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.

Related Articles:

BBC WS airbrushes terror out of a story about Palestinian prisoners

BBC Travel politicises food to promote a narrative



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”.


“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.

Related Articles:

Reviewing BBC compliance with PLO media guidance


BBC News report on Palestinian rioter shot near Ramallah fails to provide context

On September 10th a short report appeared on the BBC News website’s Middle East page under the title “Palestinian man shot dead in West Bank raid“.Jelazoun

“A Palestinian has been killed during an Israeli raid on a refugee camp near the West Bank city of Ramallah.

Palestinian medics said Issa Qatari, 22, was shot in the chest and died shortly before reaching hospital.

The Israeli military said its forces had clashed with dozens of protesters after entering the al-Amari camp on Wednesday to arrest a Hamas operative.

“A main instigator attempted to hurl an explosive device” at the troops, who opened fire in response, it added.

Witnesses in the camp gave a similar account of the incident.

Protesters “showered the invading forces with stones, and soldiers responded with live ammunition, injuring a number of other Palestinians”, one told the Maan news agency.

The Israeli military said the Hamas operative was arrested in the raid.”

The BBC’s “dozens of protesters” would have been more accurately described as rioters.

“An IDF unit sent to arrest a Hamas member in Ramallah encountered violent disturbances when approximately 50 Palestinians hurled rocks, firebombs, and burning tires, the army said. One of the rioters was seen throwing an explosive device at soldiers, according to the IDF Spokespersons Unit. Soldiers opened fire at the suspect, striking him. The man later died of gunshot wounds.”

What is missing from this report is of course the context necessary to enable BBC audiences to understand the background to the incident. There has been no BBC reporting of any of the recent violent rioting and attacks in Jerusalem and in Judea & Samaria. In fact, the last time visitors to the BBC News website were told anything about violence in those areas was on July 25th when Jon Donnison presented a very selective report on incidents in Qalandiya and elsewhere. BBC audiences are hence entirely unaware of the fact that the number of attacks in Judea, Samaria and Jerusalem has – according to ISA reports – risen dramatically since the beginning of July with 507 attacks having taken place during that month compared to 100 the month before.

The chart below was compiled using the monthly statistics provided by the ISA but does not include separate representation of kidnappings, murders, stabbings or attacks using vehicles.

Chart jan 13 to jul 14

Of course there is nothing new about the BBC’s failure to report on security incidents, as we have frequently documented here in the past (see related articles below). However, that practice means that incidents such as the one reported in the above article are seen by BBC audiences in isolation, without the essential understanding of their backdrop.

Related Articles:

BBC silent on doubling of terror attacks since renewed ME talks

Review of the BBC’s reporting of security incidents in Judea & Samaria in January

A round-up of BBC reporting of security incidents in March 2014

Round-up of BBC coverage of security incidents – April 2014

100% of missile fire from Gaza Strip in May ignored by BBC




Eighth BBC article on search for kidnapped teens ignores attack on Ramallah police

June 22nd saw the publication of the BBC News website’s eighth article on the subject of the ongoing search for three Israeli teenagers kidnapped on June 12th under the title “Israeli troops kill Palestinian in West Bank clashes“.kidnapping art 8

In common with most previous BBC reports on the topic, this one too presents the kidnapping in ambiguous terms.

“The three teenagers disappeared while hitchhiking home”

“They [Palestinian officials] say the troops – who were searching for three Israeli teenagers believed seized in the West Bank last week – fired on stone-throwing crowds.” […]

“Israel accuses Hamas militants of seizing the teenagers, who went missing on 12 June. The Israeli search has been accompanied by a crackdown on Palestinians linked to the group. […]

“Naftali Fraenkel and Gilad Shaar, who are both 16, and 19-year-old Eyal Yifrach went missing at a junction near the city of Hebron as they hitchhiked their way home. Naftali Frenkel holds US-Israeli citizenship.” [emphasis added]

As has been previously pointed out here, Alon Shvut junction where the kidnapping took place is 27 kms from Hebron: hardly “near”. Only right at the end of the article are readers informed that:map Alon Shvut

“Earlier this week, the Israeli police revealed that one of the students had alerted them by phone, minutes after being kidnapped.”

The article reports on the deaths of two Palestinians.

“Israeli soldiers have shot dead a Palestinian man in the West Bank city of Nablus, Palestinian officials say. […]

The man shot in Nablus was named by the Palestinian security officials and medics as 26-year-old Ahmad Fahnawi.

Israeli officials said he had approached soldiers in a “threatening manner”. His family said he had been undergoing treatment for mental illness.”

Regarding the incident in Ramallah, the report states:

“Another Palestinian was reportedly killed in separate clashes in Ramallah. Israel says it is checking the reports.” […]

“Palestinian medics were also quoted by the AFP news agency as saying that a 30-year-old Palestinian man was shot dead overnight in Ramallah in a separate incident.

No more details of the clashes were immediately known.”

Notably, the report does not inform readers that violent rioting was also directed at the Palestinian police force in Ramallah on the same night – including an attack on a police station – and that the possibility that the man may have been killed by Palestinian forces is being investigated, according to the Israeli media.

The report amplifies Palestinian Authority propaganda, but yet again fails to inform readers of expressions of support for the kidnappings by Palestinian officials and public alike.

“Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has accused Israel of using the teenagers’ disappearance as “a pretext to impose tough punishment against our people and besiege them”.”

Inaccurately describing the concurrent terrorist missile fire against civilians in communities in southern Israel as a “separate” issue, the report states:

“In a separate development, Israeli fighter jets hit several targets in the southern Gaza Strip late on Saturday, following rocket fire into southern Israel, officials say.

The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) said it would “not tolerate attempts to harm Israeli citizens or IDF soldiers, and will act against anyone who operates terror against Israel”.

There were no reports of any casualties.”

Readers are not adequately informed of the fact that throughout Saturday three missiles fired from the Gaza Strip exploded in Israeli territory or that on the morning of June 22nd a man from the Gaza Strip carrying a grenade managed to infiltrate into the Eshkol region.

Likewise, once again no mention is made in this report of the vast numbers of weapons and arms caches discovered by security forces during their search for the three abducted youths.

As this report and its predecessors show, BBC News has adopted a template for reporting on this search and rescue operation. The kidnappings themselves are reported in ambiguous terms, Palestinian public and official lauding of the act is erased from every report, along with the seizure of weapons caches. Missile fire from the Gaza Strip is afforded a cursory ‘last-first’ mention only when Israel responds and the notion of “punishment” of Palestinian civilians is promoted. None of the BBC News website’s reports so far has ventured out of the boundaries of that editorial template.  

BBC ignores Hamas show of force in Ramallah

The pictures below were not taken in Hamas-ruled Gaza, but in Al Bireh, near the Palestinian Authority’s main Ramallah stronghold (and just a thirty minute drive from the heart of Israel’s capital), on April 30th.

Al Bireh 1


Al Bireh 2

The occasion– attended by over a thousand Hamas supporters – was the reburial of two Hamas operatives killed in 1998 after their remains, along with those of two other terrorists, were transferred from Israel to the Palestinian Authority.

The funeral procession was addressed by Hamas’ Khaled Masha’al by phone.

“…Mashaal said, “Our path is the resistance and jihad is our choice. This is the original Palestinian strategy. We want to build our homeland and liberate our land and holy sites, bring back the refugees and release the prisoners. In the West Bank and Gaza Strip, inside and outside, our choice is resistance and the rifle is our way. There is no history or future without jihad and resistance.” […]

The funeral and a later rally commemorating the death of the Awadallah brothers turned into a massive show of force for Hamas in Ramallah – also only two days after Abbas’s announcement that Hamas would recognize Israel and renounce violence once it joins a unity government with his Fatah faction.

Palestinians said that the large turnout was an indication of Hamas’s popularity among residents of the West Bank. At the two events, Hamas spokesman and supporters chanted slogans calling for revenge and more terrorist attacks against Israel.”

Despite its previously extensive and enthusiastic coverage of the Hamas-Fatah unity deal only days beforehand (see here, here, here, here and here), the BBC did not see fit to inform audiences of this show of Hamas force right in the heartland of the ‘moderate’ Palestinian Authority – and its obvious implications. 

Outside the BBC’s frame: violent protests against peace talks in Ramallah

The framing which the BBC has chosen for its coverage of the subject of the current talks between Israel and the PLO which commenced in late July 2013 focuses the attention of audiences on a number of very specific issues.  

According to the picture presented by the BBC, the “core issues” upon which the success – or lack of it – of the current talks hinges are “Jerusalem”, “borders”, “settlements”, “refugees” and “security”. The bulk of BBC coverage, however, has focused on the promotion of the notion of Israeli building as the main “obstacle to peace” which endangers the negotiations. 

No less important and relevant issues include the recognition of Israel as the Jewish state, the agreement to the end of future claims, Palestinian Authority and Hamas sponsored incitement and glorification of terrorism, the Hamas-Fatah split and the surge in terrorist activity seen since the latest round of talks began.

However, those issues lie completely outside the field of vision of those getting their news and current affairs analysis primarily from BBC sources. Due to the framing employed, audience members who – unknown to them – wear the BBC blinkers, will be convinced that if the Israelis just stopped building houses and apartments, the signing of a peace agreement could be just around the corner. 

Like a wedding, the signing of an agreement is of course the relatively easy part when compared to living with that contract in the years to come. In a recent article veteran journalist Khaled Abu Toameh raises a very important and fundamental question:

“…what would happen if and when PA President Mahmoud Abbas signs a peace agreement with Israel? Might he, too, find himself being escorted out of Ramallah under police protection for daring to talk peace with Israel?”

The incidents which prompt Khaled Abu Toameh to ask that question took place earlier in January when a group of Israeli activists met with Palestinian counterparts in Ramallah.

“The meeting, which was held under the motto “Ordinary People Make Peace,” was organized by a group called Israeli- Palestinian Public Negotiating Congress in Ramallah & Jerusalem. […]

Thursday’s meeting was part of a two-day seminar on solutions to the conflict. […]

The Palestinian and Israeli delegations consist of 15 members each. They include ex-IDF officers, Palestinian security commanders, Israeli settlers, Palestinian ex-prisoners, academics, businessmen and journalists.”

The first session of the meeting had to be abandoned.

“Scores of Palestinian activists on Thursday attacked a hotel in Ramallah where Israelis and Palestinians were holding a meeting to talk about peace.

Chanting slogans against “normalization” with Israel, the vandals smashed windows and tried to storm the conference hall before dozens of Palestinian Authority policemen pushed them back. […]

Palestinian activists who learned about the meeting at City Inn Hotel hanged a banner at the entrance to the hotel reading, “Normalization is Treason.”

The activists protested against the presence of Israelis in the city, banging on the main gate and chanting, “Israelis out!” Others chanted, “No to negotiations, no to normalization, this homeland is not for sale” and “Our people want RPG [rocket-propelled grenades], not security coordination.” “

The Israeli participants had to leave Ramallah under police protection.

“The protest finally forced the organizers of the conference to call it off, with the Israelis quickly leaving Ramallah out of concern for their safety.

“The situation outside is very tense and we have to stop here,” Ibrahim Enbawai, one of the Palestinian participants in the conference declared after a brief chat with the police commander. “There are hundreds of people outside and the police have asked that we stop the event.” “

The second session of the meeting did not fare much better:

“The following day, January 9, the Israeli and Palestinian activists tried to meet at the Ambassador Hotel in Jerusalem. But here, too, they were confronted by dozens of Palestinian “anti-normalization” activists who forced the Israelis and Palestinians to leave the hotel in a humiliating manner.

Amal Obaidi, one of the protesters, said she was opposed to the “peace” conference because it represented a policy of “surrender and normalization with Israeli occupation.” She further explained, “We reject any normalization meeting. Jerusalem is an Arab city and it will remain so.” “

Of course the BBC did not report on either of these incidents, meaning that BBC audiences remain entirely unaware of the existence of opposition to any kind of peace agreement on the Palestinian street and the consequences of decades of incitement and failure by the Palestinian Authority to prepare its people for a peaceful solution to the conflict.

In consistently keeping this and other issues out of the frame of the picture of the current negotiations which it presents to audiences, the BBC is not only failing to meet its commitment to “[e]nable individuals to participate in the global debate on significant international issues”; it is actively preventing them from being able to do so. 

13 years on: BBC website still misleads over 2000 Ramallah lynching

As has been noted here previously, the BBC’s Editorial Guidelines on accuracy include a sub-section entitled ‘Managing Online Content which, inter alia, states:

“Unless content is specifically made available only for a limited time period, there is a presumption that material published online will become part of a permanently accessible archive and will not normally be removed.

For news stories, the archive is intended to act as a permanent public record.” [emphasis added]

But what happens when that “permanent public record” is inaccurate, biased or misleading? Should the BBC be obliged to clearly label it as such or even to remove the webpage? That question has previously been raised here in the context of the fact that material promoting the ‘Jenin massacre that never was still appears on the BBC website and in relation to the fact that whilst the BBC has publicly acknowledged that there is no conclusive evidence to prove that Mohammed al Dura was killed by Israeli forces, its website still promotes that narrative. But of course those are not the only examples of flawed “public record” appearing on the BBC’s website.

On October 12th 2000 – some two weeks after the start of the second Intifada – newly-wed 1st Sgt Vadim Norzhich (also spelt Nurzhitz) and father of three 1st Cpl Yosef (Yossi) Avrahami, both in their thirties and both of whom served in the IDF as drivers, were on their way to reserve service when they took a wrong turn and were stopped by PA security forces. From there they were taken by force to the police station in Ramallah where they were brutally lynched by a mob. 

In a report which still appears on the BBC website, Martin Asser begins by describing the horrific scenes which anyone who was in Israel at the time will never forget having watched on television.

Asser article Ramallah lynching

However, the majority of Asser’s report is notable for its inaccuracies and its failure to meet BBC standards of impartiality.

Asser claims that there were four soldiers in the civilian car with Israeli plates which took a wrong turn – rather than two – and fails to make clear that they were apprehended and taken to a Ramallah police station by PA security forces.  

“Four men had been travelling in an unmarked car that was somehow apprehended on a street in Ramallah. At least two were killed a couple of hours later.”

Under the sub-heading “Rising anger”, Asser transparently tries to ‘contextualise’ the lynching by presenting readers with a set of ‘explanatory’ circumstances. He first suggests that the murdered soldiers may have been members of an undercover unit, inventing a very creative interpretation of a picture of one of them being dragged off by a member of the mob after his eyes have been covered with a kefiya placed back to front.  Asser also presents the fact that the two soldiers were wearing civilian clothes rather than army uniform (as is quite normal for reservists who have not yet reached their base) as though it were relevant.

“Photographs show some of the doomed men were dressed in civilian clothes and one was photographed before his death wrapped in a black-and-white Palestinian head-dress. […]

But this outburst of fury apparently stemmed from rumours circulating through the mob that the captives belonged to the feared and hated undercover units of the Israeli army which dress as Arabs and strike in the heart of Palestinian towns.”

In addition, Asser tries to ‘explain’ the lynching by patronisingly portraying it as an inevitable reaction to previous Palestinian casualties.

“Anger had been brewing for the last two weeks which have witnessed the funerals of about 100 Arabs, nearly two dozen of them children, who have been killed in the violent uprising against Israeli occupation forces. […]

Earlier this week, the badly beaten body of a Palestinian, Issam Hamad, was found dumped on the outskirts of Ramallah. Palestinians blamed his death on Israeli settlers.”

Then, under the loaded sub-heading “Wrath of Israel”, Asser equates a mob’s brutal bare-handed lynching and mutilation with an incident in which – at the very worst – a child was caught in the middle of a firefight and accidentally killed.

“Their deaths were captured on film with the same power as the last moments of the short life of Muhammad al-Durrah, shot by Israeli troops 12 days ago as his father vainly tried to shield him with his own body.”

Asser rounds off his article with an overdramatic description – almost biblical in tone – of the Israeli response to the lynching which in no way reflects the reality of the limited, precise actions against buildings taken at the time which were pre-announced to the Palestinian Authority in order to avoid casualties.

“Israel’s overwhelming military might means that, unlike the Palestinians, it has the option of a dramatic and immediate response to those who cross its path.

The inevitable wrath of Israel came just as noon prayers were being called.

Wave after wave of missiles rained down on Ramallah, as well as Palestinian Authority installations in Gaza.”

So there we have it: a self-declared “permanent public record” replete with inaccuracies and unsubstantiated speculation, and rife with breaches of BBC editorial guidelines on impartiality, which has remained accessible to the general public around the world for thirteen years.

It really is time that the BBC got round to spring cleaning its website in order to bring it into line with its own standards of accuracy and impartiality and the various contributions by Martin Asser would be a very good place to start.

Related articles:

Myths and lethal narratives on the BBC website

Another lethal narrative on the BBC website

BBC’s “Obstacles to Peace” do not hold water – part 1

BBC’s “Obstacles to Peace” do not hold water – part 2

Revisiting a BBC story about charcoal

BBC’s ‘Obstacles to Peace’: wrong on right of return – Part 1

BBC’s ‘Obstacles to Peace’: wrong on right of return – Part 2