BBC WS radio tries to do Arab-Israeli conflict demographics

During her recent visit to Jerusalem the BBC’s Zeinab Badawi found time to produce a report for the BBC World Service radio edition of the programme ‘From Our Own Correspondent’.

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.

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More BBC multiplatform mainstreaming of an anti-Israel trope

Obviously not content with the previous amplification of propaganda rhetoric used by anti-Israel campaigners on BBC World Service radio last month, the BBC recently decided to promote business reporter Roger Hearing’s mainstreaming of the same ‘open air prison’ trope on several of its other platforms too.Hearing ice cream Gaza written

The June 18th edition of BBC Radio 4’s ‘From Our Own Correspondent’ includes a piece from Hearing introduced by presenter Kate Adie (from 22:27 here) as follows:

“It’s nearly a year now since Israeli forces launched air and ground attacks on Gaza in response – they said – to a series of rocket attacks launched from inside the Palestinian territory. More than two thousand people were killed in the conflict and many homes and business properties in Gaza were damaged or destroyed. Rebuilding started soon after a ceasefire was announced last August but progress has been slow. A blockade on the territory imposed by Israel has delayed the arrival of construction materials. Roger Hearing has been to see how one business has carried on despite the difficulties.” [emphasis added]

So, in addition to casting doubt on the reasons for the outbreak of hostilities on July 8th 2014 (almost a month of incessant attacks on civilians, with hundreds of missiles fired rather than “a series”), Adie also fails to distinguish between civilian and combatant casualties, refrains from noting Egypt’s closure of its border with the Gaza Strip and misleads audiences with the inaccurate claim that the slow pace of reconstruction in the Gaza Strip is because of Israeli restrictions on the import of dual use goods whilst making no effort to inform them of the terrorism which is the cause of those restrictions.

‘From Our Own Correspondent’ also has a BBC World Service radio version presented by Pascale Harter and Hearing’s report was featured in that programme’s June 20th edition too. Harter’s introduction to the item (from 17:55 here) was notably more accurate and impartial than the one heard by listeners to Radio 4.

“But right now, a glimpse of Gaza as you might not know it. It’s nearly a year since Israeli forces launched air and ground attacks there after weeks in which hundreds of rockets were fired into Israel from inside the Palestinian territory. More than two thousand people were killed in the conflict and many homes and business properties in Gaza were destroyed. It is a very difficult business environment but Roger Hearing finds one entrepreneur winning fame if not fortune.”

A written version of that audio report from Hearing was also promoted on the BBC News website’s Middle East and Magazine pages on June 21st and in addition that version of the report was translated into Arabic and promoted on the BBC Arabic website.

All four versions of the report include overly dramatic, context-free descriptions from Hearing.

“…despite the apocalyptic destruction in parts of the city from last year’s war, you do also see a lot of giggling, playing children among the ruins.”

All four versions also fail to inform audiences that, in addition to ice cream making equipment, the Rafah area smuggling tunnels have of course been used to import weapons into the Strip and that metal piping of assorted types is regularly used by terrorists to manufacture missiles.

“He proudly showed us the shiny Italian gelato machines installed in the back rooms of his cafe building. When he was trying to import them, it was hard to convince the Israelis apparently that there wasn’t some other, more threatening purpose for the tall chrome boxes with pipes and chutes and nozzles.

It’s likely at least some of the machines were hauled through the tunnels under the border with Egypt, until that smuggling operation was closed down a few months back. Now that’s a strange image: young men in pitch darkness, sweating to drag huge boxes through rickety holes in the sand, and all so that Gazans could eat fine ice cream.”

Whilst BBC audiences remain serially unaware of Hamas’ activities in Judea & Samaria and in Turkey, they do now at least know that Hamas officials in Gaza like ice cream.

“Very nice,” said Ghazi Hamed, the deputy foreign minister for Hamas. “Everyone here knows Kazem’s.”

All four of these reports conclude with the same canard promoted by Hearing a month earlier in one of his radio reports from the Gaza Strip.

“And I have to say – and this is one of the oddest things – from the decrepit heart of a half-destroyed city in a besieged and blockaded enclave, sometimes described as the biggest open air prison in the world, comes the best ice cream I have ever tasted.” [emphasis added]

The Gaza Strip is of course not “besieged” at all and those who inaccurately describe it as “the biggest open air prison in the world” do so out of clear political motivations. Thousands of people exit and enter the Gaza Strip every year – as anyone who follows the daily reports publicized by COGAT online and on social media will be aware.

But, electing to ignore the facts behind the deliberate misnomer which he has so vigorously promoted over the past few weeks, Roger Hearing continues to mainstream the baseless rhetoric of anti-Israel delegitimisation in a style more suited to the Hamas supporting Palestine Solidarity Campaign’s PR department than a media organization supposedly committed to accurate and impartial reporting. The BBC is undoubtedly capable of identifying the motives and agenda behind the promotion of the inaccurate notion of Gaza as an ‘open air prison’. The fact that it chooses to adopt, amplify and repeatedly mainstream such propaganda on multiple platforms tells audiences all they need to know about the BBC’s supposed ‘impartiality’.

Related Articles:

Mainstreaming anti-Israel rhetoric on the BBC World Service

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‘From Our Own Correspondent’ on Twitter

Roger Hearing on Twitter

BBC World Service contact & complaints

BBC Radio 4 contact

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BBC’s ‘From Our Own Correspondent’: Israeli airport security ‘Kafkaesque intimidation’ and ‘mind-games’

Let’s be honest; it doesn’t take much talent – journalistic or otherwise – to come up with a gratuitous overly dramatic scare story about Israel and one particularly easy option for those not inclined to put any degree of real effort into their Middle East reporting is the topic of airport security.

Just such a vacuous item was broadcast on March 19th in the BBC World Service edition of ‘From Our Own Correspondent’ – available here.  But Marijke Peters also ventures beyond the trite and shoddy into something bordering the world of self-centered paranoid conspiracy theory. And yet for some reason the BBC World Service considered Peters’ unqualified slurs and unsourced anecdotes worthy of broadcast to millions around the globe in a programme which purports to bring audiences “insight, wit and analysis”. FOOC airport 19 3

The item is introduced by presenter Pascal Harter.

PH: “Airport security – it’s a hassle, isn’t it, at the best of times. Did you remember your passport? Have you decanted your shampoo into a smaller bottle? Have you sealed that bottle in a see-through plastic bag? Now go back through, removing your shoes and your belt, and putting your dignity in a separate tray. Passing through security in Israel though is in another league altogether, says Marijke Peters.”

[all emphasis added]

MP: “Whether it’s excessive questioning or having your computer confiscated then sent off for checks, every foreigner living in the West Bank’s got a scare story about Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion airport. And then there are what I call the secret codes. They say the worst is a five; the first of a series of numbers stamped on a bar code stuck to your passport by a security guard that determines whether you spend the next few hours in duty-free or a dingy back room. Is the ‘one’ really for settlers? And should you actually consider the highest number – a six – a blessing in disguise because it means you’re seen as such a security risk you’ll be personally escorted onto the plane?

Requests made through the airport’s press office are an exercise in patience. My questions are met with more questions and I hang up with even less idea if there really is a system or if it’s all in my imagination. I try asking the people who hand the stickers out, pointing at the mathematical Pi symbol preceding the numbers, asking the woman if it’s specifically for journalists. She laughs; no it’s just a random sign the computer generates she says. It changes every month – doesn’t mean anything. I double-check, remembering I’ve had the same sign every time on recent trips. She walks off with my passport to ask her superior. I start to worry. A burly man in a suit walks towards me shaking his head, then assures me again the codes are all random and I shouldn’t read too much into them, suggesting perhaps now I’d like to stop holding up the other passengers. Of course all this insistence makes me even more suspicious.”

Peters goes on to make interesting – and inaccurate – use of the word ‘occasional’; defined as meaning “occurring or appearing at irregular or infrequent intervals”.  

“Israel’s notoriously strict on security and Ben Gurion is no exception. The ongoing threat of terrorism gives the country cause to take safety seriously. Occasional attacks by Palestinians are a reminder that violence is still a real concern. And yes; this is the Middle East where border controls are bad at the best of times. But here the intimidation is cranked up to a level that’s kind of Kafkaesque, which makes you wonder what it’s all about.

I’ve had my hair ruffled by a female guard – presumably to check I wasn’t hiding anything dangerous in it. Another ran her fingers inside the waistband of my underwear – just enough to make me uncomfortable without making me get naked. Because that happens too. One former colleague jokes he gets the marigold treatment every time he travels here – a reference to the yellow rubber gloves worn for strip searches. Plenty of people I know have had the crotch of their boxer shorts swabbed. Things go missing; a friend’s plastic Kindle case was sent on a separate flight. Jars of Marmite are regularly bomb-tested. Foreigners who work illegally in the West Bank on tourist visas memorise fake addresses in Israel, spending hours getting their story straight.”

The majority of BBC World Service listeners will of course be unaware that “foreigners who work illegally in the West Bank on tourist visas” are frequently connected to groups such as the ISM which have connections to terrorist organisations and of course Peters makes no attempt to enlighten listeners with that fact. She concludes:

“But occasionally you steel yourself for a grilling and are greeted with a smile instead – all that pre-flight anxiety proving totally pointless. And as you’re waved out with little more than a shrug you wonder how you managed to avoid the naughty corner this time. And while the experts devote hours to debating how the system works then devising cunning plans to cheat it, perhaps, we conclude, there’s no real point. Because whether you sail through in seconds or have every last bit of luggage pored over, you almost always make the plane.

The question’s really whether you’ll feel like coming back and running the risk of enduring what’s probably just one big mind-game all over again.”

Pascal Harter closes:

PH: “Marijke Peters – still wondering what those numbers really say about her.”

Well, Peters has already been repeatedly told that they mean nothing, but that hasn’t stopped the BBC from indulging and amplifying her puerile paranoid speculations and self-obsessed whining about a system aimed solely at saving lives (a topic which clearly interests her a lot less than the fate of her Marmite), all with the glaringly obvious aim of producing a self-serving instant item which plays to the gallery of prejudice and pre-conceived ideas. 

Listeners may have learned nothing from this item about security at Israel’s main airport, but they have certainly gained a lot of insight into the dubious editorial considerations at ‘From Our Own Correspondent’.  

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BBC headline promotes a lie

 

BBC’s ‘From Our Own Correspondent’ does fashionable post-colonial guilt

With the BBC’s commemoration of the World War One centenary well underway, it was not surprising to see that the March 6th edition of ‘From Our Own Correspondent’ – broadcast both on BBC Radio 4 and on the BBC World Service – included an item described in the Radio 4 version’s programme synopsis as follows:

“James Rodgers visits a World War 1 cemetery near Jerusalem and ponders how events there 100 years ago influenced the region and still do.” 

The item – which can be listened to here or as a podcast here from about 18:00 – was also featured in the World Service edition of the same programme on March 11th and can be heard here from around 04:43. In that abridged version it was presented under the title “Bearing Witness on the Middle East” and the synopsis reads: FOOC WS 11 3

“Near Jerusalem, James Rodgers has been researching the area’s war graves. As the world gears up to commemorate World War One in Europe, he argues that perhaps we would do better to cast our minds eastwards, and consider how that conflict continues to shape the Middle East.”

The Radio 4 version is introduced by Kate Adie.

“The Great War of 1914-18 may have been largely concentrated in France and Belgium and that’s the focus of most of the commemorations this year. But the largest theatre of war in terms of territory was in fact in the Middle East. It pitted the British and Russians among others against the forces of the Ottoman Empire, supported by the Central Powers – in other words the likes of Germany and Austria. But it also involved all sorts of others, including Kurds, Turkomans, Assyrians, Berbers, Arabs and Jews. James Rodgers, who’s been writing a book on the region, has been exploring some of the consequences of the fighting.”

The World Service version is introduced by Pascale Harter.

“Coming up: the graveyards in Jerusalem which bear witness to the way World War One shaped the Middle East.”

And:

“Across the Middle East, James Rodgers has been researching the First World War. It’s coming up to one hundred years since the outbreak of what was known then as the Great War. As people prepare for the centenary commemorations by focusing on the devastation it caused for Europe, James takes a walk through a part of the world where it’s still affecting events today.”

Listeners may therefore have quite reasonably concluded that the four minutes or so of former BBC journalist James Rodgers’ item would inform them about the British campaign in the Middle East nearly a hundred years ago. British cemetery Jerusalem

That, however, is not quite the case.

Yes – Rodgers begins with a description of the British war cemetery in Jerusalem and recounts his search for the graves of soldiers commemorated in his local church in London, but he soon goes off on a tangent and a sizeable proportion of his report is devoted to an event which took place twenty-eight years after the end of the First World War.

“I was pointed in the direction of the graves of some of the men from my local parish. They had been killed a few days before Christmas 1917 as British forces sought to consolidate their hold on Jerusalem. Their occupation of the Holy Land then was part of the process – the defeat and dismantling of the Ottoman Empire – which would see the Middle East divided by borders we largely recognize today.

British forces stayed in Jerusalem until 1948. Their commanders came to use the King David hotel – opened in the early 1930s – as their headquarters. This made the building a target for Jewish fighters seeking to drive them out of Palestine. In July 1946 bombers disguised as milkmen blew up the southern wing of the hotel, killing 91 people. Today the king David hosts presidents and prime ministers. Guests sitting in the lobby on my recent visit seemed casually dressed, but snatches of conversations and ubiquitous smartphones and tablet computers suggested they were doing big business.

I had come to learn more about the experience of my journalist counterparts in the late 1940s. Some of them had narrow escapes from the explosion. It was here, explained Maya Morav – the hotel’s PR manager – flicking on the lights to a basement room. Now it’s a hall for conferences and meetings. Then it had been a subterranean kitchen – the place where the bombers left the milk-churns they had packed with explosives. Less than two years later the British Mandate came to an end. British involvement in the Middle East, of course, did not.

When you are covering the Israel-Palestine conflict as a correspondent you need to have history at your fingertips – often more than one version of it. One of my earliest experiences in Gaza was being welcomed and then chastised by an elderly Palestinian refugee. Because I was British he saw me as bearing some of the blame for events of the previous century which had left his family in a shanty town in one of the most crowded parts of the world. Perhaps he had a point.

As events remembering the First World War gather pace in Europe, perhaps the real focus should be on the Middle East where decisions taken then helped to shape Jerusalem, Gaza, Israel, Syria and Iraq as they are today.”

What Rodgers hopes to achieve by urging BBC audiences to focus on geo-political events in the Middle East a century ago is not stated clearly in this report. What is apparent is some degree of fashionable ‘post-colonial guilt’ and an utter disregard for the all-important subject of context – as shown for example in Rodgers’ failure to note that his “elderly Palestinian refugee” actually came by that status as a result of the decision by Arab countries to invade the new Israeli state or his failure to mention the British policies which kept untold numbers of Jews from reaching safety in Palestine before, during and after the Second World War.

Some might consider that Rodgers’ suggestion that those commemorating World War One turn their attentions to the Middle East becomes a little less opaque when one notes that he is not averse to collaborating with the Hamas-supporting Palestine Solidarity Campaign and that the latter organization – in addition to producing its own highly inaccurate propaganda concerning Britain’s record in the region – also promotes and supports the ongoing campaign by the Hamas-linked ‘Palestinian Return Centre’ (and others) to get Britain to apologise for the Balfour Declaration.

A dollop of selective post-colonial guilt will surely oil the wheels of that politically motivated campaign.