Political messaging and inaccuracies in BBC Radio 4’s ‘Terror Through Time’

On December 2nd another edition of the BBC Radio 4 series ‘Terror Through Time’ (presented by Fergal Keane) was broadcast under the title “Death Wish: Battling Suicide Bombers“. The programme’s synopsis reads as follows:Terror Through Time 2 12 14

“Fergal Keane visits Tel Aviv and Jerusalem to discover how Israeli society reacted to a wave of suicide bombers. He’s joined by Assaf Moghadan, a researcher at the International Institute for Counter Terrorism, former Israeli Army commander Nitzan Nuriel and by Professor Rashid Khalidi of Columbia University.”

The programme begins with a recording of Bill Clinton speaking at the signing of the Oslo Accords in September 1993, after which Keane informs listeners:

“But within months, a new campaign of terrorism was bringing carnage to the streets of Jerusalem and Tel Aviv…”

Of course the post-Oslo terror campaign also took place in many additional locations in Israel besides its two largest cities, contrary to the inaccurate impression given by Keane. He goes on to interview Israeli film-maker Noam Sharon, stating “I’m here in the Old City of Jerusalem”. In fact, as Sharon states, the interview took place on Yoel Moshe Salomon street, which is not located in the Old City. After Sharon has described some of the suicide bombings which took place in that district in Jerusalem, Keane goes on to interview Assaf Moghadan and then states:Map Yoel Moshe Salomon

“By the 1990s the balance of power among the Palestinians was shifting. Islamist groups like Hamas and Islamic Jihad, as well as militant elements within Yasser Arafat’s Fatah, were opposed to the peace process. Support for a path of violent opposition to Israel would grow sharply in the wake of a massacre of Palestinians carried out at the Cave of the Patriarchs by a Jewish extremist.”

After a recording of an archive news bulletin, Keane once again inadequately introduces political activist cum academic Rashid Khalidi, failing to provide audiences with the crucial background summary of Khalidi’s “viewpoint” which would enable them to put his contribution into its appropriate context.

Keane: “Rashid Khalidi is professor of modern Arab studies at Colombia University, New York.”

Khalidi: “Suicide attacks were carried out in the wake of the Hebron Mosque massacre – the Haram al Ibrahimi massacre – by Baruch Goldstein in 1994, when dozens of worshippers were gunned down by this armed settler fanatic.”

But do the facts actually support Khalid’s claim? Suicide attacks had in fact already begun in 1989 with the one on the 405 bus carried out by the PIJ. Two attacks were carried out in 1993 by Hamas and in 1994 five attacks by Hamas took place. The years that followed showed a slight decline in suicide attacks – 1995: 4, 1996: 4, 1997: 3, 1998: 2, 1999: 2. The surge in suicide attacks actually came during the second Intifada which began six and a half years after Goldstein’s terror attack at the Cave of the Patriarchs – 2000: 5, 2001: 40, 2002: 47 attacks. Hence, Khalidi’s linkage is doubtful to say the least. Keane goes on to tell listeners:

“Rashid Khalidi says that Palestinian anger over a peace process that failed to stop the building of Jewish settlements on Palestinian land helped to create support for violent action against Israeli civilians.”

Of course Keane’s blind adoption and amplification of Khalidi’s politically motivated narrative means that he erases from audience view several vital points, one of which is the fact that the representatives of the Palestinian people willingly signed the Oslo Accords in which no limitation on Israeli (or Palestinian) building was stipulated. He also ignores the fact that construction in existing communities took place in Area C which, according to the terms of the Oslo Accords is to have its status determined in final status negotiations, making Keane’s description of that area as “Palestinian land” inaccurate and misleading.

Khalidi: “Instead of punishing the settlers by doing what a majority of his cabinet apparently wanted to do, which was to remove settlers from Hebron and perhaps even remove the Kiryat Arba settlement where the most fanatic, most extreme armed settlers were concentrated, Rabin did quite the opposite. He began the enforcement of incredibly restrictive conditions on the population of Hebron in the area where the Jewish settlers had set up in the city, such that it became clear to the Palestinians that the peace process was not delivering and to settlement and improvement of the situation for Palestinians: quite the contrary.”

Neither Khalidi nor Keane bother to inform listeners that the status of Hebron and the security arrangements there are the product of the Hebron Protocols – again willingly signed by the Palestinian leadership. Clearly that fact does not fit into Khalidi’s politically motivated narrative which portrays Palestinians exclusively as victims.

Keane then goes on to discuss with Ronen Bergman and Nitzan Nuriel Israel’s methods of coping with the wave of suicide bombings during the second Intifada before informing listeners that:

“The most profound, long-term impact was political. Suicide bombing created fear among the Israeli public and a sense of betrayal. Where were the promises of peace, they asked. And so voters gradually turned away from the likes of Shimon Peres and Ehud Barak of Labour and towards the right-wing in the form of Binyamin Netanyahu and Ariel Sharon. As suicide bombing reached its peak in 2002, Sharon ordered the army into West Bank towns controlled by the Palestinian Authority. Operation Defensive Shield was the largest military operation in the West Bank since the war of 1967. The compound of PLO leader Yasser Arafat was besieged and according to the United Nations, 497 Palestinians were killed along with 30 Israeli soldiers. Arafat was accused of supporting suicide bombers from the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades – a faction of his Fatah movement. Human Rights Watch said that while he didn’t have command responsibility, he bore a heavy political responsibility for the atrocities. More than a hundred people died in bomb attacks in Israel from March to May 2002.”

Notably, at no point in this programme is it clarified that Arafat was not only the leader of the PLO, but also the president of the Palestinian Authority. No mention is made of his instigation of the second Intifada and, as we see above, his role in financing that terror war is downplayed to the level of ambiguous “political responsibility”.

After discussing the role of the anti-terrorist fence in reducing suicide bombings with Assaf Moghadan, Keane once again turns his attentions away from counter-terrorism and towards politics.

“But Israel’s politics changed dramatically. The old existential fear dominated and produced governments for whom security – rather than a long-term pact with the Palestinians – became the primary focus. Along with this came the steady expansion of Jewish settlements on Palestinian land: a deep cause of Palestinian fury. For the Palestinian militants, instead of suicide bombers the new terrorism would see hundreds of rockets fired at Israeli civilians.”

So according to Keane’s version of events, it was “Jewish settlements” which caused “fury” which prompted the continuation of terror attacks against Israeli civilians, with the tactic changing from suicide bombings to rockets.

The one major hole in Keane’s inaccurate theory is of course that the majority of the thousands – not “hundreds”- of missile attacks from the Gaza Strip took place after Israel’s disengagement from that territory in 2005 – including the evacuation of all ‘settlements’ – and hence one can in fact see that Keane’s linkage between the Palestinian terror organisations’ activities and ‘settlements’ is fallacious to say the least.

Missile attacks from GS

Keane proceeds with a very odd question:

“As with the airline hijackings of the 1970s, the suicide bombing campaigns focused attention on the Palestinian cause. But did they improve living conditions or bring a Palestinian state any closer?”

Keane gives the last word to Khalidi.

“Well, I would argue that attacks carried out in particular during the second Intifada which began in 2000 – and those attacks really reached a peak in 2001/2002 with bus bombs and other atrocities all over Israeli cities – had a devastating effect on the Palestinians, not only in terms of public opinion but in terms of hardening Israeli opinion against the Palestinians in terms of unifying Israeli opinion around the most extreme right-wing positions in Israeli politics. So their ultimate impact, besides the havoc that the Israeli army wreaked on the Palestinians as part of the re-occupation of the tiny areas that they had originally evacuated as part of the Oslo Accords, the public opinion impact worldwide of the Palestinians blowing up buses – all of these things together in my view had a devastating impact on the Palestinians primarily. Obviously there was enormous suffering caused by the actual attacks, but strategically I would say the balance is entirely in Israel’s favour and that should be a strategic factor for any Palestinian political leader.”

In other words, BBC audiences are left with the message that suicide bombings are undesirable not because they are morally wrong or abhorrent, but because they do not serve the strategic interests of Palestinian public relations. They are also told that Israeli public opinion is ‘unified’ around “the most extreme right-wing positions in Israeli politics” – a claim not borne out by the results of the 2013 elections or those which went before them. Khalidi also erases the fact that Arafat’s campaign of terror actually coincided with an increase in foreign donor contributions to the Palestinian Authority and that continuing terrorism cannot be said to have had a detrimental effect upon the provision of foreign aid funding.

Ostensibly, Fergal Keane set out to explore in this programme “how Israeli society reacted to a wave of suicide bombers”. What he actually achieved was – once again – uncritical amplification of political messaging from the Rashid Khalidi show. 



BBC R 4’s ‘Terror Through Time’ asks a silly question, gets a silly answer

The BBC Radio 4 programme ‘Terror Through Time’ – presented by Fergal Keane – is back with a new series and its November 24th edition was titled “Mossad: The Wrath of God“.Terror Through Time

The programme’s synopsis states:

“In the first episode of ten examining the world of terrorism in the run-up to 9/11, Fergal Keane asks if the reputation of Mossad has been a help or a hindrance to peace in the Middle East. Has the agency’s ruthlessness destroyed the efforts of moderate voices on both sides or stopped the worst perpetrators of violence in their tracks?”

Leaving aside the fact that (contrary to the asinine suggestion repeatedly promoted by the BBC) “peace in the Middle East” is obviously a much broader issue than the Arab-Israeli conflict, solving that particular conflict is not part of the job description of The Institute for Intelligence and Special Operations – or Mossad – and hence that is a rather odd and redundant question to be asking in the first place.

And in fact, Keane does not really ask the question or provide any relevant or enlightening answers to it in his programme. What he does do, however, is to use it as a hook upon which to place some political messaging from a contributor misleadingly (and in breach of BBC Editorial Guidelines on impartiality which demand that the viewpoint of interviewees should be summarised) presented merely as an academic.

Keane: “So is it a successful policy as far as Israel is concerned? Have the assassinations weakened Israel’s enemies? Rashid Khalidi is professor of modern Arab studies at Columbia University. He’s convinced that the killings have fundamentally weakened the political capabilities of the Palestinians.”

Khalidi: “I think it is the case, going back to the 1970s, that what Israel has done in assassinating Palestinian leaders – some of whom are literary figures, some of whom were spokespeople, some of whom were organizational leaders, some of whom were military leaders – has been to decapitate the secular Palestinian movement. If you look at the leadership of Fatah, at least a dozen of the most gifted leaders were murdered: most of them assassinated by the Israelis, some of them unfortunately assassinated by the intelligence services of Arab regimes; whether Syria or Libya or Iraq. And this has had a devastating effect on Fatah and on the PFLP and on other of the groups that make up the PLO. Something of the same sort has happened to Hamas and to Islamic Jihad in the more recent period when they were the ones leading…err….armed resistance and carrying out attacks on Israeli civilian and other targets, such that in a certain sense, the best and the brightest are all six feet under.”

Anyone familiar with Rashid Khalidi’s record of political activism will of course not be in the least bit surprised by his attempt to turn arch-terrorists such as Fatah’s Abu Jihad (Khalil al Wazir), the PFLP-GC’s Ahmed Jibril or Black September leader Ali Hassan Salameh into “the best and the brightest” and “gifted leaders” or by his far-fetched implication that a political solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict has been thwarted by Israeli assassinations of the terrorists who – according to his spurious theory – would have made it happen.

The trouble is that the majority of listeners to BBC Radio 4 will not know who Rashid Khalidi is or what the political motivations inevitably underscoring his commentary entail and hence will be unable to put his words into their appropriate context. The bigger problem is, of course, that the BBC has denied them that ability. 


Multiple breaches of editorial guidelines in Sharon report by BBC’s Paul Adams

Like the rest of the media, the BBC has had ample advance time in which to prepare parts of its coverage of the death of Ariel Sharon. It is therefore interesting to look at how that time has been spent and what pre-planned messages the BBC wishes to communicate to its audiences.

The BBC News website ran a live page with the rather clumsy title “As it happened: Ariel Sharon dies” on January 11th.

Sharon As it happened page

Featured prominently on that page is a filmed report which was clearly made in advance and is more than seven minutes in length – and which also appeared on BBC television news programmes and in addition elsewhere on the BBC News website – by BBC World Affairs correspondent Paul Adams

Sharon Paul Adams filmed

The report opens with Adams narrating.

“The king of Israel to his followers, the bulldozer to admirers and detractors alike. Ariel Sharon’s turbulent story and contradictions spanned more than sixty years of Israeli history. In and out of uniform he was always a warrior but what did he achieve and had he lived, what more did he have in mind for Israel and the Palestinians?

He was certainly decisive, provided the decisions were his. In 1973 he crossed the Suez Canal and helped to defeat the Egyptian army. It was risky, unorthodox, perhaps even crazy.”

The report then cuts to archive footage of Sharon speaking in 1973.

“Without madness I don’t believe that anybody would have done it. To believe that you can do it during one night – a certain element of madness should be there.”

Back to Adams:

“His maverick style infuriated his superiors but his men loved it and him.”

The film then shows Avi Dichter speaking.

“Yeah, very popular. I remember as a combatant of twenty-one years old during the Yom Kippur war in ’73 we were very motivated to go, to follow the leader, to follow the commander and we knew that if you follow Ariel Sharon, you’ll – at the end – you’ll find your destination. You are not going to get lost.”

The report then cuts to Pathe archive footage from 1953 in which the announcer is saying:

“The tiny village of Qibya on the Israel-Jordan border is in ruins…”

Adams cuts in:

“But there was a dark, brutal side too, from retaliatory raids on Palestinian villages in the 1950s to the devastating assault on Beirut thirty years later, culminating in the massacre of Palestinian refugees at the hands of Israel’s Lebanese allies.”

So, in the opening minutes of the film audiences have heard “crazy”, “madness”, “dark” and “brutal”, but with absolutely no context provided regarding the Egyptian attack which began the Yom Kippur war and ended up with Israeli forces crossing the Suez Canal, no mention of the Fedayeen raids on Israel and no explanation of the PLO’s presence in Lebanon and its attacks on civilians in northern Israel which brought about the first Lebanon war.

The film then cuts to footage of Sharon pointing to a map and saying:

“We had a problem here; how to keep in our hands…”

Adams cuts in:

“Throughout it all, Ariel Sharon was passionate about the land, often to be found like this – map in hand – explaining the significance of holding on to territory captured in 1967.”

Again, no context is provided as to why the Six Day War broke out: as far as Adams is concerned, all BBC audiences need to know is that Israel captured territory. He goes on:

“To Jewish settlers he was a hero, telling them to grab every hilltop while they could.”

The film then features an interview with Yisrael Medad who is labelled on screen as “Spokesman Yesha Council of Jewish Communities”.

“He pushed, he manipulated, he exploited every opportunity to make sure that as many Jews as possible were living in as many locations throughout the territories that we now administer after the ’67 war.”

Adams goes on:

“But Sharon’s attachment to the land was less spiritual, more strategic. Giving this up was simply too risky.”

Undated footage is then shown of Ariel Sharon saying:

“Israel is against having a Palestinian state and the government – all the government – were against having a Palestinian state here because of the dangers.”

Next to be interviewed is the old BBC favourite Rashid Khalidi who, despite the BBC’s supposed commitment to “summarizing the standpoint” of interviewees, is labelled on screen simply as “Professor Rashid Khalidi , Author – ‘Brokers of Deceit'” and with absolutely no reference to his activism and political agenda. Khalidi says:

“The evil done by the settlement process from the very beginning of the occupation in ’67 – but put on steroids by Sharon from when he was Minister of Agriculture in 1977 – ah – I think will be with us for a very, very long time if not permanently. It has changed the face of Palestine.”

So, audiences have now been led towards an emotion-based view of settlements – and by inference, the people who built and live in them – as doing “evil” and led to believe that there is an entity called “Palestine” which has been “changed”. Adams then lets slip his mask of BBC impartiality even further. [emphasis added]

“For years this colonisation of occupied territory set Israel at odds with its closest ally, the United States. It saw settlements as an obstacle to peace. But violence, Sharon countered, was a much greater obstacle. With suicide bombs claiming dozens of lives and America pursuing its ‘War on Terror’ after 9/11, Sharon’s argument was simple: we’re all in this together.”

Along with the inaccurate description of “colonization”, here we see Adams transform a campaign of terrorism orchestrated by the Palestinian leadership into amorphous, disconnected “suicide bombs” and the true number of casualties downplayed by a factor of hundreds. Adams goes on:

“But he did something more: he got George Bush to agree in writing that some settlements would never be removed.”

The film then features an interview with another of the BBC’s favourite historians – Avi Shlaim – who is also presented on screen in a manner which does nothing to “summarise” his anti-Zionist “viewpoint”: “Professor Avi Shlaim, Oxford University”. Shlaim expands on Adams’ previous point by edging audiences towards conspiracy theories of Zionist influence and power.

“The letter that George Bush wrote to him is his greatest achievement because he asked for an American commitment to support Israel’s negotiating  position in writing and he got it in writing and he was very proud of that letter from Bush. He called it a second Balfour Declaration. So under the influence of Ariel Sharon, George Bush reversed American foreign policy.” [emphasis added]

Adams continues:

“But Sharon was pragmatic too. If giving up land was risky, he saw that sometimes holding on was worse. The forcible removal of nine thousand Jewish settlers from the Gaza Strip was, for him, a small price to pay for no longer having to take account of Gaza’s one and a half million Palestinians.”

The film then cuts to another interview with Yisrael Medad who is presented as before.

“Too many of us today will not remember the good days, but only remember the bitterness of the fact that he failed us at a moment that we thought we had someone in a position of power to assure our future forever.”

Erasing from his account both Israel’s efforts to make peace during the Oslo years and the Palestinian leadership’s response to those overtures in the form of the second Intifada, Adams goes on:

“But Ariel Sharon didn’t consult the Palestinians either – he was too busy fighting them. Yasser Arafat was an enemy to be surrounded and humiliated in his head-quarters. With no peace partner, he said, we have to take decisions ourselves. The wall – or separation barrier – was one of them. Initially for security, but a clear statement too of where a future border might be drawn; cutting off even more Palestinian territory – part of Sharon’s enduring legacy.”

There’s that “Palestinian territory” again – with no mention whatsoever of Area C or Final Status negotiations. There too is what has become the BBC’s standard yet obvious misrepresentation of Sharon’s initial opposition to the construction of an anti-terrorist fence.

The film then returns to Avi Shlaim who – in contravention of BBC editorial guidelines – is once again presented to audiences only by the title of the academic institution at which he works.

“Despite Sharon’s disappearance from the political scene, ah, his legacy looms very large in Israeli politics because he was the architect of a new national consensus which was based on unilateralism.”

Shlaim of course provides no evidence for his bizarre claim of a “national consensus” and has apparently never heard of Ehud Barak’s 2000 unilateral disengagement from southern Lebanon. Adams continues: [emphasis added]

“Eight years on, an energetic American Secretary of State shuttles this way and that, trying to breathe some kind of life into the peace process. Israel’s current prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu is, if anything, more hawkish. But should he be grateful to his old rival?”

One can but hope that BBC audiences do not share Adams’ selective amnesia with regard to the Bar Ilan speech.

The film then returns to a once again misrepresented Rashid Khalidi:

“One now sees Secretary Kerry trying to impose on the Palestinians things that are part of the Israeli position; things like acceptance of Israel as a Jewish state. In fact there are some reports that Kerry is trying to impose this on all the Arab states. Ah..so I think that Sharon began a process back in the early 2000s of pulling the United States away from a nominal position as an honest broker. This – you could argue that this has been done before – but certainly since Sharon and since that 2004 letter, it’s become more noticeable and unfortunately I think maybe it’s become a permanent part of the landscape of negotiations.”

There we have audiences primed yet again to accept that notion of a mysterious – and apparently totally irresistible – Israeli influence on a United States of America which, if one chooses to believe the BBC’s preferred historians, is unable to think for itself or decide on its own foreign policy.

Adams concludes:

“Two strokes a month apart brought an abrupt end to Ariel Sharon’s long, eventful career. We simply do not know what his next move would have been. His first term in office was characteristically decisive. Israelis from the Right and the Left seemed willing to follow his lead, but the West Bank was always going to be infinitely more complicated than Gaza: far more settlers on much more strategic land. His plans would almost certainly have been too much for them; too little for the Palestinians. And in the years since it’s only got harder.”

BBC audiences learn nothing from Paul Adams’ report of Ariel Sharon the man – who lost his first wife and eldest son in separate tragic accidents and his second wife to cancer. Neither will audiences learn much about Sharon the soldier and statesman because what little cherry-picked information is provided is presented without the vital historic context necessary to understand the man and his deeds.

In fact it is all too obvious that Adams’ real aim in this pre-prepared film was not to tell BBC audiences about the life of Ariel Sharon, but to use the occasion of his death as a vehicle from which to advance a collection of myths and memes originating from a specific political viewpoint of the Arab-Israeli conflict. In that mission, he has undoubtedly reached his target. The fact that in order to do so, BBC editorial guidelines – including those on the proper presentation of interviewees – were trampled is clearly not of interest to either this particular BBC correspondent or his editors, just as long as audiences have got the ‘right’ message.

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BBC R4 presents jaundiced account of San Remo conference


BBC R4 presents jaundiced account of San Remo conference

BBC Radio Four is currently running a series called “Terror Through Time” presented by Fergal Keane. The instalment broadcast on Friday, October 11th 2013 was titled “Stirring the Middle East” and it can be heard here.

Stirring the Middle East

The programme’s synopsis reads:

“Fergal Keane on the British promises in WW1 that provoked conflict in the Middle East.
The collapse of the Ottoman Empire after the First World War created a tangle of real and potential conflicts for world leaders to unpick.

The toughest nut to crack would be the future of Palestine. In the course of the war Britain, in its desperate quest for allies, made three apparently contradictory promises. A secret deal with France divided future control of the Middle East between the two allies, the Sharif of Mecca was offered a new Arab kingdom and support for a Jewish homeland had been given to the Zionists.

Fergal Keane explores how Britain tried and failed to untangle the knots, setting the scene for so much of the violence to come in the Middle East.”

As may be expected of an item lasting less than fourteen minutes which relies mainly upon input from anti-Zionist campaigning academic Avi Shlaim and partisan activist academic Rashid Khalidi, the programme presents a very one-sided, partial view of the Balfour Declaration and the Mandate for Palestine. Interestingly – in light of a recent ECU decision – the two contributors are introduced solely by their academic titles, with no “summarizing the standpoint” of Shlaim and Khalidi whatsoever. 

Listeners to the programme will not hear a full explanation of the legal status of the Mandate for Palestine issued by the League of Nations or of the fact that 77% of its intended area was later assigned to the creation of Transjordan. They will hear of the Hussein-McMahon Correspondence, but not that none of the letters referred to Palestine or that – as was reported in The Times in 1937 – Sir Henry McMahon later clarified:

“I feel my duty to state, and I do so definitely and emphatically, that it was not intended by me in giving this pledge to King Hussein to include Palestine in the area in which Arab independence was promised. I also had every reason to believe at the time that the fact that Palestine was not included in my pledge was well understood by King Hussein.”

Listeners will hear Keane say at 11:22:

“There were no Palestinian Arabs present at all when the final deal was reached at San Remo in 1920.”

They do not get any explanation of the fact that at the time no such separate identity as “Palestinian Arabs” was recognized – certainly not by Arab powers with their own territorial designs. Neither are they made aware that at the same San Remo conference, the foundations for Syria, Lebanon and Iraq were laid down.  

They will hear Khalidi’s politically motivated description of the Balfour Declaration as a vehicle for British imperialism and hear him claim that “the Palestinians were basically written out of the Mandate” whilst he himself completely ignores the fact that the “non-Jewish population of Palestine” referred to in the Balfour Declaration actually includes other groups besides the “Arabs and Palestinians” to whom he exclusively refers.

In light of the presentation of this politicized version of events, readers may be interested to know that the episode of this series scheduled for Monday, October 14th at 13:45 BST is titled “The Murderous Mandate”. According to the synopsis:

“In April 1947 a young French woman talked her way past the guard of Dover House in Whitehall. She told him she was desperate to use the toilet. In fact Betty Knut was there to plant a bomb at the very heart of the Empire. It proved just how far some militants were willing to go in their campaign to remove the British from Palestine.

In part six of Fergal Keane’s exploration of the changing nature of terrorism, he’s joined by historian David Cesarani and former member of the Jewish underground, Hanna Armoni, to tell the story of the dedicated groups that turned their bombs and bullets against the British occupation.”

The Murderous Mandate