BBC News promotes PLO narrative in copious coverage of prisoners’ strike

Since the commencement on April 17th of a hunger strike by some of the Palestinian prisoners in Israeli prisons led by Marwan Barghouti, the BBC News website’s Middle East page has published no fewer than three reports on the subject.

April 17th: “Palestinians in Israeli jails hold mass hunger strike” 

April 18th: “Israel rules out talks with Palestinian hunger striking inmates

April 19th: “Palestinian anger at Israeli refusal to talk to hunger striking inmates

However, in that remarkable display of conscription to the cause of publicising that story, the BBC has refrained from providing its audiences with background information crucial to their understanding of the topic.

In all three of those articles readers are told that the strike:

“…is being led by Marwan Barghouti, a Palestinian leader jailed by Israel for life for five murders.”

They are not, however, informed of the full background of Barghouti’s role in instigating the second Intifada or his involvement in additional acts of terror. Predictably, his victims do not even get a mention from the BBC.

BBC audiences are also told in all three reports that:

“Barghouti has been touted as a possible future successor to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.”

They have not, however, been informed of the political background to the strike which is rooted in internal Fatah power struggles.

Readers of those three reports are told that the hunger strikers are protesting “detention conditions” and “conditions in Israeli jails”. They are not told what those conditions are or what the strikers are demanding.

“Among the demands from Barghouti and the prisoners are the resumption of a second monthly visit by family members (a benefit that was cancelled by the International Committee of the Red Cross due to budget cuts), the prevention of family meetings being cancelled for security reasons, and the restoration of academic studies and matriculation exams to prisoners. Other demands include more television channels being available in cells and cell phones in security wings.”

Significantly, in all three of the reports, readers find (not for the first time) amplification of the PLO’s narrative concerning Palestinian prisoners – as promoted, for example, in a PLO ‘media brief’ from June 2015. [emphasis added]

Report 1: “Palestinians regard the detainees as political prisoners. Many have been convicted of attacks against Israelis and other offences.”

Report 2: “Palestinians say the detainees are political prisoners, while Israel describes them as “terrorists”” (photo caption)

                  “Palestinians regard the detainees as political prisoners. Many have been convicted of attacks against Israelis and other offences.”

Report 3: “Palestinians regard the detainees as political prisoners. Many have been convicted of attacks against Israelis.”

The idea that people who have been convicted of perpetrating acts of terrorism are ‘political prisoners’ is rejected in Europe and we certainly do not see the BBC promoting the notion that people imprisoned in the UK for terror related offences may be defined in such terms.

There is of course nothing novel about BBC compliance with the PLO’s ‘advice’ to the media. However, the repeated promotion of the narrative according to which convicted terrorists are ‘political prisoners’ in this over-generously covered story obviously calls BBC impartiality into question.   

Related Articles:

BBC fails to provide crucial background in reports on Fatah prisoners’ strike

Identifying the BBC’s anonymous “mother of a Palestinian inmate”

BBC coverage of prisoner release amplifies narrative of ‘political prisoners’

 

Identifying the BBC’s anonymous “mother of a Palestinian inmate”

As noted in a recent post, the April 17th edition of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newsday’ included a monologue from a person described as “the mother of a Palestinian inmate”. The monologue was also promoted to the BBC World Service Twitter account’s 303,000 followers and those who listened to the clip heard the following in a voice-over:

“I haven’t seen or visited my son for around maybe ten months. Israeli security won’t let me see him. When I used to visit Diya I felt as if I owned the world. Every visit request I put in only comes back with rejection, rejection, rejection. I’m 67 years old. What risk am I to Israel’s security? I am of no danger. All I want is to see my son, to check on him and he can check on me. This is all I want but they deprive even a mother from seeing her son and a son from seeing his mother.”

While BBC audiences are no strangers to the promotion of pathos-rich stories from the elderly mothers of convicted terrorists, the fact that listeners were not told who the speaker is or why her son is in prison and did not hear any response to her allegations from the Israeli authorities obviously does not inspire confidence in the BBC’s commitment to impartial reporting of this story.

So who is this “mother of a Palestinian inmate”? A clue to that question comes in a video that appears on the BBC Arabic website and is also embedded in an Arabic language article titled “More than a thousand Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails begin hunger strike” that, like its English language equivalent, promotes the notion that Palestinian “detainees” might be seen as “political prisoners”.

The woman extensively profiled in that BBC Arabic video is called Najat al Agha and she lives in Khan Younis in the Gaza Strip. Mrs al Agha is by no means publicity shy: she recently told a very similar story to the one promoted by ‘Newsday’ to ‘Amnesty International’ which, predictably, is supplying publicity for the current Fatah hunger strike.

“Najat al-Agha, a 67-year-old woman from Khan Younis in the Gaza Strip, told Amnesty International that her son, Dia al-Agha, 43, has been imprisoned in Israel for the past 25 years. At the age of 19 he was sentenced to life in prison after being convicted on murder charges.  He is being held in Nafha prison in Mitzpe Ramon in the south.

“I don’t know why I get rejected. I am 67 years old. What security threat am I to Israel? All I want is to see him and make sure he is well. I don’t know how long I will live, any visit can be my last. I am scared of dying without seeing him,” his mother said.

“Every time I apply for a permit I get rejected. It is almost a year that I haven’t seen my son, it is devastating. They are punishing us, they are trying to break us.””

Moreover, Najat al Agha – who actually has had two sons serve time in prison in Israel – appears to come forward to tell her story quite frequently and – perhaps not unrelatedly – has been the recipient of ‘honorary gifts’ from the Palestinian Authority and the PLO.

The son she names in the ‘Newsday’ clip is Diya Zakariya Shaker Al-Agha “Al-Faluji”. He was convicted of the murder of Amatzia Ben Haim from Kibbutz Yad Mordechai in a greenhouse in Ganei Tal in October 1992.

“…Amatzia worked as an engineer in the fledgling electronics factory of the kibbutz. The final product was a computer controlled irrigation and liquid fertilization system sold to farmers who owned greenhouses, small plots of land, who grew tomatoes, peppers, strawberries, and flowers.

Amatzia would go to these farms, install the systems, and often go back to maintain them or to troubleshoot them if needed.  Some of these farms were in the Gaza Strip, prior to the Israeli evacuation of all farms and settlements in Gaza.

It was on one of these trips that Amatzia was helping one such farmer in the Gaza strip, focused entirely on an irrigation line that may have been clogged, or a computer lead that may have malfunctioned. He did not pay attention to the young teen working nearby with a hoe, weeding the furrows. It was to be Amatzia’s last day on earth, as the teen brought the hoe down on Amatzia’s head, killing him instantly, widowing Amatzia’s wife, and orphaning his children.”

A media organisation truly committed to accurate and impartial journalism would of course have provided its audiences with information concerning the “Palestinian inmate” and the act of terror he committed. The BBC World Service, however, chose to give completely context-free amplification to his mother’s claim that Israel is ‘depriving’ her of seeing her son, without any mention of the fact that her son deprived three children – the youngest of whom was only five years old at the time – from ever seeing their father again.

That, of course, is not accurate and impartial journalism but self-conscription to a political campaign.

Related Articles:

BBC fails to provide crucial background in reports on Fatah prisoners’ strike

The BBC, the elderly mothers of convicted terrorists and Twitter

 

No use of term ‘terror’ in BBC News report of vehicular attack on Israelis

On the morning of April 6th a vehicular attack took place near Ofra. One IDF soldier -Sgt. Elhai Teharlev, aged 20 – was murdered and another injured. The perpetrator was apprehended.

Shortly after news of the attack broke the BBC News website published a report titled “Israeli killed in West Bank car-ramming attack” which was later amended after the victim’s name was released.

“An Israeli soldier has been killed and another Israeli hurt in a Palestinian car-ramming attack in the occupied West Bank, the Israeli military says.

The military said the driver was taken into custody after the incident near the Jewish settlement of Ofra. […]

Witnesses told Israeli media that the car approached a bus stop at the Ofra junction, on the Route 60 highway north-east of Ramallah, and then accelerated towards the two Israelis waiting there.”

As usual – and in sharp contrast to many of the BBC’s reports on the vehicular attack in London just two weeks ago – the article does not include the words terror, terrorism or terrorist.

Even the terror organisation which subsequently praised the attack is described in tepid language:

“The Palestinian militant group, Hamas, praised what it called the “heroic” attack.”

In fact, as reported by the Jerusalem Post, Hamas had rather more to say than that.

“On Facebook Hamas spokesman Hazem Qassim praised the attack saying that “the Jerusalem Intifada is continuing its work that will only end with freedom. Once again, the Jerusalem Intifada proves that it isn’t a passing event, but rather a Palestinian decision to continue the struggle until freedom from occupation.”

“Once again, there is no safety for the occupation army or settlers as long as they deny our rights, occupy our land, and attack our people and its holy sites. Once again the youth, who are rising up in the West Bank, affirm that Palestine is their compass and resistance is a necessity. The occupation can only be their enemy. Endorsing and supporting the intifada is a national necessity and priority.””

Readers are told that:

“In late 2015 and 2016, such attacks by Palestinians or Israeli Arabs happened with near-daily frequency but the rate has dropped in recent months.”

Presumably the unidentified writer of this report intended the phrase “such attacks” to refer to terror attacks in general rather than specifically to vehicular attacks but in either case the claim is inaccurate.

Both January and February 2017 saw one vehicular attack take place. In 2016 two vehicular attacks took place in March, one in May, one in June, one in July and two in October. In the second half of 2015, one vehicular attack took place in August, three in October, eight in November and six in December – data here. So while the rate of vehicular attacks has dropped since the last quarter of 2015, it does not differ vastly from the rate in 2016.

The same is true of terror attacks in general. While in late 2015 the frequency of attacks was far beyond “near-daily”, with around a hundred attacks still taking place every month, they remain a daily occurrence on average, despite the BBC’s claim.

Perhaps if the BBC reported terror attacks against Israelis more consistently, it would be able to provide its audiences with more accurate information.

The article closes with a paragraph seen in numerous previous BBC reports:

“Israel has accused Palestinian leaders of inciting the attacks, but they have blamed frustration rooted in decades of Israeli occupation.”

It is worth remembering that since the surge in terror attacks in late 2015, the BBC has consistently failed to provide its audiences with any serious reporting on the topic of incitement and glorification of terrorism by Palestinian officials. Readers are hence unable to judge for themselves whether or not what ‘Israel says’ is accurate.

Likewise, it is noteworthy that the portrayal of terrorism as being attributable to “frustration rooted in decades of occupation” conforms to a guidance document for members of the international media put out by the PLO in November 2015.

Related Articles:

Absurdity of BBC’s ‘Language when Reporting Terrorism’ guidance on display again

BBC News coverage of terrorism in Israel – December 2016 and year summary

BBC News coverage of terrorism in Israel – December 2015 and Q4 summary

 

 

Weekend long read

1) MEMRI has produced a report reviewing “statements by Palestinian officials threatening to sue Britain for the Balfour Declaration and urging it to apologize for it, as well as the articles in the Palestinian press on this issue and the popular campaign that has been launched to promote the lawsuit.”

“In comments to the website of the satellite television channel Al-Mayadeen on February 11, 2017, PA Foreign Minister Riyad Al-Maliki said that, during a visit to London last year (on October 31-November 1, 2016) he had told his British counterpart, Boris Johnson, that the British government and all its institutions must avoid participating in any events related to the Balfour Declaration and that any celebrations of the declaration’s centenary would have a negative impact on Palestinian-British relations. He also demanded that Britain acknowledge its historic responsibility for the declaration, apologize to the Palestinian people, and issue a new declaration recognizing a Palestinian state.”

2) At the end of last month the JCPA held a conference marking 100 years since the Balfour Declaration. Videos of lectures given by speakers at the conference can be found here.

3) The ITIC has produced a profile of frequent BBC interviewee Husam Zomlot in light of his appointment to a new post.

“On March 8, 2017, Mahmoud Abbas appointed Dr. Husam Zomlot as chief of the PLO delegation to the United States, in effect representing Mahmoud Abbas and the Palestinian Authority (PA). He will replace Maen Erekat, who has held the post since 2009. Erekat will be appointed to represent the PA in London. Since May 2016 Husam Zomlot has been advisor for strategic affairs to Mahmoud Abbas.”

Related Articles:

Balfour Declaration

 

 

 

BBC News silence on PA terror rewards continues

As has been noted here before, the issue of the Palestinian Authority’s payment of salaries to convicted terrorists is a topic which is serially excluded from the view of BBC audiences.

That subject is obviously of interest to governments and tax payers alike in the many countries that donate aid to the Palestinian Authority – including of course the BBC’s funding British public. Familiarity with the issue is also key to understanding of both the eternal PA budget deficit and the background to Palestinian terrorism.  

The Palestinian National Fund (PNF) – which was established in 1964 as part of the PLO and is now controlled by the Palestinian Authority – was blacklisted by Israel’s Minister of Defence last week.

“Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman, today (Thursday, 16 March 2017), pursuant to his authority under Article 3 of the 2016 Fight Against Terrorism Law, declared the “Palestinian National Fund” (hereinafter “the fund”) to be a terrorist organization. 

The decision to declare the fund a terrorist organization stems from its continuing and ongoing activity in providing massive support for elements responsible for committing severe acts of terrorism against Israel. 

The fund serves – inter alia – as a significant financial pipeline for tens of millions of shekels that are transferred on a monthly basis to security prisoners held in Israel for committing acts of terrorism and to members of their families. In effect, the longer the sentence, the greater the payments to the prisoner and his family. 

The fund also supports family members of terrorists who were wounded and killed while perpetrating acts of terrorism against Israel. 

The fund has a vital role in the financial support for Palestinian terrorist operatives imprisoned in Israel, and it is used as the most significant route for transferring funds. 

The fund is headed by Ramzi Elias Yousef Khouri, a senior PLO official who is close to senior Palestinian Authority leaders. 

As of today, all necessary actions will be taken in Israel and overseas in order to seize and confiscate property and assets designated for, or belonging to, the fund.”

The PNF is – to put it mildly – not the most transparently run body.

“The Palestinian National Fund was founded in 1964 by members of the PLO in order to serve as the body which will manage the Palestinian people’s funds. The person who headed the fund was unofficially considered the Palestinian finance minister. The fund’s sources of funding were defined as taxes collected from PLO members (about 5 percent of the salaries of PLO members in the Gulf), donations from businesspeople, donations from Arab and other states, from organizations, and more.

Over the years, tens of billions of dollars were transferred to the fund’s coffer (it is estimated that some $30 billion passed through the fund’s accounts by early 2000). The Arab states’ annual financial aid to the PLO reached some $300 million since the mid 1960s.

Over the years, the fund also received different grants in light of the organization’s political stance. After the occupation of Kuwait in 1990, for example, Iraqi tyrant Saddam Hussein gave the Palestinian fund a “gift” worth $150 million to thank the PLO for its support of his policy. This is only one example of many.

The Palestinian fund has not only maintained its status since the PA was established after the Oslo Agreements in 1993, but it seems it has also increased its influence. One could say that since the PA’s establishment, the Amman-based National Fund has turned into a sort of secret coffer of the two PA chairmen, Yasser Arafat and Mahmoud Abbas. The control of the fund and the billions it manages have given the two leaders huge political power. […]

According to PLO regulations, the Palestinian National Fund should be run by a special council, and its chairman should be one of the members of the organization’s Executive Committee. In practice, however, the fund has not had a chairman for 15 years now, against regulations. About a decade ago, Abbas decided, as the PLO chairman, to appoint Ramzi Khoury, who served as Arafat’s bureau chief, as the fund’s CEO.

This means that Abbas basically controls the fund’s money, and that he knows of and approves the flow of funds to finance anti-Israel activity and propaganda.”

As readers may be aware, until a few years ago the monthly payments to convicted terrorists were made directly by the Palestinian Authority itself. However, in August 2014 changes were ostensibly made to the system.

“In 2014, the PA announced that in order to continue receiving more than a billion dollars in financial support annually, it was acceding to US and European donor countries’ demands that the PA stop paying salaries to terrorist prisoners. The PA claimed the money for prisoners salaries would no longer be paid by the PA but instead by the PLO.”

Nevertheless, as Palestinian Media Watch has documented:

“In 2015, after the PA had assured Western donors it was no longer paying the salaries, and after it had closed the Ministry of Prisoners’ Affairs, it suddenly transferred more than double what it had transferred to the PLO in previous years. The additional amount transferred by the PA to the PLO in 2015 was almost identical to the budget the PA Ministry of Prisoners’ Affairs used to have. This extra money the PLO received from the PA in 2015 matches the amount the PLO now needed to pay the salaries of terrorist prisoners.
The payments may be made by the PLO, but the money is still PA money.”

The role of the newly blacklisted Palestinian National Fund is explained as follows by PMW:

“…PMW has uncovered PA Ministry of Finance documents that indicate a money trail, showing the transfer of money from the PA to the Palestinian National Fund (PNF), the body that funds the PLO, in the amount needed to pay the salaries to terrorist prisoners […]

In 2015, after the Ministry of Prisoners’ Affairs was closed, the PA raised its annual transfer to the PLO via the Palestinian National Fund by 481 million shekels ($128 million):

2014 transfer – 294 million shekels

2015 transfer – 775 million shekels    

The additional 481 million shekels the PLO received from the PA in 2015 was the amount it needed to fund the PLO Commission of Prisoners’ Affairs, undertaking the responsibilities of the Ministry of Prisoners’ Affairs. The transfer of 481 million is virtually identical to the budget of the Ministry of Prisoners’ Affairs in 2014 (442 million), plus 10% yearly growth due to rising prisoners salaries. According to PA law, the salaries of terrorist prisoners rise the longer they are in prison.

This route – money transfers from the PA to the PNF and then to the PLO – is the way the PA is transferring money to the PLO in order to continue funding salaries to terrorist prisoners, and to keep their payments hidden from donor countries.”

If a president (particularly one with an expired mandate) in any other location in the world had control over a shadowy fund that, among other things, facilitated the provision of rewards – and incentives – for terrorism, one can be pretty sure that the BBC’s journalistic curiosity would be piqued. However in the case of Mahmoud Abbas and the Palestinian Authority, the BBC remains typically dumb.

Related Articles:

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

 

 

BBC Complaints: inaccurate portrayal of Palestinian leadership is not a ‘significant issue’

Last month we noted that an insert titled “What is the two-state solution?” had appeared in a number of BBC News website articles published since late December 2016. The same insert continues to appear in BBC content – most recently just last week.

BBC Watch submitted a complaint on the grounds that the insert is inaccurate and misleading to audiences because:

a) it does not inform readers that an essential part of the two-state solution is the concept (repeatedly endorsed by the Quartet) of ‘two states for two peoples’ – a definition which would require Palestinian recognition of Israel as the Jewish state – and that Fatah and the Palestinian Authority have repeatedly refused to do so.

b) the claim that the two-state solution is the “declared goal” of Palestinian leaders inaccurately suggests to readers that Palestinian leadership is one, uniform entity. It fails to inform readers that Hamas and additional Palestinian factions do not regard the two-state solution as their “goal” and in fact reject the concept.

The response received from BBC Complaints includes the following:

“The insert entitled “What is the two-state solution?” is meant to be an abbreviated guide to the concept in its broadest sense.  For reasons of space, it is not feasible to offer a more forensic examination of what is quite a complex issue, as you clearly understand.

It could be argued, for instance, that Hamas do not qualify as leaders on the same footing as the internationally recognised PA – it depends on how “leaders” is defined. The casual reader is likely to understand “leaders” in this context as those parties involved in the diplomatic process, of which Hamas is not one.

While Benjamin Netanyahu has made clear that a pre-requisite for any final peace settlement is a Palestinian recognition of Israel as a Jewish state, something the PA resists, it does not mean that a “two-state solution” in the general sense is not the declared goal of both sides. It is the detail and character of the two states which is up for discussion if/when peace talks resume.”

BBC Watch submitted a follow-up complaint, clarifying that while Hamas is indeed not part of the “diplomatic process” as it is not part of the Palestinian Authority or the PLO, it did receive more votes than any other party in the 2006 PLC election and hence is clearly a ‘leader’ as far as Palestinian public opinion is concerned. We also clarified that the requirement to recognise Israel as the Jewish state as part of the concept of two states for two peoples is not confined to the Israeli prime minister.

The response received reads:

“We appreciate that you felt strongly enough to write to us again. We have noted your points and are sorry to learn you were not satisfied with our earlier response. 

We are sorry to tell you that we have nothing to add to our previous reply. We do not believe your complaint has raised a significant issue of general importance that might justify further investigation. We will not therefore correspond further in response to additional points, or further comments or questions, made about this issue or our responses to it.”

As we see, the BBC does not think that leading audiences to believe that there is one, united Palestinian leadership which regards the two-state solution as its “goal” (while airbrushing from view a proscribed terror organisation that aims to wipe Israel off the map) is a “significant issue” which is liable to hamper understanding of this particular ‘international issue‘. 

 

BBC News reinforces selected ‘peace process’ narratives yet again

On March 10th an article titled “Trump Middle East: Palestinian leader invited to White House” was published on the BBC News website’s Middle East page. The subject matter of that four hundred and four word-long report is ostensibly a ten-minute phone call between the presidents of the US and the Palestinian Authority which took place that day. However, much of the article was used to reinforce narratives already evident in BBC content for some time.

1) Readers were told that:

“Mr Trump hosted Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in February.

At that meeting, Mr Trump dropped a long-standing US commitment to a two-state solution for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”

As has been noted here before, the day after the Israeli prime minister’s visit to the White House, the BBC published an article in which a member of the US administration clarified its stance:

“The US ambassador to the UN has said her country “absolutely” supports the idea of a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian dispute.

But Nikki Haley also said the Trump administration was “thinking outside the box as well”, suggesting it was open to other possible solutions.”

Despite having published that report, the BBC News website nevertheless continues to promote the narrative of a ‘major policy shift’ concerning the two-state solution on the part of the US administration.

2) The article includes an insert titled “What is the two-state solution?” that has already been seen in several previous reports.

That insert once again promotes the false narrative according to which the two-state solution is the “declared goal” of Palestinian leaders while erasing from audience view the fact that Hamas and additional Palestinian factions reject the two-state solution outright and failing to inform BBC audiences  of the repeated refusal of Palestinian Authority leaders to recognise Israel as the Jewish state: a necessary condition for fulfilment of the concept of “two states for two peoples”. 

3) The article tells readers that:

“There have been no substantive peace talks between the Israelis and Palestinians since US-mediated negotiations broke down in April 2014.”

The BBC has of course been promoting the narrative that those talks simply “broke down” or “collapsed” for a long time but serially refrains from informing its audiences of the decisions made by the Palestinian Authority which led to the end of that round of negotiations.

4) Readers of this article also found more BBC amplification of the PA’s narrative concerning the proposed relocation of the US embassy to Jerusalem:

“The US Senate on Thursday approved Mr Trump’s controversial nominee for ambassador to Israel.

David Friedman favours relocating the US embassy to Jerusalem, a highly inflammatory proposal because both Israel and the Palestinians lay claim to the city as their capital.” [emphasis added]

As has been noted here before, BBC audiences have not heard any alternative view of that proposal or any explanation as to why Palestinians should object to the relocation of the US embassy to an area of Jerusalem to which – according to the corporation’s own presentation of the issue – the PA does not lay claim.

Whether or not a meeting between Abbas and Trump will indeed “rekindle peace talks” as suggested in this report remains to be seen but what is already apparent is the BBC’s chosen framing of that topic – as indicated by the repeated promotion of these unwavering and unquestioned narratives in report after report.

Related Articles:

More narrative driven BBC portrayal of the ‘peace process’

BBC News and the US ‘major policy shift’ that wasn’t

BBC News website’s explanation of the two-state solution falls short

BBC continues to push its monochrome US embassy story

 

 

BBC News report whitewashes Arafat’s terrorism

On March 6th an article appeared on the BBC News website’s Middle East page under the headline “Israel Arafat street sign dropped after Netanyahu anger“.

The story is summarised in the article’s opening paragraphs:

“An Israeli Arab town has dropped the name of former Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat from one of its streets after Israel’s prime minister objected.

The village of Jatt, in the north of the country, removed the sign, officials said.

On Saturday [sic – actually Sunday] Benjamin Netanyahu said streets in Israel could not be “named after murderers of Israelis and Jews”.”

Readers were not informed that the local council had not obtained the required approval from the Ministry of the Interior for the street name.

The BBC’s article goes on:

“Many Palestinians see Arafat as an icon in their fight for a state but many Israelis view him as a terrorist.”

Yet again we see that the BBC promotes the ‘one man’s terrorist’ cliché, failing to distinguish between means and ends. As has been noted here on previous occasions, in 2009 the philosopher William Vallicella wrote:

“Suppose a Palestinian Arab jihadi straps on an explosive belt and detonates himself in a Tel Aviv pizza parlor. He is objectively a terrorist: he kills and maims noncombatants in furtherance of a political agenda which includes freedom from Israeli occupation. The fact that he is a freedom fighter does not make him any less a terrorist. Freedom is his end, but terror is his means. It is nonsense to say that he is a terrorist to Israelis and their supporters and a freedom fighter to Palestinians and their supporters. He is objectively both. It is not a matter of ‘perception’ or point of view or which side one is on.”

By promoting the notion that Arafat can be seen either as a terrorist or as “an icon”, the BBC continues to propagate a misleading, inaccurate and inherently flawed approach to the subject of terrorism.  

Later on in the article readers are told that:

“Arafat led the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) for 35 years. The movement was sworn to Israel’s destruction and carried out many deadly attacks.

Arafat later renounced violence and won the Nobel peace prize jointly with Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and Foreign Minister Shimon Peres in 1994 for agreeing Israel-Palestinian peace accords.

However many Israelis held him responsible for attacks by Palestinian militants from areas under his control during the second Palestinian intifada (uprising) which began in 2000.” [emphasis added]

With Arafat’s planning and financing of the second Intifada being a topic long avoided by the BBC (and one which, not coincidentally, contradicts the corporation’s chosen narrative on the subject), it is hardly surprising to see it framed as an “Israel says” issue. However, not only Israelis know that Arafat instigated the violence: numerous Palestinian figures – including Arafat’s wife – have also said the same.

“Yasser Arafat had made a decision to launch the Intifada. Immediately after the failure of the Camp David [negotiations], I met him in Paris upon his return, in July 2001 [sic]. Camp David has failed, and he said to me: “You should remain in Paris.” I asked him why, and he said: “Because I am going to start an Intifada. They want me to betray the Palestinian cause. They want me to give up on our principles, and I will not do so.” [Suha Arafat, Dubai TV, December 2012]

“He [Arafat] said: “You have to leave Palestine, because I want to carry out an Intifada, and I’m not prepared to shield myself behind my wife and little girl.” Everyone said: “Suha abandoned him,” but I didn’t abandon him. He ordered me to leave him because he had already decided to carry out an Intifada after the Oslo Accords and after the failure of Camp David [July 2000].”” [Suha Arafat, PA TV, November 2011]

“[Arafat] saw that repeating the first Intifada in new forms, would bring the necessary popular, international, and Arab pressure upon Israel, because it was already impossible to continue denying our right in Jerusalem and the right of the refugees, which are the two main topics [of conflict].” [Nabil Shaath, PA TV, November 2011]

“Whoever thinks that the Intifada started because of the hated Sharon’s visit to Al-Aqsa Mosque is mistaken. That was only the straw breaking the Palestinian people’s patience. This Intifada was already planned since [Arafat] the President returned from the recent talks at Camp David [July 2000].” [Imad Faluji, December 2000]

Nevertheless, the BBC continues its long-standing practice of whitewashing terrorism from the record of Yasser Arafat.   

Challenged and unchallenged claims in a BBC ‘Hardtalk’ interview – part two

In part one of this post we looked at the claims and topics on which presenter Stephen Sackur chose to challenge Fatah’s Husam Zomlot during a ‘Hardtalk’ interview broadcast on BBC World News on March 2nd. In this post we will look at the claims and statements that Sackur chose to let stand by failing to use his role as interviewer to intervene and clarify issues to BBC audiences.

For example, Sackur made no effort to challenge Zomlot’s inaccurate and misleading portrayal of the Oslo Accords, failing to point out that they do not include the stipulation that Israel should withdraw from “all the territories” which came under its control following the Six Day War and that they do stipulate that the issue of borders is to be determined in final status negotiations. Neither did Sackur bother to remind viewers that Israel disengaged from the Gaza Strip in 2005 or to clarify that the territory is not ‘besieged’. Likewise, he refrained from clarifying that the 1949 Armistice lines are not borders and that definition of the two-state solution as meaning “a State of Palestine on the 1967 borders” is merely the PLO’s interpretation of the term.

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

Zomlot: “…you know I also witnessed the Oslo process as a young man, you know, witnessed the demise of the implementation of the peace process. I think if you are talking about the process itself, yes, it has been discredited. All along since 1997 we should have had a state. According to the Oslo Accords Israel should have withdrawn from all the territories it occupied in 1967 and in fact what happened after was the deepening of the occupation and the spread of colonial settlements and the besiegement [sic] of the people in Gaza and what have you and therefore, yes; you’re right – the process has failed miserably to deliver the outcome. And to many people it was a process actually designed to prevent the outcome; a process that was going in the opposite direction. But the hope and the aspiration and the goal of two states – of a State of Palestine on the 1967 borders – the hope for two states…”

Zomlot’s whitewashed and misleading portrayal of the PLO charter went unchallenged by Sackur with no effort made to clarify that Jews in Zomlot’s “egalitarian” Palestinian state only include those “who had normally resided in Palestine until the beginning of the Zionist invasion”.

Zomlot: “The PLO official…the Palestine Liberation Organisation official platform until 1988 was a one democratic state for all its citizens in the historic land of Palestine for Muslims, Christians and Jews but that platform had to be compromised simply because there was a condition by the international community – in fact by Reagan, the Reagan administration – on the PLO that we must abandon our dream of one democratic, egalitarian state, diverse and respecting the rule of law for all of its citizens, to a two-state solution.”

Sackur failed to challenge the falsehood promoted by Zomlot according to which the current economic situation in the PA and Hamas controlled areas is “unprecedented” and refrained from clarifying that GDP is currently significantly higher than was the case during the second Intifada and in 2006. Neither did Sackur challenge Zomlot’s bizarre claim of a Palestinian population of 12.7 million or the falsehood that Palestinians are ‘coerced’ into working in Israel.

Zomlot: “The socio-economic situation in the West Bank and Gaza is simply unprecedented in terms of how deteriorated it has been. All economic indicators show some sort of an economic – what’s the word? – slaughter-house, actually. Let me give you some numbers very, very quickly about the economic disparity because of us having to work in Israel – not, by the way, by choice but by coercion. You know our population is around 12.7 million. We have 95% literacy and we have 70% under age of 29. This is a very youthful, very educated society. And we have very wealthy natural resources yet GDP – our GDP – I’m talking about 2015 – just a quick number – is $12 billion compared to $305 billion in Israel. Our per capita is 2,800 compared to 36,000 in Israel. Our unemployment rate…”

Sackur failed to inform viewers that Zomlot’s claims that the Israeli government seeks “full annexation of the West Bank” and that such a move is ongoing “on a daily basis” are false.

Zomlot: “…in our situation, given the calamity of the Israeli agenda now – the current government – and it’s very clear: they want full annexation of the West Bank. This is not what I’m saying; this is what they’re saying and doing on a daily basis. You’ve just quoted some of their bills passed in the Knesset and we are witnessing on a daily basis here in the West Bank and Jerusalem of course – East Jerusalem. Now if this is their agenda…by the way part of them pushing Gaza out of the equation so their annexationist agenda can prevail.”

Zomlot’s denial of Jerusalem as the capital – and seat of government – of Israel, his ridiculous claim concerning water consumption and his use of ‘apartheid’ and ‘colonisation’ tropes went unremarked by Sackur.

Zomlot: “Steve, the whole situation here is that of a system of entitlement. These people – some people in Tel Aviv right now – the government, the Right-wing extreme government, wants to keep a system whereby there is a group that are privileged as per these numbers. It’s our own water that they consume, most of it. Some groups that are privileged and others that are disprivileged [sic] and discriminated whether by means of occupation or by means of colonisation or by means of apartheid.”

Even the ridiculous claim that Palestinians are “treated as slaves” and use of the ‘chosen people’ trope produced no reaction from the BBC interviewer.

Zomlot: “Does this mean ending Israel’s occupation and establishing a State of Palestine? We are happy to proceed with you as partners. But if this means we will continue to be treated as slaves in our own land and we continue to put up against some people who argue that God is estate agent and God chose some people at the expense of others.”

In addition, on several occasions Sackur himself failed to adhere to the BBC’s own style on the use of the term ‘Palestine’ which states “in day-to-day coverage of the Middle East you should not affix the name ‘Palestine’ to Gaza or the West Bank” – for example:

Sackur: “I’m going to stop you because you’re raising so many different points, all of which are important, about internal politics in Palestine.

As we see, while Sackur challenged Zomlot repeatedly and rigorously on claims concerning internal Palestinian affairs during this interview, the same standard was not applied when Zomlot was speaking about other issues. The result of that discrepancy is that Zomlot was allowed him a free hand to mislead BBC audiences by propagating blatant falsehoods, delegitimising tropes and inaccurate anti-Israel propaganda.

 

 

Challenged and unchallenged claims in a BBC ‘Hardtalk’ interview – part one

The March 2nd edition of the BBC World News programme ‘Hardtalk‘ aired an interview with Fatah’s Husam Zomlot which was billed as follows:

“Stephen Sackur speaks to Husam Zomlot, a senior adviser to the Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas. Does the Trump era signal the end for the Palestinian dream of statehood?”

The programme – also broadcast on the BBC News Channel – is available to UK-based viewers here and a clip from the interview was promoted on the BBC News website.

Presenter Stephen Sackur introduced the interview as follows, promoting the BBC’s now well established narrative of a ‘shift’ in US policy regarding the two-state solution.

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

Sackur: “For years the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been stuck, condemned to repeat itself year in, year out but now something has changed. The two protagonists remain deaf to each other’s demands but there is a new US president who seems to care little for Washington’s long-established quest for a two-state solution. So what does that mean? Well my guest is Husam Zomlot, advisor to the Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas. Does the Trump ers signal the end for the Palestinian dream of statehood?”

A significant proportion of the interview related to the Palestinian Authority’s relationship with the new US administration and additional topics included internal Palestinian politics and economy. While some of Zomlot’s claims and statements were challenged – at times vigorously – by Sackur, others were not challenged at all.

Part one of this post will look at the subjects on which Sackur did chose to use his role as interviewer in order to clarify points to BBC audiences and part two will examine the claims and issues on which he refrained from challenging Zomlot.

When Zomlot claimed a “national consensus” regarding the two-state solution, Sackur intervened to clarify to audiences that the claim is inaccurate, although he did not similarly challenge the myth of Israel being on ‘Palestinian land’ or point out that – crucially to the issue under discussion – the PA and Fatah refuse to recognise Israel as the Jewish state.

Zomlot: “And, you know, it took us so many years to get to that national equilibrium here in Palestine; to establish a national consensus on the two-state solution and on accepting, recognising Israel on 78% of our land. […]

Sackur: “…you claim you’ve reached a consensus, which of course you haven’t because that’s why Gaza and the West Bank are so deeply divided politically so we’ll get to that later.”

Sackur challenged Zomlot repeatedly and vigorously with regard to his claims of communication with the new US administration.

Sackur: “That must worry you; that the Trump team do not seem to be interested in talking to you Palestinians.”

Sackur: “Hang on, hang on ‘cos this is important. Hang on, this is important. You’re telling me oh yes, don’t worry; we’ve got the contact. Look, the truth is Binyamin Netanyahu has already had a very cosy meeting with Donald Trump at the White House. Just tell me; what’s the extent of the direct, personal contact between Mahmoud Abbas and Donald Trump?”

Sackur: “Yeah but I asked you a direct question. What’s the direct answer? What’s the direct answer?”

Sackur: “All I can say is you do seem to me to be a wild optimist ‘cos you seem to think that, you know, the Americans are in listening mode and they’re waiting to talk to you.”

Zomlot was challenged extensively on the topic of security co-operation (as laid out in the Oslo Accords) between the Palestinian Authority and Israel, although his false claim that the PLO represents “all Palestinians” was not.

Sackur: “Your boss Mahmoud Abbas said many weeks ago, he said that if Israel pushes ahead with this legislation to legalise settlements built on private Palestinian land, then he would cut security co-operation with Israel. Well of course that bill has now passed through the Knesset but as far as I can see it, Mahmoud Abbas has no intention of making good on that threat. Or am I missing something?”

Zomlot: “No you are missing something because that decision was made and it was made even by the PLO central council and now it’s been approved by this very legitimate sort of parliament for all Palestinians, [it’s] for the executive branch to decide on the timing. Remember, Steve, the issue of security is not just an Israeli demand; it’s not just an Israeli interest. It’s also a Palestinian interest and we don’t want to see a situation here where we…we have groups and agencies from all over the region – and you know what is happening around us, just 300 kilometers all around – and we want to make sure that we deliver such a policy on the right time.”

Sackur: “Well that’s the point, isn’t it? If I may – forgive the interruption – but if I may tease out what you seem to have just said to me, your priority is more in keeping a lid on Hamas in the West Bank than it is in ending security co-operation with Israel.”

Zomlot: “That’s not what I said. No, no. That’s not…we have no lid on Hamas whatsoever. Hamas is in Gaza and has staged a coup d’etat and it’s in full control of Gaza. No that’s not what I said. What I said is that we…”

Sackur: “No but it’s the West Bank we’re talking about. You need the Israeli security co-operation in the West Bank to help you keep yourselves – Fatah – on the top in the West Bank. Israel is your ally in that.”

Sackur went on to challenge Zomlot on the topic of one aspect of the PA economy.

Sackur: “I want to talk economy just briefly if I may. You say yes, we are going to end security and economic co-operation with Israel. I would put it to you; you can’t afford to. First of all you need the Israelis to hand over the customs and the border revenues that come to you through the Israelis and if you lose that, you’re in even worse economic circumstances than you’re in right now. And also the tens of thousands of Palestinians who either work inside Israel – on the other side of the green line – or, you know, frankly, let’s be honest, thousands of Palestinians work on building sites and construction building the very Jewish settlements that you say are the chief obstacle to peace. If you stop all those people doing those jobs, you economy’s going to fall apart.”

Zomlot was also challenged on a topic much neglected by the BBC: internal Palestinian politics.

Sackur: “Why is it that President Mahmoud Abbas has so little credibility? Palestinian opinion polls show that the majority of Palestinians want him gone. He hasn’t won an election for – what is it? – at least a decade. His mandate has run out. Most Palestinians see the Palestinian Authority as corrupt. You are doing yourselves no favours.”

After Zomlot cited in his reply the rescheduled municipal elections as “a pillar of our democratic process” – without either he or Sackur informing viewers that they will not be held in the Gaza Strip – and described the PA as “one of the very few nations in this region that really do adhere to the democratic processes”, Sackur interrupted:

Sackur: “When your mandate lasts four years… when your mandate lasts four years and it was achieved thirteen years ago, you don’t have any legitimacy anymore.”

Zomlot went on to give a bizarre interpretation of democracy which English-speaking BBC audiences would of course have had difficulty following given that the corporation chose not to report on the 7th Fatah party congress.

Zomlot: “Allow me…no, we do have legitimacy because President Abbas is the president of the PLO – of the Palestine Liberation Organisation – which is much, much higher even than the PA. The PA was only established to fulfil our responsibilities under Oslo which Israel has failed miserably. He does have the national legitimacy and he was elected. […] In the end he was voted by Fatah only two months ago in such a democratic process.”

Sackur: “Hang on, hang on, just a moment. Hang on, hang on. You’ve just said something outrageous. You had a chance to answer.”

Sackur raised another topic serially under-reported by the BBC.

Sackur: “That might be a bit more convincing to the outside world if Fatah and the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank didn’t keep locking up opponents, didn’t keep depriving people like Mohammed Dahlan who is an opponent within the PLO [sic] of…[…] You know Dahlan and his people say that it’s time for new leadership, new leadership and you guys refuse to countenance new leadership in your own organisation.”

He did not however react when Zomlot told him that internal Palestinian politics are “even not for the BBC to discuss” – although that approach from a senior Fatah and PA official does perhaps go some way towards explaining why BBC correspondents in the region serially avoid reporting on internal Palestinian affairs.