BBC News ignores Fatah Day rallies as usual

The BBC’s online profile of the Fatah movement – which has not been updated since 2011 – tells audiences that:

“Under Arafat’s leadership, the group originally promoted an armed struggle against Israel to create a Palestinian state. But it later recognised Israel’s right to exist, and its leaders have led Palestinian peace talks aimed at reaching a two-state solution.”

And:

“With international pressure mounting, Fatah – though notably not the al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades – signed a declaration rejecting attacks on civilians in Israel and committing themselves to peace and co-existence.”

Earlier this week Fatah marked the 55th anniversary of its first terror attack against Israel with rallies in various towns including Ramallah, Bethlehem (which BBC audiences heard described as “a city of peace” just days before) and Gaza City.

“Around a dozen masked men led the march through Ramallah, firing several rounds of gunfire into the air. Some wore what appeared to be fake suicide vests, referring to the organization’s past terror activities against Israelis.

On Wednesday, another Fatah rally was held in Bethlehem, including posters with pictures of Marwan Barghouti, thought to be a popular Abbas rival within Fatah. Supporters also lofted pictures of Dalal Mughrabi, a Palestinian terrorist who took part in a 1978 terror attack in which 38 Israelis were killed.”

Bethlehem

As has been the case in past years, the BBC elected to ignore the fact that a party – headed by the Palestinian Authority president – which it claims rejected terror attacks and committed itself to “peace and co-existence” years ago still celebrates the anniversary of its first terror attack with military-style rallies and glorification of terrorists.

 

BBC amends ‘Newsround’ Christmas feature which breached style guide

Earlier this week we noted that a December 5th BBC ‘Newsround’ photo feature aimed at children aged 6 to 12 presented a photograph of a Christmas tree in Ramallah as having been taken “in Palestine”.

As we observed, the use of that terminology breaches the BBC Academy’s guide for journalists reporting on ‘Israel and the Palestinians’ and a complaint was submitted by BBC Watch on December 14th.

BBC’s ‘Newsround’ breaches BBC Academy style guide

On December 17th we received an email from BBC Complaints claiming that they were “unable to reply”.

“Thank you for contacting us about the BBC News website.

We regret that at present we’re unable to reply, unless we receive the URL to the article mentioned in your complaint.

Please contact us as you did before and include the above case reference number so we can pick up where we’ve left off.”

The relevant URL was in fact included in our complaint, as shown in the screenshot below:

However by the time that superfluous email from BBC Complaints was sent, the photo feature concerned had been amended and it now carries the date stamp December 16th.

Instead of the original seven photographs – three (42.8%) of which portrayed Christmas trees in areas ruled by either the Palestinian Authority or Hamas – the feature now carries eleven images: the original seven as well as additions from Belarus, Manchester, Moscow and El Salvador.

The caption to the photograph from Ramallah has been changed, with the word “Palestine” replaced by “the Middle East”.

However no footnote has been added to advise BBC audiences of the amendment.

BBC’s ‘Newsround’ breaches BBC Academy style guide

On December 5th the BBC’s ‘Newsround’ website – which is aimed at children aged 6 to 12 – published a photo feature titled “Christmas trees from around the world”:

“It’s December so that means it’s almost Christmas! And of course it also means festive firs are being put up all over the world. Here are some of the best ones from 2019 so far.”

The item features seven captioned photographs taken in various locations: Lithuania, New York, Gaza, Prague, Ramallah, California and Bethlehem. In other words, three out of the seven images (42.8%) portray Christmas trees in areas ruled by either the Palestinian Authority or Hamas.

Moreover, the caption to the fifth image reads:

“Another great display in Palestine! Fireworks lit up the sky as Ramallah switched on the lights for their giant Christmas tree.”

That wording obviously suggests to readers that both Gaza (referring to a previous photo) and Ramallah are located in a country called Palestine.

The BBC Academy’s guide for journalists reporting on ‘Israel and the Palestinians’ states:

“…in day-to-day coverage of the Middle East you should not affix the name ‘Palestine’ to Gaza or the West Bank – rather, it is still an aspiration or an historical entity.”

BBC Watch has submitted a complaint concerning that use of terminology which misleads the BBC’s younger audiences.

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BBC News continues to under-report Palestinian affairs

Back in August we noted that a story concerning a Palestinian Authority ban on the activities of a LGBTQ group had received just two minutes of airtime on one domestic BBC radio station.

Earlier this month local media reported an incident in a Palestinian Authority controlled area.

“A transgender Palestinian woman and two friends were assaulted and robbed Tuesday by a group of men from a West Bank refugee camp.

Sammy, who today lives in Jaffa, was in the West Bank to attend a doctor’s appointment in the village of Kafr ‘Aqab near Ramallah.

She and her companions were attacked by a group from Kalandia refugee camp, who kicked and punched them, and stole tens of thousands of shekels. They also completely destroyed the vehicle in which the thee were travelling.

Sammy, who is originally from Hebron, was thrown out by her family when they discovered her gender identity. Today she lives in Jaffa and receives regular aid from the LGBQT Center in Tel Aviv.”

Although that story was picked up by non-local media such as the UK’s Pink News, it was not reported by the BBC, which continues to under-report internal Palestinian affairs in general, including the treatment of the LGBTQ community.

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Sunday morning political propaganda on BBC Radio Scotland

BBC Radio Scotland has a programme called “Sunday Morning with…” which is described as providing listeners with “Two hours of music and stimulating conversation from a faith and ethical perspective”.

The August 11th edition of that programme included an item billed in its synopsis thus:

“Raja Shehadeh and Penny Johnson live in Ramallah in the occupied West Bank. They’re both writers and campaign for Palestinian civil and political rights. They talk to Sally about their writing and their life together.”

The hook for that item was the couple’s participation in the Edinburgh International Book Festival, with links to a site selling tickets provided on the programme’s webpage and those links promoted by presenter Sally Magnusson at the end of the item.

However what listeners mostly heard throughout the twelve-minute item (from 1:08:30 here) was political propaganda which went totally unchallenged by the presenter even though – as the synopsis and her introduction showed – the BBC is well aware of the fact that both interviewees are political campaigners.

Although the BBC Academy’s style guide on Israel and the Palestinians clearly states that “[t]here is no independent state of Palestine today” and “you should not affix the name ‘Palestine’ to Gaza or the West Bank” because “it is still an aspiration or an historical entity”, listeners heard both Raja Shehadeh and Penny Johnson repeatedly refer to “Palestine” with no comment from Magnusson.

“You know in Palestine we don’t get rain from April until November…”

“Well we met in Palestine…”

“I came to Palestine…”

Having asked Johnson about what she termed their “intifada wedding” – because it took place in 1988 – Magnusson went on:

Magnusson: “And just remind us; the, you know, the intifada – of which there have been more than one of course – tell us…tell us about…about that.”

Unsurprisingly, listeners heard whitewashed and romanticised accounts of those two periods of intense Palestinian violence.

Johnson: “Well the first intifada which was mass civil resistance, pretty much led by the young but involving everybody. The second intifada was violence-racked: a very difficult period and a very difficult time, a very difficult kind of struggle. So if it’s the first intifada we probably go back to, sometimes perhaps with maybe too much nostalgia but also with all the lessons we learned.”

Shehadeh: “There was so much hope during the first intifada that we were building a new society, that we were coming to an end of the conflict through negotiations and indeed the first intifada did lead to the negotiations. But unfortunately the outcome of these negotiations was not good and we’re still suffering that terrible outcome.”

With no clarification of the fact that the premeditated second intifada put paid to any positive outcome to those negotiations, listeners next heard Magnusson claim that Ramallah – which has been under the control of the Palestinian Authority since 1995 – is “occupied”.

Magnusson: “And indeed your latest book, Raja, ‘Going Home’, is a kind of homage to Ramallah after fifty years of Israeli occupation and a reflection on what it’s meant.”

The nineteen-year-long Jordanian occupation of Ramallah was of course not mentioned in the conversation but listeners did hear that the scarcity of gardens in the city can be blamed on Israel, despite the city having been under PA control for nearly a quarter of a century.

Shehadeh: “…Ramallah used to be very attractive with houses with gardens. Almost every house had a garden around it and now having a garden is a great luxury and there are no open spaces because of the restrictions that the Israelis have put. It’s very crowded and people build high up – high rises – rather than having houses that are surrounded by open space and a garden.”

Listeners later heard Magnusson opine that “home of course has been a complicated and agonising matter for you, as for every Palestinian, over the years…” before going on to ask Johnson about her book’s claim that “the lives of animals help us to understand what’s happening to the humans in the West Bank”.

Johnson: “…we used to walk in the valleys near Ramallah and one of the heart-lifting sights was always a mountain gazelle picking her way up the olive groves. Those gazelles are largely gone and they are now endangered; on the red list of endangered species. But what I think we share is both a common life and a common fate. We share a frightening loss of habitat because in the 61% of the West Bank that is Area C and under Israeli control and the home of a hundred settlements, the shepherds and their flocks and the villages that they live in are not…it’s not their own development. It’s not Palestinian development. It is restrictions because of a land grab. Of a grab of water, grab of grazing land. And a desire to get the Palestinians out.”

The mountain gazelle (which suffered from reduced numbers in the mid-1980s due to foot and mouth disease) is not on the WWF 2019 list of endangered species but it does appear on a “red list” drawn up by an organisation called the International Union for the Conservation of Nature. The factors cited by the scientist who recommended the gazelle’s inclusion on that list four years ago include construction, paving of roads and erection of fences as well as growth in the number of predators and feral dogs. Those factors are of course not limited to what the three participants in this item call the West Bank: the gazelle’s numbers have also fallen elsewhere.

Magnusson made no effort to challenge her interviewee’s equally tendentious claims of “a land grab”, “grab of water” and “a desire to get the Palestinians out”.

Listeners next heard Shehadeh complain about rising urbanisation during the past two and a half decades.

Shehadeh: “We were so fortunate until the mid-90s to be able to leave our home and just immediately be walking in the hills away from the noise of cars and people and take long walks as we like without encountering any difficulties and any settlements. And this is mainly gone now. If we want to walk we have to take the car to a distant place to start a walk and then we often encounter settlers and settlements and problems and it’s not the same as it used to be so we had a golden period in the 70s and 80s that we often reminisce about…”

In fact the Israeli communities in the vicinity of Ramallah – for example Beit El, Psagot and Kochav Ya’akov – were established during that “golden period” of the 70s and 80s and – as the BBC well knows – construction of new communities did not take place after the Oslo Accords were signed.

Magnusson then gave the cue for some overt political comment:

Magnusson: “What’s your sense of the political situation now and where might it be heading next?”

Shehadeh: “It’s a very difficult time now because of, you know, the American government is giving Israel a carte blanche to do whatever it wants and the Israeli government, which is dominated by settlers, is taking that licence to grab as much land as it can and destroy as much of the landscape and the beauty of the landscape by building more and more settlements.”

Not only is the currently inactive cabinet not “dominated by settlers” but Shehadeh’s allegations of ‘land grabs’ and “building more and more settlements” – along with a subsequent claim that Israel makes “attempts at making [Palestinian] people leave” – are patently false.

Magnusson however again failed to make any effort whatsoever to challenge those blatant falsehoods and closed the item shortly afterwards with yet another misleading reference to “fifty years of occupation”.

In short, BBC Radio Scotland audiences heard twelve minutes of entirely predictable yet totally unquestioned political propaganda which not only failed to “help people understand” the subject matter but actively hindered that BBC obligation.

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In which BBC World Service listeners hear that barbecue is ‘Palestinian food’

The March 1st edition of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘The Fifth Floor’ included an item described as follows in its synopsis:

“Tala Halawa of BBC Monitoring takes us on a tour of her hometown, the Palestinian city of Ramallah.”

Presenter David Amanor introduced the item (from 40:53 here) thus:

Amanor: “Now, ‘My Home Town’: the series where we ask a Fifth Floor journalist to tell us about the things they find unique or special about their home towns. Tala Halawa works with BBC Monitoring. She takes us to the West Bank city of Ramallah.”

While most of Tala Halawa’s monologue is unremarkable, listeners may have noticed two spurious claims. [emphasis added]

Halawa: “Ramallah is so special because it has every available place to worship. Like, Christians have their churches, Muslims have their mosques and it’s open for all cultures and religions.”

Beyond the fact that there is nothing particularly “special” about a town with both churches and mosques, Ramallah – like the rest of the territory  under the control of the Palestinian Authority – is clearly not “open for all cultures and religions” when the sale of land to Jews is a criminal offence.

Halawa: “Food is like the main thing that you can do in Ramallah. It’s the main activity. Palestinian food like falafel, hummus, barbecue.”

Some consider falafel to have been invented by Egyptian Copts and hummus to also have originated in Egypt. Regardless of their actual origins, to describe those foods as “Palestinian” is inaccurate. While we have seen similar efforts to promote a politicised narrative using claims of “Palestinian food” before, the notion of the barbecue as “Palestinian” is certainly a new one.

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The Palestinian protests the BBC preferred to ignore

On June 13th BBC Arabic reporter Nida Ibrahim sent the following tweet:

The story behind that tweet is as follows:

“Palestinian Authority Security Forces broke up protests in Ramallah on Wednesday night, after a week of rare public displays of opposition to the Palestinian leadership. Demonstrators called for an end to sanctions on the Gaza Strip, blaming PA President Mahmoud Abbas and the PA for its role in isolating the Hamas-run enclave.

PA Security Forces – which include numerous layers of police, plainclothes officers, riot police and more heavily armed units – sought to prevent a mass protest by Palestinians in central Ramallah. They erected “flying checkpoints” at entrances to Ramallah, according to tweets by activist Mariam Barghouti. A group of predominantly young men and women chanted “Freedom, freedom,” as police used stun grenades and physical force to remove them, Barghouti wrote. “Downtown Ramallah is like a war zone. All we’re asking is stop punishing our people by our leadership.””

The PA security forces were criticised by an NGO and by local and international press freedom organisations.

“The Palestinian Center for Development and Media Freedoms (MADA) expresses its deep concern and condemnation of the Palestinian security services’ repression and widespread attacks on journalists and the media outlets and preventing them from covering the peaceful assembly that was organized in Ramallah to demand lifting all  sanctions imposed on Gaza Strip, MADA denounces these violations that targeted civilians including journalists who peacefully participated in the demonstration; such rights are guaranteed under the Palestinian Basic Law.”

Several days later, on June 18th, a demonstration in the Gaza Strip was also violently dispersed by security forces – this time those controlled by Hamas.

“Undercover Hamas operatives attacked Palestinian protesters on Monday during a march held in Saraya Square in the center of Gaza City.

The demonstration was part of the Prisoners Movement’s initiative to end the division between Hamas, the armed Islamic group that rules the Gaza Strip, and Fatah, the political party that dominates the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank. […]

…Hamas members with long beards showed up,” a protester claimed to The Media Line. She added that most of them, armed with weapons, started pushing the protesters, including the females, assaulting them with rocks, sticks, and shoes.

“They kept pushing until they destroyed the whole stage and equipment,” the protester revealed. She said that the situation deteriorated when the armed assailants stopped protesters from filming the developments by stealing their phones. “I filmed part of the clashes and escaped by a car,” the protester told The Media Line, however, she qualified, Hamas members stopped her vehicle and forced her to delete videos and pictures. They purportedly threatened her, saying, “we will get back to you, just wait for us.””

For nearly three months the BBC has been reporting on what it has euphemistically portrayed as “demonstrations” along the border between the Gaza Strip and Israel. Despite the fact that people approaching that border – many of whom were linked to terror groups – have carried out shooting, firebomb, IED and arson attacks and have damaged the fence and tried to infiltrate Israeli territory, the BBC has insisted on blandly describing them as “protesters”

However, when some real demonstrations by Palestinian protesters take place, the BBC’s reporting on that topic is nowhere to be found.

Casually reinforcing the narrative on BBC Radio 4

Kate Adie’s introduction to an item about rock-climbing which was broadcast in the July 16th edition of BBC Radio 4’s ‘From Our Own Correspondent’ (from 17:09 here) sounded promising.FOOC 16 7

“In sixty years this programme has broadcast many dispatches from the Middle East – particularly the West Bank. They’re often about religion or politics and all too often about violence. Many journalists have written about the scene in Ramallah; just six miles from Jerusalem. But Ed Lewis has found something different: a sports centre that’s opening up new horizons.”

So was that item about a Palestinian rock-climbing club really “something different” and did it indeed manage to avoid politics? Not quite.

Tourism consultant and freelance journalist Edward Lewis managed to get a gratuitous, context-free mention of Israel’s anti-terrorist fence into his introduction – but without of course informing listeners why the construction of that fence (only a small percentage of which is actually “wall”) was necessary.

“Ramallah has a new wall. Not a vertical grey concrete wall but a bright blue, green and white one. It has no look-out posts, razor wire or steel gates. Instead there are bungee ropes, crash mats and colour. Far from emitting a message to stay away, this wall is encouraging Palestinians to approach and explore.”

The context of Palestinian terrorism was also erased from later remarks made by Lewis, as were the Oslo Accords arrangements which divide the region into Areas A, B and C.

“Despite the challenges of mobility in the West Bank…”

“In the wake of a rash of violent incidents since October 2015, tension with Israel has risen and it has become harder for single Palestinian men to get work permits in East Jerusalem.”

“The West Bank has not become an adventure playground overnight – nor will it anytime soon. Israeli restrictions and the designation of many parts of the West Bank as military zones or nature reserves severely restrict the scope for more outdoor activity.”

Could Lewis have reported on that climbing club in Ramallah without the insertion of that unnecessary and context-free mention of the anti-terrorist fence which contributed nothing to his report? Of course he could. But as we all too often see, even the most seemingly benign subject matter can be opportunistically used by self-conscripted journalists to casually reinforce an adopted narrative.  

Organisation quoted by BBC hosts terror glorification event

Regular readers of BBC News reports concerning the Palestinian-Israeli conflict will not infrequently come across information sourced from the Palestinian Red Crescent Society’s Ramallah and Gaza branches. For example:PRCS

“There were clashes in several places in the occupied West Bank, with the Red Crescent saying seven Palestinians suffered injuries from live fire”.

And:

“Scores of Palestinians were wounded in the violence across the occupied territories, including East Jerusalem, the Palestinian Red Crescent said.”

As readers may recall, the Palestinian Red Crescent Society was one of the sources relied upon by UNOCHA for the compilation of casualty figures and civilian/combatant ratios in the Gaza Strip during the 2014 conflict between Israel and Hamas. Those highly dubious figures were unquestioningly quoted, promoted – and defended – by the BBC during and after the conflict without any independent verification having been carried out.

During that same conflict the BBC also amplified claims made by a representative of the Palestinian Red Crescent without providing audiences with any evidence of its having independently confirmed the allegations described in the article as amounting to war crimes.

“”Our ambulances are often targeted although they are clearly marked and display all signs that they are ambulances,” said Dr Bashar Murad, director of Palestinian Red Crescent Society’s (PRCS) emergency and ambulance unit, which lost at least two members of staff.”

Audiences were not however informed of documented cases of the use of PRCS ambulances for the purposes of terrorism.

PMW reports that earlier this month the Palestinian Red Crescent Society headquarters in Ramallah hosted an event organized by Fatah to mark the anniversary of a terror attack in which thirty-seven civilians (including 12 children) were murdered and over seventy wounded.

“Every year the Palestinian Authority and Fatah celebrate the anniversary of the most lethal terror attack in Israel’s history by honoring the female terrorist Dalal Mughrabi who led it. This year, one such celebration was hosted by the office of the Palestinian Red Crescent, which is under the International Red Cross.”

The BBC, however, continues to promote information sourced from the Palestinian Red Crescent Society as though it were an impartial source. 

BBC News portrays counter-terrorism measure as ‘collective punishment’

On the morning of January 31st a terror attack took place at a checkpoint north of Ramallah.

“Three Israeli soldiers were wounded on Sunday when a member of the Palestinian Authority security forces opened fire at an IDF checkpoint near Beit El in the West Bank. He was shot dead by forces at the scene.

Magen David Adom emergency services said that two victims were in serious condition with wounds to the neck and thigh, respectively, and one was lightly hurt.

The shooter drove up to the Focus checkpoint in a car, was asked for his ID, got out and opened fire with a handgun, injuring the three soldiers. Palestinian reports named him as Amjad Sakari, 35, and said he was a member of the Palestinian Authority security forces who was working as a bodyguard for the Ramallah district attorney.”

There was no BBC coverage of that attack at the time and so audiences were not informed of the Palestinian Authority police force’s glorification of the terrorist.

“In a statement it released following the attack, the Palestinian police announced that “with great pride, the members of the Palestinian police eulogize the brave martyrdom of their colleague, Master Sergeant Amjad Sukkari, “Abu Omar”, who committed the operation at V.I.P checkpoint in Beit El.””

poster PA police

Neither did they learn of similar praise from the PA’s dominant faction Fatah.

poster Fatah

The fact that the terrorist was later buried with honours at a PA organized funeral was also not reported to BBC audiences.  

“The Palestinian Authority on Monday held a military funeral for Amjad Sukkari, the Palestinian policeman who carried out the shooting attack near Bet El a day earlier. Three IDF soldiers were wounded in the attack. […]

Senior PA officials, including the governor of Nablus, Akram Rajoub and Fatah Central Committee member Mahmoud Al-Aloul attended the policeman’s funeral.”

The only very brief mention of that terror attack came over 24 hours later in an article titled “Israel restricts entry to Ramallah after shooting attack” which appeared on the BBC News website’s Middle East page on February 1st.

“The restrictions were imposed after a Palestinian policeman shot and injured three Israeli soldiers at a checkpoint outside the city before being killed.”

Whilst the short closure was in fact lifted several hours after the BBC’s report appeared, that information was not added to the article, which still remained on the website hours after it was no longer relevant.

The BBC’s report refrained from informing readers of the reason for the closure.

“For the first time in more than a decade, the IDF on Monday placed a partial daylong blockade around the large West Bank city of Ramallah. […]

The IDF’s Central Command imposed the closure after security consultation. It had received concrete alerts about future attacks originating from Ramallah, security sources told The Jerusalem Post.” [emphasis added]

Instead, the BBC elected to misrepresent a counter-terrorism measure to its audiences by means of amplification of Palestinian propaganda.

collective punishment

Had BBC audiences been made aware of the facts behind the partial one-day closure of Ramallah and had they been told that the quoted spokesman’s organization publicly glorified his colleague’s act of terror, they may have been able to put his irrelevant claim into more appropriate context.

But at the same time as it eagerly provides uncritical amplification for such propaganda, the BBC continues to embrace an editorial policy according to which PA incitement and glorification of terrorism are taboo subjects, thus undermining the corporation’s public purpose remit of enhancing audiences’ understanding of international issues.

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