BBC’s Knell raises an opportunistic stink

On September 12th the ‘Magazine’ section of the BBC News website published an article by Yolande Knell titled “Who, What, Why: What is skunk water?“.Knell Skunk

The hook for Knell’s article is evident in the article’s opening paragraph.

“Police departments in the United States are reported to have bought a foul-smelling liquid developed in Israel to repel protesters. What is “skunk” and how is it used, asks Yolande Knell.”

However, only those 31 words and a further 39 towards the end of the article relate to the reported purchase of the riot control method by US police departments. The report’s remaining 627 words are employed by Knell for more of her signature political campaigning.

One of the article’s notable features is the language used by Knell to describe the circumstances in which the Israeli security forces use Skunk spray.

Having already informed audiences in the opening paragraph that the substance is used “to repel protesters“, the article also states: [all emphasis added]

“Invented by Israeli firm Odortec, skunk water was first used by the Israeli military against demonstrators in the occupied West Bank in 2008.” 


“In the West Bank village of Kafr Qaddum, skunk has been used to break up weekly rallies against Israel’s closure of a nearby road.”

“Protesters, demonstrators, rallies”:  none of Knell’s chosen terminology contributes to audience understanding of the fact that Skunk and other methods of crowd control are in fact used against violent rioters. The only hint concerning that comes in a quote from the IDF but Knell herself refrains from clarifying the issue to readers, leaving them with the mistaken impression that Skunk is used against people marching quietly with placards.

“A spokesman for the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) told the BBC that skunk is “an effective, non-lethal, riot dispersal means” that can reduce the risk of casualties.” 

Knell promotes statements from two political NGOs but – in breach of BBC editorial guidelines on impartiality – refrains from providing audiences with any information on the obviously relevant topic of their political agenda. The foreign funded NGO ACRI is quoted as follows:

“Israeli security forces have been accused of misusing the stinking liquid.

Last year police sprayed large quantities of it in East Jerusalem neighbourhoods, at a time of widespread unrest.

The Association for Civil Rights in Israel complained that this was “disproportionate“, affecting the lives of tens of thousands of Palestinians.

It documented cases where homes, shops and schools were hit with the foul liquid long after rioters had left the area.” [emphasis added]

The local NGO most quoted and promoted by the BBC in its Israel-related content in 2014, B’Tselem, provides the video embedded in the article – and apparently the source of an unverified allegation – as well as a quote.

“In the West Bank village of Kafr Qaddum, skunk has been used to break up weekly rallies against Israel’s closure of a nearby road. The protest organiser claims his home has also been singled out.

“Several times they purposefully targeted my house,” says Murad Ishtewe. “Once the high pressure of the jet broke the window so the water came inside. All my furniture was ruined.”

The IDF said it was not aware of such an incident.

“For us it’s a complex picture,” says Sarit Michaeli of the Israeli human rights group, B’Tselem.

“The authorities ought to find non-lethal ways of maintaining law and order. The problem is the way Skunk is used. Very often it is a form of collective punishment for a whole area.”” [emphasis added]

The inclusion of the terms “disproportionate” and “collective punishment” – both of which have legal connotations not relevant to this story – is of course particularly notable given the BBC’s similar misuse of legal terminology during Operation Protective Edge, often whilst amplifying the agendas of political NGOs engaged in lawfare.

Knell also throws in inferences of racism:

“Many Palestinians view the offensive smell as a humiliation, as skunk is used almost exclusively against them. Exceptions are rare. One came in April this year, when it was sprayed (possibly diluted) at Ethiopian-Israelis protesting against what they saw as racially motivated police violence.”

She neglects to inform readers that the use of Skunk in Jerusalem on April 30th came about after the protest turned violent and does not disclose her source for the claim that in that case the solution was “possibly diluted”.

It is becoming increasingly difficult to find any Israel-related report by Yolande Knell which does not promote her embarrassingly transparent political agenda. Not infrequently her work (and that of other BBC journalists too) relies on contributions from a selected group of political NGOs, without any effort being made to duly inform BBC audiences of the agenda which lies behind their claims and statements. Yolande Knell clearly has no qualms about acting as a medium for foreign funded Israeli NGOs but that of course is not the same as accurate and impartial reporting of the news – which is, after all, what licence fee payers are entitled to receive.

Related Articles:

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BBC News compromises impartiality with link to website of political NGO

BBC News amplifies political NGO in inaccurately headlined report

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BBC News compromises impartiality with link to website of political NGO

On April 10th the BBC News website published a report titled “Palestinian killed during funeral clash in West Bank” which is notable on two counts relating to context and impartiality. Readers are told that:Beit Ummar incident

“A Palestinian man has been shot dead in clashes with Israeli troops at the funeral of a militant in the southern West Bank, hospital officials say. […]

An Israeli military spokesperson said soldiers had opened fire after funeral-goers threw rocks and petrol bombs.

The clashes took place in the town of Beit Ummar, near Hebron.”

That information is broadly consistent with reports appearing in other media outlets, but some important items of context are omitted.

Beit Ummar is located along Highway 60 – the region’s major roadway – in Area B (where responsibility for security lies with Israel according to the Oslo Accords) and, as reported by Ynet:

“…during the funeral, in which some 700 Palestinians took part, violent riots developed at several locations during which rioters threw rocks and petrol bombs and rolled burning tires at soldiers stationed between the village and route 60.” [emphasis added]

AP adds:

“After the funeral, Palestinians threw rocks at soldiers manning a watchtower on a road near the town, according to witnesses.

Israel’s military said Palestinians threw rocks and firebombs, and rolled burning tires toward soldiers. It said troops used tear gas at first, but fired low-caliber bullets at the legs of four men after the soldiers felt their lives were in danger.” [emphasis added]

In other words, the incident during which the man was shot did not take place at the funeral itself, but as a result of violence initiated by Palestinian rioters after the funeral which was directed at soldiers deployed to ensure safe passage for motorists on a major highway. Those points are not made clear in the BBC’s report.

Neither is any attempt made to clarify the background to the rioting following the funeral of a member of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad apparently suffering from a terminal illness who had died earlier that morning in a Palestinian hospital in Hebron. The BBC’s article states:

“The funeral was for a Palestinian militant who had been recently imprisoned by Israel. He was reportedly released early because of ill health.”

Indeed, as reported by Channel 2, the Israeli Prison Service confirmed that Jaafar Awad had been released from prison three months ago because of his illness. However, the BBC refrained from reporting that various Palestinian sources had made unproven and inflammatory public statements concerning his death. Channel 2 notes that:

“According to claims from official Palestinian sources, the [PIJ] activist died of health problems which were caused whilst he was in an Israeli prison.”

Channel 10 reports:

“In the morning hours Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad published announcements blaming Israel for the responsibility for Awad’s death. Hamas spokesman Husam Bardan [located in Qatar – Ed.] blamed Israel and claimed that it intentionally neglects the health of Palestinian prisoners. He described that as “slow killing policy” and called for international bodies to deal with the issue.”

The Times of Israel reports:

“The head of a Palestinian Authority body in charge of prisoner affairs, Issa Qaraqe, issued a statement alleging Jaafar Awad had died of “medical negligence” at the hands of Israeli prison authorities.

“Israel alone is responsible for his death,” Qaraqe said in the statement, and called for an international probe.

Jaafar’s father, Ibrahim Awad, told AFP before his son’s death that Israeli prison authorities had given the 23-year-old man “an injection that made him ill and totally weakened him.””

The BBC, however, elected to refrain from informing its audience about the incitement which preceded the violent rioting which took place following Awad’s funeral.

As regular visitors to the BBC News website will be aware, links to non-BBC sites are usually accompanied by a disclaimer noting that “the BBC is not responsible for the content of external websites”. In this report a link was provided to the B’Tselem website.

“According to an Israeli military spokesperson, soldiers had feared for their lives as protesters at the funeral threw rocks and petrol bombs and rolled burning car tyres at them.

The spokesperson said the soldiers responded with non-lethal “riot dispersal means” and then with 0.22-calibre “Ruger” bullets.”

The BBC states that its reasons for linking to external websites are as follows:

BBC linking external websites

The subsection titled “Online links to third party websites” in the BBC’s Editorial Guidelines on “Editorial Integrity & Independence” states:

“Part of the BBC’s role is to act as a trusted guide on the web. When we create content on a BBC site we should consider which external websites it may be editorially justifiable to link to. We offer external links from the BBC public service site and from the editorial pages of the commercial site, for example, to provide additional information, source material or informed comment. We should be seen to be impartial. BBC websites which cover controversial subjects or public policy matters should normally offer links to external sites which represent a reasonable range of views about the subject. […]

We may link to external sites which give particular views of a person or organisation significant to a current news story and in such cases we may not be able to guarantee their factual accuracy. But we should not support the message, information or promotions on third party sites.” [emphasis added]

B’Tselem is a foreign-funded political NGO which is frequently quoted and promoted by the BBC without adequate information being provided to audiences on the topic of its particular agenda. Despite the provision of a link to the B’Tselem website in this article, no attempt is made to ensure that audiences are aware of the context of the political motivations of the organization behind the information promoted by the BBC and no additional “range of views” is offered.

Whilst it is obvious that the BBC “is not responsible for the content of external websites”, it clearly is responsible for the implied endorsement of information appearing on websites to which it chooses to link and the subsequent compromise of its own impartiality when that information is provided by an organization with a political agenda known to – but not disclosed by – the BBC. 

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BBC reports from Hebron funeral again promote PA propaganda

The BBC’s coverage of the funeral of Maysara Abu Hamdiyeh – the 64 year-old Palestinian terrorist who died last week of esophageal cancer – includes a written report placed on the Middle East page of the BBC News website and a filmed report by Jon Donnison which appeared on BBC television news, both dated April 4th. 

Hamdiyeh funeral 1

Hamdiyeh funeral 2

Both reports continue the practices of previous recent related BBC articles in that they promote unverified Palestinian Authority propaganda regarding Abu Hamdiyeh’s death and downplay the rioting incited and fuelled by that propaganda.

The written report states:

“The clashes began after thousands took to the streets to mourn the death of Maysara Abu Hamdiyeh, who died of cancer in an Israeli jail.

Palestinian officials have accused Israel of medical negligence – Israel says care was provided.

Abu Hamdiyeh was serving a life sentence for a failed bombing attack on a Jerusalem cafe in 2002. Palestinians say he should have been released on compassionate grounds and the death has sparked protests across the West Bank.”

Later on it also states:

“Palestinian officials claim Israel did not provide the 64-year-old with adequate medical care and failed to release him after diagnosing that his illness was terminal.”

The synopsis to the filmed report states:

“His death has sparked angry protests, with Palestinian officials accusing Israel of medical negligence.”

This repetition of PA propaganda does not represent ‘impartiality’ but rather the spreading of baseless hearsay and rumour which – as pointed out here previously – has long been employed by the PA in order to whip up fervour on the streets in order to serve its own political motives. The fact that the BBC – in this case and others – voluntarily aids and abets the spread of that conspiracy theory based propaganda, whilst lending it the coveted BBC stamp of legitimacy, raises some very serious concerns regarding the nature of the working relationship between the BBC’s Jerusalem Bureau and the Palestinian Authority and calls the BBC’s impartiality into question. 

The written report opens:  [emphasis added]

Palestinian rioters in Hebron, April 4, 2013.

Palestinian rioters in Hebron, April 4, 2013. Photo: Tovah Lazaroff

“Palestinian protesters have clashed with Israeli troops in the West Bank city of Hebron following the funeral of a prisoner who died in an Israeli jail.

Soldiers used tear gas and rubber bullets – protesters threw stones.”

The construction of that last sentence shows a clear attempt to dictate the impressions received by the reader through the deliberate inversion of cause and effect.

The report also states: [emphasis added]

“The clashes began after thousands took to the streets to mourn the death of Maysara Abu Hamdiyeh, who died of cancer in an Israeli jail.”


“Thursday also saw the funerals of two Palestinian teenagers killed by Israeli forces on Wednesday during clashes between soldiers and youths.”

In the article’s side box titled ‘At the Scene’, Yolande Knell writes:

“Many shops and businesses have been shut in a general strike and there have been violent clashes with Israeli soldiers.”

The synopsis of the filmed report states:

“Two Palestinian teenagers were killed by Israeli forces on Wednesday during clashes between soldiers and youths.”

The repeated use of the word ‘clashes’ in this article and others deliberately creates an impression in the reader’s mind of a violent conflict between two opponents. What it does not do is reflect the fact that all of the violent riots (whatever their pretext) and the hundreds of attacks on Israeli civilians and soldiers of the past few months – the majority of which have gone completely unreported by the BBC – are not inevitable. Contrary to the manner in which the issue is approached by the BBC, Palestinians are not obliged to throw stones and firebombs at Israeli vehicles or to riot after funerals and the Palestinian Authority has the ability to contain those riots should it wish to do so. 

The fact that instead of presenting audiences with an accurate and realistic picture of the scale of violence and its causes, the BBC adopts and promotes the PA narrative by inevitably rebranding riots as ‘protests’ or ‘demonstrations’ is displayed in this report by the decision to include the following:

“He [Mahmoud Abbas] also criticised Israel for continuing to use force to suppress what he described at peaceful protests.”

Donnison’s filmed report also includes an example of the advancement of a narrative by means of the failure to include relevant information.

Members of Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, Hebron

At around 1:05 Donnison says:

“..there is nowhere else in the West Bank which is quite as tense as Hebron. It’s a city with around 160,000 Palestinian people and right in the middle there is an Israeli settlement which has a large number of soldiers in order to protect it.”

Of course Donnison fails to inform his audience that Israelis living in Hebron do so according to the terms of Article VII of Annex I of the Oslo Accords – i.e. with the consent of the Palestinian Authority and the approval of the agreement’s international midwives – and that according to the 1997 agreement signed by the PA, Israel is responsible for their security. Given the BBC’s repeated promotion of the notion that Israeli ‘settlements’ are ‘illegal’ that omission is a particularly glaring example of disingenuous inaccuracy. 

The BBC’s approach to the subject of the recent rise in violence in general, and the rioting under the pretext of various issues relating to Palestinian prisoners in particular, is increasingly problematic. A serious review of that approach’s role in repeated breaches of editorial standards is urgently needed because clearly the mechanisms put in place in order to guarantee adherence to those standards are not functioning.