BBC perpetuates the narrative of perpetual Palestinian refugees

On Oct. 8th, the BBC published video segment by Paul Adams titled “After 70 years, who are the Palestinian refugees?”, filmed at the Burg Al-Barajneh “refugee” camp in Beirut, which focused on Palestinian fears that, under the new US peace plan, they’ll never be allowed to return “home”.

Here’s the six-minute segment:

Though the official UNRWA figure counts over 5 million Palestinian refugees, the overwhelming majority of these “refugees” – as we’ve noted repeatedly – are merely Palestinians descendants (children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, etc.) of the original 711,000 actual refugees from 1948 who, unlike every other refugee population, are automatically granted refugee status, even those who have citizenship in other countries.

As Einat Wilf, co-author of the book ‘The War of Return’ observed about the fiction that there are millions of Palestinian refugees.

almost all [Palestinian refugees] (upward of 80 per cent) are either citizens of a third country, such as Jordan, or they live in [Palestinian territories] where they were born and expect to have a future…

….The remaining 20 per cent of the descendantsare inhabitants of Syria and Lebanon who are by law denied the right to citizenship granted to all other Syrians and Lebanese.

The number of actual refugees from 1948 is believed to be closer to 20,000.

As you saw in the clip, a Palestinian professor in Lebanon was interviewed who explained that Palestinian “refugees” in Lebanon – many of whom have lived in the country for generations – are truly second class citizens and are denied basic employment and property rights.  Yet, note how Adams failed to draw the most intuitive conclusion from this fact: that the refugee issue – and the fact that so many Arabs of Palestinian descent identify as “refugees” – is perpetuated by Arab states (and UNRWA) who refuse to encourage the full integration of Palestinians into their countries.  Nor, did Adams ask why such “refugee camps”, run by UNRWA, in Lebanon, Jordan, and within the Palestinian Authority have never been converted to ordinary cities. 

Adams’ other Palestinian interviewee – a young woman also several generations removed from the actual refugees of ’48 – insisted on her inalienable “right of return” to Israel.  But, BBC viewers were not reminded that such descendants of refugees don’t in fact have such a legal right to “return”, and that Israel would of course never engage in an act of national self-immolation by allowing millions of Palestinians to become citizens of the state.

Adams, in his final thoughts on the problem, opines that for such Palestinians, living in camps in Lebanon and Jordan, their refugee status is the only thing they possess.  However, hope based on a right (of return) they don’t have, and on a future vision of life (in Israel) that will never be brought to fruition, is not a possession. It’s a handicap, and a cynical formula for perpetuating Palestinian victimhood that continues to be amplified and legitimized by media outlets like the BBC.

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BBC exploits European migrant crisis for political messaging on ‘educational’ site

BBC produced content is of course widely used by researchers, academics, educators and teachers as well as members of the general public seeking factual information. One of the corporation’s projects is a website called ‘iWonder’ – billed as “the BBC’s new factual and educational site” at the time of its launch in 2014.

As we have had occasion to note here before (see related articles below), one might expect that a website with such a mission statement would make all the more effort to ensure that its content is historically accurate, factual and impartial.

In the midst of its recent special coverage of the migrant crisis in Europe, BBC News offered audiences a link to additional content on the topic of migrants.

Tweet iWonder link

That link leads to the iWonder website and a feature titled “The Longer View: Migrant crises” which is introduced as follows:

“Echoes through history

The current migrant crisis in Europe has made headlines around the world as millions seek refuge in countries across the continent.

The scale of the crisis in 2015 has not been seen since the end of World War Two, but tackling mass migration has proved to be an almost constant concern. From Biafra to the Balkans, solutions are rarely straightforward.”

The first item in that feature is titled “Exodus” and includes an archive video which does nothing to clarify to audiences that the British policy of restricting immigration of Jews to Palestine began long before July 1947 and fails to explain the legal basis of Jewish immigration to Mandate Palestine.

iWonder Exodus

Those following the link titled “Watch: People of the Exodus” arrive at content produced by film-maker – not historian – Adam Curtis (who has a blog hosted by the BBC) headlined “21 Miles Off The Coast of Palestine“.

The post was written on June 2nd 2010 – and the significance of that soon becomes apparent. The article begins:

“Here is a strange echo from history.

It is a documentary made by the BBC in 1973 about the story of the ship, the Exodus.

It was the ship full of Jewish refugees – many of them survivors of the Holocaust – that tried to break the British blockade of Palestine in 1947. The participants from both sides appear and describe in detail how British soldiers boarded the ship 21 miles off the coast of Palestine killing 3 of the refugees and wounding others.

It caused an international scandal and was a PR disaster for the British government. It is seen in Israel today as one of the most significant events that led to the founding of the modern Israeli state.

The shock was compounded when the British took most of the refugees back to Germany and put them on trains and sent them to internment camps.”

But then the material promoted by BBC News as educational background to the current migrant crisis takes a sinister turn as Curtis continues:

“As you watch the film – it raises complex reactions and thoughts in your mind. But it is ironic that, although the two events are in many ways completely different, the Israelis are now preventing Palestinians and supporters of Hamas from doing what the Israeli defence organisation – the Haganah – tried to do over 60 years ago.” [emphasis added]

Yes – BBC ‘educational’ content on the subject of Holocaust survivors trying to reach Mandate Palestine really does promote a politicized and totally redundant comparison between the story of the ‘Exodus’ and the agitprop of the Mavi Marmara incident which took place two days before Curtis published this post.

The third item on this feature’s homepage is titled “Palestinians in exile”.

iWonder Palestinians in exile

There too audiences see highly partisan archive material which fails to explain to viewers why refugees who received Jordanian citizenship and were at the time living in territory occupied by Jordan were still the holders of refugee status. Those clicking on the link titled “Obstacles to Arab-Israeli peace: Palestinian refugees” arrive at the highly problematic article of the same name dated 2010 (but actually produced by Martin Asser quite some time before that) which was previously discussed on these pages here and here.

The failure to meet editorial standards of accuracy and impartiality is of course a grave issue at any time but when content specifically described as “factual and educational” fails to live up to those standards and is further employed as a platform for political messaging, it is time to ask some serious questions about the BBC’s role as a provider of educational material.

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Omissions, distortions and inaccurate history in BBC WW1 ‘educational’ feature

BBC’s Knell returns to the Gaza rubble


BBC’s Knell shoehorns Israel into report on Syria and the Gaza Strip

On January 2nd a filmed report by the BBC Jerusalem Bureau’s Yolande Knell titled “The young Palestinians fighting in Syria” (also shown on BBC television news) appeared in the ‘Watch/Listen’ video section of the BBC News website’s Middle East page. 

Knell filmed report Gaza Syria

Previously, on December 15th 2013, a very similar written report by Knell had appeared in the ‘Features & Analysis’ section of the website’s Middle East page (where it remained for four consecutive days) under the title “Gaza fighters head to Syria as refugees flow in“. 

Knell written report Gaza Syria

Both reports relate to the subjects of refugees from Syria who have arrived in the Gaza Strip and residents of the Strip who have travelled abroad to join Jihadist militias in Syria.

In the filmed report, Knell opens her narration against a background of images of a Hamas military parade.

“Palestinian militants show off their weapons at a parade in the Gaza Strip. Islamist groups here are committed to armed struggle against Israel. But these Gaza fighters are different. They joined rebels fighting in Syria’s civil war. This is a message that Fahd al Habash left for his family, telling them to celebrate if he was killed as he’d be a martyr. Just afterwards, he was shot dead near Homs. He never saw his youngest child.”

Habash’s brother is then interviewed.

“The situation in Gaza is calm. There’s no fighting with Israel right now and some people see how Bashar al Assad and Hizballah are killing people in Syria. They decide to go for that reason.”

Knell continues:

“But in Gaza many people are still surprised at the idea of young men going overseas to fight Jihad. About thirty Palestinians from the Gaza Strip are believed to have headed to Syria since the war started. But the movement is not just in one direction. Syrian refugees and Palestinian refugees who were living in Syria have also come here. These snacks are a taste of home for a Syrian chef in Gaza City. He recently opened this restaurant with a long-time Palestinian friend. As the conflict in Syria has heated up, many of the half a million Palestinians who used to live there have fled, with hundreds arriving in Gaza. Hamza was born in Damascus.”

The camera then cuts to Hamza Issa:

“A lot of people have been killed, even some of my friends. The situation is chaotic. There is no work, you can’t study, it’s terrible. That’s why we left.”

Clearly not appreciating the irony of what she is about to say after having presented an entire report on movement of hundreds of people in and out of the Gaza Strip, Knell rounds off:

“Gaza is also a tough place to live with high poverty rates and border restrictions imposed by Israel and Egypt. But refugees working here say they feel welcomed. They share their food and their stories of Syria.”

In the written version of this report Knell also injects the seemingly obligatory mention of Israel.

“However, recent arrivals have found out fast that Gaza is a tough place to live.

There are high rates of poverty and unemployment in the small, overcrowded coastal strip.

Tight border restrictions are imposed by Israel and Egypt. In the past five years residents of the Palestinian territory have endured two short but intense conflicts with Israel.”

Both these reports by Knell feature sympathetic portrayal of Fahd al Habash (aka Fahd Nizar al Habbash) as an example of the Gaza Strip residents who have travelled to join one of the Jihadist militias fighting in Syria – in Habash’s case, Jabhat al Nusra. In neither of them does Knell mention the fact that before his departure for Syria, Habash worked for the Hamas-run police force and prior to that was a member of Hamas’ Al Qassam brigades. 

“Al Habbash, a former member of Hamas’ police force in Gaza, was killed fighting with the Al Nusrah Front in mid-July 2013. According to the narrator of an ITMC production released in late August, al Habbash was born in the northern Gaza Strip in 1985 to a “good family.” After he completed his schooling in 2006, he got married and had two children. “He fought often alongside the Palestinian resistance against the criminal Jews,” the narrator said.”

In the written report, Knell recounts the story of an additional man killed in Syria -Mohammed Qanita (aka Muhammad Ahmed Qanitah) who was also previously a member of the Al Qassam brigades and who, according to one of his obituary videos:

“… grew up with a religious family and was raised to hate the ‘Jewish enemy,'” […] “He learned martial arts and threw stones at the enemies and was injured when he was 12 years old.”

The narrator of the video said Qanitah joined Hamas’ Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades of Hamas in 2003. “He came to know its leaders and worked with them and trained its fighters, and he participated in many jihadi actions and attacks against the settlements.” He fought against the Israeli military during Operation Cast Lead in Gaza in 2009, “and he continued participating in al-Qassam Brigades and the ‘cleansing’ of Gaza to live under Shariah-based governance,” […]”

Whilst Knell does note Qanita’s membership in the al Qassam brigades, she avoids any deeper exploration of the sliding scale of Islamist extremism upon which a range of terrorist organisations are located, including both Hamas and Jabhat al Nusra, and the basic shared ideology which enables the phenomenon of movement from one to the other. Instead, Knell opts to amplify the tactical distancing promoted by Hamas.

“In keeping with the popular mood, Hamas celebrated him as a “martyr” after news emerged of his death.

Yet the Islamist group, which governs Gaza, had been trying to distance itself from involvement in the Syrian conflict.

Its early support for Sunni Muslim rebels fighting President Assad put a heavy strain on relations with Tehran, a key ally of Damascus.

The movement’s exiled leadership, which used to be based in the Syrian capital, was forced to leave and Iranian funding for Hamas was cut.”

Likewise, Knell’s written report makes no attempt to inform audiences of the real status of Palestinian refugees in Syria and instead uncritically reproduces the words of her interviewee.

“Hamza Issa was brought up in Yarmouk refugee camp on the edge of Damascus but decided to leave for Gaza a few months ago.

“I came here directly because Gaza is my homeland. It was the obvious choice because I am Palestinian,” he says.

“We used to have a good life in Syria. We were treated as well as citizens.”

Syrians of Palestinian ethnicity are, in fact, subjected to restrictions which differentiate between them and other Syrians.  

“The 1965 Casablanca Protocol, which Syria ratified, stipulates that Arab countries should guarantee Palestinian refugees rights to employment, residency, and freedom of movement, whilst maintaining their Palestinian identity and not granting them citizenship. This is echoed in the Syrian legislation (Citizenship Law no. 276, 1969), which stipulates that the granting of Syrian citizenship to a person of Arab origin normally depends on habitual residence in Syria and demonstration of financial support or livelihood, but that Palestinians, in spite of fulfilling this condition, are not granted citizenship in order to “preserve their original nationality”. “

“Until 1968, Palestinians were not allowed to own any property in Syria. After 1968, this law was changed so that Palestinians were allowed to own one house per person, but they are still not allowed to own farm land.”

These two reports by Knell could have provided a good opportunity for the BBC to inform its audiences with regard to both the extremist Islamist ideology which similarly fuels Hamas and Jihadist militias in Syria and the discrimination against the descendants of Palestinian refugees in Syria. Knell, however, elected to go with a superficial presentation of the subject and predictably was unable to resist dragging Israel into an unrelated story. 

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 Makeover by BBC’s Knell produces ‘conservative’ northern Islamic Movement

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

In the first part of this article we discussed Martin Asser’s partisan treatment of the subject of Palestinian refugees in which he promoted claims of an Israeli “pre-determined plan to expel Palestinian civilians”.

One very notable feature about Asser’s article is the way in which he isolates the subject of Palestinian refugees from the context of the war which raged at the time – thereby avoiding the subject of responsibility of any parties other than Israel for the creation of the refugee problem. In this article we will look at a case study – the events which led to the departure of the Arab population of the town of Tiberias – which provides a good example of the many factors deliberately ignored by Asser in order to enable the promotion of his one-sided narrative. SONY DSC

On the eve of the War of Independence Tiberias had a population of around 11,000 – the majority of whom were Jews. The Arab population of the town numbered some 5,700 people; mostly Muslims but also a small Christian community. During the time of the British Mandate the residents of Tiberias had begun to settle outside the Old City walls, with Jews and Arabs building separate neighbourhoods as well as mixed ones. Traditionally, relations between Jews and Arabs in the town had been good, with the leading Arab family at the time – the Tabaris, who apparently originated in the Houran region of today’s Syria – being renowned for its moderation and Tiberias saw very little trouble during the Arab riots of 1921 and 1929. 

During the Arab revolt of 1936 – 1939 extremists began to dictate the agenda and that changed, with frequent attacks taking place including the massacre of 19 Jews – among them eleven children – in the Jewish neighbourhood of Kiryat Shmuel on October 2nd 1938 and the murder of the Jewish mayor of Tiberias, Zaki Alhadeef on October 27th of the same year.

Zaki Alhadeef PP

Palestine Post 28.10.1938

With the announcement of the UN Partition Plan decision on November 29th 1947, most mixed towns in Mandate Palestine were plunged into unrest, but an agreement between Jewish representatives from Tiberias and the Tabari family initially prevented trouble there. That agreement however did not prevent either side from making preparations for other eventualities. The Haganah had mostly local people engaged in guarding the Jewish neighbourhoods. The Arabs also amassed weapons and their numbers were increased by gang members from the nearby village of Lubiya. 

By the end of February 1948 around 400 mostly local members of the Haganah and 60 trained members were stationed in the town. The Arab fighters numbered around 500, including gang members and 30 Syrian soldiers. In the nearby villages of Turan and Ilaboun were stationed 800 members of Fawzi al Qawugji’s Arab Liberation Army (created by the Arab League) which had infiltrated from Lebanon in January 1948 with little or no British opposition and now awaited orders to attack Tiberias. At Tsemach – some thirteen kilometers south of Tiberias – were soldiers from the Jordanian Arab Legion. In Tiberias itself, British paratroopers were stationed in the police building, with their commander Colonel Anderson known to lean towards the Arab side. 

Relative quiet reigned in Tiberias until March 10th 1948 when a rumour spread among the Arab population that a Jewish leader had been killed by Arabs and that the Jews were planning reprisal attacks. The Arabs opened fire and fighting continued for three days until a British-brokered ceasefire was agreed

Tiberias truce

In the wake of the fighting, however, some of the Jews living in the Old City abandoned their homes and moved to the newer Jewish neighbourhoods. At the same time, some Arabs left mixed neighbourhoods and either moved to the Old City or left the town altogether. The Haganah kept a presence in the Old City.

The ceasefire held until April 5th 1948 when Arab gunmen opened fire on Jewish shoppers at the market, killing five elderly people and taking ten women prisoner. The Haganah responded, taking 12 Arabs prisoner, and fighting took place all over the town. Another British-brokered ceasefire resulted in an exchange of prisoners, after which the two sides marched together down the town’s main street – Galilee Street – to demonstrate their wish for peace. 

In the meantime, the Mufti Haj Amin al Husseini intervened in an ongoing dispute between the leaders of the two main Arab families in the town – the moderate Tabaris and the extremist Subhi family. Husseini appointed the latter as leader of the Arab forces in Tiberias. 

That ceasefire was short-lived and on April 8th Arab gunmen again opened fire on shoppers at the market and on Haganah positions, took over the Scottish hospital and the Tiberias Hotel and blocked the main street of the town. British attempts to secure a ceasefire were unsuccessful and fierce fighting continued. With the local members of the Haganah exhausted from days of non-stop fighting, it was decided to send in additional troops including the Golani Brigade to try to bring an end to the fighting.

Several days of fierce battles ensued until, on the morning of April 18th, representatives of the Arab forces approached the British commander and requested to leave the town with their weapons. Colonel Anderson then summoned the town’s Jewish commanders and informed them that the British would be evacuating its Arab residents and that as of ten days later, British forces would leave Tiberias in Jewish hands – as indeed they did on April 28th 1948.

The Jewish representatives responded that they would happily take control of the town, but requested that the Arabs simply hand over their weapons and that they not leave. However, that afternoon trucks and buses began arriving in Tiberias and, under British supervision, the town’s Arab population was evacuated  – some to Nazareth and others to Jordan. 

PP 19 4 48

PP 2 19 4 48

Palestine Post 19.4.1948

The day after the Arab exodus, the Haganah commander of Tiberias put out a public announcement in which he forbade the doing of any damage to Arab property in the town, including Christian and Muslim holy places. 

Haganah announcement

PP 20 4 48

PP 2 20 4 48

Palestine Post 20.4.1948

Obviously, as is true in many other cases too, the reasons behind the flight of Tiberias’ Arab population are considerably more complex than suggested by the simplistic picture painted by Martin Asser in his article. In addition to his making no attempt whatsoever to include the context of years of violence which preceded the actual War of Independence, Asser conveniently neglects to make any mention of the foreign Arab forces at work or the divisions between differently inclined Arab groups within mandate Palestine and he totally ignores the part played by the British in the whole story. SONY DSC

Asser’s stereotypical presentation of Palestinian Arabs as a homogenous group of passive victims is as erroneous as his presentation of Israelis as aggressors and his political polemic does nothing to contribute to the understanding of BBC audiences of the real historical facts behind the issue of Palestinian refugees – quite the opposite in fact.

Amazingly, the BBC has allowed this article to stand for six years – despite having been alerted to its inaccuracies as far back as 2007. It is hence little wonder that BBC impartiality continues to be called into question.

Related posts:

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

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

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

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

As we noted earlier this year, via the country profile for Israel on the BBC’s Middle East page, readers reach a series of four articles under the heading “Related Stories” which are entitled  “Obstacles to Peace”. We previously dealt with the item on the subject of water here and here. This article will address the item entitled “Obstacles to Arab-Israeli peace: Palestinian refugees“.

All four of the “Obstacles to Peace” articles were written by Martin Asser and are dated September 2nd 2010. However, they already existed prior to that date and were the subject of critiques by CAMERA in mid-2007 – including the one about Palestinian refugees. Significantly, the BBC has not corrected the inaccuracies pointed out over six years ago and the article continues to mislead BBC audiences searching for information on the Middle East. 

Asser article refugees

Asser’s article is nothing more than an emotive exercise in promoting the narrative of Palestinian extremists on the subject of refugees, with a few half-hearted references to ‘the Israeli view’ added to create an impression of impartiality.

The fact that Asser provides no significant context regarding the belligerent actions of the various Arab armies and paramilitary groups both in the years before the War of Independence and in the Six Day War means that he is able to present the refugee issue as an isolated product of “Israel’s creation” and remove from the view of his audiences any responsibility for that refugee problem which cannot be apportioned to Israel.

“In the course of Israel’s creation in 1948 and its occupation of the West Bank and Gaza in 1967, more than half the Arabs of pre-1948 Palestine are thought to have been displaced.”

In his third paragraph Asser claims: [emphasis added]

“Today there are millions of Palestinians living in exile from homes and land their families had inhabited for generations.”

Of course the UNRWA definition of a Palestinian refugee plainly contradicts the claim that all refugees were long-established residents of the area (whilst the British were restricting Jewish immigration to mandate Palestine, migration from the surrounding Arab countries went on relatively uninhibited – and largely unrecorded) and shows the extent to which Asser inflates his figures: [emphasis added]

“Under UNRWA’s operational definition, Palestine refugees are people whose normal place of residence was Palestine between June 1946 and May 1948, who lost both their homes and means of livelihood as a result of the 1948 Arab-Israeli conflict.

UNRWA’s services are available to all those living in its area of operations who meet this definition, who are registered with the Agency and who need assistance. The descendants of the original Palestine refugees are also eligible for registration. When the Agency started working in 1950, it was responding to the needs of about 750,000 Palestine refugees. Today, 5 million Palestine refugees are eligible for UNRWA services.”

Asser makes no attempt to explain to his readers why Palestinian refugees inherit that status – in contrast to refugees elsewhere who do not fall under the auspices of UNRWA – or why they are not taken care of by the UN body responsible for all other refugees in the world – the UNHCR.

Asser continues:

“Many still suffer the legacy of their dispossession: destitution, penury, insecurity.”

Predictably, he makes no effort to inform his audience of the deliberate politically motivated refusal of most Arab countries to grant citizenship and equal rights to Palestinian refugees.

“In the year 1959 the Arab League accepted decision number 1457 and this is its text: “Arab states will reject the giving of citizenship to applicants of Palestinian origin in order to prevent their integration into the host countries”. This is a shocking decision, which stands in stark opposition to international norms on all subjects concerning the treatment of refugees during those years and particularly during that decade.” 

Neither does Asser pose the tricky question of why – post-Oslo – Palestinians continue to keep other Palestinians in refugee camps in the Gaza Strip and the Palestinian Authority-controlled areas.

In paragraph five, Asser introduces the pernicious “ethnic cleansing” canard:

“Palestinian historians, and some Israelis, call 1948 a clear example of ethnic cleansing – perpetrated by the Haganah (later the Israeli Defence Forces) and armed Jewish gangs.” 

Predictably, he has nothing to say about the preceding expulsions of Jews by Arab militias from places in which some of them really had lived “for generations” such as Hebron (1929), neighbourhoods of Jerusalem (1936) and the Old City of Jerusalem (1948). Neither does he mention the Jewish communities depopulated during the War of Independence such as Kfar Darom, Mishmar HaYarden or the Gush Etzion villages.

Apparently not content with UNRWA figures regarding the number of registered refugees (which the organization itself admits are inflated in some cases), Asser turns to quoting bizarre numbers from the political NGO ‘Badil’ – an organization which has not shied away from using anti-Semitic imagery to promote its dedicated cause of ‘right of return’. 

Having vanished away the context of a war of annihilation against the nascent Jewish state, Asser is able to turn to some moral finger-wagging:

“Israel steadfastly argues that all refugees – and it disputes the numbers – should relinquish any aspirations to return to what is now its territory, and instead be absorbed by Arab host countries or by a future Palestinian state.

It disavows moral responsibility by arguing that 800,000 Mizrahi Jews were displaced from Arab countries between 1945 and 1956 (most of whom settled in Israel) and insists Palestinians left willingly.”

He then tries to back up his argument using the UN and the UDHR:

“But that view is at odds with UN General Assembly Resolution 194 and Article 13 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Resolution 194 asserts the refugees’ unconditional right of return to live at peace in their old homes or to receive compensation for their losses.”

As Asser remembers to add later on, UN GA resolutions have no legal status whatsoever and in any case, his interpretation of 194 (passed on December 11th 1948) is distorted, with the actual text of clause 11 (which notably does not mention Israel by name or specifically refer to Palestinian refugees only) reading:

“Resolves that the refugees wishing to return to their homes and live at peace with their neighbours should be permitted to do so at the earliest practicable date, and that compensation should be paid for the property of those choosing not to return and for loss of or damage to property which, under principles of international law or in equity, should be made good by the Governments or authorities responsible;

Instructs the Conciliation Commission to facilitate the repatriation, resettlement and economic and social rehabilitation of the refugees and the payment of compensation, and to maintain close relations with the Director of the United Nations Relief for Palestine Refugees and, through him, with the appropriate organs and agencies of the United Nations;”

In other words, the suggestion (as indicated by the words “should be permitted”) of resettlement is placed on an equal footing with repatriation of those who commit to “live at peace with their neighbours” – a not insignificant detail which would necessarily involve acceptance of Israel as a Jewish state and clearly negates Asser’s claim of an “unconditional right of return”. It should also be noted that all the Arab countries which were members of the UN at the time (Egypt, Iraq, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Syria and Yemen) voted against the resolution.

As for Asser’s invocation of the UDHR – part 2 of Article 13 reads:

“Everyone has the right to leave any country, including his own, and to return to his country.”

The co-option of that clause to the case of Palestinian (or any other) refugees is not consistent with its background.

“The clause “return to his country” was never intended to establish a right of return, rather it was added to underscore the right to leave. According to its legislative history Article 13 was aimed at governments that, in effect, imprisoned certain subgroups of their nationals by preventing them from leaving – Jews in Eastern Europe or the Soviet Union, for example. The clause “and to return to his country” was added at the last minute, according to its sponsor, in order to assure that “the right to leave a country, already sanctioned in the article, would be strengthened by the assurance of the right to return.” (Jose Ingles, Study of Discrimination in Respect of the Right of Everyone to Leave Any Country, Including His Own, and to Return to His Country, UN Doc E/CN.4/Sub.2/220/Rev.1, 1963)”

Towards the end of the article Asser tosses out some particularly offensive terminology clearly designed to place the mostly self-initiated departure of Palestinian refugees on a par with the Holocaust.

“Palestinians accuse Israel of a kind of “Nakba-denial” “

That is swiftly followed by a malicious attempt to bring readers’ attention back to his earlier theme of “ethnic cleansing”. 

“But some of Israel’s “new”, or revisionist, historians argue that its founding prime minister, David Ben-Gurion, exaggerated the Arab threat, in order to implement a pre-determined plan to expel Palestinian civilians and grab as much of the former Palestine as possible.”

By the time Asser was penning this article, at least one ‘new historian’ had revised his position in light of the declassification of documentation from the time. 

“Even Benny Morris, the most influential of Israel’s revisionist “new historians,” and one who went out of his way to establish the case for Israel’s “original sin,” grudgingly stipulated that there was no “design” to displace the Palestinian Arabs.”

Next, Asser attempts to suggest to his readers a ‘logical’ background for a “pre-determined plan to expel Palestinian civilians” by resurrecting the non-binding recommendation known as the 1947 Partition Plan, which of course has no significance whatsoever as it was not accepted by the Arab states – a fact which obviously does not fit in with Asser’s one-sided narrative.

“Under a 1947 UN-sanctioned plan to partition Palestine, Israel would have been established on 55% of the former territory, and without a significant transfer of population the Jews in that territory would have scarcely exceeded the Arab population there.”

Asser’s entire article is nothing more than a rehash of some of the most extreme anti-Israel propaganda which the passage of time – and the distortion of history – has done much to enable. In the second part of this article, we will take a look at one particular case study which shows the range of context and facts ignored by Asser in order to promote his inaccurate and partial narrative. 

A story the BBC will not tell

There are some Middle East stories which, despite its generously staffed Jerusalem Bureau, the BBC does not attempt to tell. Whilst its accounts of the War of Independence inevitably include mention of the fact that some of the local Arab population left their homes, the Jewish communities which fell to the invading Arab armies and the resulting evacuation or expulsion of their populations remain concealed from BBC audiences. This is one such story.

In 1884 an aspiring Jewish farmer purchased land to the west of the B’not Yaakov bridge in the Galilee, on the main highway leading to Damascus. His farm – named ‘Rose of the Jordan’ – did not succeed as planned and in 1890 he abandoned the venture, selling the land to a group of pioneers composed of residents of the ancient town of Tsfat (Safed) and First Aliyah immigrants from Russia, who together established a farming community named Mishmar HaYarden – Guardian of the Jordan. 

Mishmar HaYarden

The community’s isolation, together with the many deaths from fever and frequent attacks by Bedouin in the area did not make for an easy or very prosperous life and during the First World War a nearby big battle between the British and Ottoman armies severely damaged Mishmar HaYarden. When Israel declared independence in May 1948, there were some 25 families living there and attacks by the Syrian army immediately following that declaration brought about the evacuation of the community’s children and non-combatants. 


Layout of Mishmar HaYarden in 1948

On June 6th 1948 Mishmar HaYarden came under heavy attack by the Syrian army but the residents who had stayed to defend it managed to repel that initial barrage, which was followed by subsequent ones. The village’s commander Nathan Adler wrote:

“The flow of soldiers from the mountain across the way does not stop and our weaponry does not reach there to stop them from crossing the Jordan River. Even the mines set the night before do not stop them. The lines of the enemy attacking become more and more dense. It is already eleven in the morning and from the headquarters they are still promising us reinforcements are coming.”


Nathan Adler’s letter, June 1948

On June 10th 1948 Mishmar HaYarden finally fell to the Syrian army. Fourteen of its defenders had been killed and the twenty-nine men and women who remained were taken prisoner by the Syrians. They remained prisoners of war for thirteen months until the Armistice Agreement was signed in 1949. Once released, they found that they had nowhere to return to: their village of 58 years had been razed to the ground by the Syrians. 


Monument Mishmar HaYarden


A letter from the POWs in prison in Syria


Residents of Mishmar HaYarden


The foundations of one of the homes in Mishmar HaYarden

Mishmar HaYarden was eventually re-established as a moshav, some 2 km to the south-west of its original site. Tens of other communities were also depopulated during the War of Independence due to attacks by the invading armies from surrounding Arab countries, including those in Gush Etzion, some in the Negev and the Jordan Valley and several Jerusalem neighbourhoods. That aspect of the War of Independence is not mentioned in the BBC’s narrative of events.