BBC WS airbrushes terror out of a story about Palestinian prisoners

The September 7th edition of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘The Fifth Floor’ included an item described in its synopsis as follows:

“Radio messages for prisoners
Around 6,000 Palestinians are currently detained in Israeli jails, and one of the ways they get news from home is through Palestinian radio. Tala Halawa of BBC Monitoring is based in Ramallah and has been listening in.”

The introduction by presenter David Amanor (from 17:31 here) likewise did not bother to inform listeners why those people are serving time in prison or that over 2,000 of them are directly responsible for the murders of Israelis. 

Amanor: “Tala Halawa of BBC Monitoring tells me, by the way, the number of Palestinian radio stations in the West Bank has been steadily increasing over the years and so has the variety of programmes aimed at prisoners – yes, prisoners. Around six thousand are currently detained in Israeli jails and for many, radio is a vital contact with the outside world. Tala is based in the city of Ramallah.”

Having told listeners of her penchant for changing radio stations while driving, Tala Halawa went on: [emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]

Halawa: “I have been fascinated with the content of the radio programmes aimed at prisoners and their families. So this is Marasil [phonetic] which means messages in Arabic; a broadcast on Palestinian radio station Ajyal FM. The presenter Jenin Zaal is giving out the phone number for families to call with messages for prisoners. Her show lasts for 90 minutes and goes out every Friday. I met her in the radio station in Ramallah city centre.

Jenin told me that those 90 minutes are among the most important in her life but she says the programme is very draining. She says she could never give it up; it’s one way she feels she can contribute to the Palestinian cause and do something for her homeland. The promo for Marasil [phonetic] says the programme breaks down prison bars. You can hear that messages like this one from a wife to her imprisoned husband.”

After listeners heard a voice-over of the message, Halawa went on to give her own interpretations:

Halawa: “This is a kind of a typical news a wife would share with her imprisoned husband knowing that thousands are listening to her call. She wants to tell him how much she misses him but in a relatively conservative society she keeps the conversation limited to their kids’ news. To excel in school is a very important matter in the Palestinian context so it’s always the main topic to discuss on air. Spending too much time on social media platforms and computer games concerns all parents.

I also talked to a former prisoner Rula Abu Daho. She’s now a lecturer in Birzeit University and she’s one of the leading figures in women and gender studies in the Palestinian context. Rula said that getting a message from your family through the radio was almost like a visit. Of course it’s a one-way communication but it still feels like a visit. This is Jenin Zaal taking a call from a girl whose mother is in prison.”

After listeners heard another voice-over Halawa went on:

Halawa: “Another former prisoner Esmat Mansour who spent 20 years in prison. During that time he learned Hebrew and now he established a career in journalism. Esmat told me that he found out from the radio that his 20 year imprisonment was about to end. He said that the prison administration just would not say when his release date was. But then some fellow prisoners in the yard started calling him and telling him to listen to Ajyal FM. When he turned on the radio he heard his own family saying how they were preparing celebrations to welcome him back the next day. So, at least, the waiting was over.

I met Mansour for the first time in 2014. He never mentioned that he knew about his release from the radio programme. That was a surprise for me and this made me realise that those programmes are not simply two hours of broadcast: they carry a heavy load of human stories that deserve to be heard.”

Obviously Tala Halawa’s interest in “human stories that deserve to be heard” does not extend beyond the people she presents as ‘prisoners’ without the provision of any context whatsoever. BBC World Service listeners were not told that the quoted university lecturer Rula Abu Daho was imprisoned for her part in the murder of Yigal Shahaf in 1987.

“Dusk was settling over the Old City, reaching into its labyrinthine alleys and shrouding its holy sites as Yigal and Ronit Shahaf made their way slowly toward the Damascus Gate. The young couple, chatting in Hebrew with two friends, paid little heed to the dwindling crowds or the shopkeepers closing for the day.

Nearby, four young Palestinians, three men and a woman, waited. When the Israelis paused in front of a jewelry shop near the Via Dolorosa, one of the men ran toward them, aimed a pistol at the back of Yigal Shahaf’s head and fired one shot.

As chaos broke out, the gunman fled, handing his weapon to one of his comrades, who gave it to the woman, a college student who had just joined the military wing of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), a radical faction of the Palestine Liberation Organization.

The woman, Rula abu Duhou, 19, paid with nine years in prison for her participation in the slaying of an innocent Israeli civilian. And still today, freed by a controversial amnesty, she is unrepentant.

“I’m not sorry for it,” Abu Duhou said recently, her dark eyes direct, as relatives and friends streamed into her family’s comfortable West Bank home to celebrate her release. “On the contrary, I’m proud. And I wish I could do more for my country.””

Neither were BBC World Service listeners informed that the ‘journalist’ Esmat Mansour “spent 20 years in prison” because he took part in the murder of Chaim Mizrahi in 1993 or that since his release in 2013 he has received financial benefits for his part in that act of terror.

“In a typical homecoming package, the Palestinian self-rule government gave him $50,000, the rank of colonel and a monthly stipend of 6,000 shekels ($1,725), a higher-than-average income.”

A month before this item was aired on BBC World Service radio the partially licence fee funded BBC department BBC Monitoring – which purports to “to provide news, information and insight to BBC journalists, UK government customers and commercial subscribers, allowing users to make well-informed decisions” – found it appropriate to publish similar ‘analysis’ by Ramallah based Tala Halawa under the title “The ‘private space’ radio offers to Palestinian prisoners“.

There too Halawa showcased contributions from Rula Abu Daho and Esmat Mansour – but with no mention whatsoever of their involvement in acts of terror. She did however tell subscribers that:

“It is estimated that around 6,000 Palestinians are currently being held in Israeli jails as a result of the ongoing conflict between the two sides. Palestinians see them as prisoners of war or political prisoners under international law, while Israel disputes this, saying they are terrorists or active in illegal terrorist organisations.”

As has been noted here on previous occasions, 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 legitimately be defined in such terms.

These two reports further indicate that the BBC has not adequately addressed the issue of politicisation of Middle East related content produced by local staff and the serious question marks that raises regarding the impartiality of BBC content. 

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Which got more cover on BBC News website this week – terror or ketchup?

On the evening of August 26th an incident took place near the Damascus Gate in Jerusalem in which a Border Policemen was wounded by a Palestinian attacker who stabbed him in the leg. The Israeli Police described the attacker as a 56 year-old man from Hebron, adding that he was carrying a knife and an axe.

“Close to 19:00 hours the suspect identified two Border Police officers who were on patrol in the area of Damascus Gate, jumped from behind them and brandished the axe at one of them. The axe slipped from his hand, missing the head of the officer. The suspect ran off to a nearby shop with the officers following him, drew a knife and stabbed one of the officers.”

Like the majority of attacks against Israelis, this one did not receive any BBC coverage. However, the attacker was later identified as being Muamar Atta Mahmoud – the convicted murderer of Professor Menachem Stern – who was released from prison in December 2013 within the framework of the ‘goodwill gestures’ supposed to advance talks between Israel and the PLO in 2013/14.prisoner release art 30 12

BBC coverage of those prisoner releases at the time made much of the terrorists’ status as “heroes of the Palestinian cause” and repeatedly promoted the description of them as “freedom fighters” and “political prisoners” whilst failing to adequately address the topic of glorification of terrorism – made especially relevant by the Palestinian Authority’s lavish receptions for convicted murderers. Nevertheless, the BBC has still not found it appropriate to inform its audiences of this incident.

On the other hand, visitors to the BBC News website’s Middle East page did learn this week that Heinz can no longer label its product ketchup in Israel.

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Background to the BBC’s inaccurate framing of the end of Middle East talks

Back on April 1st the BBC published an article on its website’s Middle East page titled “Premature to write off Middle East peace talks – Kerry” which we previously discussed here.

That article related to the PA president’s move of the same day in which he signed applications to join assorted UN agencies and conventions and it included a side-box of analysis from the BBC Jerusalem Bureau’s Kevin Connolly which opened thus:Sidebox Connolly

“The Palestinians have begun applying for accession to a wide variety of international treaties and conventions to signify their frustration at Israel’s failure – so far – to release a final batch of prisoners whose freedom the Palestinians believe was guaranteed under the US deal that got talks started last year.”

In the body of the article readers were told that:

“Hours earlier, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas said he would seek further UN recognition unless a prisoner release by Israel went ahead.”

In other words, BBC audiences were encouraged to believe that Mahmoud Abbas’ signing of those applications was a reaction to the delay in the release of the fourth tranche of prisoners on March 29th.

However, on March 9th 2014 – almost a month earlier and a week prior to Abbas’ meeting with the US president at the White House – the PLO’s chief negotiator Saeb Erekat presented a 65-page document to Abbas outlining his proposals for the PA’s strategy for handling the final two months of the duration of the talks, which were set to conclude on April 29th.

In that document, Erekat wrote that “it is incumbent upon us” (the PA):

“To put forward immediately the request to accede to the Geneva Conventions (1,2,3,4) of 1949, and to the additional protocols of 1977. Once he receives the request for accession, the President of Switzerland will announce that the State of Palestine has been accepted as a High Contracting Party to these conventions.”

In other words, the recommendation to apply to join international conventions had been made long before the delay in the fourth tranche of prisoner releases.

Additionally, Erekat proposed in that document:

“To inform the American Administration, the EU, Russia and the UN that it is impossible to extend the negotiations beyond the end of the nine month period, on April 29, 2014.”

Thus we see that despite the prisoner releases having been conditional upon progress in the talks, the intention was to secure the fourth tranche of releases but to refuse to extend the negotiations’ deadline. Erekat even outlined his PR strategy for that move:

“To affirm that the release of prisoners – 104 – is not connected to the negotiations or the settlements but with the avoidance by the Palestinian side of efforts to accede international institutions during the nine month period.”

And that despite the fact that earlier in the document, in the section in which Erekat outlined the agreements secured with Kerry before the talks commenced, he defined the PA’s undertakings thus: [emphasis added]

“We undertook as the Palestinian side:

To persist in the negotiations without a break;

To avoid acts of accession to international institutions during the period of negotiations (nine months).

To respect our obligations under existing agreements, including our security obligations.”

Notably too, the Hamas-Fatah reconciliation deal (which was presented to audiences by the BBC’s Middle East editor as being the fruit of frustration with the talks) is also set out in Erekat’s document as preconceived strategy.

“The cornerstone of Palestinian strategy now must rely upon the realization of reconciliation and the strengthening of Palestinian national unity, particularly since the exclusion of the Gaza Strip from the Palestinian space has become an important cornerstone of Israeli strategy.”

In light of the fact that the BBC has framed the issue of the end of this latest round of negotiations as attributable to the Israeli prime minister alone, it would of course be appropriate for the corporation to inform its audiences of what in fact was going on behind the Palestinian scenes during those last two months of those talks. Should it fail to do so, the BBC would clearly be in breach of its public purpose remit to “build a global understanding of international issues”. 

BBC claims final tranche of prisoner release included “hundreds” – reader secures correction

Another day: another BBC article on the subject of the stalled talks between Israel and the PLO which does little to inform BBC audiences of the complete background to the current impasse.

Having covered the subject in five previous reports published throughout the ten days between March 26th and April 4th (see related articles below), the BBC News website published an additional report on April 6th titled “Netanyahu: Israel will answer Palestinian unilateralism“.

Based on remarks made by Israel’s prime minister at the weekly cabinet meeting on the same day, the report has little to contribute to audience understanding of the topic. Like its predecessors, this article fails to fully inform audiences of the background to the story, preferring instead to once again present an equivocally framed picture of events. 

Bizarrely, it was claimed in the original version of this report that: [emphasis added]

“Earlier this week, Israel cancelled plans to free hundreds of Palestinian prisoners, arguing that Mr Abbas’s decision to sign up to several international conventions at the UN had violated the conditions for the release.

The Palestinians however say that Israel had already reneged on a commitment to free the prisoners.”

Netanyahu talks art 6 4. hundreds

In fact, twenty-six releases – not “hundreds” – were scheduled for the end of March (dependent upon progress in the talks – of which there was little), with 78 prisoners having already been freed in the previous three tranches under the terms of the agreement which preceded the return to negotiations.

“Under the terms of the agreement last July that enabled the current round of negotiations – which is set to expire on April 29 – Israel was to release 104 Palestinian security prisoners in four phases, and the Palestinians were to refrain from unilateral moves in the international arena.”

The BBC appears to have conflated the original July 2013 agreement with an offer (which, ironically, it has so far failed to report) made by Israel to the US Secretary of State in order to encourage the Palestinian Authority to continue negotiations after the April 29th dead-line which was publicized on the morning of April 1st. Inter alia, according to the terms of that offer, in addition to the fourth tranche of 26 prisoners:

“Israel would release an additional 400 Palestinian prisoners during the continuing negotiation period. These prisoners would be picked by Israel, include many minors and women, and not include those with “blood on their hands.” “

That offer was however rendered irrelevant by the Palestinian president’s live televised signing of applications to join assorted UN agencies on the afternoon of the same day – in violation of the July 2013 agreement which preceded the recommencement of negotiations, in which the PA committed to not applying to the UN throughout the period of talks scheduled to close on April 29th.

The BBC’s failure to clarify to audiences that Abbas’ signing of the UN applications did indeed violate the terms of the agreement reached before the talks recommenced – and its framing of that issue as an Israeli claim alone – is clearly as misleading to BBC audiences as its gross inflation of the number of prisoners scheduled for release.

The latter point has meanwhile been corrected following a complaint made to the BBC News website’s Middle East desk by a reader, to which the following response was received.

“We have corrected the story and published a note at the end explaining the changes. We are grateful to you for pointing out the mistake and apologise for the error.”

On April 7th the paragraph concerned was amended and another added. That section of the article now reads:

“Earlier this week, Israel cancelled plans to free a final batch of Palestinian prisoners, arguing that Mr Abbas’s decision to sign up to several international conventions at the UN had violated the conditions for the release.

The Palestinians however say that Israel had already reneged on a commitment to free the prisoners.

Israel has so far freed 78 prisoners in three rounds of releases – part of a deal under which both sides agreed to resume peace talks last July.”

A footnote was appended to the report.

correction article netanyahu mepp

One does have to wonder how such an obvious factual inaccuracy managed to slip past fact checking and editorial processes. 

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Crucial background to floundering of ME talks still outside the BBC’s frame

 

 

Crucial background to floundering of ME talks still outside the BBC’s frame

On April 4th a report appeared on the Middle East page of the BBC News website under the title “Kerry calls for ‘reality check’ in Mid-East peace talks“. Based on remarks made by the US Secretary of State during a visit to Morocco, the article makes repeat use of the theme of equivalence promoted in previous recent coverage of the floundering talks between Israel and the PLO (see ‘related articles’ below) and is blighted by the same omission of crucial information which compromises audience understanding of the events which led to the current crisis. Kerry Morocco art

Throughout the report the BBC herds audiences towards an equivocal appraisal of the situation. The caption to the first image chosen to illustrate the report reads:

“Israel and the Palestinians have traded blame for the latest crisis in the talks”.

In the body of the article readers are told that:

“He [Kerry] spoke after steps taken by Israel and the Palestinians in the past two days which each side said violated previous promises.”

And:

“However, Washington has expressed exasperation at what it calls “unhelpful, unilateral actions” taken by both sides.”

And:

“The talks, which resumed in July under US auspices after a three-year hiatus, appeared to be on the point of breaking down this week, with Israel and the Palestinians blaming the other.” [all emphasis added]

In short, rather than fulfilling its role of building “a global understanding of international issues”, the BBC has again opted to avoid presenting audiences with the full picture.

The sequence of events leading up to the current impasse as presented by the BBC in this report begins as follows:

“The Palestinians were furious when Israel did not sanction the release of a fourth batch of Palestinian and Israeli-Arab prisoners, as agreed in principle under the terms on which the Palestinians returned to peace talks last year.”

The report does not clarify that the postponement of the fourth tranche of prisoner releases came after little if any progress had been made throughout eight months of negotiations – with direct talks having not taken place for months – and against the backdrop of the Palestinian Authority’s refusal (with Arab League backing) to agree to security arrangements in the Jordan Rift Valley and its refusal (again with Arab League support) to announce an end to future claims – and thereby an end to the conflict – by recognizing Israel as the Jewish state.

Although this report improves on previous ones by at least mentioning the potential inclusion of Arab-Israeli prisoners in the fourth tranche of prisoner releases, the BBC continues to avoid informing audiences of the fact that the inclusion of those particular prisoners had not been part of the agreement reached at the outset of the talks and that it was in fact a demand made by the Palestinian Authority. Once again, no effort is made to explain to readers the highly problematic aspects of this attempt by the PA to claim to represent citizens of another country and the clear interference in Israeli sovereignty that demand signifies. Neither is any effort made to explain to readers the potential political fallout for Israel’s coalition government which could be brought about by any release of Arab-Israeli prisoners.

The BBC’s suggestion that Israel reneged on a release of “Israeli-Arab prisoners, as agreed in principle” is contradicted by its own report from July 30th 2013 in which it was clearly stated that the identities of the prisoners scheduled for release – to be decided by Israel under the terms of the agreement – had not been publicized.

“Also on Sunday, the Israeli cabinet approved the release of 104 long-term Palestinian prisoners by 13 votes to seven.

The inmates are to be released in four stages over a number of months, linked to progress in the peace process.

Their identities have not been published, but according to reports they include those who have killed Israelis or Palestinian informers.”

Despite its having previously reported the fact that the prisoner releases were defined at the outset of this round of talks as being tied to their progress, the BBC’s ‘sequence’ in this report continues by opting to present that fact as an Israeli claim:

“Israel stressed that it had predicated any release on progress being made in the negotiations and on the Palestinians abiding by a commitment not to seek membership of international agencies.

Cabinet members also said they would block a release unless the Palestinians agreed to extend the talks beyond 29 April, the date by which the US had said it had hoped to reach a full agreement.”

Like its predecessors on the same topic, this report fails at this point to mention the supplementary concessions offered by Israel as an incentive to continue the talks after the April 29th deadline – including the release of an additional 400 prisoners and a commitment not to release any new building tenders for Judea & Samaria.

The BBC’s ‘sequence’ continues:

“The Palestinians however said they would not agree to extend the talks unless the prisoners were freed and accused Israel of reneging on the deal. […]

On Wednesday, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas signed applications to join 15 international conventions which Palestinian officials said was a response to Israel’s failure to release the prisoners. Israel fears the Palestinians will use the treaties as a legal tool against it and to further enhance statehood which is subject to the negotiations.

It officially cancelled the prisoner release on Thursday in response to Mr Abbas’s move.”

At this point the report should have clarified that the talks’ ‘pre-nup’ included a specific commitment by the PA not to make such applications to the UN (as recently confirmed by the PA president’s spokesman) and it should also have  informed readers of the additional new demands presented by the Palestinian Authority as condition for the extension of talks – but no mention whatsoever of those new demands is made.

Clearly, so much crucial information is being systematically left outside the BBC’s framing of this story that audiences cannot hope to develop a fact-based coherent understanding of this particular international issue.

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BBC opts for equivalence in report on talks breakdown

On the afternoon of April 3rd a report appeared on the Middle East page of the BBC News website under the title “Israel cancels Palestinian prisoner release“. The article underwent numerous changes until the appearance of its final version, as can be viewed here. Its presentation on the Middle East page included two links to ‘related stories’: one to the BBC’s July 2013 “History of Mid-East peace talks” and another to the outdated backgrounder titled “Q&A: Israeli-Palestinian talks in Jerusalem”.

The article’s outstanding feature is its transparent attempt to promote to BBC audiences the notion of equivalence in both its wording and through the images used. The two photographs below are prominently featured in the body of the report.

Pris release 3 4 pics equivalence

In the article’s text, readers are informed that:

“The previous three releases of Palestinian prisoners were deeply unpopular with the Israeli public because many of those freed had been convicted of murdering Israelis.”

Following that laconic statement, audiences are then told:

“But the Palestinians – many of whom regard the prisoners as heroes – believed the final batch of prisoners would be freed under a US deal that got the talks started last year.”

Once again – as was the case in the BBC’s previous two articles on the topic of the floundering talks – audiences are not informed that the Palestinian Authority’s stance concerning the fourth tranche of prisoner releases included the demand to free prisoners who are Israeli citizens and consequently they also remain unaware of the implications of that demand.

The article states:

“Israel has cancelled the release of a fourth group of Palestinian prisoners over the Palestinian leadership’s pursuit of further UN recognition.

Israeli Justice Minister Tzipi Livni said Palestinian actions had violated the terms of the release, which was part of a US-backed peace process.

Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas has applied to 15 UN conventions, accusing Israel of backtracking on its promises.”

Although the BBC quotes Israel’s negotiator Tzipi Livni as saying that Mahmoud Abbas’ application to join assorted UN conventions “violated the terms of the release”, no attempt is made to properly clarify to audiences that in the run-up to the talks the PA specifically committed itself to refraining from just such a move for their nine-month duration which does not expire until April 29th. Neither is it made clear to audiences that the prisoner releases were subject to progress in the talks – of which there has been little – and recent statements by Palestinian officials concerning the prisoner releases are of course excluded from view.

Later on the article states that: Pris release main

“In recent days, the US had reportedly been trying to broker a deal in which the Palestinians would agree to extend the peace talks beyond the end of April deadline in exchange for the releasing of prisoners by Israel, and the US would free Israeli spy Jonathan Pollard in return.”

As was the case when a similar statement was made in a previous BBC report on the issue, audiences are not informed of the full extent of that proposed deal and Israeli concessions are downplayed.

“The negotiations would continue into January 2015, during which time the Palestinians would commit themselves not to engage in diplomatic warfare against Israel by going to international organizations for recognition. […]

Israel would release an additional 400 Palestinian prisoners during the continuing negotiation period. These prisoners would be picked by Israel, include many minors and women, and not include those with “blood on their hands.”

Israel would “exercise restraint” in releasing government tenders for new homes in the West Bank, meaning that it would issue no new government tenders for housing in Judea and Samaria. This policy would not include Jewish neighborhoods in Jerusalem beyond the Green Line.

This policy would also exclude public building projects, such as roads.”

Significantly, the latest set of Palestinian demands for the continuation of negotiations –presented on April 2nd – is not mentioned at all in this BBC report.

 1. A written commitment by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that the borders of the Palestinian state will be along the 1967 ‘green-line’ and that its capital will be East Jerusalem.

2. The release of 1,200 Palestinian prisoners, including political heavyweights Marwan Barghouti, Ahmed Saadat and Fuad Shubkhi.

3. An end to the Egyptian-Israeli blockade on Gaza, and the formulation of dealing allowing the flow of goods into Gaza.

4. A halt in construction in East Jerusalem.

5. The IDF will not be allowed to enter Area A – the area of the West Bank under autonomous PA control since the Oslo Accords – to conduct arrests or assassinations

6. Israel will permit the PA control over Area C – currently under Israel’s control.

7. The Palestinians known as the Church of Nativity deportees– a group of terrorist who barricaded themselves in the Church of the Nativity on April 2, 2002 and were later deported to European nations and the Gaza Strip – will be allowed to return to the West Bank.

8. The reopening of a number of Palestinian development agencies Israel shut down. 

Additionally, once again we see that in this report – as in its predecessors – the BBC neglects to explain to audiences the significance of the PA’s crucial refusal (backed by the Arab League) to recognize Israel as the Jewish state and hence bring an end to any future claims and an end to the conflict.

The entire tone of this latest report on the subject of the talks can be summed up by looking at a statement by the BBC Jerusalem Bureau’s Kevin Connolly which appears in the body of the article and also in its side-box of ‘analysis’.

“Each side blames the other for initiating that sequence of backward steps. In theory they could be reversed and a limited agreement reached to extend talks beyond the current 29 April deadline but the prospects are not improving.”

In other words, equivalence is currently the name of the game for the BBC and the steering of audiences towards that view is achieved by selective presentation of information which includes downplaying Israeli offers of concessions and disappearing assorted Palestinian demands, as well as the continued presentation of a supposed moral equivalence between terrorist and victim. 

 

 

 

 

 

BBC’s selective omissions slant audience view of Israel-PLO talks

On the evening of April 1st an article titled “Premature to write off Middle East peace talks – Kerry” appeared on the Middle East page of the BBC News website. Abbas UN bid art

The event which prompted the appearance of that article – and its title – was the live televised signing by PA president Mahmoud Abbas of applications to join assorted UN agencies.

The BBC’s description of that event is as follows:

“Hours earlier, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas said he would seek further UN recognition unless a prisoner release by Israel went ahead.

At a televised meeting in the West Bank, Mr Abbas signed applications by the “State of Palestine” to join several UN agencies and ratify international treaties, beginning with the Fourth Geneva Convention.

Leading members of his Fatah movement and the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) voted unanimously in support of the move, which the Israeli and the US governments have argued is deeply mistaken.”

However, at no point in the report does the BBC bother to inform readers that, as part of last July’s overtures to this latest round of negotiations, the Palestinian Authority committed itself to refraining from just such a move for the nine-month duration of the talks which does not expire until April 29th.

That above BBC description of Abbas’ move is followed immediately by the following piece of information, which is totally irrelevant to the story’s subject matter given that no building freeze was agreed upon as a condition of the current negotiations.

“Israel meanwhile reissued tenders for 708 homes in the Jewish settlement of Gilo in East Jerusalem, the Israeli pressure group Peace Now said.

Israel captured East Jerusalem from Jordan in the 1967 Middle East war and formally annexed the area in 1980. Settlements built there and elsewhere in the occupied West Bank are considered illegal under international law, though Israel disputes this.”

In what has become standard BBC practice, audiences are herded towards a mistaken belief that Israel is alone in disputing that particular interpretation of Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention and – in breach of BBC editorial guidelines on impartiality – readers are not informed that any other dissenting opinions even exist, let alone of the basis for such disagreement.

The statement that “Israel captured East Jerusalem from Jordan” in 1967 may be technically accurate, but it is also deliberately misleading because it does not inform readers of the relevant fact that Jordan’s 19-year occupation of parts of Jerusalem was not recognized by the international community.

In keeping with its previous article on the subject of the rickety negotiations published earlier on the same day, the BBC again fails to make any mention in this report of the fact that the Palestinian Authority’s stance concerning the fourth tranche of prisoner releases includes the demand to free prisoners who are Israeli citizens. Hence, yet again, no explanation is provided to BBC audiences regarding the highly problematic aspects of that attempt by the PA to claim to represent citizens of another country and the clear interference in Israeli sovereignty that demand signifies. Neither is any attempt made to explain to readers the potential political fallout for Israel’s coalition government which could be brought about by any release of Arab-Israeli prisoners.

In fact, although it is no doubt aware of the PA demand to release 14 Arab-Israelis, the BBC presents them as “Palestinian prisoners” as can be seen below. [emphasis added]

“Mr Kerry has for weeks been trying to persuade both sides to continue the direct negotiations beyond 29 April, but his efforts have been jeopardised by a disagreement over the release of a fourth group of 26 long-term Palestinian prisoners from Israeli jails.

Mr Abbas says they must be freed, in keeping with a promise made by Israel before the negotiations resumed in July after a three-year hiatus.

But Israeli officials say they are reluctant to proceed unless the Palestinians commit to extending the talks, and stress that the releases have always been tied to their progress.

The previous three releases were deeply unpopular with the Israeli public because many of the prisoners were convicted of murdering Israelis.”

Towards its end, the report states:

“Earlier on Tuesday, the US Secretary of State held talks with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat amid reports that they were close to finalising an agreement that would extend the talks until 2015.

Sources cited by US and Israeli media said a deal was emerging in which the fourth batch of Palestinian prisoners would be freed in return for the release of Jonathan Pollard, an American who was jailed for life in 1987 for spying for Israel.”

The BBC refrains from mentioning that in addition to the above, the proposed terms of the “deal” also included the following points:

“The negotiations would continue into January 2015, during which time the Palestinians would commit themselves not to engage in diplomatic warfare against Israel by going to international organizations for recognition. […]

Israel would release an additional 400 Palestinian prisoners during the continuing negotiation period. These prisoners would be picked by Israel, include many minors and women, and not include those with “blood on their hands.”

Israel would “exercise restraint” in releasing government tenders for new homes in the West Bank, meaning that it would issue no new government tenders for housing in Judea and Samaria. This policy would not include Jewish neighborhoods in Jerusalem beyond the Green Line.

This policy would also exclude public building projects, such as roads.”

This report is the third to appear on the BBC News website in the past week in connection with the current talks between Israel and the PLO – see here and here.

None of these articles have explained to audiences the significance of the PA’s refusal to recognize Israel as the Jewish state with regard to ending future claims – and therefore the conflict.

Two of the three articles omit any mention of the Palestinian demand for the release of Israeli Arab prisoners and none of them explain the significance of that demand to audiences.

In this latest report, Israeli offers of concessions are downplayed whilst an irrelevant passage about the re-issuing of building tenders in a Jerusalem neighbourhood is promoted. The fact that this latest PA attempt to join UN agencies breaches agreements reached ahead of the current talks is also disappeared from audience view and no attempt whatsoever is made to place this move within its appropriate context.  

If and when these negotiations do fizzle out, BBC audiences will be ill-placed to understand why that happened due to the BBC’s selective and systematic omission of crucial parts of the story in its reporting. 

 

 

 

BBC continues to present an incomplete picture of Israel-PLO talks

On April 1st an article titled “US ‘may free Israel spy Jonathan Pollard’” appeared on the Middle East page of the BBC News website. Pollard art

Notably, the previous BBC News website report on the subject of the current uncertainty surrounding the continuation of negotiations between Israel and the PLO appeared almost a week before, on March 26th. This latest article improves on its predecessor by noting that the four tranches of prisoner releases agreed to as a ‘goodwill gesture’ to encourage the Palestinian Authority to renew negotiations last July were from the outset tied to the progress of those talks.

“It is the second time that Mr Kerry has interrupted his schedule to press Israel and the Palestinians to extend the direct peace talks beyond 29 April – the deadline set last summer when they resumed after a three-year hiatus.

His plan has been derailed by a dispute over the release of a fourth batch of 26 long-term Palestinian prisoners from Israeli jails.

Mr Abbas had insisted that they be freed by 29 March, in keeping with a promise made by Israel before the direct negotiations resumed.

Israeli officials have said they are reluctant to proceed unless the Palestinians commit to extending the talks, and stressed that the releases have always been tied to their progress.”

However, the report’s laconic description of the reasons for Israeli public opposition to the release of convicted terrorists does little to adequately clarify the topic to audiences.

“The previous three releases were deeply unpopular with the Israeli public because many of the prisoners were convicted of murdering Israelis.”

No attempt whatsoever is made in this report to inform audiences of the Palestinian Authority’s demand that Arab-Israeli prisoners be included in the fourth tranche of releases, with BBC audiences consequently remaining unaware of the highly problematic aspects of that attempt by the PA to claim to represent citizens of another country and the clear interference in Israeli sovereignty that demand signifies. Neither is any attempt made to explain to readers the potential political fallout for Israel’s coalition government which could be brought about by any release of Arab-Israeli prisoners.

If BBC audiences are to fully understand the currently debatable future of talks between Israel and the PLO, they clearly need to be made aware of the entire story behind the delayed fourth prisoner release as well as other significant aspects of the story completely overlooked in this report such as the PA’s refusal (backed by the Arab League) to renounce future claims and bring about an end to the conflict by recognizing Israel as the Jewish state.

Significantly, that particular – and much more crucial – topic has been completely ignored by the BBC in all of its reports on the current talks so far and, as we see in this article, even aspects of the story which are being reported are being framed in such a way as to present an incomplete picture.  

 

 

BBC’s Knell amplifies PA narrative, mainstreams BDS on late-night BBC Radio 5

On March 27th BBC Radio 5 live’s late night show ‘Up All Night’ featured an item with the BBC’s Jerusalem Bureau’s Yolande Knell. The programme can be heard here for a limited period of time and the relevant section begins from around 37:15. Up All Night

Presenter Rhod Sharp introduces the item:

“US Secretary of State John Kerry interrupted his trip to Europe on Wednesday to rush to Israel. He wanted to urge the Palestinians and Israelis to extend their peace talks which seem to be faltering maid fears that Israel may scrap plans to free a final batch of Palestinian prisoners. With more on this, I’ve been speaking to Yolande Knell on the West Bank.”

Kerry of course flew to Amman in Jordan – not to Israel.

Yolande Knell opens:

“He broke away from this trip – President Obama’s talks in Europe on the crisis in the Ukraine. I think the fact he’s done this just underscores the seriousness of the threat to the peace talks that he sees. Ahm…the peace talks of course going on between Israel and the Palestinians – a process in which he has invested so much energy already – and so what he did, he broke away…ahm…and came to Amman just yesterday and he is supposed to have had talks last night – after having a meeting with the King of Jordan – with the Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. We were told he was going to have a working dinner with him and he was supposed to speak to the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu by video conference or by phone as well.

And what US officials say is that his aim is to narrow the gaps in peace talks but really, if you speak to either side, they’ll say there’s been little real progress on the core issues but what’s thrown these talks into crisis right now…ahm…because they’re supposed to go on until the end of April – that was…when the US managed to broker a return to the negotiating table last year. But now we have the scheduled release of the fourth and final batch of more than a hundred Palestinian prisoners from Israeli jails scheduled for this weekend. It was part of a deal that Israel struck with the Palestinians to get the peace talks restarted and what the Palestinians agreed was in return they wouldn’t take action against Israel at the UN…ahm… through the UN bodies to which they got access after their status was upgraded. And so…ah…really now Israel is saying it doesn’t want to go ahead with this prisoner release at the moment. There’s been talk of how the Palestinians should…ah…reach a framework agreement. We understand that the Americans are supposed to be putting a framework agreement to both sides before this happens. Ahm…and the Palestinians saying that if the prisoner release doesn’t happen as scheduled then they will perhaps go to the UN, take other means and the talks could very well fall apart.”

Knell makes no effort to inform listeners that the prisoner releases were from the very beginning tied to progress in the talks – which she admits has not been forthcoming. Neither of course does she bother to mention the incitement and glorification of terrorism which was seen during the Palestinian Authority organised celebrations of the three previous tranches or the cash hand-outs awarded to the released terrorists.

Sharp then asks:

RS: “Well but why would Israel not release the prisoners as scheduled?”

YK: “Well, these prisoner releases have been particularly divisive – in fact for both sides. What you’re talking about here is long-term Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails. Many of them have been convicted of serious offences like murdering Israelis so Israelis see them as convicted terrorists. On the Palestinian side, these are people who have sacrificed their lives in some way, with the long prison sentences that they’ve been through, for the nationalist cause.”

Knell’s promotion of the notion of terrorists convicted in a court of law as ‘heroes’ is of course not new: such portrayal was a hallmark of her reporting of previous prisoner releases and is part and parcel of the BBC’s policy of presentation of a morally equivalent view of terrorism – in some parts of the world.

She goes on:

“So already you have something which is a very emotive topic and then we’ve had Israeli families objecting to these releases – they’ve been staging protests – and what we’ve seen with all of the previous batches is that…ahm…those opposed within the Israeli coalition government, these have helped push through settlement announcements…ahm…which have threatened to undermine the peace talks repeatedly each time there has been a prisoner release. Ahm…and then you’ve got different people speaking out – different politicians – the deputy defence minister Danny Danon – a member of Mr Netanyahu’s Likud party – threatening to resign if this prisoner release went ahead.”

In other words, audiences are herded towards the view that Palestinian incitement and glorification of terrorism does not “undermine the peace talks”, whereas Israeli building tenders most certainly do. Notably too, Knell completely neglects to inform listeners of the PA’s demand that in this particular tranche, Israel release convicted terrorists who are not residents of Palestinian controlled areas, but Israeli citizens.

Knell continues:

“Another thing that the Israelis seem to be worried about is they want assurances that Mr Abbas won’t walk away from the peace talks straight after this prisoner release because – as I say – if you speak to the Palestinians they’ll say that there has been no progress on the core issues on Jerusalem, the issue of Palestinian refugees, settlements and borders; the things that they want to talk about. They say that Israel has side-tracked the talks talking about the Jordan Valley….ahm….the Palestinians say they won’t give up control of their eastern border of the West Bank and Israel’s saying they want to keep a military presence there for security reasons.”

Beyond the fact that Knell has invented a Palestinian “eastern border” which does not exist, clearly her presentation of discussions on the subject of the Jordan Valley – in other words a discussion about borders – as having “side-tracked” the talks is an obvious and partial promotion of the PA’s narrative.  She goes on:

“And then there’s this other issue which has been so thorny as well, about recognising Israel as a Jewish state – that’s another one of Israel’s demands.”

The Israeli demand is of course for PA recognition of Israel as the Jewish state – not a Jewish state and as has been the case in all previous BBC coverage of this topic, no attempt whatsoever is made to inform audiences of the reasons for Israel’s demand and its significance as regards an end to future claims and hence its role in bringing about an end to the conflict. Sharp then says:

RS: “Let’s turn to the Arab League. Ah…here’s a thought: the Arab League of course has seemed a bit more modern in recent times but Arab leaders did what they’ve been quite used to doing in the past.”

Knell’s reply includes further promotion of the PA narrative through – inter alia – use of the offensive term “Judaisation of Jerusalem” and the depiction of Arab Israelis as “1948 Palestinians”.

YK: “Well, actually it all relates back to this Jewish state issue and it was one of the few points that the Arab leaders could all agree on after this two-day annual summit that’s just taken place in Kuwait. And the statement they ended with has actually strengthened Mr Abbas’ hand I think in many ways and made Mr Kerry’s job potentially more difficult because they came out with a statement saying that they totally rejected…ahm…. the call to consider Israel a Jewish state and then they also talked about other things like Jewish settlements, the Judaisation of Jerusalem – these kind of things. Ahm…they’d heard from President Abbas at the beginning of the summit when he said that Palestinians reject even discussing this issue of a Jewish state because for them it’s all caught up with the fate of Palestinian refugees who were forced out of their homes, who fled in 1948 when Israel became a state. Ahm….and also it’s about the rights of Arab Israelis – the 20% of the population of Israel who are these 1948 Palestinians as they’re also known – what of their rights if the Palestinians recognise Israel as a Jewish state? So it is a very complicated subject and that’s one that the Arab League countries – 22 of them – seem to have united on in terms of backing President Abbas and his stance.”

Knell makes no effort to explain to listeners that Palestinian refugees were not for the most part “forced out of their homes” but in many cases were urged to leave by the five Arab armies which instigated a war Knell does not apparently find it necessary to even mention. She neglects to inform audiences that PA recognition of Israel as the Jewish state in no way presents any kind of threat to the rights of Arab Israelis and she fails to make clear the ‘end game’ of the Palestinian demand for ‘right of return’ of refugees.

After Knell speaks about other Arab League related issues, Sharp says:

“Let’s turn away from politics. Well we think we’re turning away from politics to the world of entertainment but it seems that they have got awfully mixed up here. Why are the Rolling Stones in trouble?”

YK: “Well, they’re not in trouble with everybody. Certainly the Israelis are delighted with them at the moment because this week the Rolling Stones were officially booked basically to perform their first ever concert in Israel. It’s gonna be on the 4th of June we’re told in Tel Aviv and later today the tickets are expected to go on sale online and big prices: well over a hundred British pounds up to about 500 British pounds I’m told. Ahm…but yes there have been all sorts of puns in the Israeli press. After months – even years- of speculation, Israelis can finally get some satisfaction it said in the Jerusalem Post. But the people who are outraged are the Palestinians and supporters of the Palestinians because of course there is this call for a cultural boycott of Israel and protest at the occupation of Palestinian land by Israel with the occupation being seen as illegal under international law.”

Besides erroneously presenting the BDS movement as “supporters of the Palestinians” rather than a politically motivated campaign to delegitimise and dismantle Israel, Knell mainstreams the so-called “cultural boycott”, promotes the partisan narrative of “Palestinian land” and fails to inform listeners of the existence of alternative views regarding “international law”, in clear breach of BBC editorial guidelines on accuracy and impartiality.

Not for the first time by any means we see Yolande Knell acting as a mouthpiece for unadulterated amplification of the PA narrative in this radio interview. The type of terminology she chooses to use, her presentation of a morally equivalent view of terrorism and her mainstreaming of BDS are part and parcel of the promotion of that narrative.

Notably too, this interview joins numerous other BBC reports in failing to even try to clarify to BBC audiences the rationale behind the Israeli demand for recognition of Israel as the Jewish state and why the issue of that Palestinian – and wider Arab – recognition is crucial to the success of any agreement.

With the negotiations having reached such a critical point, it is vital that the BBC adhere to its public purposes and begin clarifying that issue to audiences.  

Related Articles:

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BBC audiences are not being updated on ME talks

BBC continues to self-censor on the issue of PA recognition of Israel

Accuracy and impartiality issues in BBC report on Abbas White House visit

BBC’s Knell promotes already debunked claims in ‘Jewish state’ article

 

BBC already setting the scene for ME talks collapse

On March 26th an article titled “Kerry flies to Jordan for Abbas talks as deadline looms” appeared on the Middle East and US & Canada pages of the BBC News website. Kerry Amman art

The article states:

“A dispute over the release of a fourth batch of Palestinian prisoners from Israeli jails threatens to derail his [Kerry’s] plan to continue talks beyond 29 April.

Mr Abbas has insisted that they must be freed by the end of this month, in keeping with a promise made by Israel before direct negotiations resumed last summer following a three-year hiatus.”

The BBC fails to inform readers that the prisoner releases were from the very beginning tied to the talks’ progress – of which there has been little to date – as explained by the Israeli prime minister to his electorate last July.

“I believe that it is important for the State of Israel to enter a diplomatic process that will continue for at least nine months – in order to check if it is possible to reach an agreement with the Palestinians during this time.

But even with all of the importance that I ascribe to the diplomatic process, I was not prepared to accept the Palestinians’ demands for withdrawals and freezes as preconditions for entering negotiations.

Neither was I prepared to accept their demand to release Palestinian prisoners before the start of negotiations. I did agree to release 104 Palestinians in stages after the start of the negotiations and in accordance with the circumstances of their progress.” [emphasis added]

The report goes on to say:

“The Palestinians have also said the 26 prisoners should include 14 Arab-Israelis, but the Israelis have insisted they made no such commitment.”

The BBC fails to inform audiences that the subject of which prisoners are to be released and when is decided by a committee of Israeli ministers – not by the Palestinian Authority.

“The vote on the release of 104 Palestinian prisoners as a goodwill gesture ahead of renewed peace talks was delayed for several hours on Sunday morning as Netanyahu sought to secure enough support for the move, in the face of internal pressure from within his own Likud party.

In an attempt to neutralize the strong opposition within his party, Netanyahu made a distinction between Israeli Arab prisoners and other prisoners, saying a decision to release the former would be made separately and brought to an additional vote. […]

The prime minister also said that a committee to be made up of himself, Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon, Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch, and Science and Technology Minister Yaakov Peri, a former Shin Bet head, will be established to determine which prisoners will released, and when.”

Of course no attempt is made by the BBC to point out to audiences the absurdity of the discordant assumption by the Palestinian Authority that it can demand the release of murderers who are citizens of the state in which they are imprisoned due to their having killed citizens of the same state.

Neither does this article bother to inform readers with regard to the likelihood of the PA’s agreeing to extend the talks after April 29th: a point which is particularly relevant given that the PLO’s chief negotiator made it very clear during an interview with the BBC just last month that the chances of that are exceedingly slim.  

The report ends:

“Arab League leaders attending a summit in Kuwait on Tuesday expressed their “total rejection” of Israel’s call to be recognised as a Jewish state.

The Palestinians recognise the State of Israel, but say recognising its Jewish character would have implications for refugees and Israeli-Arabs.”

Once again, no attempt whatsoever is made to inform BBC audiences of the significance of Israel’s demand that the PA recognize Israel as the Jewish state as far as ending any future claims – and therefore the conflict – is concerned.

There is of course a distinct possibility that this round of talks will become unsustainable in the coming days or weeks. Whether the BBC will choose to ‘contextualise’ that through promotion of the notion that Israel did not meet its agreements regarding prisoner releases or whether it will be the demand for recognition of Israel as the Jewish state or some other Israeli action which will be blamed for the collapse is as yet unclear.

What is obvious, however, is that the scene is already being set by means of articles such as this one which fail to provide audiences with accurate and comprehensive information and instead simply opt to amplify the narrative of the Palestinian Authority and its Arab League mentor.

Related Articles:

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Accuracy and impartiality issues in BBC report on Abbas White House visit

Why has the BBC stopped reporting on the Israel-PLO peace talks?