BBC World Service history show recycles one inaccuracy and adds more

As readers may recall, on June 5th listeners to the BBC World Service radio history programme ‘Witness’ heard that the Lebanese civil war began in June 1982 – and that Israel started it.

The day after that programme was aired BBC Watch submitted a complaint to the BBC on that issue but to date has received neither acknowledgement nor a response to the request to correct that obvious inaccuracy.

Moreover, on June 11th that same report by Simon Watts was recycled in its entirety (from 10:09 here) in another BBC World Service radio history programme – ‘The History Hour’ – where the item was described as being about “an assassination attempt that sparked Lebanon’s war”.

Once again, after Watts asked had the son of the former Israeli ambassador Shlomo Argov about the reaction in Israel to the attempted assassination of his father in London in June 1982 by a Palestinian faction and Gideon Argov had gone on to say “and then the war broke out”, listeners heard Simon Watts interject:

[14:55] Watts: “That war turned out to be the Lebanese civil war.”

As in the previous programme, listeners heard an archive recording of a news bulletin.

“Israel has launched air attacks against Palestinian targets in Lebanon in retaliation for the shooting of her ambassador in London. The Israeli air raids were aimed around the Lebanese capital Beirut. Targets included a Palestine Liberation Organisation training school. Several other buildings including this sports stadium were damaged. The PLO said at least 30 civilians were killed. Later, Palestinian guerillas are said to have carried out rocket attacks against the Jewish settlements in north Israel.” [emphasis added]

After which Watts told listeners that:

Watts: “It’s now known that the Israeli defence minister Ariel Sharon had been planning an assault on PLO targets in Lebanon for months. He later described the assassination attempt as the spark that lit the fuse.”

As was noted here previously, remarkably BBC audiences did not hear a single word about the additional – and highly relevant – background to those plans and Operation Peace for Galilee.

However listeners to ‘The History Hour’ did hear an addition to Watts’ report from an interviewee he was keen to present as “respected” and having “accolades”.

Watts: “So just how far did that shooting, that attempted assassination in London in 1982, mark a watershed moment for the Middle East? Well joining me now is Rami Khouri – professor at the American University in Beirut – who’s covered the region as a respected journalist for many decades. So from the Israeli perspective, was the attempt to kill Shlomo Argov the catalyst or the excuse for that move into Lebanon?”

Khouri: “It was certainly both but the evidence from historical reports by both Israelis and others is that the defence minister then – Ariel Sharon – had been planning for years probably to do a major attack on Lebanon and his aim was to get the PLO out of there, destroy the PLO’s facilities, get the Syrians out of Lebanon and force a peace treaty with the Christian-led government that the Israelis hoped to install in Lebanon and the assassination attempt was basically the excuse that gave the government the ability to say go ahead with this.”

Once again BBC World Service audiences were not informed why Sharon would have needed plans to “get the PLO out” of Lebanon. They were told nothing of the fact that the PLO had thousands of terrorists – including foreign mercenaries – based in Lebanon at the time and that Palestinian terrorists had committed hundreds of attacks against Israeli civilians in which 29 Israelis had been murdered and over 300 wounded in the eleven months before June 1982 alone.

Watts: “So Lebanon was a tinder box anyway which was ready to blow.”

Despite earlier having told listeners himself that the Lebanese civil war began in June 1982, Watts did not appear to notice that American-born Rami G Khouri contradicted his claim – or that he whitewashed Palestinian terror attacks such as those in Ma’alot and Misgav Am by describing them as “clashes”.

Khouri: “Lebanon had been experiencing internal civil war for some years and the civil war in Lebanon coincided with the continuing Arab-Israeli conflict between Zionism and Arabism and that was just the latest episode at that moment. But there was also a continuous legacy of a decade or two at least of clashes between the Israelis and Palestinian groups, Syrian groups, other Leftist nationalist groups in Lebanon who were against Israel and this fighting had been going on for years and years but this incident happened in the midst of an intense war that was getting worse, not better.”

Watts: “But from ’82 onwards things ratcheted up. As we heard in the piece just now, Gideon says that his father…eh…would not have been pleased by what the war did to Israel’s image abroad. So how would you characterise what it did to Israel’s image?”

Listeners next heard Khouri misrepresent the circumstances of the founding of Hizballah while using the term ‘Palestine’ contrary to BBC guidelines and seeming to claim that Lebanon is “part of Palestine”.

Khouri: “Really 1982 was a pivotal year. You had the birth of Hizballah in Lebanon to fight the Israeli occupation and the birth of Hamas in Palestine. So unilateral Israeli military action in any part of Palestine has tended to generate a reaction that has made conditions for Israelis worse in security terms.”

Watts: “And from your point of view, the move by Israel into Lebanon in ’82 – what were your memories of what happened and how has it affected your life?”

Listeners then heard a monologue which went completely unchallenged by Watts despite its blatantly partisan and often inaccurate portrayal of the first Lebanon war.

Khouri: “Well there was a very powerful moment. I had left Lebanon just before that in the late ’70s when I was in Lebanon working as a journalist. When the war broke out it became very dangerous so I moved to Jordan and I followed there events of course intensely with day-to-day news reports. And I remember at one point feeling so bad, so weak, so repulsed by the fact that the Israelis and others – sometimes it was the Syrians, sometimes it was some Lebanese forces, different people – but mostly the Israelis attacking helpless Palestinians in most cases and then various massacres like the Sabra and Shatila one that happened later in 1982. And then at one point I remember driving home from the newspaper late at night saying I can’t just sit here and see my fellow Palestinians being massacred like this. I’m not a fighter but maybe I can go there and write press releases or do what I do which is writing and journalism. And so there was a sense that I wanted to figure out how can I help and this is what every Palestinian in the world feels. And of course this is what most Jews in the world have felt over the years about their vulnerability around the world.”

Israeli forces of course fought armed Palestinian terrorist militias in southern Lebanon – not “helpless Palestinians”. While Khouri carefully avoided stating directly that Israel was responsible for Sabra and Shatila, he certainly steered listeners in that inaccurate direction.

Khouri continued – deliberately failing to distinguish between the armed Palestinian terrorists expelled from Jordan in 1970/71 and from Lebanon in 1982 and the ordinary Palestinians who were not “driven out” of either country. In Khouri’s one-sided narrative there is of course no place for the thousands of Israelis murdered by Palestinian terrorists and no mention of Hizballah’s endless violations of UN resolutions.

Khouri: “But there was a sense that the Palestinians in 1982 had a pivotal moment because they had previously been driven out of Jordan and now they were being driven out of Lebanon and their political situation was increasingly vulnerable and weak. So the feelings since 1982 continue I think with every Palestinian and with many Israelis – as we heard from Gideon Argov. You know there is a decent side to Israeli sentiment that we understand but there’s also a bloody side that has killed thousands of Palestinians and we saw the bloody side affirmed in 1982 in a very dramatic way but also in a way that I think we have to register as a failure. It did not bring peace to Galilee because what happened was Hizballah came out of this and Hizballah is the only force in the Arab world that has twice forced Israel to accept a ceasefire at the UN and end military fighting. So the ironies I think are plenty for everybody to consider.”

Watts: “That’s the writer and academic Rami Khouri who, among other accolades, is a fellow of Harvard’s Kennedy School.”

Despite this extended version of Watts’ report including ‘Israeli’ and ‘Palestinian’ points of view, it by no means gave BBC audiences a balanced account. While Gideon Argov was asked primarily about the attack on his father’s life, Rami Khoury was given free rein to promote inaccuracies and falsehoods to enhance his partisan narrative. That would have been bad enough in any BBC show but in one that purports to provide audiences with “historical reporting” it is obviously unacceptable.

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Continuing serious breaches of editorial guidelines in ‘Newshour’ with Lyse Doucet

The BBC World Service’s flagship international news and current affairs radio programme ‘Newshour’ is broadcast in two daily editions – one at 13:06 GMT and one at 21:06 GMT every day. The January 11th 13:06 edition of that programme, which went on air just an hour after the official announcement of Ariel Sharon’s death, has already been addressed here. The same day’s later 21:06 edition of that programme purported to discuss “Sharon’s impact on the region”.

Newshour 11 1 14 ed 2

Again presented by Lyse Doucet, this edition begins with a version of the item by World Affairs correspondent Mike Wooldridge which also opened the previous programme and which repeats the promotion of the myth that the second Intifada began because Ariel Sharon went to visit Temple Mount in September 2000 and once again has the geographically challenged Ahmad Tibi claiming that:

“He [Sharon] came here in order to burn up the area. Al Aqsa Mosque is an Islamic place. Al Aqsa is in the Palestinian territory.”

That is followed by a recording of Shimon Peres talking about Sharon and then one of Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri saying:

“The death of Sharon after eight years in a coma is a sign from God and a lesson for tyrants. The Palestinian people live in a historic moment due to the departure of this criminal who killed our people and our leaders.”

Next, a section of the defamatory rant by Mustafa Barghouti which was featured heavily in the prior edition of the programme is aired and that is followed by short interviews with former deputy Foreign Minister of Israel Danny Ayalon and Ha’aretz journalist Amir Oren

At around twenty-five minutes into the programme a news bulletin is read in which the news reader gives audiences what we can understand to be the official ‘in a nutshell’ BBC view of Ariel Sharon and the one it intends millions of listeners worldwide to take away.

“One of the most senior figures from Israel’s founding generation, the former prime minister Ariel Sharon, has died at the age of 85 after eight years in a coma. Mr Sharon played a major and controversial role; first guerilla fighter and soldier known for both bravery and occasional recklessness and later as a politician. When he ordered the invasion of Lebanon in 1982, his Lebanese Christian allies massacred hundreds of Palestinian civilians in the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps. An Israeli commission of inquiry found he bore personal responsibility and he stood down as Defence Minister. His visit to Islam’s holiest mosque in Jerusalem in 2000 sparked Palestinian uprising but Israelis voted him into power the following year. He defied domestic opposition by pulling Israel out of Gaza in 2005 but promoted West Bank settlements and commissioned a barrier to keep Palestinians out of Israel. President Obama said Mr Sharon had dedicated his life to Israel but Palestinians in Gaza celebrated by handing out sweets.” [emphasis added]

And that, ladies and gentlemen, comes from an organization supposedly committed to editorial standards of accuracy and impartiality, so please bear with us as we point out to the BBC World Service that:

1) Ariel Sharon did not ‘order’ the 1982 invasion of Lebanon – the Israeli government did as a result of Palestinian terror attacks on Israeli civilians which the BBC elects to airbrush from the picture.

2) All Lebanese Christian allies were allies of Israel – not of Sharon personally as suggested in this news bulletin.

3) The Kahan Commission found that Sharon and others bore indirect responsibility for failing to anticipate violence on the part of the Phalangists.

4) Sharon’s pre-coordinated visit to Temple Mount – not the Al Aqsa Mosque as erroneously stated – did not spark the second Intifada. That terror war was pre-planned by the Palestinians in advance of his visit, as numerous Palestinian officials have stated over the years.

4) The purpose of the anti-terrorist fence is – as the BBC might better appreciate were it to employ the correct terminology – to curb attacks by terrorists of the kind which resulted in the deaths, maiming and injury of thousands of Israelis before its construction. Its aim is not to keep out “Palestinians”, as is evidenced by the fact that over four million crossings were made by Palestinians in the first half of 2013 alone.

That news bulletin is followed by Doucet misrepresenting the Phalangists as being “under the control” of Sharon: 

“Today Palestinians as well as most Arabs remember Ariel Sharon as an Israeli who, in the words of many, left no good memories. His legacy can be perhaps found most vividly in the memories of those living in the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps in Lebanon. A little more than thirty years ago, the brutal actions of a pro-Israeli militia acting under the control of the then Defence Minister Ariel Sharon have left deep scars. Jim Muir has been to one of the refugee camps today to gauge reaction to his death.” [emphasis added]

In other words, Doucet is telling listeners that the massacres in Sabra and Shatila were perpetrated by a militia which Sharon controlled, with the implication of course being that he also controlled the actions of that militia in the refugee camps.

What follows that is an audio version of a report by Jim Muir, which was also broadcast on BBC television news programmes and featured on the BBC News website. In the filmed version Muir tells audiences:

“It was here in September 1982 that Israel’s Christian militia allies carried out a massacre in these narrow alleys and streets that was to carry the name of Sabra and Shatila – Sabra is just next door – all around the world. The Israelis themselves didn’t come into the camp. They were controlling the perimeter all around and were over beyond there and they basically held the ring as the massacre took place. But, the following year the Kahan Commission report concluded that as Defence Minister, Ariel Sharon was personally responsible for what happened.”

In the audio version broadcast in this ‘Newshour’ programme he says:

“Well this is the Palestinian camp of Shatila on the southern edge of Beirut. It’s a teeming, very densely packed neighbourhood, crowded with little streets and alleyways; very busy, very bustling here now, thirty years on. But back in September 1982 it was a very different story. Christian militia men allied to Israel came in here and perpetrated a massacre of hundreds of defenceless civilians. The Israelis themselves of course were not directly involved. They were controlling the surrounding area and holding the ring as their Christian militia allies went in. The following year the Kahan Commission in Israel concluded that the Defence Minister Ariel Sharon was personally responsible for what happened.” 

Beyond this additional misrepresentation of the findings of the Kahan Commission, Muir is clearly suggesting to audiences that Israel knew what was going on in the camp at the time of the massacre and even collaborating. The British idiom “held the ring” may be unfamiliar to some of Muir’s audience, but its definition is “to oversee a situation while attempting to remain uninvolved in it”.

Muir interviews a ‘man in the Shatila street’ whom he names as Abu Majahed and who very predictably says:

“Well here for everybody Ariel Sharon is the name of the war criminal who is responsible about the tragedy of the Sabra and Shatila massacre and he was the leader of the invasion to Lebanon in 1982. […]

What is make us sad really, we don’t expect that he should die normal or by sickness without any punishment. He should be at the court. Of course they feel that he’s as criminal or as one of the cause of the tragedy for the people and make them lose so many people in the camp during Sabra and Shatila massacre and during the war in general, so his death doesn’t bring sadness to them.”

Following Muir’s report, Doucet speaks to Rami Khouri whom she describes as the Director of the Issam Fares Public Policy Institute at the American University of Beirut and “a syndicated columnist”. Readers can get some idea of American-born Rami G Khouri’s writing from this recent column. Answering Doucet’s request for his “first thoughts”, Khouri says:

“My first thought was that this is a man who spent all of his life in an antagonistic, military, confrontational and violent relationship with all of the Arabs around him – in Palestine, in Lebanon, Jordan, Egypt, Syria. He was constantly at war, killing, occupying, and annexing or laying siege to Arabs or imprisoning tens of thousands of them and in his death his legacy that was the result of his life’s action is perpetuating all of this confrontation, suffering, anger. So this is a very, very negative man in terms of his political actions. The consequences which continue to plague us today because of the settlements, because of the siege of Gaza, the rise of Hamas, the rise of Hizballah, all of the different things that he has done I think will be seen probably much more negative in regional and global terms than any positive way that he is viewed by some Israelis or Zionists.”

Doucet then asks if there should be recognition of Sharon’s pragmatism because of the withdrawal from the Gaza Strip and Khouri continues:

“I think the only thing that we can say about that that would be acknowledging something positive was that you can uproot Israeli settlers, but that was done before: Begin did it in Yamit in the Sinai. But that one symbolic move was, I think, way overshadowed by all of the other negative things that were associated with that, which were a vast expansion of settlement in the West Bank, building the wall, mass imprisonment and laying siege to Gaza. So all he did is redeploy some soldiers on the surface of the ground of Gaza but this led to the wars in consequent years. So I would give him one mark for a positive move to redeploy settlers and get them out of Gaza and I would give him nine negative marks for all the other bad things that were associated with that.”

Doucet asks Khouri if Sharon might also have carried out disengagement in Judea & Samaria had he not been taken ill. His response is as follows:

“I think he might have been thinking about another unilateral disengagement from some parts of the West Bank and he probably would have done what Netanyahu is talking about now: trying to keep the whole Jordan Valley, annex about 20% of the West Bank where the wall runs and maintain control of the underground water resources, maintain control of the air-space above it. So again this is not a serious engagement for peace. This is a unilateral security-minded way to engage with the Palestinians as inferior people who do not have the same rights to statehood and sovereignty and security and human dignity that Jews and Israelis and Zionists do.

This is the problem with Sharon: that he would make these bold, dramatic gestures which would catch the attention of the world and the media and many Israelis, but when you disaggregate his actions and you look at them one by one, they’re essentially colonial in spirit and even, I would say, semi-racist and apartheid-like in their motivation. And this is the real problem with him. He was a man of great complexity, of great drama, but I think also of great criminality at one level because the actions he did – the settlements, the wall, the killings, the siege – were all basically against international law.”

Not a peep is heard from Doucet in response to that polemic. Not even a reminder to listeners that the partial blockade on Gaza came about – almost two years after the disengagement and 18 months after Sharon fell ill – as a result of the increased terror attacks from the Gaza Strip which Khouri of course completely airbrushes from the picture. One actually has to wonder what was the point of having Doucet in the studio at all – other than as scenery for Khouri’s diatribe. 

But she is not quite finished yet. After the final guest – former US ambassador to Israel Martin Indyk who gives a very interesting account of his impressions of Sharon – parts of the ‘interview’ with Rami Khouri are rebroadcast.

Not only was no attempt made in this programme to conform to editorial standards of accuracy, but inaccurate information was actively promoted – including in the news bulletin. In addition, whilst listeners heard three positive or neutral opinions (Peres, Ayalon and Indyk), they heard negative or even demonizing ones from a Hamas spokesman, Mustafa Barghouti, Amir Oren, Jim Muir’s interviewee and twice from Rami Khouri, not to mention Doucet herself and Wooldridge. Clearly, as far as editorial guidelines on impartiality are concerned, no genuine attempt to give a balanced view was made.

This programme was broadcast just eight hours after the previous – and no less problematic – edition also presented by Doucet in which the balance was also tipped in favour of negative and even defamatory commentary. It is abundantly clear what the producers and presenter of both programmes were trying to convey to BBC audiences around the world and it is also very obvious that they were not going to let BBC editorial guidelines get in their way.

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