Aired on March 10th, the item was described in the programme’s synopsis as follows:
“Zeinab Badawi’s been to Jerusalem – and heard from carers and parents at a mixed pre-school where Palestinian and Jewish children grow up together and learn to talk out their differences.”
However the introduction (from 06:59 here) given by host Pascale Harter went beyond the topic of Badawi’s afternoon at the YMCA’s bilingual Peace pre-school, with listeners steered towards the facile and downright false view that the only obstacle to “peace in the Middle East” is the Arab-Israeli conflict. [emphasis in italics in the original]
Harter: “Peace in the Middle East is a dream which diplomats have struggled to make a reality for decades now. The question of how Israelis and Palestinians can best live together has tormented the world. With so much bitterness and suffering inherited from the past, how does one begin to sow the seeds for peace in the future? Even though it’s small, one initiative Zeinab Badawi visited recently in Jerusalem is not to be dismissed.”
In among her portrayal of the Jerusalem pre-school, Badawi also chose to give listeners a superficial portrayal of the topic of demographics.
Badawi: “Having a baby in Israel is strongly encouraged by the authorities. There are all sorts of tax incentives and other benefits for new mothers. And the more children you have, the more the benefits accrue.”
Indeed Israeli parents are eligible for tax credits and child allowances similar to some of those received by parents in the UK. Whether or not Zeinab Badawi believes that the British government also “strongly” encourages people to have children by means of such financial benefits is unclear but she does not appear to have considered the possibility that the governments of many countries similarly support their citizens’ life choices. She went on:
Badawi: “Fertility treatment like IVF is made easily available, even to same-sex couples.”
Israel does indeed lead the world in IVF treatment. Badawi however neglected to point out that the treatment – like the financial benefits – is of course available to all eligible Israeli citizens regardless of religion or ethnicity. She went on to present her main point:
Badawi: “The demographics of Israel and the occupied territories feed directly into the debate about the future. The Jewish population in these lands is about six and a half million, with an equivalent number of Palestinians.”
At the end of 2018 the population of Israel was made up of 6,668,000 Jews, 1,878,000 Arabs and 426,000 others. The most recent figures (2017) from the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics cite a population of 4,952,168 in the PA controlled areas and the Gaza Strip while the CIA Factbook suggests a lower figure. In other words, in order to present her portrayal of “equivalent” numbers of Jews and Palestinians in “these lands”, Badawi has added the entire Israeli Arab population to the Palestinian population, regardless of whether they identify as such or not.
Making no effort to explain the obviously relevant issue of the hereditary refugee status given to descendants of Palestinian refugees, Badawi went on:
Badawi: “If you add the Palestinian refugee population in neighbouring countries like Lebanon, Jordan and Syria then even by the lowest estimates the Israeli view is that any right of return for these people would pose a threat to Israel because Palestinians would far outnumber Jews. The birth rate is still high by global standards among both Jews and Palestinians here. In my afternoon at the Peace pre-school I spotted no fewer than four pregnant women.”
Notably, Badawi refrained from clarifying that the core aim of the demand for ‘right of return’ is to eliminate the Jewish state and that such a move would also eliminate the two-state solution that is supported by the international community.
And so, what BBC World Service radio audiences heard in Zeinab Badawi’s account of her brief visit to Jerusalem was in fact a context-free, simplistic and predictably jejune portrayal of a complex conflict which contributed nothing to audience understanding of the issue.