The BBC’s narrative on ‘East Jerusalem’ omits relevant context

Although the BBC has been telling its audiences that “the Palestinians want East Jerusalem to be the capital of a future Palestinian state” for many years, since the US president’s announcement of recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital on December 6th 2017 that messaging has been promoted on a variety of BBC platforms on an almost daily basis.

BBC portrayals of the topic usually include the narrative seen in a frequently reused backgrounder on Jerusalem produced by Yolande Knell in which audiences were led to believe that a Palestinian capital in “east Jerusalem” is an already agreed component of the two-state solution rather than a topic to be discussed in final status negotiations.

“Of course, Palestinians see things starkly differently. They want east Jerusalem as their capital.

And that’s part of the long-standing international formula for peace here, known as the “two-state solution”.

Knell also portrayed the two-state solution in terms that dovetail with the PLO’s interpretation of that term.

“Basically the idea that an independent Palestinian state would be created alongside Israel, along the boundaries that existed before 1967, it’s written up in UN resolutions.” [emphasis added]

Of course the prime motivation behind Palestinian claims to a capital in the parts of Jerusalem occupied by Jordan between 1948 and 1967 is control over Temple Mount but the BBC repeatedly fails to adequately clarify that important point to its audiences.

Neither does it bother to inform them of the Palestinian Authority’s record on upholding agreements it has already signed with Israel regarding other holy places.

Under the terms of the Oslo Accords, freedom of access to and worship at holy sites was guaranteed.

“The agreement guarantees freedom of access to and freedom of worship at the holy sites, and defines access arrangements for the holy places located in Areas “A” and “B”. With regard to Rachel’s Tomb in Bethlehem and Joseph’s Tomb in Nablus, special arrangements are set out in the agreement which will also guarantee freedom of access and freedom of worship.”

“ARTICLE 32
Religious Sites

  1. Responsibility over sites of religious significance in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip (hereinafter – “Holy Sites”) will be transferred to the Palestinian side. In Area C, this responsibility will be transferred gradually to Palestinian jurisdiction that will cover West Bank and Gaza Strip territory except for the issues that will be negotiated in the permanent status negotiations, during the further redeployment phases, to be completed within 18 months from the date of the inauguration of the Council.
  2. Both sides shall respect and protect the listed below religious rights of Jews, Christians, Moslems and Samaritans:
  3. protection of the Holy Sites;
  4. free access to the Holy Sites; and
  5. freedom of worship and practice.
  6. a. The Palestinian side shall ensure free access to, respect the ways of worship in and not make any changes to, the Jewish Holy Sites listed in List No. 1 of Schedule 4.
  7. The Palestinian side shall ensure free access to, and respect the ways of worship in, the Jewish Holy Sites listed in List No. 2 of Schedule 4 .
  8. Schedule 4 shall be updated commensurate with the gradual transfer of responsibility in accordance with paragraph 1.
  9. The holy site of Nebi Musa shall be under the auspices of the Palestinian side for religious purposes.
  10. During religious events that take place three times a year and other special occasions that shall be coordinated with the Israeli authorities, Palestinians shall have the right to religious pilgrimage to the Al-Maghtas [in Jordan – ed] under the Palestinian flag. Safe passage will be provided from the Jericho Area to Al-Maghtas for this purpose.”

Obviously Israeli Jews are not able to visit the synagogue in Gaza City today and visits to additional sites on that list are either virtually impossible or severely restricted. Some of those holy and historically important sites have been vandalised, including Joseph’s Tomb which – as the BBC reported at the time – was set ablaze by Palestinian rioters in October 2015. 

Holy places to which access is supposedly guaranteed by the Oslo Accords have also been the scene of numerous terror attacks and planned attacks – most recently on January 15th when an explosive device planted at the entrance to Joseph’s Tomb was discovered just before a visit by worshippers. That incident did not receive any BBC coverage whatsoever.

Some of the religious sites included in the Oslo Accords – Rachel’s Tomb and the Cave of Machpelah – have been the subject of motions instigated by the Palestinian Authority and passed by UNESCO that are designed to negate their Jewish heritage. Holy sites in Jerusalem have also been the subject of deliberately politicised UNESCO resolutions denying Jewish history.

Despite its public purpose obligation to provide audiences with “impartial news and information to help people understand and engage with the world around them” the BBC has not produced any content relating to the failure of the agreement that the Palestinians signed over two decades ago to guarantee freedom of access for Jews to religious sites under the control of the Palestinian Authority and to safeguard those sites.

However, the BBC’s copious multi-platform amplification of the simplistic narrative according to which a Palestinian capital in ‘East Jerusalem’ is the “formula for peace” continues apace.  

Related Articles:

Inaccuracy and omission in BBC backgrounder on Jerusalem

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BBC R4 programme on UNESCO omits negation of Jewish heritage

A programme broadcast on BBC Radio 4 on September 26th under the title “UNESCO: 70 Years of Peacekeeping” purported to explore that UN agency’s role in promoting peace.r4-unesco-prog

“The deliberate destruction of cultural heritage in Afghanistan, Iraq, Mali and Syria has been condemned as a war crime by UNESCO – the ‘intellectual’ agency of the United Nations. But aside from issuing statements, what can this organisation achieve?

Culture writer Charlotte Higgins explores the UN’s peacekeeping agency, established 70 years ago to build peace through education, science and culture. Its founders knew that a safer world could not be engineered through economics or politics alone. With optimism and purpose, they called on countries to pull together to inspire hearts and minds.

Today, UNESCO is best known for World Heritage, which promotes a sense of collective identity. Yet with attacks on ancient sites now at the frontline of conflicts, UNESCO’s soft power is in the spotlight.

“I know that we don’t have an army, we cannot deploy troops,” says Director General Irina Bokova, “I wish we could have a stronger way of doing something.”

Charlotte navigates UNESCO HQ in Paris, a modernist expression of post war ambition. Here, members of staff can recite the ringing first sentence of UNESCO’s constitution by heart: “Since wars begin in the minds of men, it is in the minds of men that the defences of peace must be constructed.” Even so, UNESCO struggles to keep its 195 member states around the table, most notably with the United States – the biggest contributor to the budget – withholding payment since Palestine joined. As the geopolitical situation mutates and fragments, Charlotte asks whether the intellectual peacekeepers can keep up.”

The topic of the US withholding of funds to UNESCO is addressed at 23:39:

Higgins: “In recent years, however, the US has stopped paying its bill but UNESCO doesn’t want to lose its presence at the table.”

Interviewee: “In US law, if any UN body allows Palestine as a member state, it doesn’t leave that organization but there’s an automatic cut. So in November 2011 when UNESCO allows Palestine as a member, the US cuts off its dues, which is almost one quarter of UNESCO’s budget.”

That description omits a relevant aspect of the US legislation which was reported by the BBC itself at the time:

“A US law passed in the 1990s bars giving funding to any UN body that admits the Palestinians as full members before an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal is reached.” [emphasis added]

Although this programme purports to examine UNESCO’s role in promoting peace, it notably omits any reference whatsoever to a topic which the BBC has to date consistently refrained from reporting.

 UNESCO’s ‘rebranding’ of Rachel’s Tomb in Bethlehem and the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron as ‘Palestinian’ sites (along with other attempts to politicise cultural and religious sites in the region and erase Jewish heritage) is clearly an example of the way in which political pressures undermine that UN body’s founding constitution.

Despite the BBC being supposedly committed to enhancing audience understanding of international issues, that aspect of UNESCO’s record is completely absent from this programme. 

Related Articles:

BBC promotion of PA narrative on Jewish heritage sites