How did the BBC portray a story about an attack on Bar Mitzva hikers?

On the afternoon of November 30th the BBC News website published a report titled “Palestinian shot dead by Israeli settler in West Bank” on its Middle East page.

The incident that report purports to describe had taken place a few hours earlier when a group of 22 children and two adults on a Bar Mitzva hike in Samaria were attacked by a large group of Palestinians throwing rocks. Like the headline, the report’s opening paragraph ignored that relevant background.

“A Palestinian man has been shot and killed by an Israeli settler in the occupied West Bank, officials say.”

The report then went straight on to describe the event’s circumstances as being disputed.

“There are conflicting reports about the circumstances surrounding the incident near the village of Qusra.”

Five of the report’s seventeen paragraphs described an IDF statement concerning the incident. The word “students” – rather than pupils – was used to describe the children.

“Israel’s military said the settler had opened fired in self-defence after Palestinians threw rocks at a group of hiking settlers and students. […]

The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) said Wednesday’s incident took place while a group of 20 Israeli boys, who were accompanied by adults, went on a hiking trip near Qusra.

“A disturbance broke out… involving dozens of Palestinians, during which one of the hikers shot at the rioters in self-defence,” the Jerusalem Post quoted a statement as saying.

“The hikers barricaded themselves in a cave near the village. IDF forces arrived at the site and rescued all the hikers.”

“One of the rioters was hit by gunfire,” the statement added.”

A further five paragraphs portrayed the ‘conflicting’ view, but without clarifying the quoted official’s relevant job description and his dubious record of unsupported allegations.

“But Palestinian officials said the dead man was a farmer who had been working his land when settlers attacked him.

They identified him as Mahmoud Odeh, 48, and said he was shot in the chest. […]

A Palestinian Authority official disputed the Israeli military’s account of the incident.

Ghassan Daghlas told the Associated Press that Mr Odeh had been at work when a group of settlers trespassed on to his land and then ordered him to move. When Mr Odeh refused, one of them shot him, Mr Daghlas added.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas condemned the killing of Mr Odeh, calling it a “cowardly act and evidence to the world of the ugly crimes conducted by settlers against unarmed Palestinians”.”

The report’s final three paragraphs were devoted to framing of the story, with readers clearly being steered towards the view that it should be seen as being about “settler violence”. Readers also found the standard BBC insert on ‘international law’ that fails to inform audiences of the existence of legal opinions that conflict with the corporation’s chosen narrative.

“The BBC’s Tom Bateman in Jerusalem says tensions between settlers and Palestinians in the occupied West Bank have been on the rise.

A UN agency that monitors incidents said earlier this year that an increase in settler violence had occurred alongside a major rise in Palestinian attacks against Israelis, the vast majority of which involved stone-throwing at vehicles.

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

The report paraphrased by Bateman was produced by the notoriously partisan UN agency OCHA.

In addition, readers were provided with a link to a BBC backgrounder on ‘settlements’ and a frequently recycled partisan map produced by the political NGO B’tselem.

In other words, in just seventeen paragraphs the BBC managed to turn a story about a violent attack by Palestinians against children on a Bar Mitzva hike and the unfortunate ensuing death of a man when one of the accompanying adults had to use his firearm in self-defence, into a story about “settlements” and “settler violence”.

Advertisements

Yolande Knell passes up chance to mend previous BBC stereotyping

The August 25th edition of the BBC Radio 4 programme ‘PM’ – presented by Eddie Mair – included an item (from 36:40 here) by Yolande Knell of the BBC’s Jerusalem Bureau.

Mair’s introduction includes the simplistic description of a village located in Area B according to the terms of the Oslo Accords as being “in the occupied West Bank”:PM hilltop youth

“Last month an arson attack in the occupied West Bank killed a Palestinian baby and his father. It brought wider attention to a small group of young Jewish settlers who in the past conducted acts of vandalism but now advocate violence against Muslims and Christians and try to undermine the Israeli state. Yolande Knell reports.”

Neither Mair nor Knell bothered to clarify to listeners that to date no-one has been charged with the arson attack in Duma and Knell opened with some clear signposting for audiences. 

Knell: “Back at the scene of a shocking attack, Mohammed Dawabshe shows me the blackened interior of his cousin’s tiny house in Duma, south of Nablus.  Last month it was set on fire at night. Eighteen month-old Ali burned to death and later his father died of his injuries. His mother and brother remain seriously ill in hospital. ‘Revenge’ in Hebrew was painted on a nearby wall. It’s thought Israeli settlers did this.” [emphasis added]

Knell continues, paraphrasing her guide’s words:

“‘Nothing like this ever happened in our village before. Nobody in the world would accept it’, Mohammed says. ‘These are crazy terrorists’.

She goes on:

“In the car, we’ve left Duma and we’re driving around this part of the West Bank where there are many Jewish settlements but also outposts. These are usually just collections of caravans or tents where young Israelis are living up on the hilltops. While settlements are seen as illegal under international law, these outposts are also illegal under Israeli law.”

As usual, no effort is made to inform audiences of the existence of other legal opinions on the topic.

Knell continues:

“I’ve come to meet a settler grandmother who’s an inspiration to many from the so-called hilltop youth. They believe Jewish settlement of the land is a primary obligation and some advocate violent means. To most Israelis the views of Daniella Weiss are extreme but she has her own disputes with ultra-nationalist and ultra-religious settlers.”

Were Knell to aspire to true accuracy and impartiality, she would have informed her listeners that not only do the overwhelming majority of Israelis find Weiss’ views extreme, but so too do most of those whom the BBC elects to call ‘settlers’. Listeners then hear from Daniella Weiss, although it is difficult to imagine that those few sentences would have contributed much to audience understanding of the report’s supposed subject matter.

Weiss: “It’s not the majority numbers: this is the sect which is composed of a few hundred people who thinks that Jews and Arabs cannot live hear together – no option at all. And there’s another philosophy which would not accept the idea that the current – mainly secular- government in the existing state of Israel is of any value.”

Knell goes on:

“After the Duma attack Israeli security forces and the media went into overdrive, investigating individuals they described as Jewish terrorists. Israeli Channel 10 reported a manifesto belonging to one cell. It details how to set churches and mosques ablaze and recommends burning people inside their houses. The aim is to stoke violence and weaken the Israeli state.”

Knell refrains from informing listeners that the security forces did not just ‘investigate’ but also made arrests – including the author of the ‘manifesto’ she describes and his cell. She continues:

“The Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has promised a tough approach but Palestinian officials say that if his right-wing government wants to stop settler attacks, it must stop supporting settlements on land they want for their future state.”

Knell refrains from clarifying to audiences that according to the Oslo Accords – signed willingly by representatives of the Palestinian people – the future of Area C is to be determined in final status negotiations or that the same accords include no restrictions on Israeli building in Area C.

After a short contribution from PMO spokesman Mark Regev, Knell moves on to another location.

“It’s evening time in Qusra – a Palestinian village near Duma. In recent years it’s experienced dozens of attacks by settlers from nearby outposts. They’ve lost land and trees, had property damaged and their sheep killed. This area’s under full Israeli control so there are no Palestinian police. Now local men such as Abdel al Addin [phonetic] organise night watches.”

Both a report by the Palestinian political NGO ARIJ and maps produced by the NGO B’Tselem (often quoted and promoted by the BBC) place the residential part of Qusra in Area B where civil affairs are fully the responsibility of the Palestinian Authority and security is under the joint control of Israel and the PA. Some of the village’s agricultural lands apparently do lie in Area C but Knell’s claim that Qusra is “under full Israeli control” is clearly inaccurate and misleading. Coincidentally, the Wikipedia entry for Qursa wrongly places the village in Area C, apparently on the basis of an inaccurate claim in an article which appeared in the Economist four years ago.

After telling audiences more about the night watches (which are actually not as new as this report suggests), Knell closes with the following take-away message:

“With no efforts to reach a peace deal in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, tensions here continue to simmer and can flare up dangerously at any time.”

This report was billed from the beginning as being about the ‘hilltop youth’ and – as Eddie Mair correctly noted in his introduction – the aim of at least some of the groups falling under that title is to “try to undermine the Israeli state”. Knell also noted that the aim of the cell whose members are now in custody is to “stoke violence and weaken the Israeli state”.

It is therefore unclear why in her closing lines Knell materially misleads audiences by suggesting that the absence of negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians has any influence whatsoever upon what are essentially anarchist groups which reject the authority of the Israeli government. Clearly that knee-jerk closing mantra did nothing to enhance audience understanding of this particular ‘international issue’.

This item presented an ideal opportunity for the BBC to undo some of its previous stereotyping of the half million people it calls ‘settlers’ by providing audiences with more comprehensive background information on the small groups known as ‘hilltop youth’ and explaining the differences between them and the vast majority of residents of Judea & Samaria and Jerusalem. Unfortunately for the BBC’s reputation for impartiality, Yolande Knell did not rise to the occasion.

Related Articles:

The Duma terror attack and BBC consistency

BBC News misleads audiences on administrative detention

BBC ‘Dateline London’ guest: Israel kills babies as policy