Inaccuracy, omission and oddity in a BBC Radio Ulster item on Israel – part two

As we saw in part one of this post, the May 20th edition of the BBC Radio Ulster “religious and ethical news” programme ‘Sunday Sequence‘ included a long item (from 34:04 here and also aired on BBC Radio Foyle) supposedly about the state of the ‘peace process’ after the May 14th chapter of the ‘Great Return March’ publicity stunt on the border between the Gaza Strip and Israel.

“After a week of horror in Gaza, is the roadmap to peace now in complete ruins? Dr Julie Norman, Rev Gary Mason and Tom Clonan discuss how peace could somehow yet be found.”

After listeners had heard Tom Clonan’s inaccurate account of Operation Grapes of Wrath – and been led to believe that Israel was essentially to blame for the 9/11 terror attacks – and Julie Norman’s concealment of the fact that the overwhelming majority of those killed on May 14th were males in their twenties and thirties, presenter Roisin McAuley (once again exaggerating the significance of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict) asked guest Gary Mason:

[39:01] “Now, given that situation, Gary, intractability, the importance for all of us of finding a way out of this absolute morass, where do you begin?”

Mason’s response [from 39:13] included the predictable – yet invalid – claim that it is possible to use the Good Friday Agreement as a template for solving the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Picking up on Mason’s reference to “the role of civic society” in peacemaking, Julie Norman then inaccurately claimed that violent actions such as the ‘Great Return March’ or the rioting in Bili’in are grassroots peace initiatives.

[42:47] Norman: “…but what you see with the kind of protests at the border, what you see with weekly demonstrations against the separation barrier – these are activists and people who refuse to give in to that despair and who are trying to take some kind of action despite the odds and despite the limitations of the larger political reality…”  

Following some echo-chamber agreement between Mason and McAuley with regard to the US administration’s role in solving the conflict – and the claim that the opening of the US embassy in Jerusalem was “a real slap in the face to Palestinians” – the presenter continued:

[45:07] McAuley: “So Tom, who in your opinion can help then? If the US is not in a position to be seen as an honest broker, who is?”

Clonan: “I would strongly hope that the European Union would step up to the plate and begin to impose sanctions and trade embargoes on Israel. And I certainly think individually as nations we could begin by boycotting the Eurovision Song Contest next year. And I say that with great regret because I’m on the record…I’ve written to all of the newspapers in the [Irish] Republic repeatedly over the years saying that we should not boycott Israel. But unfortunately of late Israel has been behaving like a rogue state and should be treated as pariah by the international community. I mean there was a great deal of unanimity of condemnation, quite rightly, of a chemical attack – or a suspected chemical attack – on civilians in the suburbs of Damascus. We also expelled diplomats on suspicion of a chemical weapon attack in Salisbury which injured – seriously injured – two people. Now we need to have that same level of unanimity when it comes to Israel’s actions this week.”

Following some reminiscing from Clonan about the Irish peace process, McAuley revisited his BDS messaging while again promoting her own pet ‘most important thing in the world’ theme.

[48:54] McAuley: “What you’re underlining, Tom, is the importance of this for the region and indeed for the wider world. But are you seriously suggesting that in some way that boycotting a song festival would make any difference at all? I mean why not try to seriously engage with Israel and with everybody on this?”

Clonan: “Israel isn’t interested in engagement just now. I think they feel that their military or their use of force has been rewarded and their behaviour has deteriorated somewhat. I think unfortunately that the situation with Iran – the US withdrawing from the Iran nuclear deal at a point where you have youth unemployment in Iran at 60%, where 90% of those arrested in recent civil unrest are under 25 – there’s a youth bulge in Iran that threatens to destabilise the old guard, the ageing Ayatollah. President Rouhani’s government, you know, they’ve managed with considerable pushback to get the Iran deal. I think there’s a sense – and this is what I’m being told by my contacts amongst the international defence and international community – that Israel, the United States and their Gulf state allies detect a last moment of weakness in…within Iran as Shia ascendency reaches its zenith in the region.

What all that has to do with the item’s professed subject matter is of course as clear as mud. McAuley however chose to continue the ‘youth bulge’ theme.

[48:25] McAuley: “You mentioned a youth bulge. There is a youth bulge in Palestine as well. There is a growing number…this is a numbers game to some extent is it not, Julie?”

While acknowledging a “very high youth demographic in Palestine“, Norman responded that she would not equate that with destabilisation.

Norman: “Whether it’s Iran or Palestine, I don’t think we need to fear the youth bulge.”

McAuley then claimed that “eventually, in Israel and the occupied territories as a whole, there will be more Palestinians than there are Israelis”. Norman’s answer to that included the claim that:

[49:22] Norman: “…Israel is wielding power in very violent ways as we saw on Monday and throughout the past several weeks. And it’s not just numbers when one group is living under occupation.”

The fact that Israel disengaged from the Gaza Strip 13 years ago of course did not get a mention at all in this entire item.

At 50:06 Gary Mason raised the topic of the role of women in making peace, stating that he is a member of the advisory board of an Israeli organisation called ‘Women Wage Peace’. He did not however bother to inform listeners that the group’s activities have been:

“…denounced by Hamas in an official statement, as well as by the Palestinian branch of the international Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign, both of which accused Palestinians participating in the initiative of “normalizing” relations with Israel.”

Again ignoring the Israeli disengagement from the Gaza Strip and parts of Samaria in 2005, Mason went on to say that Israelis “may have to give up land for peace […] and we just need, I think, to bring that concept into it…”. Listeners were next treated to Mason’s home-grown psychological analysis of “the Israelis”.

In response to McAuley’s question [53:30] “from where can hope come?” Julie Norman again promoted the inaccurate notion that there are Palestinian civil society groups working for peace. Tom Clonan’s reply to the same question [54:15] included the following:

Clonan: “…essentially this is Semitic peoples killing Semitic…Arabs are a Semitic people. And I think with Benjamin Netanyahu and Donald Trump you see the very essence of patriarchal thought which has led to so much destruction in the Middle East over the last two decades and if civil society, religious leaders and other leaders in society and women can be a part of the key to this solution to this, that would be wonderful because I don’t see a solution in the unilateral military intervention strategies that we’ve had post 2001 and 9/11 unfortunately.”

Notably, no-one in the studio bothered to question Clonan’s omission of Hamas from his list of those guilty of “patriarchal thought”.

At 56:33 – after Mason had again invoked the Northern Ireland comparison and claimed that people with a “military background” could also contribute to peacemaking, McAuley came up with the following bizarre claims:

McAuley: “I know that Peace Now – the big Israeli movement for peace and defence of the Palestinians and sitting down in front of tanks and so on that are about to destroy houses – that was founded by veterans of the 1948 war who had driven their tanks into Israel to take the land.”

Where those tanks had supposedly been driven from was not clarified to listeners before Clonan jumped in with a plug for yet another political NGO.

[56:58] Clonan: “And the Breaking the Silence movement as well: you know Israeli serving and ex-serving military. And I mean even from my own experience I mean I had my epiphany in the Middle East […] and to just witness man’s inhumanity to man and I mean it was only after becoming a parent myself that I was able to put my experiences into context. It was only after I buried my own little daughter that I understood what it was like for those Lebanese men, women and children to suffer in that way. And the Israelis in the settlement towns of Sderot and on the border that were being attacked by Hizballah indiscriminately. […] The constant disinhibited [sic], indiscriminate use of force at the moment, I think with that they’re sowing the seeds of their own destruction and what Israel needs in the Middle East is friends. And what better friends to have than the Lebanese, Syrians, Palestinians. It is possible but we need imagination, we need leadership.”

The item closed soon after that. Only then, after nearly twenty-five minutes of hopelessly uninformed – and often downright ignorant – discussion, were listeners told that:

[58:56] McAuley: “The Israeli government response to the events on Monday was that the military actions were in keeping with Israeli and international law. They asserted that the demonstrations along the border were – quote – part of the conflict between the Hamas terrorist organisation and Israel. The military’s open fire orders, they said, were therefore subject to international humanitarian law – also known as the law of armed conflict – rather than international human rights law.”

Clearly this long item cannot possibly have contributed to audience understanding of the professed story and its context, riddled as it was with gross inaccuracies, deliberate distortions and important omissions – and not least the important issue of Hamas terrorism. The repeated inappropriate comparisons to the Northern Ireland conflict likewise detracted from listeners’ understanding of the background to the topic supposedly under discussion and the one-sided claims and comments from contributors and presenter alike – including promotion of the anti-Israel BDS campaign – are ample evidence that the prime aim of this item was to promote a specific political narrative.

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Inaccuracy, omission and oddity in a BBC Radio Ulster item on Israel – part one

 

 

 

 

 

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Promoted and quoted: the BBC’s preferred NGO contributors in 2017

As has been the case in previous years (see related articles below), Israel related content produced by the BBC during 2017 frequently included contributions or information sourced from NGOs.

BBC editorial guidelines on impartiality state:

“We should not automatically assume that contributors from other organisations (such as academics, journalists, researchers and representatives of charities) are unbiased and we may need to make it clear to the audience when contributors are associated with a particular viewpoint, if it is not apparent from their contribution or from the context in which their contribution is made.”

However, in the vast majority of cases audiences were not informed of the political agenda of the organisations and their representatives promoted in BBC content and on some occasions the connection of an interviewee to a particular NGO was not revealed at all.

For example, an interviewee who was featured on BBC World Service radio at least three times between September 3rd and December 7th (including here and here) was introduced as “a mother of two” from Gaza but audiences were not informed that she works for Oxfam.

Similarly the founder of Ir Amim and Terrestrial Jerusalem was introduced to BBC audiences in February as “an Israeli attorney and specialist on the mapping of Jerusalem” and in June as “an Israeli lawyer specialising in the geo-politics of Jerusalem”.

In September a BBC World Service history show featured an interviewee without mentioning her significant connection to Medical Aid for Palestinians and related anti-Israel activism. In October the same programme featured a sole interviewee whose connections to the NGO Euro-Med Rights were not revealed to audiences.

Interestingly, when BBC radio 5 live recently conducted an interview concerning a UK domestic story with a political activist who was inadequately introduced, the corporation acknowledged that “we should’ve established and made clear on air this contributor was a political activist”. 

On other occasions, while contributors’ connections to NGOs were clarified, the political agenda of the organisations concerned was not.

In October, when an interviewee from the Amos Trust appeared on BBC Radio 4, the NGO was inadequately described as “a Christian organisation working in the West Bank and Gaza” with no mention made of its anti-Israel activities.

A TV debate concerning the BDS campaign that was aired in February included representatives of War on Want and the Palestine Solidarity Campaign with no background information concerning the rich history of anti-Israel campaigning by both those organisations provided to viewers.

In September the BBC World Service interviewed the director of ‘Forward Thinking’ which was described as a “mediation group” while listeners heard no clarification of the relevant issue of the interviewee’s “particular viewpoint” on Hamas.

Audiences also saw cases in which BBC presenters amplified unsubstantiated allegations made by political NGOs during interviews with Israelis. In June, for example, while interviewing Moshe Ya’alon, Stephen Sackur invoked Human Rights Watch and Breaking the Silence.

In November Andrew Marr employed the same tactic during an interview with the Israeli prime minister, amplifying allegations from Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International without informing viewers of the political agendas of those NGOs.

BBC audiences also saw Human Rights Watch quoted and promoted in various reports throughout the year including:

BBC promotes political NGO in coverage of Azaria verdict

BBC’s Bateman shoehorns anti-Israel NGO into hi-tech story

Political NGO gets unreserved BBC amplification yet again

Additional NGOs promoted by the BBC without disclosure of their political agenda include Adalah and the Jerusalem Legal Aid and Human Rights Center (see here) and UJFP.

Material produced by the UN agency OCHA was promoted in BBC content without that organisation’s political stance being revealed and audiences saw a partisan map credited to UNOCHA and B’tselem used on numerous occasions throughout the year.

The political NGO Peace Now was frequently quoted and promoted (including links to its website) in reports concerning Israeli construction plans – see for example here, here and here – as well as in an amended backgrounder on the subject of ‘settlements’.

In April the BBC News website described Breaking the Silence and B’tselem as “human rights activists” without fully informing audiences of their records and political agenda.

B’tselem was by far the BBC’s most promoted NGO in 2017 with politically partisan maps it is credited as having produced either together with UNOCHA or on its own appearing in dozens of BBC News website reports and articles throughout the year, including the BBC’s backgrounder on ‘settlements’.

Mapping the BBC’s use of partisan maps

Continuing documentation of the BBC’s B’Tselem map binge

BBC Watch prompts amendment to inaccurate BBC map

BBC audiences were on no occasion informed that the organisation from which that map is sourced engages in lawfare against Israel and is a member of a coalition of NGOs supporting BDS.

The NGOs quoted, promoted and interviewed by the BBC come from one side of the spectrum as far as their political approach to Israel is concerned and some of them are even active in legal and propaganda campaigns against Israel. Yet the BBC serially fails to meet its own editorial guidelines by clarifying their “particular viewpoint” and – as in previous years – in 2017 audiences hence remained unaware of the fact that the homogeneous information they are receiving about Israel is consistently unbalanced.

Related Articles:

Promoted and quoted: the BBC’s preferred Middle East NGOs

Promoted and quoted: the BBC’s preferred NGO contributors in 2014

Promoted and quoted: the BBC’s preferred NGO contributors in 2015

Promoted and quoted: the BBC’s preferred NGO contributors in 2016

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

BBC News airbrushes Fatah praise from report on terror attack

On the evening of January 9th an Israeli man was murdered in a terror attack that took place not far from his home in Havat Gilad.

“Rabbi Raziel Shevach, 35, died of his injuries at a Kfar Saba hospital after receiving initial treatment by medics at the scene of the attack, the Havat Gilad Junction.

The father of six came under fire in his car while driving past the junction, the army said.

Medics said he suffered a gunshot wound to his upper body and his condition deteriorated as he was taken to the hospital. […]

He is survived by his wife, four daughters, and two sons. His oldest child is 11 years old and the youngest is eight months, according to a local official.”

At the time of writing the search for the perpetrators of the drive-by shooting is ongoing.

Some seventeen hours after the incident took place the BBC News website published a report which was presented to visitors together with two items of related reading: “Israeli soldier killed in ‘terror attack'” (a report on a terror attack at the end of November -discussed here) and “The murky world of Israeli snatch squads” (Jane Corbin’s recent article about a TV drama – discussed here).

The main link led to an article titled “Israel searches West Bank after settler killed in drive-by shooting” which opened (not surprisingly) by informing readers that the victim was a “settler” before any personal details were given.

“Israeli security forces are searching for a suspected Palestinian gunman or gunmen who killed an Israeli settler in the occupied West Bank on Tuesday.

Raziel Shevach, a 35-year-old rabbi and father of six, was attacked as he drove near the settlement outpost of Havat Gilad, west of the city of Nablus.”

Later on in the report readers were told that:

“No group immediately said it was behind the shooting, but the Palestinian militant groups Hamas and Islamic Jihad praised the attackers.” [emphasis added]

Ynet reported that:

“Hamas’s military wing released a statement following the attack, saying: “The Nablus attack is the first practical response with fire to remind the enemy’s leaders that what you feared has now come. The West Bank will remain a knife in your body.”

The political wing of Hamas also praised the shooting. “We welcome this heroic action that came as a result of Israel’s crimes against our people in the West Bank, Jerusalem and the al-Aqsa Mosque. The Israeli government is responsible for the ramifications of its extremist racist policy,” the statement read.”

The BBC did not inform its audiences that the PA president’s party, Fatah, also lauded the attack.

Readers were told that:

“US ambassador David Friedman wrote on Twitter that Rabbi Shevach was killed “in cold blood by Palestinian terrorists”.

He also condemned Hamas for welcoming the shooting and the Palestinian Authority for providing an estimated $347m (£257m) last year in payments to the families of Palestinian militants killed or imprisoned by the Israeli authorities.”

The Palestinian Authority of course does not give financial rewards to “militants” but to terrorists. Nevertheless, readers who bothered to follow the link found a Jerusalem Post article relating to a topic which has long been gravely under-reported by the BBC.

Readers once again found statements that have been recycled using different numbers on numerous occasions for more than two years. Although the information is readily available, the BBC did not cite the actual number of Israelis murdered in terror attacks since September 2015 (fifty-six including the latest victim) but made do with an approximation.

“Some 51 Israelis and five foreign nationals have been killed since late 2015 in a series of gun, knife and car-ramming attacks, predominantly by Palestinians or Israeli Arabs.

Around 300 Palestinians have also been killed in that period. Most were assailants, Israel says, while others were killed in clashes with troops.”

Notably, the BBC continues to use the “Israel says” formula in that statement and – despite having had over two years to do so – has apparently not bothered to independently confirm how many of the Palestinians killed during that time were in the process of carrying out terror attacks.

The report closed with the standard promotion of the BBC’s chosen narrative, presented in language that endorses the claims of one side in the unresolved dispute and fails to inform BBC audiences of other interpretations of “international law” that contradict that narrative and of the reasons why “Israel disputes this”.

“More than 600,000 Jews live in about 140 settlements built since Israel’s 1967 occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem – land the Palestinians claim for a future state. The settlements are considered illegal under international law, though Israel disputes this.

There are also more than 90 settler outposts – built without official authorisation from the Israeli government – across the West Bank, according to an Israeli anti-settlement watchdog.”

Although that “anti-settlement watchdog” was not identified, on the basis of previous BBC content it can be concluded that the article is referring to ‘Peace Now’ – a political NGO frequently quoted by the BBC on that topic.

Related Articles:

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

BBC quoted and promoted NGO supports cash for terror

BBC News silence on PA terror rewards continues

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

Quantifying BBC ‘due impartiality’ on ‘international law’

 

 

 

 

 

Political NGOs and dissonance in BBC report on Jerusalem eviction

On September 5th an article titled “Israel evicts Palestinians after East Jerusalem legal battle” appeared on the BBC News website’s Middle East page, along with a video relating to the same story titled “Palestinian family loses East Jerusalem home“.

Of the written report’s 491 words, one hundred and eleven are used to describe the events themselves and a further 136 are given over to brief explanation of the legal background to the story, but without clarifying that the property was supposed to be vacated by the Shamasneh family long ago.

“In 2013, the Shamasneh family lost their appeal of the case in the Supreme Court, after lower courts ruled that the land should be restored to its Jewish owner.

But the Supreme Court also deferred any eviction of the Shamasneh family at the time on humanitarian grounds, stating: “It is not easy to evict someone from their residence, particularly when it involves someone elderly who has lived at the property for many years.”

Two and a half years after the eviction date set by the court, legal proceedings against the family were renewed and the family was served with an eviction order.” [emphasis added]

The BBC’s report includes a rare mention of the 19-year Jordanian occupation of parts of Jerusalem.

“Under Israeli law, Jews can reclaim property lost when Jordan occupied East Jerusalem in the war of 1948-9.” [emphasis added]

However, that sentence is followed by a reference to another ‘occupation’ of the exact same location and the BBC fails to provide any explanation for that dissonance.

“Israel has occupied the area since driving Jordan out in a war in 1967.”

Readers find a 21-word reaction from a member of the evicted family and a thirty-six word long comment from the political NGO ‘Peace Now’. The article does not include any response from or on behalf of the property’s owner.

The report correctly explains that the property in question – which is actually located in the Shimon HaTsadik neighbourhood rather than in Sheikh Jarrah as stated – was originally owned by Jews.

“The land in Sheikh Jarrah was originally owned by a family among the thousands of Jews who fled or were expelled from eastern Jerusalem by Jordanian forces in the 1948-9 war.”

The purchase of the land upon which the property was built was made in 1876.

“…in 1876 the cave [of Shimon HaTzadik] and the nearby field were purchased by Jews, involving a plot of 18 dunams (about 4.5 acres) that included 80 ancient olive trees. The property was purchased for 15,000 francs and was transferred to the owner through the Majlis al-Idara, the seat of the Turkish Pasha and the chief justice. According to the contract, the buyers (the committee of the Sephardic community and the Ashkenazi Assembly of Israel) divided the area between them equally, including the cave on the edge of the plot.

Dozens of Jewish families built homes on the property. On the eve of the Arab Revolt in 1936 there were hundreds of Jews living there. When the disturbances began they fled, but returned a few months later and lived there until 1948. When the Jordanians captured the area, the Jews were evacuated and for nineteen years were barred from visiting either their former homes or the cave of Shimon HaTzadik. […]

After 1948 the neighborhoods of Sheikh Jarrah and Shimon HaTzadik came under Jordanian control and the Jewish-owned land was handed over to the Jordanian Custodian of Enemy Property. In the mid-1950s the Jordanian government settled Arabs there. They took over the homes of the Jews and paid rent to the Jordanian Custodian.”

However readers are – as usual in BBC content – encouraged to view Jewish presence on land legally purchased over 140 years ago as ‘illegal settlement’ and the BBC offers no explanation for its promotion of that incongruous and partial politically motivated narrative.

“The issue of control in East Jerusalem is one of the most contentious areas of dispute between Israel and the Palestinians.

Israel claims the whole of Jerusalem as its capital, while Palestinians want East Jerusalem as the capital of a future independent state.

About 200,000 Jewish settlers and 370,000 Palestinians live in East Jerusalem. Some 2,500 of the more hardline settlers live in buildings bought inside Palestinian neighbourhoods, according to the Israeli anti-settlement watchdog Peace Now.

More than 600,000 Jews live in about 140 settlements in East Jerusalem and the occupied West Bank. The settlements are considered illegal under international law, though Israel disputes this.”

The article also promotes a partisan map credited to the political NGO B’tselem that has been seen many times before in BBC content and which similarly promotes the notion that places such as the Old City, Neve Ya’akov and even parts of Mt Scopus are ‘settlements’ despite the fact that Jews purchased land and lived in such areas long before they were expelled by the invading Jordanian army in 1948.

Further encouragement of audiences to view this as a story about ‘settlements’ is evident in the ‘additional reading’ accompanying this article on the BBC News website’s Middle East page and at the bottom of the article itself. The promoted reports include a BBC backgrounder on ‘settlements’ that first appeared in December 2016 and was subsequently amended four times.

The article closes with the unquestioned promotion of Palestinian messaging:

“Palestinians say the Israeli law allowing Jewish property reclamation is discriminatory since no such law exists for Palestinians, some 800,000 of whom fled or were expelled from what became Israel in the 1948-9 war.”

Not only does the BBC not provide any source for the debatable claim that 800,000 Palestinians became refugees around 1948 but it also fails to inform readers that a larger number of Jews fled or were expelled from Arab and Muslim countries (most of whom found refuge in Israel) and that they have never received compensation for the lands and property they were forced to abandon.  

This report propagates the BBC’s usual simplistic narratives on ‘settlements’ and ‘East’ Jerusalem. Inevitably, readers find the standard BBC insert on ‘international law’ – which makes no attempt to inform them of legal views on the topic that fall outside the corporation’s chosen political narrative – and interested parties in the form of campaigning NGOs are repeatedly given uncritical amplification. As ever, that editorial policy fails to contribute to the enhancement of audience understanding of these complex topics.

Related Articles:

Continuing documentation of the BBC’s B’Tselem map binge

Standard BBC ‘international law’ insert breaches editorial guidelines

BBC News website amends its ‘settlements’ backgrounder

BBC News promotes more of its unvarying narrative on Israeli construction

On June 20th an article titled “Israel starts work on first new West Bank settlement in 20 years” was published on the BBC News website’s Middle East page.

Like the BBC Radio 4 report on the same story, the article is built around one Tweet from the Israeli prime minister.

“Israel has started work on the first new Jewish settlement in the occupied West Bank for more than 20 years, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said.

He tweeted a photograph of a bulldozer and digger breaking ground for the settlement, to be known as Amichai. […]

“Today, ground works began, as I promised, for the establishment of the new community for the residents of Amona,” Mr Netanyahu announced on Tuesday.

“After decades, I have the privilege to be the prime minister who is building a new community in Judea and Samaria,” he added, using the biblical name for the West Bank.

Israel Radio reported that the work involved installing infrastructure for the settlement. However, the building plans still need to go through several stages of planning approval, according to the Times of Israel newspaper.”

Also in line with the Radio 4 report, this one too promotes Palestinian Authority messaging – and not least the accusation of a deliberate effort to sabotage negotiations – while failing to include any response from Israeli officials.

“A Palestinian official denounced the ground-breaking as a “grave escalation” and an attempt to thwart peace efforts. […]

Nabil Abu Rudeina, a spokesman for Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, told Reuters news agency that the ground-breaking was “a grave escalation and an attempt to foil efforts” by the administration of US President Donald Trump to revive the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.”

Readers also found the BBC’s own standard but partial messaging on ‘international law’.

“More than 600,000 Jews live in about 140 settlements built since Israel’s 1967 occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem – land the Palestinians claim for a future state. The settlements are considered illegal under international law, though Israel disputes this.”

As is very often the case in BBC reporting on this topic, the narrative promoted in this report is borrowed from political NGOs.

“There are also almost 100 settler outposts – built without official authorisation from the Israeli government – across the West Bank, according to the Israeli anti-settlement watchdog Peace Now. […]

Amichai, previously known as Geulat Zion, will be constructed on an hilltop [sic] about 2.5km (1.5 miles) east of the settlement of Shilo, which is close to the site of Amona.”

The link in that second paragraph leads to the ‘Peace Now’ website and the article includes partisan and inaccurate maps produced by the foreign-funded NGO B’tselem (which engages in lawfare against Israel and is a member of a coalition of NGOs supporting BDS) that have appeared many times previously in BBC content.

The BBC News website’s coverage of the topic of construction in the neighbourhoods and communities it terms ‘settlements‘ has for years followed a standard pattern which contributes nothing new to reader understanding of the issue. Audiences inevitably find the standard BBC insert on ‘international law’ – which makes no attempt to inform them of legal views on the topic that fall outside the corporation’s chosen political narrative – and interested parties in the form of campaigning NGOs are repeatedly given uncritical amplification.

The BBC’s editorial guidelines on ‘controversial subjects’ state:

“When dealing with ‘controversial subjects’, we must ensure a wide range of significant views and perspectives are given due weight and prominence, particularly when the controversy is active.  Opinion should be clearly distinguished from fact.”

Visitors to the BBC News website are clearly not being presented with the “wide range of significant views and perspectives” which would broaden their understanding of this issue.

Related Articles:

Continuing documentation of the BBC’s B’Tselem map binge

BBC contradicts years of its own narrative on Israeli construction

‘Due impartiality’ and BBC reporting on Israeli construction

BBC Radio 4 amplification of PA messaging on Israeli construction

 

BBC contradicts years of its own narrative on Israeli construction

The use of imprecise language in BBC reports has frequently steered audiences towards the inaccurate belief that in recent years new communities have been built in Judea & Samaria and the parts of Jerusalem occupied by Jordan between 1948 and 1967. Some of the latest examples of that practice include: [all emphasis added]

“An increase in settlement construction in recent months has led to international criticism of Israel…” Yolande Knell, BBC Radio 4 news bulletin, December 24th 2016. 

“Pro-Palestinian groups criticised the deal, saying it rewards Israel despite the ongoing construction of Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank. […]

Last month, the White House warned that the construction of settlements posed a “serious and growing threat to the viability of a two-state solution” to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.” BBC News website, September 13th 2016 (later amended following a complaint from BBC Watch)

“But the outgoing Obama administration has long made clear its opposition to Israeli settlement-building in occupied territory…” BBC News website, December 23rd 2016.

“This is a vote on a resolution that condemns the building of Israeli settlements on occupied Palestinian territory. It says it’s illegal under international law. […]

“They themselves [the US administration] have been very critical of settlement building over the last year.” BBC News website, December 23rd, 2016.

“The resolution reflects an international consensus that the growth of Israeli settlement-building has come to threaten the viability of a Palestinian state in any future peace deal.” BBC News website, December 23rd and 24th, 2016.

“The US president-elect Donald Trump has called for a UN Security Council resolution aimed at halting the building of Israeli settlements to be vetoed.”

“…this particular Israeli government has…has done a lot of settlement building and it is…it’s very much its policy.” BBC World Service radio, December 22nd 2016. 

“I think Britain is concerned about the number of settlements that he’s [Netanyahu] authorised in the occupied Palestinian territories…” Jeremy Bowen, BBC Radio 5 live, February 6th 2017.

As has been noted here on numerous occasions, the employment of such lax terminology obviously leads BBC audiences to mistakenly believe that Israel has been constructing new communities rather than – as is actually the case – building homes in existing towns and villages, most of which would under any reasonable scenario remain under Israeli control in the event of an agreement. Concurrently, the BBC has not bothered to inform its audiences that the existing agreements between Israel and the Palestinians – the Oslo Accords – place no limitations whatsoever on construction in Area C or Jerusalem.

In early February the BBC News website reported that:

“…Israel’s prime minister has announced that he plans to establish a new settlement in the West Bank for the first time in more than two decades.” [emphasis added]

Visitors to the BBC News website on March 31st found a report headlined “Israel approves first new West Bank settlement in 20 years” which includes a recycled map sourced from the political NGO B’Tselem as well as statements from the political NGO ‘Peace Now’ and a link to its website. BBC audiences were not informed that the plan to build a new community is dependent upon approval from the full cabinet.

“Israel has approved the establishment of its first new Jewish settlement in the occupied West Bank in two decades. […]

While Israel has continued to expand settlements and has retroactively approved outposts constructed without permits, this is the first time it has agreed a new settlement since the 1990s, reports the BBC’s Yolande Knell in Jerusalem.” [emphasis added]

Listeners to BBC Radio 4’s ‘Today’ programme on March 31st heard Sarah Montague discussing the same story with Yolande Knell (from 2:56:26 here).

Montague: “Israel’s security cabinet has approved the construction of the first new settlement in the occupied West Bank for two decades.”

Knell: “….it’s something of real symbolic importance. Israel hasn’t built a new settlement since the 1990s. Instead, the construction that we hear a lot about has been focused on building within existing settlements…”

Clearly then the BBC understands that there is a significant difference between the construction of houses within the municipal boundaries of existing communities and the establishment of a “new settlement”. The question that therefore arises is why – given its supposedly rigorous standards of accuracy – for so many years its journalists regularly employed imprecise language that materially misled audiences on the topic of Israeli construction.

While we do not anticipate any public accountability on that issue, we will be closely monitoring the language used in future BBC reporting relating to construction.

Another notable aspect of the March 31st written report comes in this paragraph:

“It [ the Israeli security cabinet] also approved tenders to build 1,992 new homes at four other existing settlements, and declared almost 100 hectares (247 acres) as “public land” in order to enable the retroactive legalisation of three outposts, according to Peace Now.”

Readers are not told that those “1,992 new homes” were already reported by the BBC when they were first announced in January. As has been noted here on previous occasions, BBC audiences often receive misleading impressions regarding the scale of construction in Judea & Samaria and parts of Jerusalem because – rather than reporting actual building – the BBC covers announcements of building plans, planning approvals and issues of tenders, regardless of whether they actually come to fruition.

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Quantifying BBC ‘due impartiality’ on ‘international law’

 

BBC News website amends its ‘settlements’ backgrounder

As was documented here earlier this month, in late December 2016 the BBC News website published a backgrounder titled “Israel and the Palestinians: Can settlement issue be solved?” which opened as follows:settlements-backgrounder

“The issue of Jewish settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem has long been a major source of dispute between Israel and most of the international community, including its own closest ally, the US.

Here is a brief guide to what it is all about.”

We observed at the time that the backgrounder “includes context which, as has been frequently documented on these pages, BBC audiences have been denied for years”.

Six days after its initial publication on December 29th 2016, amendments were made to the article (on January 4th 2017) including a change of description for one of the political NGOs quoted in the report from “the Israel anti-settlement group Peace Now” to “the Israeli settlement watchdog Peace Now”.

Visitors to the BBC News website’s Middle East page on January 23rd 2017 were offered that backgrounder as part of the ‘related reading’ appended to the main story of the day.

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However, the backgrounder now has a new date stamp and has undergone further amendments since its initial publication.

In the first section – titled “What are settlements?” – a link to the Peace Now website has been added and that joins the existing link to the B’tselem website that appeared in the original article.

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In the second section, which is titled “Why are settlements so contentious?”, an inaccurate and misleading paragraph has been added.

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There are not “hundreds” of checkpoints and roadblocks in Judea & Samaria and many of those which do exist are in fact crossings located along Israel’s border with Palestinian controlled areas. So where did the BBC get that misleading information? While no source is provided, one possibility is a webpage titled “Restriction of movement” which was posted on the B’Tselem website on January 1st 2017 and in which an unsourced reference to “hundreds of physical obstacles […] in the form of concrete blocks, piles or dirt, or trenches” is found.

In the latest version of this backgrounder, an entirely new chapter has been added after the second section under the title “What difference will Donald Trump make?”.

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The next section is titled “What makes Jerusalem a special case?” and there a problematic and partial map produced by B’Tselem and UNOCHA (which first appeared in BBC content in October 2015) has been added. That map tells BBC audiences that the Jewish Quarter in the Old City of Jerusalem – a place where Jews lived for centuries until they were ethnically cleansed from the location by Jordan for a period of nineteen years – is an “illegal settlement” and that Temple Mount is located in a “Palestinian urban area”.

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In the last section of the backgrounder – titled “Are settlements illegal under international law?” – another amendment has been made.

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When this article – which is supposedly intended to provide audiences with accurate and impartial information on the topic of Israeli communities in Judea & Samaria and parts of Jerusalem – first appeared we noted that: 

“While this backgrounder is by no means perfect, it does at least present a more nuanced picture than is usually the case and includes information which BBC audiences have been denied for too long. Whether or not future BBC reports on this topic will follow suit remains to be seen.”

Rather than leaving be or making changes which would enhance that nuance and provide more of the context usually denied to BBC audiences, the backgrounder has instead been unnecessarily amended to promote more even more partisan information produced by the campaigning political NGOs Peace Now and B’Tselem as well as the latter’s partner UNOCHA

Related Articles:

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Documenting the BBC contribution to political warfare against Israel

BBC News producer breaches impartiality guidelines on social media

 

 

 

 

BBC News website produces a backgrounder on ‘settlements’

One of the most frequently recurring topics in the BBC’s Israel-related related content is that of ‘settlements’ and particularly construction in the places described as such. Examples from the past year alone include:

The return of the BBC’s political narrative on Israeli construction

BBC’s Yolande Knell reports from Gush Etzion – part one

BBC’s account of Quartet report exposes the holes in its own narrative

BBC’s Knell airbrushes two-thirds of Quartet report out of the picture

Another BBC airbrushing of the Quartet report

BBC News continues to cultivate its settlements narrative

More BBC promotion of the ‘Peace Now’ narrative on construction

BBC amplifies UN criticism of Israeli PM without providing relevant context

BBC News pushes settlements narrative in report on another topic

BBC News amplifies inaccurate US claim of ‘new settlement’

The majority of the BBC’s reports include a standard insert:

“About 500,000 Jews live in more than 100 settlements built since Israel’s 1967 occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem. The settlements are considered illegal under international law, though Israel disputes this.”

As has been observed here on countless occasions, that standard insert breaches the corporation’s own editorial guidelines on impartiality by failing to inform BBC audiences of the existence of legal opinions which contradict the corporation’s own adopted political narrative.

Particularly given that repeated failure to meet the BBC’s professed standards of ‘due impartiality’ it was interesting to see that on December 29th (in the wake of UNSC resolution 2334 and John Kerry’s related speech) the BBC News website published a backgrounder – titled “Israel and the Palestinians: Can settlement issue be solved?” – which opens as follows:settlements-backgrounder

“The issue of Jewish settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem has long been a major source of dispute between Israel and most of the international community, including its own closest ally, the US.

Here is a brief guide to what it is all about.”

To the credit of whoever wrote this article (readers are not informed of the author’s identity) it includes context which, as has been frequently documented on these pages, BBC audiences have been denied for years. [emphasis added]

“Settlements are communities established by Israel on land occupied in the 1967 Middle East war.

This includes the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights. The West Bank and East Jerusalem had previously been occupied by Jordan since the 1948-49 Arab-Israeli War.”

And:

“Israel has also established settlements in the Gaza Strip, seized from Egypt in the 1967 war, but it dismantled them when it withdrew from the territory in 2005. It also built settlements in the Sinai Peninsula, seized too from Egypt in 1967, but removed them in 1982 as part of a peace agreement with Cairo.”

And:

“Under the 1993 Israel-Palestinian Oslo peace accords, the issue of settlements was to be deferred until final status talks – a reason why Israel objects to pre-conditions and UN resolutions on the matter.”

Later on in the article, in answer to the question “So is a deal on settlements impossible?”, readers are told:

“Not necessarily, despite appearing insurmountable. Israel has said it is prepared to make “painful concessions” for peace, and it has previously shown it will relinquish settlements – such as in Sinai and Gaza, and four small sites in the West Bank in 2005.

It has agreed to negotiate the fate of existing settlements, and Jerusalem, as part of permanent status talks.

Israel has said in any final deal it intends to keep the largest settlement blocs, which are close to the pre-1967 ceasefire line.

This position seemed to get the endorsement of the US under former President George W Bush, who, in a letter to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon in 2004, said it was “unrealistic” to expect a full withdrawal from the West Bank in a final peace deal.”

The writer could have also mentioned the Clinton Parameters and the Olmert Plan at this point – both of which included proposals for keeping the large settlement blocs in situ in return for land swaps. Nevertheless, this is only the second time in the whole of the past year that BBC audiences have been alerted to the existence of that possibility, with the corporation’s content more usually found promoting the PLO narrative of ‘settlements as an obstacle to peace’ and amplifying its demand for their complete removal.

In a section headed “Are settlements illegal under international law?” readers find the following:

“Most of the international community, including the UN and the International Court of Justice, say the settlements are illegal.

The basis for this is the 1949 Fourth Geneva Convention which forbids the transfer by an occupying power of its people into occupied territory.

However, Israel says the Fourth Geneva Convention does not apply de jure to the West Bank because, it says, the territory is not technically occupied.

Israel says it is legally there as a result of a defensive war, and did not take control of the West Bank from a legitimate sovereign power.

It says the legal right of Jewish settlement there as recognised by the 1922 League of Nations Mandate for Palestine was preserved under the UN’s charter.

The US describes the settlements as “illegitimate” and has refrained from calling them “illegal” since the Carter administration in 1980.

In December 2016, a UN Security Council resolution said settlements had “no legal validity and constitute[d] a flagrant violation under international law”. However, like previous resolutions on Israel, those adopted under Chapter VI of the UN Charter are not legally binding.”

While more could have been done to help audiences understand the legal background to the view held by Israel (and others too), it is extremely rare to find any mention of pre-1967 history in BBC content relating to the topic of Israeli communities in Judea & Samaria and the parts of Jerusalem occupied by Jordan for 19 years from 1948.

This article could have done more to explain to readers why the branding of Judaism’s most holy site and the Jewish Quarter in the Old City of Jerusalem as ‘occupied territory’ is so contentious. It should also have mentioned the much neglected topic of Jewish land ownership prior to 1948 in locations such as Hebron, Gush Etzion and Neve Ya’akov which the BBC now describes as ‘occupied’.

Unsurprising to those following the BBC’s portrayal of this topic over time is the inclusion in this article of data provided by the political NGO ‘Peace Now’.

“According to the Israel anti-settlement group Peace Now, there are 131 settlements in the West Bank, comprising about 385,000 Israeli Jewish settlers, and 97 outposts – settlements built without official authorisation.

The group says there are 12 settlements in East Jerusalem, inhabited by about 200,000 settlers.”

The article also directs readers to a partisan report on the website of another political NGO which campaigns on the same topic – B’Tselem – with the promotion of that link obviously compromising BBC impartiality.

“Built-up settlement areas occupy about 2% of the West Bank but critics point out that the land controlled by settlement activity, such as agriculture, amounts to much more than that and requires heavy military presence.”

While this backgrounder is by no means perfect, it does at least present a more nuanced picture than is usually the case and includes information which BBC audiences have been denied for too long. Whether or not future BBC reports on this topic will follow suit remains to be seen.  

Related Articles:

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Superficial BBC portrayal of proposed ‘Regulation Bill’

On the morning of December 6th the BBC News website’s Middle East page published an article titled “Israel advances bill to legalise West Bank settlements”. Around five hours later the article was completely re-written and the headline changed to read “Israeli MPs advance bill to legalise West Bank outposts”.

As long as a decade ago, the BBC’s ‘style guide’ alerted the corporation’s journalists to the difference between ‘settlements’ and ‘outposts’.

“Outposts

Be careful that you don’t mean settlements. They are very different.

Outposts are usually little more than a few caravans occupying a hilltop. They serve a dual purpose: firstly to create new facts on the ground and expand the land included in the adjoining settlement; secondly to defy the Israeli government and show the strength of the settler movement.

Some of these outposts are called ‘unauthorised outposts’ by the Israeli government – generally meaning no permission was granted for them. You can describe an outpost as unauthorised by the Israeli government if that is accurate and relevant to the specific case you are considering.”

The current version of the BBC’s article informs audiences that:

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“Israeli MPs have given preliminary backing to a controversial bill to legalise thousands of unauthorised Jewish homes in the West Bank. […]

The bill, which would legitimise about 4,000 settler homes, still needs to pass three readings in Israel’s parliament to become law.”

BBC audiences are not told that the Attorney General has voiced his opposition to the bill or – as the Times of Israel explains in a useful backgrounder – that:

“Even if the bill makes it through the first, second and third readings, many analysts believe that the Supreme Court will eventually rule that the law is unconstitutional.”

Readers are provided with the usual partial and blinkered BBC mantra concerning ‘international law’, together with uncritical amplification of PLO demands.

“The international community regards all settlements as illegal under international law, though Israel disputes this.

Palestinians see settlements as a major obstacle to a peace deal with Israel.

They want all settlements and outposts to be removed from the West Bank and East Jerusalem, which they seek for a future Palestinian state.”

No effort is made to inform BBC audiences of the details of the bill.

“The bill — if it passes three more readings in the Knesset and is not subsequently struck down by the Supreme Court — would legalize housing units built by settlers on private Palestinian land, if the construction was carried out in good faith: If the settlers did not know that the land they were building on was privately owned by Palestinians, and received some kind of assistance from the state, they would be allowed to remain there. […]

The bill, sponsored by Jewish Home MKs Betzalel Smotrich and Shuli Moalem-Refaeli and Likud MKs David Bitan and Yoav Kisch, allows the government to appropriate land for its own use if the owners are unknown. If the owners are known, they will be eligible for yearly damages amounting to 125 percent of the value of leasing the land or a larger financial package valued at 20 years’ worth of leasing the plots, or alternate plots.”

Neither are readers given any insight into the political background to the bill in this highly superficial report which does little to enhance audience understanding of the issue.

Superficial BBC reporting on proposed legislation – part 2

As noted in part one of this post, less than 24 hours after the publication of a superficial article concerning the first stage approval of a bill proposed by members of the Knesset aimed at reducing noise pollution from PA systems used by religious establishments, the BBC News website replaced that report with one headlined “Israeli bills draw Palestinian warning“.yogev-bill-art-2

The article’s main purpose appears to be amplification of Palestinian Authority officials’ statements concerning proposed legislation under early stage discussion in a neighbouring sovereign state’s parliament.

“A senior Palestinian official has said his government will go to the UN to stop what he called a series of “escalatory measures” by Israel.

Nabil Abu Rudeina said Israeli plans to […] quieten calls to prayer, will “bring disasters to the region”.

On Sunday ministers backed two bills […]

The other bill would mainly impact on Muslims’ call to prayer from mosques. […]

The Palestinian Minister of Waqf and Religious Affairs, Youssef Ideiss, said the plan threatened a “religious war”, the Jerusalem Post newspaper reported.”

The topic of hyperbolic PA officials seeking to intervene in internal legislation in a country in which they have no authority does not come under discussion in this BBC report. Neither does the fact that the PA is not on record as having described the proposal or introduction of similar measures to reduce noise disturbance from mosque loudspeakers in Western or Muslim countries (including neighbouring Jordan) as ‘bringing disaster’ or ‘threatening religious war’.

Instead the BBC elects to provide backwind for the latest opportunistic PA agitprop, presenting a portrayal of the proposed law on PA systems which is even more superficial than the one in its previous report and similarly naming only the Israeli prime minister despite the fact that the bill was submitted by other MKs.

“While the volume limitations it seeks to introduce would apply to all religions, mosques would have to curtail the five-times-daily calls to prayer.

Arabs account for almost 20% of the Israeli population, and the majority are Muslim.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the measure would address countless complaints about excessively loud calls to prayer from public address systems, but critics say the move would be unnecessarily divisive.”

The second proposed legislation which has drawn comment from PA officials is described by the BBC as “Israeli plans to legitimise wildcat Jewish settlements” and “intended to stop the demolition of an unauthorised West Bank settlement.” Readers are told that:

“Separately, ministers approved draft legislation which would retroactively legalise unauthorised Jewish settlements, or outposts, in the occupied West Bank.

The move was intended to prevent the removal of an outpost known as Amona, which the Supreme Court says was built on private Palestinian land. […]

On Monday, the court rejected a government petition to delay the demolition, upholding a ruling that it must be evacuated by 25 December.

The issue has caused tension within Israel’s right-wing coalition government, with some members opposed to Amona’s removal.”

No further explanation of the politics behind the proposed legislation is provided and BBC audiences are not informed of the fact that it is opposed by the State Attorney General and hence highly unlikely to become law.

“Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit on Monday sent a stern warning to legislators seeking to circumvent a High Court ruling to evacuate the contested West Bank outpost of Amona, saying “We cannot accept legislation that hinders decisions of the High Court of Justice.””

The BBC’s article closes using language which endorses the political narrative promoted by the PLO. [emphasis added]

“According to the anti-settlement movement Peace Now, there are 97 outposts in the occupied West Bank, and over 130 settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

Unlike officially recognised settlements, the government regards outposts as illegal.

Settlements are considered illegal under international law, though Israel disputes this. Palestinians want all settlements and outposts to be removed from the West Bank and East Jerusalem which they seek for a future Palestinian state.”

While promoting the BBC’s standard partial mantra on ‘international law’, the article fails to inform readers that according to the Oslo Accords – to which the Palestinians are of course party – the final status of Area C is to be determined in negotiations. Likewise, readers are not informed that under any realistic scenario (such as those laid out in the Clinton plan or the Olmert plan) some parts of Area C would remain under Israeli control (in exchange for land swaps) in the event of a negotiated agreement.

It should of course be clear to the BBC that its remit of building “understanding of international issues” is not achieved by context-free amplification of the narrative and demands of one party in an unresolved dispute. Clearly that is not the case.

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