A BBC Two commission and the politicisation of Christmas

Documenting five years of BBC politicisation of Christmas

More Balfour Declaration agitprop promotion on the BBC News website

Multiplatform BBC amplification for anti-Israel ‘political statement’ PR campaign

BBC inaccurately promotes Banksy propaganda as a ‘documentary’

BBC’s Yolande Knell reports on Archbishop of Canterbury’s ME visit

May 8th saw the appearance of an article by Yolande Knell titled “Archbishop of Canterbury to meet Palestinian and Israeli leaders” on the BBC News website’s Middle East and UK pages.

Much of Knell’s report is devoted to coverage of Justin Welby’s itinerary, which included a very short visit to Christian institutions the Gaza Strip. Knell tells readers that:

“The archbishop has been careful to hear voices from both sides in the decades-old Israel-Palestinian conflict.

In a previously unannounced move, he visited Gaza – which has seen repeated conflicts between Palestinian militants and Israel in the past decade.

He also met Israelis living under threat of rocket fire from Palestinian militants in a kibbutz near the border.”

Residents of the Israeli communities located near the border with the Gaza Strip are not just “under threat” from the terrorists that Knell coyly describes as “militants”: attacks do frequently happen. However, seeing as the BBC has refrained from informing its English-speaking audiences of any of the eight incidents of missile attacks that have taken place since the beginning of this year and throughout the whole of 2016 only reported one attack, readers would be unlikely to be able to fill in the blanks for themselves.

The archbishop also visited Christian institutions in Nazareth including a school and four churches. Regardless of how the people he met there choose to self-identify, Yolande Knell collectively describes them as follows: [emphasis added]

“The archbishop has visited Palestinian Christian communities in Nazareth and in Bethlehem, where he prayed and ate falafel with Christian mayor, Vera Baboun.”

Referring to a story she has often promoted in the past, Knell also tells readers that:

“He [Welby] was due to meet Christian families in the Cremisan Valley, whose land is affected by the construction of Israel’s West Bank barrier.”

One item on the archbishop’s itinerary which Knell left out of her coverage was a visit to the Hebrew University in Jerusalem to pay tribute to UK student Hannah Bladon who was murdered last month in a terror attack in the city.

One of the stranger features of this report is Knell’s opening of her article with the promotion of some unfounded linkage.

“The Archbishop of Canterbury is to meet Palestinian and Israeli political leaders as part of a 12-day tour of the Holy Land.

His visit comes two weeks before US President Donald Trump is due to arrive in Jerusalem to try to revive the moribund peace process.

However, the Most Reverend Justin Welby indicated there should not be too much significance read into the timing.”

Welby’s latest trip to the region was announced back in March while Trump’s upcoming visit was announced on May 4th and there is no indication of any link between the two visits. Although Knell tells BBC audiences that the purpose of the US president’s 26 hour visit is “to try to revive the moribund peace process”, the official announcement lays out additional (and no less newsworthy) aims.

“President Trump has also accepted the invitation of President Reuven Rivlin and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to visit Israel, where he will further strengthen the United States-Israel partnership.  The leaders will discuss a range of regional issues, including the need to counter the threats posed by Iran and its proxies, and by ISIS and other terrorist groups.  They will also discuss ways to advance a genuine and lasting peace between the Israelis and Palestinians.

President Trump has also accepted the invitation of President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority to meet with him to discuss ways to advance peace between the Israelis and Palestinians, as well as efforts to unlock the potential of the Palestinian economy.”

Moreover, the day before this article was published, the BBC Radio 4 programme ‘Sunday’ aired an item about Welby’s trip (from 01:00 here) that was mostly devoted to an interview with the archbishop by Yolande Knell. The last question she asked (at 05:45) was:

Knell: “You’ve come at a very sensitive time as attempts to get peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians restarted. Was that your intention?”

Welby: “I would not presume that. I come to pray, to share, to listen, to encourage. It would be very presumptuous to go further.”

Despite that very clear answer, Knell nevertheless decided to include a totally superfluous mention of the US president’s upcoming visit and “the moribund peace process” in her BBC News website article. 

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Documenting five years of BBC politicisation of Christmas

Christmas is coming and with it – if the BBC’s record over the past five years is anything to go by – the usual politicised reporting from the Middle East.

Christmas Eve of 2011, for example, saw Jon Donnison piling on the pathos in a reworking of the well-worn ‘Bethlehem shepherds’ theme on Radio 4’s ‘Today’ programme.  

“There are still shepherds in Bethlehem 2000 years on from the nativity but as our West Bank correspondent Jon Donnison reports, Jewish settlement expansion there has made the life of the shepherd increasingly limited.”knell-2011-nativity

On the same day the BBC News website published a particularly egregious example of campaigning propaganda produced by Yolande Knell under the transparent title of “Bethlehem’s modern-day nativity characters“. 

In 2012 Kevin Connolly reported on Christians in the Middle East while managing to omit any mention of the one country in which they thrive and Jon Donnison produced a politically opportunistic report from Bethlehem.

Bethlehem was also the location for a 2013 report from Yolande Knell in which she promoted inaccurate information about the anti-terrorist fence.

“In the Bethlehem Governorate there are more than twenty Pal..err…Israeli settlements and now Israel’s West Bank separation barrier. It appears as a high concrete wall around Bethlehem and the people here complain that it has strangled their economy. Israel says of course that it was built for security but the Palestinians view it as a land grab.”

A multi-platform item promoted a smear from a patron of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign.Knell Bethlehem main

Political messaging concerning the anti-terrorist fence also dominated a Christmas 2014 report on the BBC News website and Yolande Knell produced an audio report and a written report from Bethlehem in which she blamed “the dwindling number of Christians in the Holy Land” on “Israel’s occupation”.

Reporting again from Bethlehem in 2015, Yolande Knell revisited the ‘nativity characters’ theme in a multi-media feature focusing on politicised messaging concerning the anti-terrorist fence. An audio report by Knell broadcast on the BBC World Service was notable for its adherence to PLO media guidance.

Let’s hope that this year the BBC Jerusalem bureau can resist the temptation to exploit Christmas for the promotion of opportunistic politicised messaging and perhaps even come up with some original reporting about the Middle East’s beleaguered Christians. 

BBC bases rejection of complaint on word of anti-Israel NGOs

In April 2015, listeners to an item about the plight of Christians in the Middle East broadcast on BBC Radio 4’s ‘Today’ programme were told by the corporation’s Middle East editor that:

“…Palestinian Christians as well feel threatened not just of course from extreme Islam, but they also feel threatened by what the Israeli government might be doing.”

Members of the public who complained to the BBC received a Stage 1 template response which claimed that “he was describing the mood of Palestinian Christians, not the policies of the government of Israel.”

One member of the public who was not satisfied by that response took his complaint to Stage 2 where it was rejected by the BBC’s Editorial Complaints Unit (ECU). The gentleman then appealed against that decision to the BBC Trust and when that appeal was also rejected, requested that the Trustees review the decision not to proceed with his appeal. The Editorial Standards Committee decided that the appeal did not qualify to proceed for consideration and the details of that decision and the previous ones were published by the ESC last month.

The document (pages 48 – 52 inclusive here) shows that from Stage 2 onwards, BBC staff handling this complaint relied on information sourced from three remarkable sources.

Complaint Bowen 1

Complaint Bowen 2

All three of those organisations are campaigning bodies with a clear political agenda.

Founded in 2005, the Institute for Middle East Understanding is a US-based organisation with a mission to “offer journalists and editors quick access to information about Palestine and the Palestinians, as well as expert sources — both in the U.S. and in the Middle East”. IMEU promotes the BDS campaign against Israel and produces characteristically one-sided ‘reports’ and ‘fact sheets’ which – inter alia – promote the ‘apartheid’ trope and the notion of “official and unofficial discrimination” against Christians.

Sabeel is an organisation known not only for its promotion of the ‘one-state solution’ (i.e. the elimination of Israel as the Jewish state) but also for the employment of ‘liberation theology’ and supersessionism in its anti-Israel campaigning

Kairos – or Kairos Palestine – “is an NGO that promotes the 2009 Kairos Palestine document, drafted by a small group of Palestinian Christian clergy [see here]. It calls for BDS (boycotts, divestment, and sanctions) against Israel and denies the Jewish religious and historical connection to any part of the Land of Israel.” Kairos Palestine describes terrorism against Israelis as “legal resistance”.

So as we see, the BBC’s approach to a complaint about inaccurate portrayal of Israel was to consult and adopt information from sources which are actively engaged in anti-Israel campaigning and delegitimisation.

In our submission to the DCMS consultation on the BBC charter review we noted that:

“Whilst the BBC recognizes the fact that “some ‘experts’ may have a history of sympathising with one cause or another, even if they have no overt affiliation”, it frequently uses contributions from academics with a record of anti-Israel political campaigning and even consults with such sources when dealing with complaints. Clearly the BBC needs to ensure that all ‘experts’ consulted are neutral and impartial.” [emphasis added]

As this example shows, that problem is obviously not limited to consultation with campaigning academics but also includes campaigning political NGOs. As long as that clearly unsatisfactory practice continues, the BBC Complaints system can only maintain its dismal reputation.  

 

BBC News misleads on ‘Arab world’ saints, hides significance of Vatican-PA treaty

On May 13th the BBC News website’s Middle East page published a report titled “Vatican to recognise Palestinian state in treaty“. The main image selected to illustrate that article dates from May 2014 when the Pope visited the Middle East and chose to pray beside a section of the anti-terrorist fence covered in graffiti which included a spurious comparison between Bethlehem and the Warsaw Ghetto.Vatican treaty art

The closing paragraphs of the report state:

“This weekend President Abbas will have talks with Pope Francis at the Vatican, and on Sunday he will be attend [sic] a canonisation ceremony during which two Palestinian nuns who lived in the 19th Century – when Palestine was part of the Ottoman empire – will be declared saints.

They will be the first new saints from the Arab world to be named since the early days of Christianity.”

As our colleagues at CAMERA have pointed out, that latter statement is not accurate. In 1977 a Lebanese Maronite Christian was canonized and at least two other saints of Lebanese origin alone have been canonized since then.

As was also the case with many other media outlets, the BBC’s report focuses audience attentions on the political aspects of the story.

“The Vatican is to formally recognise Palestinian statehood in a treaty that will be signed shortly, officials say. […]

The Vatican’s announcement comes amid growing momentum to recognise Palestinian statehood. Over the last year the European Parliament as well as the UK, Republic of Ireland, Spain and France have all passed non-binding motions in favour.

Sweden has gone further, officially recognising Palestine as a state.”

Readers also came across the following opaque generalised statements:

“The Vatican is eager that property and civil rights of the Catholic Church in the Palestinian state is protected, correspondents say.

According to the New York Times, it has strong religious interests in the Israeli-occupied Palestinian territories that include Christian holy sites.

The BBC’s David Willey in Rome says that Pope Francis is making every effort to strengthen the Christian presence in the Middle East at a time when when [sic] hundreds of thousands of Arab Christians are fleeing Islamic violence. […]

The agreement on Wednesday will define Catholic Church activities in areas controlled by the Palestinian Authority, the Holy See said on Wednesday.”

A clue to the context behind those vague statements and insight into a no less significant aspect of the treaty between the Vatican and the Palestinian Authority is provided by the Catholic News Service:

“Msgr. Antoine Camilleri, the Vatican undersecretary for relations with states and head of the Vatican delegation at the negotiations, said the Vatican wanted the agreement to “promote the life and activity of the Catholic Church and its recognition on a juridical level.” […]
The chapter on “freedom of religion and conscience,” he said, is “very elaborate and detailed.”
Other chapters deal with “various aspects of the life and activity of the church in the Palestinian territories: its freedom of action, its personnel and jurisdiction, its personal status, houses of worship, social and charitable activity (and) means of social communication. Finally, a chapter is dedicated to financial and property questions.

Asked if the agreement could be a model for agreements with other Muslim-majority countries, Msgr. Camilleri said every bilateral treaty deals with the specific situation of the countries involved.
“In this case, because it deals with the presence of the church in the land where Christianity was born, the agreement has a unique value and significance,” he said.
At the same time, though, he said the agreement’s recognition of the church and of religious freedom “could be followed by other countries, including those with a Muslim majority, and demonstrate that such recognition is not incompatible with the fact that the majority of the country’s population belongs to another religion.””

La Stampa’s Vatican Insider adds:

“But the debate over the recognition of the State of Palestine must not overshadow other passages in the agreement which promise to be of significance. They have not been made public yet but they were summarised by the Under-Secretary for Relations with States, Antoine Camilleri, who is head of the Vatican delegation at the negotiations.

Having announced that the preamble will express the Holy See’s hope for a two-State solution (entailing the Palestinian side’s full recognition of the legitimacy of the State of Israel), the prelate explained that the agreement contains a “very elaborate and detailed” chapter on the “freedom of religion and conscience”. The legal agreement then sets out a number of fundamental elements regarding religious freedom and the freedom of conscience for all those living and working in the Palestinian Territories. Guarantees, such as respect for places of worship, the freedom of action of the Church, the protection of its social and charitable activities and the right to promote means of communication, are put down in black and white.”

Given that the BBC’s interest in the topic of Middle East Christians has increased of late due to prevailing events on the ground, one might have thought that news of a treaty aimed at protecting their religious freedom in one part of the region would have prompted the self-styled ‘standard-setter for international journalism‘ to break away from the media pack and provide its audiences with informative coverage of the background story of why the rights of Christians need to be protected in an agreement between the Vatican and the Palestinian Authority.