BBC WS listeners get more unchallenged UNRWA narrative

The September 1st afternoon edition of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour‘ included an item nearly thirteen minutes long on the topic of the previous day’s US State Department announcement concerning its intention to cease contributions to UNRWA.

Presenter Lyse Doucet introduced the item (from 30:06 here): [emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]

Doucet: “The UN’s agency for Palestinian refugees – known by its acronym UNRWA – has lurched for many years from one financial crisis to the next. But now the agency supporting some 5 million Palestinians faces its greatest test. Palestinian officials as well as the UN are criticising a decision by its biggest donor the US to withdraw all funding. Israel welcomes the move saying UNRWA keeps Palestinian hopes alive of returning to their homes which now lie in Israel proper.”

Obviously uninformed listeners would not understand from that portrayal by Doucet that at most only a tiny proportion of those 5 million people could actually claim to have had “homes” over seventy years ago in what is now Israel.

Doucet first brought in the BBC Jerusalem bureau’s Yolande Knell who noted that pupils in UNRWA schools had begun the school year, citing “526,000 pupils across the Middle East”, “711 schools” and “270,000 students” in the Gaza Strip.

Listeners then heard a reference to an aspect of the story rarely discussed by the BBC: that of UNRWA as an employer of Palestinians.

Doucet: “So and it’s not just schools; it’s also health facilities. I mean in effect entire families they depend on this for their sole source of income?”

Knell: “That’s right; of course UNRWA is also a major employer. 22,000 teachers in those schools that I’ve just mentioned. If you go to Palestinian refugee camps you will find that there are also clinics run by UNRWA that is providing many of the services such as rubbish collection.”

Knell went on to mention a story from July not previously covered by the BBC.

Knell: “…already we’ve seen protests, particularly in Gaza in recent weeks – a sit-in at the UNRWA headquarters there – as the first rafts of cuts have hit and about a thousand people were told that they were going to have their contracts ended.”

Doucet then introduced her second contributor.

Doucet: “But we do know that there are urgent meetings going on in the region including the Arab capitals…where millions of Palestinian refugees rely on UN support. And we reached UNRWA’s spokesperson Chris Gunness just as he was boarding a plane in the Jordanian capital Amman.”

BBC World Service audiences then heard Chris Gunness repeat talking points he used back in January when the US administration announced a cut to its UNRWA contribution. They also heard Gunness claim that his clients – rather than Yazidi, Syrian or Yemeni refugees living in temporary shelters – are “some of the most marginalized and fragile and vulnerable communities in the Middle East” with no challenge from Lyse Doucet.

[33:25] Gunness: “The impact will be absolutely devastating. It’s likely to be widespread, profound, dramatic and unpredictable because – let’s make no mistake – some of the most marginalized and fragile and vulnerable communities in the Middle East are going to likely suffer because of this. 562,000 schoolchildren receiving an UNRWA education every day. 1.7 million food insecure people. 3.5 [sic] patients coming to our clinics every day. We do assistance to disabled refugees, to women, to vulnerable children. The list goes on and as I say, the impact on them is likely to be utterly devastating.”

Doucet then asked Gunness “but what is your reply to the critics?” before playing part of an interview with Dr Jonathan Schanzer of the FDD heard in another BBC radio programme.

Schanzer: “This was a decision that was long time coming. For several years now we’ve been hearing about calls for reform within UNRWA. UNRWA has been slow to respond to the allegations that, for example, it has allowed Hamas to exploit some of its operations, that it has inflated the number of refugees making it virtually impossible for the Israelis and Palestinians to reach peace and that their budget has been over-inflated. Amidst these calls, UNRWA has dragged its feet and now the Trump administration, which is looking for really any excuse to cut budget, has found a new target.”

[34:52] Gunness: “Well it’s very interesting that just a few months ago the US administration was praising the high performance of UNRWA. They expressed praise for our reforms; we’ve been doing root and branch efficiency reforms – that was just a few months ago.”

If that sounds familiar it is because BBC audiences heard Gunness say the exact same thing in January:

“As far as reform is concerned, UNRWA has always been open to reform and the United States, most recently to our commissioner-general on a visit to Washington in November, was fulsome in its praise of UNRWA and its reforms.”

As noted here at the time:

“Despite the rosy picture painted by Gunness, past US donations to UNRWA have not come without conditions and criticism.”

Gunness went on:

Gunness: “On the specific allegations, whenever there’ve been accusations for example about militants leaving weapons in our schools or weapons components in our schools in Gaza, we were the first to come out and condemn and call for an investigation, which we did. When Hamas built tunnels under our schools we discovered them. We condemned it. So that allegation I reject absolutely.”

Having seen no BBC coverage of that latter story and others, listeners would of course be unaware of additional UNRWA related issues.

Gunness then repeated another previously made claim:

Gunness: “On the question of refugee numbers, the General Assembly have endorsed our methodology that we…err…confer refugee status through the generations exactly as the UN’s other refugee agency UNHCR does and the General Assembly has, as I say, approved this. If any single member state wants to try and bring that case, that accusation, to the General Assembly they’re very welcome to do that but our mandate remains. It cannot be changed unilaterally by a member state and, you know, as I say we’ve got the mandate. What happens now is we have less money to implement it but the mandate remains the same despite this decision by the Trump administration and we will do everything we can to implement it.”

Speaking to the BBC World Service in January, Gunness claimed that:

Gunness: “The reason why UNRWA’s budget runs out when it does is because the number of refugees we serve goes up and up and up because without a political resolution of their plight, their children remain refugees and that is the case with UNHCR refugees and other refugee populations around the world.”

As was pointed out here at the time:

“Unlike its sister agency, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), which is responsible for millions of non-Palestinian refugees worldwide, it [UNRWA] does not have an active program for “local integration” of refugees where they now reside nor “resettlement” in third countries.”

And:

“UNHCR confers derivative refugee status on the basis of family unity where there is a relationship of dependency. “As a matter of general practice, UNHCR does not promote the reunification of … grandchildren… unless they can be determined to be eligible under the principle of dependency.” This can mean financial dependency, “but also taking emotional dependency into consideration.” […]

It is true that, UNHCR’s basic standard is the nuclear family and that subsequent generations are given derivative refugee status only on an exceptional basis while UNRWA automatically grants grandchildren and great-grandchildren refugee status. But UNRWA defenders such as Gunness can argue that the two agencies are guided by the same basic principles.”

Once again a BBC WS presenter failed to challenge Gunness’ intentionally misleading presentation of that issue or to raise the relevant issue of ‘refugees’ that hold Jordanian or Palestinian citizenship. Doucet also refrained from questioning Gunness about the discrepancy between the number of registered refugees and actual refugees in Lebanon which came to light last year and an UNRWA official’s related claim that UNRWA’s figures do not necessarily reflect “deaths or relocation”.

Doucet next asked Gunness about alternative sources of funding and then went on to put a political slant on the story while ignoring the fact that when the US made its previous announcement concerning UNRWA donations in January, it specifically urged other nations to “step in and do their part“. 

[36:58] Doucet: “It’s clear that Israel and also the new US administration wants to take the issue of refugees off the negotiating table. They want to look at the so-called peace process in a different way. Do you believe that you’re a victim of that?”

Gunness took that cue to deflect criticism of UNRWA and proceeded to provide an example of why many consider UNRWA to be a political lobbying body.

Gunness: “Certainly it feels as if, given the praise for our reforms, that there are other forces at work. But let’s be very clear: you cannot airbrush out of the equation 5.4 million people. These are individuals with rights, including the right to self-determination, to a just and durable solution and whatever else must happen, if there is to be a peace dispensation it must be based on international law, it must be based on UN resolutions and of course the refugees themselves must be consulted. As I say, they cannot simply be airbrushed out of history. These are people who’ve been a UN protected population for 70 years and we have a continuing obligation towards them.”

Doucet went on to ask Gunness about “the mood” in Amman where, she pointed out, there are “so many refugees…dependent on UNRWA funding” but without clarifying that the vast majority of them are Jordanian citizens. After Gunness had spoken of “real alarm”, “panic and alarm” and “dramatic and unpredictable consequences”, Doucet further pursued her point.

Doucet: “Jordanian officials are even warning that this could be explosive. There could be security consequences.”

After Gunness had spoken of “the consequences of having 2 million angry, ill-educated, hungry people in Gaza on the doorstep of Israel”, Doucet closed that conversation and re-introduced Yolande Knell and the theme of a link between the US decision to stop contributions to UNRWA and “what’s happening in the peace process”. Knell took up the baton, promoting Palestinian messaging on that topic.

At 41:36 Doucet brought up a topic rarely discussed in BBC content.

Doucet: “What about the criticism that neighbouring Arab states, you know, keep the Palestinians generation after generation as refugees, denying them rights, as a political bargaining chip with Israel?”

Failing to mention the Arab League decision of 1959 designed to do exactly that, Knell responded:

Knell: “Well it depends on the different countries. There has been the different response to the Palestinian refugee issue. Certainly Jordan would point out that it has given citizenship to many of those Palestinian refugees but those in Syria and in Lebanon, it’s important to remember, they are still considered to be stateless. They are kept as refugees and the governments of those countries have said that it would be against the Palestinian interests, against the interests of their nationalist struggle if they were to be absorbed as citizens in those countries. This is an extremely sensitive issue for Palestinians and there are lots of Palestinian people that have lived their life in limbo from one generation to the next. They have very much kept alive this hope of returning back to land which now is inside Israel – something which both Israel and the United States say is unrealistic but which the different parties including the Palestinians say can only be solved through negotiations; not by just taking an issue off the table.”

With no mention made of the real motivation behind promotion of the ‘right of return’ issue, Doucet brought what she described as “a very sensitive, a very crucial story” to a close.

As we see BBC World Service audiences heard unchallenged UNRWA messaging together with promotion of Palestinian talking points in a long item which once again did little to contribute to their understanding of the background to this story.

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An eleven minute BBC WS report on UNRWA funding – part two

As we saw in part one of this post the August 30th afternoon edition of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour‘ led with a very long item described in the synopsis as follows:

“Jordan’s foreign minister has warned that cuts to the funding of the UN agency for Palestinian refugees, UNRWA, could be “extremely destabilising”. Ayman Safadi reacted to reports that the United States had decided to cut all funding it gives to UNRWA. The US had already announced a big reduction of contributions earlier this year.”

Following an introduction by presenter Julian Marshall and a report from the BBC Jerusalem bureau’s Yolande Knell, Marshall introduced his interviewee (from 04:13 here).

Marshall: “And the head of UNRWA has today been visiting Jordan – home to 2 million Palestinian refugees – where he’s been having talks with the Jordanian foreign minister Ayman Safadi and after that meeting we spoke to Mr Safadi. I asked him first what are his thoughts on UNRWA’s funding crisis.”

Readers may recall that back in May Yolande Knell also interviewed a Jordanian minister on the same topic. Then as now, no effort was made to explain to BBC audiences how that country’s decision to attack the nascent Jewish state in 1948 contributed to the creation of the Palestinian refugee situation.

From 04:31 listeners heard (on a bad phone line) Ayman Safadi claim that UNRWA’s budget deficit “is threatening its ability to continue to offer vital services to over 5 million Palestinian refugees in its 5 areas of operation” and that “failing UNRWA would ultimately translate into depriving 560 million [sic] Palestinian kids from their right to education, millions other from very, very important services that UNRWA provides in terms of health services and other emergency services”.

[05:28] Marshall: “And would you hope that other states will come forward to make up the shortfall?”

Safadi mentioned his country’s role in “putting together the Rome conference” and resulting and subsequent contributions from other countries before claiming that:

Safadi: “It’s not only in terms of financial responsiveness […] but also the political message is that UNRWA is linked to the refugees issue and I think this support we’re seeing translates [into] political support that UNRWA should continue to fulfil its mandate and that the refugees [issue] is a final status issue that should be addressed on the basis of UN resolution.”

Choosing not to expand on the issue of the exploitation of refugees for political leverage, Marshall changed the subject:

Marshall: “Why do you think the United States is doing this?”

Having stated that “we have recognised the logic of the argument the US has made about burden sharing”, Safadi went on to say:

Safadi: “In Jordan we have 122,000 kids that go to UNRWA schools. The pressure therefore is enormous.”

Marshall could at that point have enlightened listeners by asking Safadi why UNRWA is providing services to nearly 2 million people who hold Jordanian citizenship but instead he continued to pursue his previous line of questioning.

[08:44] Marshall: “Ahm…you said that you accepted the US logic about the need for more burden sharing and yet President Trump has made it quite clear in public statements and Tweets that he thinks that the Palestinians are ungrateful and he’s hoping that this might push them back towards the negotiating table.”

Safadi’s response to that question included:

[09:07] Safadi: “There is a humanitarian dimension to UNRWA that cannot be ignored and there’s also a political dimension that also must be emphasised because given the stalemate of the peace process, given the loss of hope, given the despair that has developed as a result of failure to get any traction [on] peace efforts, I think we need to be careful what message we send to the people. To make sure that we send a message of hope, that their livelihoods, their rights, are not forgotten and [unintelligible] to receive due attention by the international community.”

Once again Marshall chose to sidestep the issue of refugees deliberately kept in that status for political reasons. Apparently referring to reports from earlier in the month, he went on to ask:

[10:04] Marshall: “Has the United States discussed with Jordan at all the possibility of giving the money directly, that it might otherwise given [sic] to UNRWA, to you the Jordanian government to help with your 2 million Palestinian refugees?”

Safadi: “That’s a non-starter for us. That’s an issue that we will never accept again because…”

Marshall: “But has…has the United States proposed it?”

Safadi: “Some ideas have been floated and our answer was – it was probably the shortest conversation – such discussions the answer is no. We cannot do that. That will be a destabilizing factor because that will give the message that the right of refugees are being compromised so that’s something that we will not accept. It is not the right thing to do because it can only destabilise people. It will only send the wrong message about where we’re going. Palestinian refugees are under a UN mandate. That mandate has to continue until the refugees issues is dealt with as a final status issue – again, in accordance with the resolution. Jordan will never step in to shoulder the responsibilities UNRWA is shouldering. That said, I need to just state that over and above the services that UNRWA delivers in Jordan, Jordan is the largest contributor to Palestinian refugees. Our budget, our government budget, includes about $1.7 million that we spend on supporting services to Palestinian refugees in Jordan.”

Safadi repeated his “not the right thing to do” and “destabilising” themes yet again before Marshall closed the interview there – choosing once again to sidestep the important question of why UNRWA – financed as it is by donations sourced from tax-payers in other countries – should have to provide services for some 2 million people who – remarkably – audiences were not informed throughout this whole 11 minute long item are actually Jordanian citizens.

This interview with a senior minister from a country where some 40% of UNRWA clients live could obviously have been employed to provide BBC audiences with much-needed enhancement of understanding of the background to the ‘UNRWA in financial crisis’ story that the BBC has been reporting since January. Unsurprisingly given the corporation’s record on this story, once again that opportunity was passed up.

Related Articles:

An eleven minute BBC WS report on UNRWA funding – part one

BBC News reporting on US aid cut to UNRWA – part one

BBC News reporting on US aid cut to UNRWA – part two

BBC News report on US aid cut excludes relevant context

BBC’s special report on Palestinian refugees avoids the real issues

 

 

 

 

An eleven minute BBC WS report on UNRWA funding – part one

The day before the US State Department announced its intention to cease contributions to UNRWA, the August 30th afternoon edition of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour‘ led with a very long item described in the synopsis as follows:

“Jordan’s foreign minister has warned that cuts to the funding of the UN agency for Palestinian refugees, UNRWA, could be “extremely destabilising”. Ayman Safadi reacted to reports that the United States had decided to cut all funding it gives to UNRWA. The US had already announced a big reduction of contributions earlier this year.”

The item began with an introduction (from 00:54 here) from presenter Julian Marshall. [emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]

Marshall: “But we begin in the Middle East where the UN agency known as UNRWA which provides services to about 5 million Palestinian refugees now faces a funding crisis as a result of American cuts. In January this year the United States, which provides around a quarter of UNRWA’s budget, announced that it would be cutting its contribution to 60 million from 350 million. This is what President Trump said at the time at the Davos Economic Forum.”

Recording Trump: “When they disrespected us a week ago by not allowing our great vice-president to see them and we give them hundreds of millions of dollars in aid and support; tremendous numbers – numbers that nobody understands. That money’s on the table. That money’s not going to them unless they sit down and negotiate peace.”

Marshall: “And this week it was being reported that the United States had decided to cut funding to UNRWA altogether as the Trump administration announced it would also be ending the $200 million a year it gives to the Palestinian Authority. Well this squeeze on the Palestinians seems to be part of a broader strategy by the United States to try to shape any future peace settlement between Israel and the Palestinians. Washington has already relocated its embassy in Israel to Jerusalem while America’s UN ambassador Nikki Haley told a conference in the US this week that the right of Palestinians to return to Israel should be reviewed. Let’s speak first to the BBC’s Yolande Knell in Jerusalem. And Yolande; how is the money dispersed by UNRWA spent?”

[02:41] Knell: “Well it provides a lot of services to the 5 million people who are registered as refugees – Palestinian refugees – all around the Middle East. It provides to them schooling; there are 711 UNRWA schools, 526,000 pupils, just to give you a sense of the scale. It also provides healthcare, clinics in many of the refugee camps…ahm…places like Gaza, people really rely on those. There are 8 refugee camps in Gaza. Many of the 1.3 million refugees there also receive food aid from UNRWA.”

Marshall: “And the money that the United States gives bilaterally to the Palestinian Authority – do we know how that’s spent?”

Knell apparently does not know “how that’s spent” because she failed to answer that question and quickly changed the subject back to UNRWA.

Knell: “We’re not given a complete breakdown on how the funds are spent but we know that really since the beginning of the year there’s been this huge budget deficit for UNRWA and the announcement that came through just a couple of weeks ago is that it had received about $238 million in additional contributions. It’s been running a campaign called ‘Dignity is Priceless’. It’s had a lot of pledges from Arab states in particular. At the moment the agency is still short of 200 million it says but it was in doubt about whether the UNRWA schools which operate around the Middle East would be able to open for the start of the new term but yesterday and in the coming days we’re seeing those schools opening again. But UNRWA’s saying that it would be forced to close them again in a month if it doesn’t find additional new funding.”

Marshall: “Yolande, many thanks. The BBC’s Yolande Knell in Jerusalem.

As has been documented here, the BBC has lent its weight to that UNRWA funding campaign in recent months – for example:

BBC’s Yolande Knell amplifies UNRWA’s PR campaign

BBC WS facilitates UNRWA PR yet again – part one

BBC WS facilitates UNRWA PR yet again – part two

Unbalanced promotion of UNRWA PR on BBC World Service radio

As has also been documented here, since the story concerning US donations to UNRWA broke in January, none of the BBC’s related reports have provided its audience with any in-depth examination of the agency’s purpose, its agenda, its record or its efficiency.

BBC audiences have been told countless times that there are over 5 million Palestinian refugees – but not why their number has increased rather than fallen during the last 70 years or why in all that time they have not been integrated in host Arab countries.  

BBC audiences have likewise been repeatedly informed that UNRWA provides education and health services to Palestinian refugees but they have not been told why people who live under the rule of fellow Palestinians in the Gaza Strip or the PA controlled areas do not get those services from the governments to which they pay taxes or why, 70 years on, there are still ‘refugee camps’ in those locations.

As we see above, neither Julian Marshall nor Yolande Knell made any attempt in this item to enhance their listeners’ understanding of this story beyond UNRWA’s talking points.

In part two of this post we will see whether or not Julian Marshall posed the Jordanian foreign minister any questions which would help enhance audience understanding of the fact that the majority of just over 2 million people registered as Palestinian refugees who live in Jordan hold Jordanian citizenship and yet still get services from the UN agency.

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BBC News reporting on US aid cut to UNRWA – part two

BBC News report on US aid cut excludes relevant context

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BBC News reporting on US aid cut to UNRWA – part two

On September 1st the BBC News website replaced its original report on the topic of the US administration’s decision to cut funding to UNRWA (discussed here) with an article titled “Palestinians brand US aid cut to UN group ‘a flagrant assault’“.

As may be expected given that choice of headline, 16.3% of the report’s word count was given over to criticism of the US decision from various Palestinian factions, including the PLO (together with a link) and the Hamas terror group. An additional 48 words were used to describe Palestinian denunciation of previous unrelated US Administration decisions. A further 13.7% of the report’s word count was devoted to amplification of statements from UNRWA’s spokesman Chris Gunness, meaning that in all, 30% of the article was devoted to informing BBC audiences of condemnations of the US move.

Readers were told that:

“The US has been the largest single donor to Unrwa, providing $368m (£284m) in 2016 and funding almost 30% of its operations in the region.

But in January, the administration of President Donald Trump withheld more than half of its planned funding to Unrwa, saying it would keep back $65m unless the body carried out “reforms”.”

The BBC chose not to explore the question of why, given that warning, no reforms were made to UNRWA during the last eight months or whether other countries stepped forward with increased contributions as the US suggested in January.

Portrayal of the US announcement itself included a link to the US State Department’s statement.

The state department said the US had shouldered a “very disproportionate share of the burden of Unrwa’s costs”, and that the international community should contribute more.

It has also said it is unhappy that Unrwa has kept expanding the number of people eligible for assistance, and says its business model is “simply unsustainable and has been in crisis mode for many years”.

This links to a wider disagreement over which Palestinians are refugees with a right to return to the homes they fled following the 1948 Arab-Israeli war.

The UN says there are about five million Palestinian refugees, including the descendants of people who fled the 1948 war.

However, the US and Israel disagree with how this number is calculated, and say the number of Palestinian refugees should be much smaller.”

Once again the BBC failed to provide its audiences with a factual view of the background to this story that includes UNRWA’s gradual expansion of the term ‘refugee’ to include people who do not meet that description under its original mandate – as well as millions of people with Jordanian or Palestinian citizenship – and its failure to promote resettlement of refugees.  

Readers were not told that UNRWA employs 30,000 members of staff to take care of 5.3 million registered clients while the UNHCR has fewer than 11,000 staff dealing with 17.2 million refugees in 130 countries and they were not given an explanation as to why refugee camps still exist in areas long under the control of either the Palestinian Authority or Hamas. 

Perhaps most importantly, BBC audiences were not told that UNRWA’s seventy-year perpetuation and exacerbation of the Palestinian refugee issue does nothing to contribute to the prospects of the peaceful solution to the conflict supposedly backed by most Western nations – including the UK – as Einat Wilf explains:

“Why does this matter for peace? Because if millions of Arabs who are citizens of Jordan and the Palestinian Authority, or inhabitants of Syria and Lebanon, claim to be refugees from what is today Israel, even though they were never born there and never lived there, and demand that as a result of this refugee status they be given the right to relocate to Israel (‘the right of return’), then the whole basis for peace by means of two states for two people crumbles. If Israel with its 6 million Jews and more than 1.5 million Arabs has to absorb between 5 and 8 million Palestinians then the Jews will be relegated again to living as a minority among those who do not view them as equals; the only country in which the Jews are a majority and can exercise their right to self-determination would be no more.”

Since this story first emerged in January the BBC has had ample time in which to provide its audiences with the full range of information essential for its understanding. Instead, BBC audiences have seen repeated promotion of UNRWA campaigning and have been given a portrayal of the issue which overall is unbalanced and severely lacking in essential information.

Related Articles:

BBC News reporting on US aid cut to UNRWA – part one

BBC WS listeners get a homogeneous view of US aid to Palestinians – part one

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BBC News report on UNRWA funding story omits relevant background

BBC WS Newsday coverage of UNRWA aid story – part one

BBC WS Newsday coverage of UNRWA aid story – part two

Falsehoods go uncontested on BBC World Service – part one

Falsehoods go uncontested on BBC World Service – part two

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BBC’s Yolande Knell amplifies UNRWA’s PR campaign

BBC WS facilitates UNRWA PR yet again – part one

BBC WS facilitates UNRWA PR yet again – part two

Unbalanced promotion of UNRWA PR on BBC World Service radio

 

 

BBC News reporting on US aid cut to UNRWA – part one

Earlier this year BBC audiences saw quite a lot of reporting on the topic of US aid donations to the Palestinians in general and via UNRWA in particular – for example:

BBC WS listeners get a homogeneous view of US aid to Palestinians – part one

BBC WS listeners get a homogeneous view of US aid to Palestinians – part two

BBC News report on UNRWA funding story omits relevant background

BBC WS Newsday coverage of UNRWA aid story – part one

BBC WS Newsday coverage of UNRWA aid story – part two

Falsehoods go uncontested on BBC World Service – part one

Falsehoods go uncontested on BBC World Service – part two

Three BBC articles on US aid promote an irrelevant false comparison

BBC’s Yolande Knell amplifies UNRWA’s PR campaign

BBC WS facilitates UNRWA PR yet again – part one

BBC WS facilitates UNRWA PR yet again – part two

Unbalanced promotion of UNRWA PR on BBC World Service radio

That generous, if mostly imbalanced, coverage was hallmarked by the repeated failure to provide BBC audiences with information concerning the multiple issues that have made UNRWA so controversial or any in-depth examination of the agency’s purpose, its record or its efficiency. Significantly, BBC audiences were not provided with an explanation of why – in contrast to the UN agency which takes care of all other refugees – UNRWA does not have an active program for “local integration” of refugees where they now reside – even if they live in Palestinian controlled areas – or “resettlement” in third countries.

Those crucial omissions were evident again in a report originally published on the BBC News website’s main homepage as well as its ‘World’, ‘US and Canada’ and ‘Middle East’ pages on August 31st under the headline “US ends aid to Palestinian refugee agency Unrwa“.

The article opened with a three sentence description of the story:

“The United States is ending all funding for the UN’s Palestinian refugee agency, the US State Department says.

It described the organisation, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (Unrwa), as “irredeemably flawed”.

The US administration has “carefully reviewed” the issue and “will not make additional contributions to Unrwa,” spokeswoman Heather Nauert said.”

Readers then found three paragraphs of Palestinian Authority condemnation of the decision followed by two paragraphs and a screenshot amplifying comment from UNRWA’s spokesperson.

“A spokesman for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas later said the move was an “assault” against his people.

“Such a punishment will not succeed to change the fact that the United States no longer has a role in the region and that it is not a part of the solution,” Nabil Abu Rudeina told Reuters news agency.

He added that the decision was “a defiance of UN resolutions”.

A spokesman for Unrwa, Chris Gunness, defended the agency in a series of tweets.

“We reject in the strongest possible terms the criticism that Unrwa’s schools, health centres, and emergency assistance programs are ‘irredeemably flawed’,” he wrote.”

The report continued under the sub-heading “What is Unrwa?”.

“Unrwa was originally set up to take care of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians displaced by the 1948 Arab-Israeli war.

The agency says it currently supports more than five million Palestinians in Gaza, the West Bank, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon, including providing health care, education and social services.”

The BBC’s article went on to supposedly explain the background to the US decision under the sub-heading “Why is the US critical of Unrwa?”.

“The US disagrees with Unrwa, and Palestinian officials, on a number of issues. […]

The US and Israel also disagree with Unrwa on which Palestinians are refugees with a right to return to the homes they fled following the 1948 war.

Nikki Haley, the US ambassador to the UN, said earlier this week that Unrwa exaggerated the number of Palestinian refugees, and needed to reform.

“You’re looking at the fact that, yes, there’s an endless number of refugees that continue to get assistance, but more importantly, the Palestinians continue to bash America,” she said.

The state department says the US is contributing a “very disproportionate share of the burden of Unrwa’s costs”.

It complains of a business model and fiscal practices, linked to an “exponentially expanding community of entitled beneficiaries”, which is “unsustainable and has been in crisis mode for many years”.”

Interestingly, the BBC chose not to report that the US State Department statement also included the following:

“We are very mindful of and deeply concerned regarding the impact upon innocent Palestinians, especially school children, of the failure of UNRWA and key members of the regional and international donor community to reform and reset the UNRWA way of doing business. These children are part of the future of the Middle East. Palestinians, wherever they live, deserve better than an endlessly crisis-driven service provision model. They deserve to be able to plan for the future.

Accordingly, the United States will intensify dialogue with the United Nations, host governments, and international stakeholders about new models and new approaches, which may include direct bilateral assistance from the United States and other partners, that can provide today’s Palestinian children with a more durable and dependable path towards a brighter tomorrow.”

Once again BBC audiences did not see an explanation of the changes to UNRWA’s mission over the years which have created the situation in which the number of people registered as refugees has grown rather than diminished in 70 years.

“In 1950, its first director told the General Assembly that the “agency has decided that a refugee is a needy person, who, as a result of the war in Palestine, has lost his home and his means of livelihood.” His definition made no reference to descendants.

Not until 1965, fifteen years after its creation, did an UNRWA commissioner-general decide, against objections from the United States government, to create “an extension of eligibility, subject to need, to the third generation of refugees (that is, to children of persons who were themselves born after 14 May 1948).” […]

In 1982, or thirty-two years after its creation, UNRWA took another step forward by extending eligibility to all generations of descendants. It did so by obtaining a General Assembly resolution instructing UNRWA “to issue identification cards to all Palestine refugees and their descendants” without any limitation on how many generations of descendancy this practice would continue. […]

UNRWA went still further in 1992 by adding a provision that those descendants of Palestine refugee males who “are eligible to register for UNRWA services” and are registered with UNRWA, should be “referred to as Registered Refugees or as Registered Palestine Refugees though they do not meet UNRWA’s own standard of having lived in Palestine prior to May 1948.””

Neither did readers get any information concerning the relevant topic of the Arab League’s politically motivated refusal to integrate Palestinian refugees in countries such as Lebanon, Syria and Egypt or the UN’s abandonment of that target.

“In November 1951, UNRWA’s second director, John Blandford, Jr., proposed a three-year, $200 million program to reintegrate 150,000-200,000 refugees into their Arab host countries. Blandford’s plan was endorsed by U.N. General Assembly resolution 513 of January 26, 1952, which tasked UNRWA “to explore with the governments … their assuming administration of reintegration projects at the earliest possible date.”  Seven years later, the concept was reaffirmed by U.N. secretary-general Dag Hammarskjöld, who called for the “reintegration” of refugees “into the economic life of the area.”

For its part, Washington was a foremost advocate of the reintegration program as evidenced by various State Department plans and proposals, including those in May 1949, May 1953, July 1957, March 1959, and June 1960. To this must be added the 1954 Anglo-American Alpha Plan, a plan proposed by Secretary of State John Foster Dulles as well as a bold initiative by Secretary of State Christian Herter and approved by President Dwight Eisenhower in June 1960.

But since 1960, successive administrations have ignored or forgotten the reintegration idea, and U.S. allocations of funds to UNRWA have been devoted to maintaining the few surviving refugees and their much more numerous descendents in unsettled conditions, turning them into a growing source of conflict. […]

And so UNRWA abandoned its original mission of relief extension and conflict resolution, evolving into an agency for the perpetuation of unsettled claims against Jerusalem for millions of persons born in the years after the founding of Israel in 1948.”

Likewise, the BBC did not attempt to explain to its audiences why some 2 million people who hold Jordanian citizenship are still defined as ‘refugees’ by UNRWA or why a similar number of people who live in areas under the control of either the Palestinian Authority or Hamas also continue to hold that status.

Readers of this report did however see a further six paragraphs of Palestinian messaging under the sub-heading “What does the Palestinian side say?” including uncritical amplification of statements from a person inaccurately described as “the Palestinian ambassador to Washington”.

“On Friday, the Palestinian ambassador to Washington, Hossam Zomlot, accused the US of “endorsing the most extreme Israeli narrative on all issues including the rights of more than five million Palestinian refugees”.

The US “is damaging not only an already volatile situation but the prospects for future peace”, he told AFP.”

With the BBC once again having failed to provide its audiences with the full range of information necessary for understanding of this story, readers would of course be unable to objectively assess Zomlot’s claims regarding the UN agency’s highly debatable role in contributing to “the prospects for future peace”.  

On September 1st that report was replaced by a subsequent one which will be discussed in part two of this post.

Serialised propaganda, omission and inaccuracy on BBC R4’s ‘Book of the Week’

The BBC Radio 4 programme ‘Book of the Week’ is described as:

“Serialised book readings, featuring works of non-fiction, biography, autobiography, travel, diaries, essays, humour and history”

Last week’s five episodes featured a book titled “Where the Line is Drawn” by Raja Shehadeh.

Episode One – July 23rd:

“Raja Shehadeh is an award winning Palestinian writer, lawyer, and founder of the human right’s [sic] organisation, Al Haq. In Where the Line is Drawn he reflects on his forty year friendship with Henry, a Jewish Israeli. As idealistic young men when they first meet in 1977, they connect over shared interests in literature, writing and walking. As the years pass, their friendship is challenged by history, politics, enmity and violence, but it also points the way to a common future. Raja Shehadeh’s books include Occupation Diaries; Language of War, Language of Peace and Palestinian Walks which won the 2008 Orwell Prize. He has contributed to The New York Times, The Guardian and Granta.”

Episode Two – July 24th:

“Raja Shehadeh, the award winning Palestinian writer, lawyer, and founder of the human rights organisation, Al Haq, visits Jaffa, the city from which his father was exiled during the Nakba in 1948 when 750,000 were forced from their homes with the end of the British Mandate and the creation of Israel. It’s now 1978 and he is staying with Jewish friends who moved into one of the old Arab houses in Jaffa. He is curious about their choice of home.”

Episode Three – July 25th:

“Raja Shehadeh, the award winning Palestinian writer, lawyer, and founder of the human rights organisation, Al Haq recollects a humiliating experience on his way home to Ramallah.”

Episode Four – July 26th:

“Raja Shehadeh, the award winning Palestinian writer, lawyer, and founder of the human rights organisation, Al Haq, remembers a terrifying night time drive. Meanwhile, tense times lie ahead for Raja and Henry as the new millennium dawns.”

Episode Five – July 27th:

“Raja Shehadeh, the award winning Palestinian writer, lawyer, and founder of the human rights organisation, Al Haq receives shocking news and he comes to a new understanding about the value of his friendship with Henry. He also reflects on the controversial killing of a young Palestinian attacker by a teenage Israeli soldier who was later jailed for manslaughter.”

Although the NGO ‘Al Haq’ is mentioned in each and every one of those five synopses, BBC Radio 4 audiences were given no information about the political agenda of that so-called “human rights organisation” or its alleged ties to a terror group.

Despite the frequent references to “illegal occupation” and “occupied territories”, no proper historic context was provided to listeners throughout the entire series. In episode one listeners were told that “Israelis…in 1967 had taken the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, from Jordan” without any mention of the fact that Jordan illegally occupied those areas for 19 years.

Listeners to episode one heard a partisan description of the circumstances in which Palestinians including Shehadeh’s father – also a lawyer – left their homes which left them with the inaccurate impression that they were universally “forced out”.

“In 1948 during the Nakba, where around 750,000 Palestinians were forced out of their homes with the establishment of Israel, he lost his practice, his home, and all his properties. And he had to start all over again in Ramallah.”

In episode two listeners heard a reference to Jaffa as “my father’s city from which he was exiled” and were again told that in 1948:

“…with the end of the British Mandate and the establishment of Israel, around 750,000 Palestinians were forced out of their homes. The Palestinians who managed to stay were placed in the Ajami quarter surrounded by barbed wire. It was like a ghetto.”

Listeners also heard that in 1967 “I drove with my parents to visit the city they had been forced to leave 19 years earlier.”

Notably, when Raja Shehadeh appeared on BBC Radio 4’s ‘Desert Island Discs’ in 2014, he told a rather different version of that story: a version in which his parents were not “forced to leave” Jaffa but decided to relocate to their second home.

“Jaffa it’s very hot and humid in the summer and so they had a summer-house in Ramallah. When hostilities began they decided it’s safer in Ramallah because it was getting rather dangerous actually – physically dangerous – so they decided, towards the end of April, to take that short drive down to Ramallah – short drive from Jaffa – and my father always thought that if the worst happens – that is the partition – Jaffa was going to be on the Arab side so they will always be able to go back. And they took very few things with them and they were never able to go back.”

Throughout the five episodes listeners heard Israelis described as “settlers” (regardless of their place of residence in Israel) and “colonisers”. Notably, all the Israeli voices in the dramatisation were done in a bizarre quasi-American accent – regardless of where they were born – which implied that they were ‘foreigners’. In episode two listeners heard the story of Shehadeh’s visit to a plant nursery in which he asked how the owner – described as a woman from Canada – “could establish her nursery on land expropriated from villagers who were now forced to live in crowded refugee camps with no land to cultivate for themselves” and accused her of ‘exploiting’ the land.

Listeners also heard a context-free account of the beginning of the second Intifada – described as “futile” rather than wrong – and justification of terrorism:

“Israel was fighting for the retention of this land. We were fighting to end the occupation in accordance with international law which gave us the right to resist.” [episode three]

“…the human and political issues that led these young men to brutally kill themselves, and others, in despair.”

In episode three listeners were told that Shehadeh’s father had been “murdered…by a collaborator working for Israel” even though it was later admitted that “no-one was ever charged”.

In episode five listeners heard the wave of Palestinian terrorism which began in the autumn of 2015 described thus:

“This uprising was different. There was no unified leadership guiding these young men and women. They had no political platform or concrete demands. They simply improvised ways of resisting. Some of these were non-violent, others violent involving the stabbing of not only soldiers but also innocent Israelis. The Israeli government responded with violence, defining all resistance as terrorism.”

Also in episode five listeners heard a long section relating to an incident in Hebron in March 2016 which was inaccurately portrayed as having begun when:

“Abdul Fattah al Sharif, 21, from the occupied old city of Hebron lay on the ground shot after he allegedly tried to stab an Israeli soldier.” [emphasis added]

As the BBC’s own reports on that incident show, the words “allegedly” and “tried to” are completely superfluous and materially misleading.

“Sharif and another 21-year-old Palestinian, Ramzi Aziz al-Qasrawi, had stabbed and wounded an Israeli soldier before troops opened fire on them, wounding Sharif and killing Qasrawi.”

There is of course much more on which to comment in these 75 minutes of entirely one-sided stories which completely erase Palestinian agency and responsibility and prompted Sunday Times journalist Rod Liddle to write to the BBC.

“A nice man called Andrew in the BBC Press Office is kind enough to send me a list of stuff the corporation is doing each week. […]

I have never replied to Andrew’s email, but I did last week because I had been listening to the book that Radio 4 was serialising. Here’s what I wrote:

Dear Andrew,

Many thanks for your weekly bulletins about what the BBC is up to. I wonder if you could answer my inquiry below, or pass it on to someone who can.

Here’s the thing. I am hugely enjoying the serialisation on Radio 4 of the Palestinian writer Raja Shehadeh’s entertaining book, How My People Were Robbed, Murdered and Crushed by the Vile Occupying Fascist Israeli State. I may have got the title slightly wrong, for which apologies. I was wondering if the BBC intended, at any point, to serialise a book that might give a contrary point of view on this disputatious issue — perhaps by an Israeli?

All the best,
Rod

I got a friendly acknowledgment from Andrew — and later a two-line reply from the BBC, stating that the corporation’s coverage is impartial. Mr Shehadeh has spent most of his life railing against Israel and Jews, while claiming to be a moderate. And his book is serialised by Radio 4. Of course, it will not serialise a book by an Israeli to provide the political balance that the corporation is duty bound to strive for (even if, frankly, it doesn’t strive terribly hard).”

That just about sums it up.

Related Articles:

Desert Island distortions on BBC Radio 4

BBC’s ‘Hardtalk’ mainstreams anti-Israel delegitimisation

 

 

Unbalanced promotion of UNRWA PR on BBC World Service radio

Both before and after the US administration announced on January 16th that it would be withholding part of its donation to the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) the BBC produced numerous reports on that story (see some in ‘related articles’ below), many of which included promotion of the UN agency’s PR messaging.

However, none of those reports provided the BBC’s funding public with background information concerning the multiple issues that have made UNRWA so controversial or any in-depth examination of the agency’s purpose, its agenda, its record or its efficiency.

On June 13th the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour‘ returned to that topic with a report by BBC North America’s New York and UN reporter Nada Tawfik that made absolutely no effort to provide listeners with a balanced view of the story and was in fact little more than an exercise in free PR for UNRWA and its spin-off non-profit organisation.

Presenter James Menendez began (from 38:10 here) with context-free presentation of a biased UN GA resolution – proposed by Algeria and Turkey – that made no mention of Hamas terrorism. He continued with an equally partisan portrayal of the violent rioting and attacks on the Gaza border since March 30th, failing to inform listeners that over 80% of those killed have been linked to terror groups.

Menendez then promoted the inaccurate claim that Gaza’s chronic electricity problems are the result of “years of conflict” when in fact – as the BBC well knows – they are entirely rooted in inter-factional Palestinian rivalries. [emphasis in italics in the original]

Menedez: “Now the UN General Assembly is expected to hold an emergency meeting on the situation in Gaza later today and vote on a resolution calling for better protection for the 2 million Palestinians who live there. That’s after last month’s clashes with Israeli forces which left a hundred people dead and many more injured. Years of conflict have left Gaza in ruins. Infrastructure’s crumbling, the economy’s paralysed and basic supplies such as electricity are in crisis. Despite this the United States has cut off vital funding to the UN’s agency for Palestinian refugees: UNRWA. But as Nada Tawfik reports, across the US American citizens are now filling the void.”

Listeners then heard a recording from an event that took place on June 5th in New York – which Tawfik apparently attended – in which once again the topic of electricity was raised without BBC audiences being given any factual background information on that issue.  

Woman’s voice: “The lights go out like this all the time. Electricity is scarce here. Many times we eat in complete darkness just like we’re doing right now.”

Tawfik: “To imagine the life of Palestinian refugees in Gaza the lights are turned down and just one lantern shines at Casa la Femme restaurant in New York. In the dim room those picked out from the crowd of 200 read out powerful accounts from refugees.”

Woman’s voice: “My husband, our two small children and I live in one room together. The bathroom serves as the toilet, the shower, the sink for bathing, cleaning and even cooking.”

Tawfik: “This iftar, or meal, is just one of 50 dinners being held across the country by the charity UNRWA-USA during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan to feed refugee families in Gaza. And it comes at a critical time; just as a key life-line for these refugees is under threat.”

Man’s voice: “We could run out of money for that food in Gaza in one month.”

Tawfik: “Peter Mulrean is the New York director of UNRWA – the UN’s relief and works agency for Palestinian refugees. It provides critical services such as food, health care and education. He says the agency now faces an existential crisis after the United States – its top donor – suddenly withheld $300 million in funds. I asked if he was concerned that this decision by the Trump administration was politically motivated.”

Notably, Tawfik’s presentation of the figure $300 million is based on what the UN claimed it was expecting the US contribution to be rather than the sum actually withheld.

Listeners then heard Peter Mulrean – a representative of a blatantly politicised campaigning UN agency – opine on “neutrality”.

Mulrean: “We’re very concerned about the fact that that appears to be the case. One of the clear humanitarian principles is the question of neutrality: that you base your decisions on humanitarian assistance solely on the need of those who are out there. And if that’s not the case, then this is a terrible precedent that the US is setting. A country that used to be one of the leaders of humanitarian policy turning in a different direction.”

Tawfik: “That was also a worry of many others in attendance such as Abigail Metzger and Megan Burn [phonetic] who do not agree with their government’s decision.”

Tawfik did not clarify whether or not the Abigail Metzger whose opinions she chose to promote is the Pax Christi member of the same name.

Woman 1: “It is just unbelievable that our government would…would even think to renege on a commitment. I feel like we have been, you know, told that we have to make a choice and we don’t have to make a choice. We can support the Palestinian struggle without abandoning our alliance and full support of Israel.”

Woman 2: “Especially in the current political climate people get very ensconced in their own biases and sort of forget to think about the day-to-day lives of human beings.”

Woman’s voice: “Just $150 can feed a refugee family of six for an entire summer.”

Tawfik: “This one iftar will raise $50,000 for UNRWA’s food assistance programme and a global fundraising campaign has brought in new funding. Still, it’s unlikely that the agency will be able to overcome its current deficit without the United States. In the long term though, UNRWA hopes these events and crowdfunding will help field financial and public support and that’s something Abby Smardon who is the executive director of the charity UNRWA-USA says she’s already seeing.”

Listeners heard nothing of that UNRWA spin-off charity’s political agenda (and record) before Smardon was given the unchallenged stage.

Smardon: “Now with things like social media and having the ability to actually see the situation in real time with a more unfiltered view, people are starting across the United States to see this issue very differently than they once did and they’re starting to understand that Palestine and support of Palestinian refugees is a social justice issue and so I can tell you that, you know, countless new supporters that we have that have no personal connection to the issue of Palestine or Palestinian refugees but they care about social justice and they care about human rights.”

Having carefully avoided inconvenient topics such as Hamas and its terrorism all the way through her report, Tawfik closed the item by erasing the Gaza blockade imposed by Egypt because of that terrorism from audience view. 

Tawfik: “The people of Gaza have endured multiple conflicts and an eleven-year blockade by Israel. The risk is that the US decision will only add to their misery.”

To be honest, it is difficult to imagine how this report could be more unhelpful to BBC audiences trying to understand either the situation in the Gaza Strip, the reasons behind the US decision to withhold part of its voluntary funding of UNRWA or the role and record of UNRWA itself.

Obviously though, this blatantly one-sided and context-free item (which was repeated in the evening edition of ‘Newshour’ on the same day – from 39:44 here) was not intended to meet the BBC’s public purpose remit of enhancing audience understanding. Rather, it was just yet another blatantly transparent exercise in the provision of free PR to UNRWA.

Related Articles:

BBC WS listeners get a homogeneous view of US aid to Palestinians – part one

BBC WS listeners get a homogeneous view of US aid to Palestinians – part two

BBC News report on UNRWA funding story omits relevant background

BBC WS Newsday coverage of UNRWA aid story – part one

BBC WS Newsday coverage of UNRWA aid story – part two

Falsehoods go uncontested on BBC World Service – part one

Falsehoods go uncontested on BBC World Service – part two

BBC’s Yolande Knell amplifies UNRWA’s PR campaign

BBC WS facilitates UNRWA PR yet again – part one

BBC WS facilitates UNRWA PR again – part two

 

 

The BBC’s double helping ‘Nakba’ backgrounder

On May 15th the BBC News website published a backgrounder titled “Why Nakba is the Palestinians’ most sombre day, in 100 and 300 words“.

“Palestinians have been protesting at Gaza’s border with Israel in the lead up to the the [sic] most mournful day in their calendar. The date, which falls on 15 May each year, commemorates events which caused Palestinians to lose their homes and become refugees. They refer to it as al-Nakba, or the Catastrophe.

Here it is briefly explained, in both 100 words and 300 words.”

Why the BBC thought its audiences needed a double helping of explanations was not explained.

In the 100 word version BBC audiences were told that:

“On 14 May 1948, Israel declared independence, and in a war which began the next day, up to 750,000 Palestinians who had lived on that land fled or were expelled from their homes.”

The 300 word account described the same events thus:

“The Nakba stems from the Arab-Israeli war which began on 15 May, 1948 – the day after Israel declared independence when British control of the land, known as Mandate Palestine, was about to end.

Most of the Arabs who lived in the area which became Israel fled or were expelled by Israeli forces in the 1948-49 war, and hundreds of thousands were freshly displaced by Arab-Israeli fighting in the West Bank and Gaza Strip in June, 1967.”

As we see, according to both those accounts the displacement of Palestinians only began after Israel declared independence and the sole entity cited as being responsible for that displacement is “Israeli forces”.

Obviously both those accounts erase from audience view the fact that hostilities – and with them displacement of civilians – had in fact begun five and a half months earlier. The BBC’s portrayals make no mention of Arab rejection of the recommendations of the November 1947 UN Partition Plan, immediately after which Arab rioting ensued and Arab forces launched what the UN described at the time as “armed incursions” into what was then still Mandate Palestine.

In other words, the BBC has chosen to present Palestinians as totally passive victims, airbrushing the fact that their displacement came about after Arab leaders elected – at their own admittance – to launch hostilities.

“The UN blamed the Arabs for the violence. The UN Palestine Commission was never permitted by the Arabs or British to go to Palestine to implement the resolution. On February 16, 1948, the Commission reported to the Security Council:

‘Powerful Arab interests, both inside and outside Palestine, are defying the resolution of the General Assembly and are engaged in a deliberate effort to alter by force the settlement envisaged therein.’

The Arabs were blunt in taking responsibility for starting the war. Jamal Husseini told the Security Council on April 16, 1948:

‘The representative of the Jewish Agency told us yesterday that they were not the attackers, that the Arabs had begun the fighting. We did not deny this. We told the whole world that we were going to fight.’

The British commander of Jordan’s Arab Legion, John Bagot Glubb admitted:

‘Early in January, the first detachments of the Arab Liberation Army began to infiltrate into Palestine from Syria. Some came through Jordan and even through Amman . . . They were in reality to strike the first blow in the ruin of the Arabs of Palestine.'”

As our CAMERA colleague Gilead Ini has noted, the displacement of Palestinians did not take place – as the BBC would have its audiences believe – only after Israel declared independence on May 14th 1948. [emphasis added]

“Most broadly, the Arab flight can be divided into two time periods corresponding with the two major phases of fighting. Roughly half of those fleeing did so between November 1947 (when Palestinian Arabs responded to the United Nations partition recommendation with anti-Jewish violence) and May 1948 (when the armies of Egypt, Jordan, Syria, Iraq and Lebanon invaded Palestine). During this period, the conflict more closely resembled a civil war, with Palestinian Jews battling Palestinian Arabs and several thousand Arab militiamen. A second phase of the fighting and flight occurred after May 1948, when neighboring Arab armies initiated the conventional phase of the war by joining in the fighting on the side of the Palestinians.

Some commentators divide the Palestinian exodus into three or four somewhat shorter waves. One prominent example of the ‘four wave’ characterization refers to 1) the flight of the Palestinian elite between November 1947 and March 1948; 2) a flight coinciding with the shift by the Jewish Haganah militia from defensive to offensive operations in April 1948 and lasting until a truce in June of that year; 3) the period between July, when that truce expired, and October, when a second truce ended; and lastly, 4) the period from October through November 1948.”

Notably, the BBC’s account erased all mention of the part played by the Palestinian Arab leadership in the displacement. As Gilead Ini writes:

“The Palestinian leadership and elite set an example for the rest of society by evacuating their towns and villages early during the conflict, usually long before fighting neared their towns, and some even before the civil war began. (Or as commander of the Arab Legion John Bagot Glubb put it, “villages were frequently abandoned even before they were threatened by the progress of war.”) This behavior not only shattered the morale of the Palestinian masses, but also, in the words of historian Shabtai Teveth, “amounted to clear — albeit unwritten — instructions to flee Palestine.”

The British High Commissioner for Palestine at the time, General Sir Alan Cunningham, described this phenomenon and its effect on the general population:

‘You should know that the collapsing Arab morale in Palestine is in some measure due to the increasing tendency of those who should be leading them to leave the country. For instance in Jaffa the Mayor went on 4 days leave 12 days ago and has not returned, and half the National Committee has left. In Haifa the Arab members of the municipality left some time ago; the two leaders of the Arab Liberation Army left actually during the recent battle. Now the Chief Arab Magistrate has left. In all parts of the country the [elite] effendi class has been evacuating in large numbers over a considerable period and the tempo is increasing.’

Another British official, Palestine’s Chief Secretary Sir Henry Gurney, wrote that “It is pathetic to see how the [Jaffa] Arabs have been deserted by their leaders.”

After Haifa’s chief Arab magistrate abandoned that city, a British intelligence report described the act as “probably the greatest factor in the demoralization of Haifa’s community.””

The BBC’s accounts likewise erased the subject of Palestinian leaders’ instructions to flee.

“Palestinian leaders also explicitly instructed Palestinians to leave their homes. The Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, Haj Amin al Husseini, told a delegation of Haifa Arabs in January 1948 that they should “remove the women and children from the danger areas in order to reduce the number of casualties,” and continued to encourage evacuations in the months that followed. Indeed, just a few months later, when Haifa’s British, Jewish and Arab leadership were working to negotiate a truce, the Arab side, in line with the Mufti’s orders but to the great surprise of everyone involved, insisted on a complete evacuation of all Arab residents.

Similarly, the national Palestinian leadership (or “Arab Higher Committee”) published a pamphlet in March 1948 urging the evacuation of women, children and the elderly from areas affected by the fighting. The local Palestinian leadership (or “National Committee”) in Jerusalem heeded this call, ordering Jerusalem Arabs to evacuate these populations, and asserting that those who resisted doing so would be seen as “an obstacle to the Holy War” and as “hamper[ing]” the actions of the Arab fighters.

Jordan’s Arab Legion ordered women and children out of Beisan, a town near the Jordanian border and an anticipated point of invasion by the Legion.

In Tiberias, local Arab leaders chose to clear the town of its Arab residents, and did so with the help of the British authorities. In Jaffa, after the British forced Jewish militiamen to withdraw from the city, local Arab leaders organized the evacuation of the roughly 20,000 residents who hadn’t already fled during or before the fighting.

Similar scenes played out in dozens of Arab villages across the land.

Some villagers were not merely instructed to leave, but actually expelled by Arab militiamen from outside the country who feared local Arabs might ally themselves with the Jews, or who wanted to use the residents’ homes for lodging.”

In the 100 word version BBC audiences were told that:

“There are around five million Palestinians currently recognised as refugees by the UN. Most live in Jordan, followed by the Gaza Strip, West Bank, Syria, Lebanon and East Jerusalem.”

In the longer version the same topic was presented as follows:

“Today some five million Palestinians are registered by the UN as refugees. Most live in Jordan, followed by the Gaza Strip, West Bank, Syria, Lebanon, and East Jerusalem.

Almost a third live in refugee camps.”

In neither of the two versions were BBC audiences told why Palestinians still live in refugee camps, why they are kept in refugee status seven decades on rather than being resettled, or of the political background to their inherited refugee status.

While the shorter version stated that “[r]eturning to their former homes is a key Palestinian demand” (implying that those “former homes” actually still exist seven decades on), the longer version stated:

“The right of return is a key demand of Palestinians and their leaders. They base their claim on a United Nations General Assembly resolution, which was passed in 1948.

The resolution says “refugees wishing to return to their homes and live at peace with their neighbours should be permitted to do so at the earliest practicable date”.”

The BBC did not bother to explain to audiences that UN GA Resolution 194 is non-binding, that it does not specifically relate to Palestinian refugees (despite long-standing BBC claims to that effect) and that it does not – contrary to often heard assertions – grant any unconditional ‘right of return’. Neither does the BBC bother to inform readers of the fact that the Arab states voted against that UN GA resolution.

The longer version went on to state:

“Israel says it cannot allow five million refugees to return because this would overwhelm the country of 8.5 million and mean the end of its existence as a Jewish state.”

The shorter version made do with “but Israel says it would be overwhelmed”.

The fact that the intention of the Palestinian demand for ‘right of return’ is to bring about the end of the Jewish state – as Israelis rightly recognise – was not clarified to BBC audiences.

The BBC did not tell its audiences who wrote this backgrounder but whichever BBC journalist did so, it is blatantly obvious that he or she had no intention whatsoever of providing audiences with the full range of historical background and factual information which would enhance their understanding of the issue.

Instead, the BBC’s funding public got a double dose of promotion of a one-sided political narrative in which Palestinians are exclusively portrayed as totally passive victims and all mention of the responsibility of the Arab leaders who rejected the 1947 Partition Plan and subsequently started the war that led to their displacement is missing. 

 

Weekend long read

1) Jonathan Spyer discusses the outcome of the recent election in Lebanon.

“Lebanon’s May 6 elections have resulted in the further consolidation of Hezbollah and its associated movements within the legal frameworks of the state. The movement and its allies won over half of the seats in the 128-seat parliament. At the same time, the 2018 elections do not appear set to usher in any fundamental alterations to the status quo in Lebanon.
The majority achieved was not sufficient as a basis for constitutional change to alter the rules of the game related, for example, to the sectarian power-sharing agreements that underly Lebanese political life.

However, Hezbollah and Amal and co will have comfortably more than their own “blocking third” in parliament, sufficient to prevent any changes not to their liking.”

2) At the Washington Times, Tony Badran and Jonathan Schanzer write about the same topic.

“Less discussed, but not less important, is that Lebanon is a headquarters for other elements of Iran’s regional terrorist network. It’s a fact the Lebanese interior minister openly acknowledged two years ago when he described Lebanon as “a global terrorist and security operations room.” Lebanon is currently the base for senior Hamas operative Saleh Arouri, who runs terror operations in the West Bank, and other officials from the Palestinian terrorist group. […]

Once again, the government in Beirut did nothing to stop this. Nor did it do anything to oust some of the other terrorist groups that target the Gulf Arab states. The Ansar Allah group in Yemen, better known as the Houthis, reportedly have been receiving training in Lebanon since at least 2010 — a fact some Hezbollah members have acknowledged publicly. The Houthis also have an office in Beirut, as well a television channel, which broadcasts Hezbollah-style propaganda.

Iran-backed terrorists have used Lebanon as a base from which to target other Gulf states, like Kuwait and Bahrain. But it certainly doesn’t end there. Just ask the Moroccans, who just last week accused Hezbollah of smuggling arms to the Polisario Front, a violent separatist group in the Western Sahara.”

3) Palestinian Media Watch has published a compilation of testimonies from Palestinian refugees.

“A number of points are very significant. First, these testimonies – though personal stories – are also describing large-scale movements, such as the flight from major cities like Jaffa and Safed. Second, they describe general orders to leave by Arab leaders and armies, broadcast on Arab radio to the entire Arab population. Third, the testimonies are presented openly by refugees themselves and by public figures, including leaders, in the official PA media. All of this suggests that awareness of Arab responsibility for the refugee problem must be widespread among the Palestinian population itself – even though Palestinian leaders refuse to accept responsibility in international forums.”

4) At the Times of Israel, David Horovitz discusses the ‘original sin’ of the Iran nuclear deal.

“The P5+1’s failure to stop the ayatollahs dead in their would-be nuclear tracks is mirrored by the demonstrably lackadaisical approach of the International Atomic Energy Agency, the UN body charged with policing the deal. How it can allow itself to certify that Iran is complying with the accord when the terms of the deal do not allow it to carry out anytime-anywhere inspections of suspect sites is beyond comprehension. And its response to the Mossad’s astonishing haul of Iran’s own nuclear weapons documentation in the past few days simply beggars belief.

Imagine that your entire life’s work is dedicated to one acutely sensitive area of expertise, that you are constantly hampered by restricted access to your core research material, but that you are nonetheless the world authority in your field. Then imagine that someone else manages, through extraordinary enterprise and courage, to gain access to more core material, much more, than you could ever have imagined existed. And offers to make it available to you.

Would you a) express your profound gratitude and rush to pore over the new discoveries or b) dismiss the material, sight unseen, as irrelevant? No prizes for guessing which course of action the IAEA adopted hours after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu unveiled and began to detail Iran’s own nuclear weapons documentation, spirited out of Tehran from under the noses of the Islamic “We have never sought nuclear weapons” Republic.”

BBC News plays down Hamas role in Gaza violence – part one

A filmed report by the BBC’s Middle East editor Jeremy Bowen which was aired on BBC One’s ‘News at Ten’ and on the BBC News Channel on May 16th was also posted on the BBC News website under the headline “Gaza: The bullets stop, the burials go on“.

“More funerals have taken place for the Palestinians killed by Israeli troops in Gaza on Monday.

An emergency session of the UN Security Council has heard condemnation of both Israel and the militant group, Hamas.

Today marks the 70th anniversary of what Palestinians call the Catastrophe, when hundreds of thousands of people fled – or were expelled from their homes – when the state of Israel was established.

Our Middle East editor Jeremy Bowen sent this report from Gaza.”

Bowen – who appears to have actually filmed the report on May 15th – began by giving a context-free portrayal of the previous day’s events, which he described as “protests” despite their violent nature.

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

Bowen: “On the border the soundtrack was anti-Israel songs – not gunfire. 24 hours after the killing, the big protests have stopped but tyres were burning and Palestinians looked warily towards the Israeli positions. Enterprising traders brought refreshments.

So what’s next? The Israelis deal with the international political fall-out. The Palestinians have 60 dead. Politicians and diplomats abroad call for peace but real peace talks ended – failed –a long time ago and with the current generation of Palestinian and Israeli leaders, there is no chance of them being revived.”

Bowen refrained from clarifying to viewers that the ‘headline’ of the ‘Great Return March’ publicity stunt that led to those deaths is promotion of the so-called Palestinian ‘right of return’ – an expression of intent to eliminate the Jewish state, thus rejecting peace altogether. He went on:

Bowen: “The Israelis started firing tear-gas. The crowd by then – including many families – was getting too big and the young men were getting too close to the border wire. On the other side, the Israelis say they’re in the right.”

Viewers then heard from IDF Spokesman Jonathan Conricus.

Conricus: “We are not here looking to create casualties of Palestinians. That is not our aim. We are simply here to defend what is ours. We are defending our sovereignty, our civilians that live in close proximity, against an onslaught led by a terrorist organization that is using civilians in order to penetrate into Israel.”

Bowen next gave a context-free portrayal of the topic of Palestinian refugees – carefully avoiding inconvenient topics such as why generations of Palestinians have deliberately been kept in refugee camps and refugee status for seven decades by their leaders and the leaders of Arab countries. He inaccurately suggested that the flight of those who became refugees is attributable exclusively to Israel – carefully avoiding the subject of the Arab leaders who in many cases urged or ordered them to leave their homes.

Bowen: “Much of Gaza’s rage is born in places like Beach Camp [Shati – Ed.] – still a home for refugees 70 years after more than 700,000 Palestinians fled or were forced out of their homes by newly independent Israel. Palestinians call it Nakba – catastrophe. 70% of Palestinians in Gaza are refugees stuck fast in history.”

Failing to tell viewers about the leaflets warning Palestinians to stay away from the border that were distributed by the IDF on the morning of May 14th, Bowen went on:

Bowen: “At the al Farouk mosque, Yazen Tobasi’s funeral was much quieter than his death: shot through the eye during the protests. His body was wrapped in the Hamas flag. He was 23 and his friends were there to bury him. There were tender moments. Israel says it told them to stay away from the border and Hamas is responsible for what happened. His friend Mohammed al Birawi [phonetic] said Yazen worked at the hospital without pay because of Gaza’s collapsing economy.”

As research by the ITIC shows (see pages 47/48 here), Tobasi – who also had a Hamas Qassam Brigades headband tied around his head at his funeral – was also claimed by another terror group – the DFLP – as one of its members and said by that group to have been killed on May 11. Bowen continued: 

Bowen: “Poverty and grief breed anger. And so do the deaths of children. A family gathered for another funeral. It was for Layla al Ghandour who was eight months old.”

The day before this report was aired on BBC One and posted on the website, conflicting accounts of the baby’s death had already emerged with both a Gaza doctor and her father stating that she had a pre-existing medical condition. Nevertheless, the BBC did not edit out that part of Bowen’s report implying that the child’s death was linked to Israel’s response to the incidents along the border.

Bowen then found a disingenuous way to play down Hamas’ involvement in these incidents:

Bowen: “At Shifa, the main hospital, wounded men were being transferred to Egypt for surgery. Inside they were still treating casualties from the protest. This boy is 16. All day I’ve been asking Palestinians if Hamas forced them to risk their lives at the protests. No-one said yes. ‘I did it because Jerusalem is Palestinian’ said Wadi a Ras [phonetic] – unemployed, 24 years old.”

It is of course not claimed that Hamas has “forced” people to take part in the ‘Great Return March’ events. Hamas has, however, been involved in their organisation from the outset and has laid on transport and promised financial compensation to casualties and participants. Hamas leaders whipped up fervor prior to the May 14th events, urging participants to “bring a knife or a gun” and to use them “to capture soldiers or residents of Israel”.

What BBC audiences will remember though is that “no-one” told Jeremy Bowen that Hamas had sent them.

Viewers heard from a doctor at the Shifa hospital before the report ended:

Bowen: “This is the busiest time at the hospital since the 2014 war.

Sabbani: “As a human being I speak. It’s…it’s horrible to think about if you see yesterday the situation, it’s horrible. Crying, bleeding, pain, painful. What’s happening?

Bowen: “After the protests it seems that many people are hoping for some kind of turning point but the fundamentals of this conflict don’t change.”

The BBC’s Middle East editor’s job is to “make a complex story more comprehensive or comprehensible for the audience”. Obviously playing down Hamas’ role in the violence audiences saw on their TV screens on May 14th does not meet that purpose and – as we shall see in part two of this post – Bowen was not the only BBC journalist doing just that.

Related Articles:

BBC’s Middle East editor ‘explains’ Gaza violence

BBC Breakfast blames Israel for Gaza baby death