Yolande Knell’s annual politicisation of Christmas on Radio 4

As usual during the festive season, BBC content on and around Christmas Eve included several politicised reports from Yolande Knell about Christmas celebrations in Palestinian Authority controlled areas.

Listeners to BBC Radio 4’s ‘Sunday’ on December 23rd heard a report (from 10:00 here) about St Nicholas Day which, according to presenter Emily Buchanan “is still widely celebrated and nowhere more so than among the Christians of the Palestinian town of Beit Jala.”

During that report listeners were told by Yolande Knell that:

Knell: “Over the centuries some town’s people claim that St Nicholas has protected them, including in 1948 during the fighting that followed the creation of the State of Israel and the violence of two Palestinian uprisings.”

Although her examples “over the centuries” were limited to events connected to Israel, Knell did not bother to inform listeners that during the Second Intifada Palestinian terrorists used Beit Jala as a position from which to repeatedly attack Israeli civilians in Jerusalem’s Gilo neighbourhood with gunfire and mortars.

In addition to Mishal Husain’s politicised report from the Gaza Strip, listeners to BBC Radio 4’s ‘Today’ programme on December 24th heard a report (from 35:41 here) from Yolande Knell in Bethlehem. [emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]

Justin Webb: “Christian pilgrims from around the world will be attending a Christmas Eve mass at Bethlehem’s Church of the Nativity today, built on the site where they believe Jesus was born. Yolande Knell is our correspondent there. What kind of numbers, Yolande?”

Having stated that “thousands of people” were expected to visit, Knell went on:

Knell: “Tourism here has recovered from a big fall that really began in late 2015 after that series of stabbings and car-ramming attacks. According to the Palestinian tourism ministry this has been the busiest year on record for Bethlehem…”

Later on Webb asked:

Webb: “How easy is it for people to get to it if they want to?”

Knell: “Well on Christmas it does become much easier but of course…ehm…for the Palestinians this is one of their great problems especially when it comes to developing tourism as they’re very reliant on Israel…”

Having reported that Bethlehem’s hotels are fully booked, Knell went on:

Knell: “Things are pretty bleak politically for Palestinians. But the message from officials and from regular people alike is that after some tough years – remember last year there was a lot of unrest that marred the Christmas celebrations, led to a lot of parties being cancelled, after President Trump decided to recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital without recognising Palestinian claims to the east of the city: the part that they want as the capital of their promised future state.”

Similar messaging from Knell was heard by listeners to BBC Radio 4’s ‘World at One’ on December 24th (from 6:04 here) in a news bulletin.

Newsreader: “Thousands of pilgrims have joined Palestinians in Bethlehem for the start of Christmas Eve celebrations. A parade was held in Manger Square with carols sung in Arabic played through speakers. Our Middle East correspondent Yolande Knell sent this report from Bethlehem.”

Having described that parade, Knell told listeners that:

Knell: “Tourism here is often hit by flare-ups in violence in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Last year many parties were cancelled after President Trump recognised Jerusalem as Israel’s capital without acknowledging Palestinian claims to the eastern part of the city which they want as the capital of their promised future state. This year the political outlook remains bleak but the message from Palestinian officials and locals alike is that this should be a joyful Christmas.”

As documented here last December – 2017’s non-religious festivities were cancelled on the orders of Palestinian officials.

“Church and political officials in Bethlehem and Gaza canceled all non-religious Christmas celebrations in protest over the recent decision by US President Donald Trump to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

“We decided to limit the Christmas celebrations to the religious rituals as an expression of rejection and anger and sympathy with the victims who fell in the recent protests,” said Bethlehem’s mayor, Anton Salman. […]

Christmas celebrations were restricted to religious rituals across the Palestinian territories in protest, the official Palestine TV reported Monday.”

As ever Yolande Knell’s annual Christmas messaging obscures Palestinian actions which affect seasonal tourism in the Bethlehem area. While listeners heard of a “series of stabbings and car-rammings” in 2015 and that tourism is “often hurt by flare-ups in violence”, they were not told who instigated those events, just as they were not informed who ordered the cancellation of Christmas parties last year or of the terrorism launched from Beit Jala in the Second Intifada.

Related Articles:

The BBC’s Christmas message: Trump ruined it – part one

The BBC’s Christmas message: Trump ruined it – part two

Documenting five years of BBC politicisation of Christmas

BBC Radio 4’s selective framing of the “hardships” of Gaza Christians

 

 

 

 

 

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Accuracy and impartiality fails in Welsh language show on BBC iPlayer – part two

In part one of this post we took a look at some examples of the glaring lack of impartiality found in a programme in a series called ‘Y Wal’ (The Wall) produced by the licence fee funded Welsh language channel S4C which is currently available on BBC iPlayer.

“Ffion Dafis visits one of the world’s most controversial boundaries – the wall that separates Israel and Palestine.”

Those unable to view BBC iPlayer can see that programme here. English language subtitles can be activated by clicking the subtitles icon in the lower right corner and choosing ‘Saesneg’.

In this post we will look at the accuracy of the background information provided to viewers – information which, at least in theory, is supposed to enhance their understanding of the programme’s subject matter and enable them to reach informed opinions.

Just minutes into the programme its presenter – actress Ffion Dafis – tells viewers that:

[02:20] Dafis: “The turn of the millennium saw another dark chapter in the history of the conflict – the Second Intifada, or uprising. Hundreds of lives were lost on both sides. In 2002, after dozens of suicide bombings, Israel decided to build a wall.”

As we see Dafis makes no effort to inform S4C audiences of the fact that the Second Intifada terror war was planned in advance by the Palestinian leadership and she downplays the number of Israelis murdered in those attacks. Israel of course did not decide to “build a wall” but an anti-terrorist fence, the vast majority of which is made of wire mesh and while the decision to do so was indeed taken in April 2002, the first section of that fence was only completed 15 months later. Dafis goes on:

Dafis: “When completed the 700 kilometer-long concrete wall will encircle the West Bank. It is a monstrosity. It is also deemed illegal according to international law. In 2004 the International Court of Justice concluded that the wall breached humanitarian law. Israel was told to demolish it but construction work continues.”

The claim of a 700 km-long “concrete wall” is a blatant falsehood. Neither was the anti-terrorist fence ever intended to “encircle the West Bank”. The politicised conclusions of the International Court of Justice in 2004 were of course never more than an advisory opinion and Dafis’ claim that the structure is “illegal according to international law” is unfounded. Later on Dafis tells audiences that:

[06:07] Dafis: “In the aftermath of the Second World War the UN voted to divide Palestine between Arabs and Jews. In May 1948 the State of Israel was created. The Jewish people had returned to their holy land.”

Dafis fails to clarify that the 1947 UN Partition Plan was rendered irrelevant by its rejection by Arab states and the local Arab population, who together proceeded to launch violent attacks against the Jewish residents of what was still at the time British administered Mandate Palestine. With absolutely no mention of the League of Nations ‘Mandate for Palestine’ intended to establish a national home for the Jewish people, Dafis goes on:

[06:53] Dafis: “The Jewish nation were to claim more than half of Palestine’s land even though the Jewish population was less than half the population of Palestine. After two years of civil war Israel expanded its territory further. An armistice was agreed in 1949. A tentative border was drawn between Palestine and Israel –the so-called green line.”

Dafis’ claim that a “civil war” took place of course conceals the attacks by numerous Arab countries. Not only did the 1949 Armistice Agreement specifically state that the armistice line was not a border, but it was signed by Israel and Jordan – not “Palestine” – with no claims whatsoever made on that territory at the time by the local Arab population.

With no mention of the fact that Judea & Samaria and parts of Jerusalem had been under illegal Jordanian occupation for 19 years when Jordan chose to attack Israel in June 1967, Dafis goes on:

[07:20] Dafis: “Since then, relations between the two nations have been fraught and bloody. The roots of today’s clashes lie in the 1967 six-day war when Israel captured the West Bank and Gaza. Israel maintains its military occupation of the West Bank, an area which is home to 2.5 million Palestinians. Israel claims the wall is essential to protect its people and says terrorist attacks have fallen by 90%. They’re reluctant to demolish the wall.”

Using a clear Christmas reference Dafis then turns her attention to Bethlehem.

[08:26] Dafis: “South of Jerusalem, in the little town of Bethlehem, the wall is having a devastating effect on people’s lives. It snakes through the town, separating people from schools, work, families and hospitals.”

As the B’tselem map below shows, the anti-terrorist fence (marked in red, with planned construction in purple) does not ‘snake through’ Bethlehem at all – that claim is a complete falsehood.

Nevertheless, Dafis later repeats that falsehood and adds a new one: the claim that Bethlehem is “surrounded” by “settlements”.

[22:06] Dafis: “Pilgrims flock to the holy city of Bethlehem from all over the world to visit the birthplace of Jesus. Bethlehem lies within Area A but the city still suffers the effects of Israeli occupation of the West Bank. Tourist numbers are down and it has the highest unemployment rate in the West Bank. Bethlehem is surrounded by Israeli settlements and the wall snakes through the centre of the city.”

Viewers are again inaccurately told that the 1949 armistice line is a “border” and hear a partisan version of ‘international law’:

[09:30] Dafis: “Only a fifth of the wall follows the green line – the internationally accepted border between Israel and the West Bank. Around 80% of the wall’s route cuts into Palestinian land. In some places it encircles Jewish settlements built by Israel on Palestinian land. For generations Jewish and Arab people had lived side-by-side in these lands. Following the Six Day war of 1967 more than a million Palestinians came under Israeli control. This was the beginning of Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territories which continues today. For religious Jews, their victory was a miracle from God. Their dream of returning home to the holy land had been realised. They started to build settlements on the occupied land in defiance of international law. These are a major dispute between Israel and the Palestinians. Today there are over 150 settlements in the West Bank with over half a million residents. But Gush Etzion was the first to be built after Israel occupied the land in 1967.”

Viewers are not informed that Jews had purchased lands in Gush Etzion long before the Jordanian invasion and ethnic cleansing and that the “first” community “to be built” – Kfar Etzion – was actually established in 1943, depopulated in 1948 and rebuilt in 1967.

Dafis’ portrayal of the Oslo Accords – signed by the PLO rather than “Palestine” as she claims – fails to inform viewers of the reasons for the failure to reach final status negotiations.

[19:48] Dafis: “In 1993 Israel and Palestine signed an agreement to bring the conflict to an end. But Palestine paid the price. The West Bank was split into three administrative divisions. […] Area C accounts for 60% of the West Bank. It was intended as a temporary arrangement. 25 years on it’s still in place.”

At 22:35 viewers hear of a “partition” that never took place.

Dafis: “On the outskirts of Bethlehem is the Aida refugee camp. This was created after the 1948 partition. The camp is overcrowded and living conditions are appalling.”

Viewers are of course given no explanation of the political reasons behind the existence of a ‘refugee camp’ in a place which has been under full Palestinian control for well over two decades.

At 28:31 Dafis comes up with the following claim:

Dafis: “In the West Bank, there are 500 checkpoints along the wall where Israeli soldiers guard the border. Israel maintains they’re essential to protect its citizens from terrorist attacks. For Palestinians they represent yet another way in which the Israeli military control their lives.”

In addition to the fact that the route of the anti-terrorist fence is not a “border” and that final status negotiations to define the route of any border between Israel and a potential Palestinian state have never taken place, it is unclear where Dafis gets the conveniently round number of 500. There are in fact 14 crossings serving vehicles and/or pedestrians.

As noted in part one of this post, throughout the whole 48-minute programme viewers hear the entire anti-terrorist fence exclusively described as a ‘wall’ even though that description is inaccurate. Viewers also hear extensive use of the politically partisan term ‘Palestine’ throughout the programme despite the fact that no such state exists at this point.

[30:35] Dafis: “The wall doesn’t only separate Israel from Palestine. It also separates Palestinians from one another.”

It is difficult to recall a more blatantly one-sided and factually inaccurate programme being aired on British television and promoted on the BBC’s On Demand Programme Services (ODPS). Obviously this publicly funded production was motivated by purely political intentions rather than the aim of informing British Welsh-speaking audiences.

Related articles: 

Accuracy and impartiality fails in Welsh language show on BBC iPlayer – part one

Does BBC reporting on Israel’s anti-terrorist fence meet standards of ‘due impartiality’? – Part 1

Does BBC reporting on Israel’s anti-terrorist fence meet standards of ‘due impartiality’? – Part 2

Does BBC reporting on Israel’s anti-terrorist fence meet standards of ‘due impartiality’? – part 3

BBC’s Knell promotes political church campaign supported by BBC funder

Resources:

S4C complaints

BBC complaints

 

 

 

 

Accuracy and impartiality fails in Welsh language show on BBC iPlayer – part one

Among the channels offered to UK viewers on BBC iPlayer is one called S4C.

While S4C (Sianel Pedwar Cymru – Channel Four Wales) is not a BBC channel, it does get some of its programming from the BBC under what the director of BBC Wales has called “a partnership”. S4C receives most of its funding from the obligatory licence fee paid by UK households and currently also gets funding from the UK government. Its content, as seen above, is available on BBC iPlayer which is subject to OFCOM regulation.

Among the Welsh-language programmes produced by that media organisation which are currently available to users of BBC iPlayer are three episodes of a series called ‘Y Wal’ (‘The Wall’). One of those episodes is described as follows in Welsh:

“Ffion Dafis visits one of the world’s most controversial boundaries – the wall that separates Israel and Palestine.”

And in English:

“Presenter Ffion Dafis visits the wall that separates Israel and Palestine.”

Those unable to view BBC iPlayer can see that programme here. English language subtitles can be activated by clicking the subtitles icon in the lower right corner and choosing ‘Saesneg’.

According to the credits at the end of the programme – which is one of the least impartial pieces of content that we have seen aired on any British channel for a long time – it was made with the cooperation of the Welsh government. The person presenting this programme – Ffion Dafis – is apparently an actress (rather than a journalist) on her first visit to the region and she makes no effort whatsoever to present audiences with an accurate and impartial account of its subject matter.

As readers are no doubt aware, the anti-terrorist fence constructed after hundreds of Israelis were murdered by Palestinian suicide bombers is mostly – over 90% – a metal fence. Viewers of this programme, however, do not see even one camera shot of those parts of the fence: throughout the entire 48 minute programme they are exclusively shown dozens of images of the minority part of the structure that, due to danger from snipers, is made out of concrete. Throughout the whole programme viewers also hear the entire structure called a ‘wall’ even though that description is inaccurate.

Another feature of this programme is its exclusive use of the politically partisan term ‘Palestine’. As has been noted here on numerous occasions, the BBC’s style guide instructs journalists that “There is no independent state of Palestine today, although the stated goal of the peace process is to establish a state of Palestine alongside a state of Israel” and hence “in day-to-day coverage of the Middle East you should not affix the name ‘Palestine’ to Gaza or the West Bank – rather, it is still an aspiration or an historical entity”.

The programme begins with an airbrushed account of Palestinian terrorism during the Second Intifada.

Dafis: “The year 2000 – and once again there was increasing tension between Palestine and Israel. A wave of terror attacks swept through Israel. Israel responded with the full force of its military might. In 2002, Israel decided to build a wall. A wall to stop the killings and restore peace. But the wall has bred hatred on both sides. I’m going to visit one of the world’s most controversial walls. I want to understand why it was built and see the effect it has had on life in Palestine. As we meet brave individuals who dare to challenge the system, what are the chances of us seeing this wall coming down?”

After the Welsh actress on her first visit to the region has told viewers that Jerusalem “is a familiar sight to me even though I’m looking at it for the first time” because she “went to Sunday School as a child and I suppose it’s part of my history”, she goes on:

Dafis: “But people have fought over this holy land for generations. While some have tried to build bridges, others have fuelled the conflict.”

Viewers then [02:05] see an image of the US flag and hear a recording of the US president saying “it is time to officially recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.” So much for media impartiality.

Additional commentary that does not meet any definition of journalistic ‘due impartiality’ (and concurrently promotes inaccuracies) is seen throughout the entire film.

[04:30] Dafis: “What goes through my mind as I stand here is the audacity of the wall. Just the way it ploughs through villages, through streets, through rivers and orchards. The devastation it leaves in its wake is plain for all to see. But according to the Israelis, it is here for a purpose [shrugs].”

[15:23] Dafis: “This wall has been built on foundations of fear and a need to protect. But the major question I have is where is the respect? This isn’t a cute white picket fence in a garden but a huge monstrosity knocked into the front room of a neighbour. Maybe one side feels safe but the other side definitely feels like it’s being suffocated.”

[19: 04] Dafis: “It’s clear that I’m standing in one of Palestine’s most fertile valleys. That much is evident. What’s also clear is that there’s a monstrosity being built on both sides of this valley. But the truth is that until you sit with an 84 year-old [Palestinian] woman who could be my grandmother, until you look into those eyes and realise the pain and the injustice then I don’t think people will ever understand one another. Maybe that is fundamentally the problem. I don’t know.”

[25:36] Dafis: “I think it’s extremely important for them [children in Aida refugee camp] to realise that growing up like this, without rights and surrounded by a high wall, is not right. It’s not normal for any child.”

[30:03] Dafis: “Imprisonment is the only word to describe what Palestinians go through here. Going through the checkpoints is like being in a big livestock mart. The wall is ludicrous. There is no other word.”

[46:58] Dafis: “The horrors taking place here can no longer be denied. Names like Jerusalem, Bethlehem, Judea, Jericho are part of a great silent war. These are not peaceful places at all. I’ve touched and met people in these places and if something like this doesn’t alter me then I don’t think my heart is actually beating.”

One possible clue as to why this film is so one-sided comes at 31:37 when Dafis tells the camera that “our sound man, our driver and our fixer are Palestinian” while claiming that “they could end up being detained overnight”.

Referring to a non-incident in which she and her crew could not proceed along a particular road due to maintenance work being carried out, Dafis told viewers: “That experience with the Israeli army really shook me” and viewers then saw the unidentified fixer launch into a long monologue which provides some context to the backdrop to this film.

Fixer: “What’s the worst thing that can happen? To die? Many people have died before us for Palestine. We are not more precious than they are or than their life. You just say ‘OK, whatever, let it happen how it is or let it come’. Many people start to think OK only God protects me and others say what if I die now? Nothing will happen. So that’s why we lose the sense of life. No-one cares and then we face fear, we face…we see our rights being smashed on the floor and that we are treated as if we weren’t even human beings with soul and feelings and emotions. It’s like creatures or insects anyone can step on then and just walk. So when you feel that you stop caring.”

Part of a fixer’s job is to set up interviews and in this film viewers see twice as many Palestinian participants as Israelis. In addition to three farmers with unsubstantiated stories, a resident of al Walajah and Ahmad Sukar, head of the Wadi Fukin village council, viewers hear from representatives of assorted NGOs without any explanation being given of the political agenda of organisations including the Society of St Yves, al Rowwad, Combatants for Peace or Parents Circle Families Forum.

Among the four Israeli interviewees one is a staff member at a Yeshiva in Gush Etzion and two are members of an NGO which self-describes as “a joint Palestinian-Israeli grassroots peacemaking initiative”. The only Israeli interviewee to have lost a family member in a Palestinian terror attack is also co-director of the Parents Circle, Rami Elhanan. Despite Palestinian terror being the reason for the construction of the anti-terrorist fence which is supposedly this programme’s subject matter, that information is only revealed to viewers three-quarters of the way into the programme, just after Elhanan has told viewers:

[34:02] Elhanan: “The Palestinians live in their cages unable to go out in any way. The Israelis are sitting in their coffee houses, drinking coffee. They don’t want to know what is going on down [under] their noses, 200 meters behind their backs. They prefer not to know. The Israeli media is cooperating with this and the whole situation is like a false paradise. A bubble if you like.”

As the above examples show, this S4C programme does not even pretend to present its subject matter in an impartial fashion. In part two of this post we will review the programme’s accuracy.  

Related articles: 

Does BBC reporting on Israel’s anti-terrorist fence meet standards of ‘due impartiality’? – Part 1

Does BBC reporting on Israel’s anti-terrorist fence meet standards of ‘due impartiality’? – Part 2

Does BBC reporting on Israel’s anti-terrorist fence meet standards of ‘due impartiality’? – part 3

BBC’s Knell promotes political church campaign supported by BBC funder

Resources:

S4C complaints

BBC complaints

 

 

 

 

BBC WS history programme rekindles Arafat death conspiracy theory

The November 22nd edition of the BBC World Service radio history programme ‘Witness‘ was titled “The Last Days of Yasser Arafat” and visitors to the webpage were told that: [emphasis in bold added, emphasis in italics in original]

“The Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat died in November 2004. French doctors treating him said he had an unidentified blood disorder. But some Palestinians claim he was poisoned.”

And:

“The Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat died in November 2004. French doctors treating him at the military hospital in France where he died said Arafat had an unidentified blood disorder and gave the cause of death as a stroke. Since then there have been allegations that he was poisoned. Leila Shahid was the Palestinian ambassador to France in 2004, and was with Yasser Arafat during his final days. She’s been talking to Louise Hidalgo about that time.”

Leila Shahid is repeatedly described both by herself and by Louise Hidalgo as an ‘ambassador’ throughout the programme despite the fact that she did not represent a state.

Hidalgo introduced the programme thus:

Hidalgo: “Today we go back to November 2004 and an account of the last days of the Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat. The 75 year-old had been airlifted from his headquarters in the West Bank city of Ramallah 13 days earlier and flown to a French military hospital near Paris where he died.”

After Shahid was introduced by Hidalgo as someone who “had known Yasser Arafat since the 1960s”, listeners heard the interviewee describe the background to Arafat’s arrival in Paris.

Hidalgo: “But, Leila was told, Arafat was refusing to go [to hospital]. He was worried that with relations with the Israelis so bad, if he left the West Bank he’d not be allowed to return. Could France intervene?”

Following Shahid’s description of her approach to the then French president Chirac, “whom Arafat liked”, Hidalgo continued:

Hidalgo: “Leila Shahid had first met Yasser Arafat when she was a student in Lebanon. He was just emerging as the leader of the Palestinians’ armed struggle, already organising attacks against Israel.”

Shahid went on to extol Arafat’s feminist credentials before Hidalgo told listeners:

Hidalgo: “By the time of his death, almost 40 years later, Yasser Arafat had become an international figure who was both loved and reviled. To his supporters he was the father of Palestinian nationalism. To many Israelis he was an unreformed terrorist, responsible for decades of attacks including the suicide bombs that killed hundreds of Israeli civilians in his last years. The brief optimism of the 90s that had followed the Oslo peace accords had, by the turn of the millennium, given way to yet more violence and hatred.”

Following that sanitised portrayal of the Second Intifada terror war initiated by Yasser Arafat, Hidalgo told listeners:

Hidalgo: “For the last two years of his life Yasser Arafat was blockaded by Israel in his West Bank headquarters in a virtual prison, cut off from the rest of the world. Even in those conditions though, Leila Shahid says, the ageing Arafat tried to continue to look after his health.”

After Shahid had described Arafat’s diet and exercise regime, Hidalgo implied that Arafat’s living conditions had affected his health.

Hidalgo: “You saw for yourself of course the conditions he was living in – this tiny compound that was crammed with people. When you got that call saying that he needed hospital treatment, were you surprised?”

The next part of the programme was given over to Shahid’s subjective accounts and lay speculations concerning Arafat’s medical condition prior to his death.

Hidalgo: “Yasser Arafat died in the early hours of November the eleventh 2004.”

Shahid: “Every organ fell one after the other; stopped functioning. The reason that they wrote on the death certificate of Yasser Arafat is undetermined reason for death. So I asked them what is undetermined? They say we have not been able to locate a specific disease and of course this is what ultimately made the doctors think that there was an intrusion of something that came from the outside. Whether it is a poison, whether it is an infection – we will never know.”

BBC World Service listeners around the world were not told that the main reason for the fact that the cause of Arafat’s death was “undetermined” was that his wife, Suha Arafat, refused to allow an autopsy to be performed.

Hidalgo: “Yasser Arafat’s body was flown to Cairo where he was given a state funeral. He was then flown back to Ramallah where he was buried amid crowds of mourners. In 2013 his remains were exhumed and tests by Swiss scientists found high levels of radioactive Polonium. The scientists said however that the results were not conclusive.”

The programme closed there, with listeners not having been told that two additional teams of scientists had ruled out poisoning, determining that Arafat had died of natural causes. As previously documented on these pages:

“In March 2015 French experts officially announced that they had ruled out foul play and that “the polonium 210 and lead 210 found in Arafat’s grave and in the samples are of an environmental nature”. There was no coverage of that announcement on the BBC News website.

In July 2015 the French prosecutor “said there is no case to answer regarding the death of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat”. The BBC News website’s one report on that announcement promoted the ‘Israel killed Arafat’ conspiracy theory no fewer than three times.”

As we see, over three years on the BBC continues to amplify baseless conspiracy theory despite two teams of experts having ruled that Arafat died of natural causes.

Related Articles:

Arafat ‘poisoning’ case closed: an overview of 3 years of BBC News coverage

BBC report that breached impartiality rules still intact online 12 years on

 

Behind a BBC News video on Gaza airport

On September 12th a filmed report was posted on the BBC News website under the headline “Gaza’s abandoned airport in ruins” and with the following synopsis:

“In 1998 the Yasser Arafat International Airport was built in Gaza.

It was seen by many as a symbol of Palestinian sovereignty, soon after the Oslo Accords were signed by Israel and the Palestinians, in a move towards peace.

But by 2001, the airport was no longer operational.”

Viewers of the report were told that:

“These are the ruins of Gaza’s international airport. Yasser Arafat International Airport opened in 1998, costing $86m. But no planes have taken off or landed here since 2001. The runway is scattered with litter from nearby refugee camps. But this place was once seen as a symbol of Palestinian sovereignty. The airport was opened soon after the Oslo Accords which were a bid for peace between Israel and the Palestinians. But Israeli-Palestinian relations broke down. The airport was destroyed by Israel during the Second Intifada. The International Civil Aviation Organisation condemned the destruction of the airport and urged Israel to allow it to reopen. Gaza currently has no functioning airports.”

As we see, BBC audiences were given scant background information concerning the circumstances behind the airport’s closure and failure to subsequently reopen. Interestingly, in April 2005 – over two years before the Gaza Strip was taken over by the Hamas terror faction – a BBC reporter had already noted that:

“The Palestinian leadership says it is time to re-open the airport.

But Israel says no. Gaza is home to militant groups like Hamas that have struck at Israeli soldiers and civilians many times. Israel worries that its enemies might use the airport to smuggle in weapons.

The Palestinian security forces are widely regarded as being riddled with members who are sympathetic to – or even active in – militant groups.

The Israelis say they don’t believe that they would run the airport securely.”

Neither were viewers of this report told that the Oslo Accords also included a clause titled “Security of the Airspace” according to which Israel was to maintain control of Gaza’s airspace. Following Israel’s disengagement from the Gaza Strip in the summer of 2005, an Agreement on Movement and Access was signed between Israel and the Palestinian Authority which included the following clause on aviation: 

“The parties agree on the importance of the airport. Discussions will continue on the issues of security arrangements, construction, and operation.”

Two months later, in January 2006, the Palestinian Legislative Council elections brought significant gains for Hamas, which went on to take over the Gaza Strip in a violent coup in June 2007, with the result that the co-signer of that agreement – the Palestinian Authority – lost all influence there.

So while BBC audiences were correctly told that Israel had been “urged to allow it to reopen“, they were not informed why Israel might consider an international airport situated literally meters from its border and controlled by a terrorist organisation which does not co-operate with Israel on anything – let alone aviation safety and security – and which has been responsible for hundreds of terror attacks and the firing of thousands of missiles against Israeli civilians, to be a security concern.  

But why were BBC audiences presented with this report now? The 20th anniversary of the opening of the Gaza Strip airport is still over two months away and while one may surmise that this report has some connection to this month’s anniversary of the signing of the Oslo Accords, a rather more mundane reason may be equally relevant.

On the same day that the BBC’s report emerged, AFP’s Gaza office produced a filmed report from the exact same location and with some strikingly similar visuals.

BBC report

AFP report

BBC report

AFP report

However, unlike the BBC version, AFP’s report also included contributions by officials from the Palestinian Aviation Authority and the Gaza Civil Aviation Authority who, it appears from a written AFP report published on the same day, accompanied the agency’s journalists to the location.

“Zuhair Zomlot, coordinator of the Civil Aviation Authority in Gaza, joined AFP on the tour.”

The reopening of the Gaza Strip airport has of course long been on the wish-list presented by Hamas during negotiation of assorted ceasefire agreements. Now an AFP Gaza bureau report produced in cooperation with Gaza based officials has apparently been recycled into a context-free ‘stocking filler’ BBC video which does nothing to provide audiences with the information needed for full understanding of how the fact that “Gaza currently has no functioning airports” is connected to Hamas terrorism.

Related Articles:

BBC News drops Associated Press, expands links with AFP

Serialised propaganda, omission and inaccuracy on BBC R4’s ‘Book of the Week’

The BBC Radio 4 programme ‘Book of the Week’ is described as:

“Serialised book readings, featuring works of non-fiction, biography, autobiography, travel, diaries, essays, humour and history”

Last week’s five episodes featured a book titled “Where the Line is Drawn” by Raja Shehadeh.

Episode One – July 23rd:

“Raja Shehadeh is an award winning Palestinian writer, lawyer, and founder of the human right’s [sic] organisation, Al Haq. In Where the Line is Drawn he reflects on his forty year friendship with Henry, a Jewish Israeli. As idealistic young men when they first meet in 1977, they connect over shared interests in literature, writing and walking. As the years pass, their friendship is challenged by history, politics, enmity and violence, but it also points the way to a common future. Raja Shehadeh’s books include Occupation Diaries; Language of War, Language of Peace and Palestinian Walks which won the 2008 Orwell Prize. He has contributed to The New York Times, The Guardian and Granta.”

Episode Two – July 24th:

“Raja Shehadeh, the award winning Palestinian writer, lawyer, and founder of the human rights organisation, Al Haq, visits Jaffa, the city from which his father was exiled during the Nakba in 1948 when 750,000 were forced from their homes with the end of the British Mandate and the creation of Israel. It’s now 1978 and he is staying with Jewish friends who moved into one of the old Arab houses in Jaffa. He is curious about their choice of home.”

Episode Three – July 25th:

“Raja Shehadeh, the award winning Palestinian writer, lawyer, and founder of the human rights organisation, Al Haq recollects a humiliating experience on his way home to Ramallah.”

Episode Four – July 26th:

“Raja Shehadeh, the award winning Palestinian writer, lawyer, and founder of the human rights organisation, Al Haq, remembers a terrifying night time drive. Meanwhile, tense times lie ahead for Raja and Henry as the new millennium dawns.”

Episode Five – July 27th:

“Raja Shehadeh, the award winning Palestinian writer, lawyer, and founder of the human rights organisation, Al Haq receives shocking news and he comes to a new understanding about the value of his friendship with Henry. He also reflects on the controversial killing of a young Palestinian attacker by a teenage Israeli soldier who was later jailed for manslaughter.”

Although the NGO ‘Al Haq’ is mentioned in each and every one of those five synopses, BBC Radio 4 audiences were given no information about the political agenda of that so-called “human rights organisation” or its alleged ties to a terror group.

Despite the frequent references to “illegal occupation” and “occupied territories”, no proper historic context was provided to listeners throughout the entire series. In episode one listeners were told that “Israelis…in 1967 had taken the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, from Jordan” without any mention of the fact that Jordan illegally occupied those areas for 19 years.

Listeners to episode one heard a partisan description of the circumstances in which Palestinians including Shehadeh’s father – also a lawyer – left their homes which left them with the inaccurate impression that they were universally “forced out”.

“In 1948 during the Nakba, where around 750,000 Palestinians were forced out of their homes with the establishment of Israel, he lost his practice, his home, and all his properties. And he had to start all over again in Ramallah.”

In episode two listeners heard a reference to Jaffa as “my father’s city from which he was exiled” and were again told that in 1948:

“…with the end of the British Mandate and the establishment of Israel, around 750,000 Palestinians were forced out of their homes. The Palestinians who managed to stay were placed in the Ajami quarter surrounded by barbed wire. It was like a ghetto.”

Listeners also heard that in 1967 “I drove with my parents to visit the city they had been forced to leave 19 years earlier.”

Notably, when Raja Shehadeh appeared on BBC Radio 4’s ‘Desert Island Discs’ in 2014, he told a rather different version of that story: a version in which his parents were not “forced to leave” Jaffa but decided to relocate to their second home.

“Jaffa it’s very hot and humid in the summer and so they had a summer-house in Ramallah. When hostilities began they decided it’s safer in Ramallah because it was getting rather dangerous actually – physically dangerous – so they decided, towards the end of April, to take that short drive down to Ramallah – short drive from Jaffa – and my father always thought that if the worst happens – that is the partition – Jaffa was going to be on the Arab side so they will always be able to go back. And they took very few things with them and they were never able to go back.”

Throughout the five episodes listeners heard Israelis described as “settlers” (regardless of their place of residence in Israel) and “colonisers”. Notably, all the Israeli voices in the dramatisation were done in a bizarre quasi-American accent – regardless of where they were born – which implied that they were ‘foreigners’. In episode two listeners heard the story of Shehadeh’s visit to a plant nursery in which he asked how the owner – described as a woman from Canada – “could establish her nursery on land expropriated from villagers who were now forced to live in crowded refugee camps with no land to cultivate for themselves” and accused her of ‘exploiting’ the land.

Listeners also heard a context-free account of the beginning of the second Intifada – described as “futile” rather than wrong – and justification of terrorism:

“Israel was fighting for the retention of this land. We were fighting to end the occupation in accordance with international law which gave us the right to resist.” [episode three]

“…the human and political issues that led these young men to brutally kill themselves, and others, in despair.”

In episode three listeners were told that Shehadeh’s father had been “murdered…by a collaborator working for Israel” even though it was later admitted that “no-one was ever charged”.

In episode five listeners heard the wave of Palestinian terrorism which began in the autumn of 2015 described thus:

“This uprising was different. There was no unified leadership guiding these young men and women. They had no political platform or concrete demands. They simply improvised ways of resisting. Some of these were non-violent, others violent involving the stabbing of not only soldiers but also innocent Israelis. The Israeli government responded with violence, defining all resistance as terrorism.”

Also in episode five listeners heard a long section relating to an incident in Hebron in March 2016 which was inaccurately portrayed as having begun when:

“Abdul Fattah al Sharif, 21, from the occupied old city of Hebron lay on the ground shot after he allegedly tried to stab an Israeli soldier.” [emphasis added]

As the BBC’s own reports on that incident show, the words “allegedly” and “tried to” are completely superfluous and materially misleading.

“Sharif and another 21-year-old Palestinian, Ramzi Aziz al-Qasrawi, had stabbed and wounded an Israeli soldier before troops opened fire on them, wounding Sharif and killing Qasrawi.”

There is of course much more on which to comment in these 75 minutes of entirely one-sided stories which completely erase Palestinian agency and responsibility and prompted Sunday Times journalist Rod Liddle to write to the BBC.

“A nice man called Andrew in the BBC Press Office is kind enough to send me a list of stuff the corporation is doing each week. […]

I have never replied to Andrew’s email, but I did last week because I had been listening to the book that Radio 4 was serialising. Here’s what I wrote:

Dear Andrew,

Many thanks for your weekly bulletins about what the BBC is up to. I wonder if you could answer my inquiry below, or pass it on to someone who can.

Here’s the thing. I am hugely enjoying the serialisation on Radio 4 of the Palestinian writer Raja Shehadeh’s entertaining book, How My People Were Robbed, Murdered and Crushed by the Vile Occupying Fascist Israeli State. I may have got the title slightly wrong, for which apologies. I was wondering if the BBC intended, at any point, to serialise a book that might give a contrary point of view on this disputatious issue — perhaps by an Israeli?

All the best,
Rod

I got a friendly acknowledgment from Andrew — and later a two-line reply from the BBC, stating that the corporation’s coverage is impartial. Mr Shehadeh has spent most of his life railing against Israel and Jews, while claiming to be a moderate. And his book is serialised by Radio 4. Of course, it will not serialise a book by an Israeli to provide the political balance that the corporation is duty bound to strive for (even if, frankly, it doesn’t strive terribly hard).”

That just about sums it up.

Related Articles:

Desert Island distortions on BBC Radio 4

BBC’s ‘Hardtalk’ mainstreams anti-Israel delegitimisation

 

 

BBC Radio 4’s peace process tango for one – part one

According to the old adage it takes two to tango but an edition of the BBC Radio 4 programme ‘Analysis’ – which self describes as a “programme examining the ideas and forces which shape public policy in Britain and abroad, presented by distinguished writers, journalists and academics” – managed to disregard that maxim throughout the overwhelming majority of its 27 and a half minutes.

Titled “The Middle East Conundrum” and presented by Edward Stourton, the programme – aired on July 2nd and repeated on July 8th – was described in the synopsis as follows:

“Edward Stourton asks if there any chance of a long-term solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Tensions have been rising following the move of the US Embassy to Jerusalem and the deadly clashes at the border between Israel and Gaza. The peace process – if it exists at all – seems to be in deep freeze. The idea of a two-state solution does not appear to be getting any closer, while a one-state solution would effectively mark the end of a Jewish state. Does Israel have a long-term strategy?” [emphasis added]

The programme began with a recording of a report by the BBC’s Middle East editor Jeremy Bowen. [emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]

Bowen: “Palestinians call these protests the Great March of Return. For many of the young people who rushed the borer wire with Israel, it was a one-way journey.”

Stourton: “In mid-May, as Israel marked its 70th anniversary and the United States moved its embassy to Jerusalem, some 60 Palestinians were killed during protests along the Gaza border. The story’s dropped out of the headlines but the protests and the dying have continued in a steady attrition. 16 people have been killed since then and the casualty figures over the past two and a half months are now estimated at over 120 dead and more than 14,600 wounded.”

Stourton made absolutely no effort to provide listeners with essential context on the topic of why those ‘protests’ took place and who organised and funded them. He likewise refrained from informing audiences that over 80% of those killed have been shown to have links to various Gaza based terror factions

Stourton: “For this programme we’ve been asking a question that used to make headlines and was once prominent in foreign ministerial in trays: is there a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict? Here’s a Palestinian perspective.”

Although unnamed, listeners then heard from Sari Nusseibeh.

Nusseibeh: “Each side has become more uncertain of the other. Each side has become less interested, less hopeful of a final or permanent solution with the other. So we have been left in some kind of limbo.”

Stourton: “Here’s the view of a veteran negotiator.”

Also unnamed, that negotiator is Martin Indyk.

Indyk: “Yeah, I think that it is a depressing situation and it didn’t have to be this way. And I do feel a sense of responsibility. Having been involved in the effort over 35 years the sense of failure weighs heavily and especially because in the process of trying to resolve it, a lot of people have died on both sides.”

With no Israeli view presented, Stourton then went on to mislead listeners by referring to “Israel’s frontiers before the Six-Day War”. Those “frontiers” were of course armistice lines which were specifically defined in the 1949 Armistice Agreement as not being borders.

Stourton: “A two-state solution to the conflict with a border drawn roughly along the lines of Israel’s frontiers before the Six-Day War in 1967 is still the starting point for most Middle East diplomacy and polls suggest it’s still the most widely supported solution among Israelis and Palestinians. But it now seems so remote that people on both sides have begun to talk as if it’s a goal that will never be reached.”

Stourton then went on to reveal why Radio 4 was broadcasting an overtly one-sided programme on what – given the state of the region as a whole – it ridiculously insists on describing as “the Middle East conundrum” and “Middle East diplomacy”.

Stourton: “And because Israel is – unlike the Palestinian Authority – a fully functioning state with military superiority, we’ll be focusing on whether its government has a long-term vision of what the future might look like.”

He continued:

Stourton: “I should say at the outset that we’ve had great difficulty in persuading those members of the coalition now in power who have a reputation for bold thinking on this subject to talk to us.”

The programme’s framing – which can be boiled down to ‘how a succession of Israeli prime ministers rejected the two-state solution and so failed to make peace’ – then came into view:   

Stourton: “One way to approach the subject is through the life and career of the current prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu and our story begins before Israel even existed, in the debates of early Zionists and the split between pragmatists like Israel’s founder David Ben Gurion and the so-called revisionist movement which counted Mr Netanyahu’s father among its supporters.”

Another unidentified voice – belonging to journalist Anshel Pfeffer – was then heard.

Pfeffer: “Well Professor Ben Zion Netanyahu believed in that very forceful, almost militaristic, way of bringing the Zionist programme to fruition; that the Jews shouldn’t compromise on any of their rights to the land of Israel, that there should be no weakness in any way shown towards the Arabs or towards international powers. Much less pragmatic approach than was being shown by the…by Ben Gurion’s Workers Party.”

Stourton: “Is it fair to say those ideas had a very profound impact on his son?”

Pfeffer: “No doubt about it.”

Stourton: “Anshel Pfeffer who’s just published a biography called ‘Bibi – The Turbulent Life and Times of Benjamin Netanyahu’. Mr Netanyahu first really claimed international attention at the event which raised the curtain on what became known as the peace process: the Madrid Conference in 1991. He was the prime minister’s spokesman and a real master of the sound-bite.”

Listeners then heard an archive recording:

Netanyahu: “We now have Israel that is ringed with a circle of talks. And we hope that it will replace the circle of guns that surrounds us: that this will bring peace.”

Stourton: “His boss, the prime minister Yitzhak Shamir, had – like Netanyahu senior – been a hard-liner in the days before Israel’s founding and the Americans, who sponsored the conference, had a tense time persuading him to come. Dennis Ross was a member of the American team and he doesn’t think Mr Shamir had accepted the idea of a two-state solution.”

Ross: “I think in Shamir’s case it was not so much he thought it was leading to a two-state solution. It’s just said it was leading to the unknown.”

Stourton: “Do you think he had a vision of where he wanted to end up?”

Ross: “He said that a couple of times to us that you know this is a process that’s beginning now and the issues – the real final status issues – will be dealt with after he was no longer there. I think his real approach was not driven by an objective of what he wanted as much as it was driven by a process that he hoped could be stretched out to the point where any risk that Israel might be running could be managed.”

Stourton: “The Madrid Conference did not in itself produce much movement but it was followed by the so-called Oslo Accords, negotiated in great secrecy in the Norwegian capital, which created a Palestinian Authority and gave the Palestinians a measure of autonomy. The Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and a new Israeli prime minister, Yitzhak Rabin, shook hands on the deal on the White House lawn in 1993.”

After a recording of the former US president Bill Clinton speaking at that event, Stourton introduced his next contributor.

Stourton: “But even then many Israeli leaders were reluctant to accept the idea of full statehood for the Palestinians. Yossi Beilin – now a prominent opposition figure in Israeli politics – was a key player in the Oslo negotiations.”

Yossi Beilin in fact retired from political life a decade ago, in 2008.

Beilin: “Only after the agreement with the PLO it became quite apparent that the two-state solution would be the solution but even then, until Rabin’s murder he never spoke about the full two-state solution. He spoke about a Palestinian entity which will be less of a state or something like that.”

Six minutes into the programme, listeners had by now heard three Israeli prime ministers described as opponents of the two-state solution. So would they hear portrayals of the views of Palestinian leaders of the same era on that topic?

Stourton: “In the Oslo Accords the PLO recognised the State of Israel and Israel recognised the PLO as the representative of the Palestinian people. Movement on the Israeli side was matched by movement among moderate Palestinians. Sari Nusseibeh is a leading Palestinian intellectual and was a prominent champion of the two-state solution.”

While there are those who would disagree with Stourton’s portrayal of Nusseibeh, notably Stourton did not ask him for the PLO leader’s views of the two-state solution at the time.

Nusseibeh: “Well it seemed to me at the time on the Israeli side there were enough Israelis who seemed to also be saying they wanted to end the occupation, return to the ’67 borders, be content with the state they have within those borders and they were basically beginning to force a recognition of the Palestinian right of self-determination. And it seemed at the time to me that this would do as a kind of fair solution. It’s not the best solution, but as a fair solution. And on the Palestinian side, especially in the occupied territories, people also seemed to be struggling for primarily for a life of freedom, of independence, of dignity, of self-rule. So on both counts it seemed to me that this would be a good settlement.”

Stourton: “Bibi [sic] Netanyahu however did not change his thinking. In 1993 – the year of that arresting handshake between Messrs Arafat and Rabin on the White House lawn – he published a book called ‘A Place Among the Nations: Israel and the World’ in which he argued for firm limits on the amount of autonomy the Palestinians should be given.”

Listeners then heard what is presumably a quote from that book (which was actually published five months before that White House lawn ceremony) which was – for some reason – read in an American accent.

“Under any conception of autonomy Israel should retain the powers and prerogatives of the sovereign including such matters as military defence, foreign affairs and control of the currency and foreign trade while the Arab population could manage many areas of daily life.”

Anshel Pfeffer then told listeners that the book “basically remains Netanyahu’s blueprint” and that in it “Netanyahu presents his version of Jewish history, his version of Jewish nationalism” and that he “pushes away any kind of Palestinian claim” and “denies the fact that there is such a thing as Palestinian nationalism in any historical sense. He treats it as being very much a manufactured notion of the mid-20th century”. Pfeffer went on to claim that the book presents  “Netanyahu’s plan for the future, for what kind of a peace solution can seriously bring peace to the Middle East and ensure Israel’s prosperity and success in the future”.

Stourton: And what does that look like in his book?”

Pfeffer: “Well it doesn’t look like the two-state solution if we have to be very honest. His solution is that Israel does not have to make any kind of concessions towards the Palestinians because Israel is in a much larger battle  for survival, not with the Palestinians but with the wider Arab world and with radical Islam and with Iran.”

By this time listeners were a third of way in to the programme and yet had not heard a single word about the terrorism that followed that White House lawn handshake in 1993 and the fact that the number of Israelis murdered by Palestinian terrorists in the five years after the Oslo Accords was higher than in the fifteen years before they were signed.

Describing Arafat as “the PLO leader” while failing to clarify that he was by that time also the president of the Palestinian Authority, Stourton then went on to present a debatable picture of the Camp David summit and to portray the second Intifada as something that just “began” rather than the pre-planned terror war that it actually was.

Stourton: “The high point of hopes for a two-state solution came in the summer of 2000 when Bill Clinton brought another Israeli prime minister, Ehud Barak, and the PLO leader Yasser Arafat together for 2 weeks of talks at Camp David [….]. They came tantalisingly close to a deal but they failed to get there. Two months later the second Intifada – or Palestinian uprising began. It was the beginning of the slide to today’s stalemate. Martin Indyk served two terms as the American ambassador to Israel.”

Indyk: “If we look for the tipping point it really goes back to trying to identify when the population on both sides decided that the other side had evil intent rather than benign intent. The outbreak of the Intifada convinced Israelis that giving up territory or promising to give up territory was only going to lead to more violence – and it was horrendous violence. On the other side I think the Palestinians became convinced that Oslo just brought them more settlements and more occupation. It didn’t actually lead to ending the occupation.”

Of course Indyk’s claim that Oslo “brought…more settlements” is inaccurate – as the BBC has itself reported in the past. Stourton then moved on to another Israeli prime minister.

Stourton: “In the aftermath of the Intifada Israel elected a prime minister with a reputation as the hardest of hard-liners: Ariel Sharon. He surprised everyone by deciding to withdraw from the Gaza Strip.”

Listeners heard an archive report from Orla Guerin which included the following:

Guerin “The night sky over Gaza suggests victory but on this historic night, remember this: there is no peace deal and no Palestinian state and Israel still controls the borders here.”

Stourton: “The logic behind his withdrawal plan – and there was talk of it being extended to the West Bank – was to create separate homes for Palestinians and Israelis not by negotiation but by unilateral Israeli action and on Israel’s terms. But that ran counter to the principle at the heart of all previous peace talks: the idea that Israel would give up land in exchange for peace.”

Indyk “Mahmoud Abbas…begged Sharon to negotiate an agreement for Israel’s withdrawal so that he would have commitments that he could impose – or at least try to impose – on the Palestinians, including on Hamas.”

Listeners were not informed that relevant agreements had already been signed – including the 1995 Israeli-Palestinian Interim Agreement on the West Bank and the Gaza Strip which laid out exactly the kinds of “commitments” Indyk claimed were lacking.  

Stourton: “Hamas, the radical Palestinian group formally dedicated to the destruction of Israel, won elections not long after the Israeli withdrawal and later secured its power in Gaza by force.”

Indyk: “But Sharon, you know, was insistent on doing a deal with George W Bush rather than with the Palestinian leadership so the withdrawal was without any understanding, any commitment on the Palestinian side, any arrangements. It was effectively pulling out and throwing the keys over the fence.”

Stourton: “So we see the impact of that still today, do we?”

Indyk: “Profoundly, profoundly because Israel withdrew, went through the incredible pain of uprooting the…the settlers there and what it got in return was rockets. Hamas’ rockets. And so that sent a message to Israelis that, you know, giving up territory doesn’t get you peace.”

In other words, BBC audiences heard Hamas terrorism – and conclusions subsequently drawn by the Israeli public – framed as having been caused by Israel’s unilateral disengagement from the Gaza Strip.  Notably they did not hear any mention of foreign funding of Hamas.

By this time the programme was almost at its half-way point and BBC audiences had first and foremost heard how a succession of Israeli prime ministers failed to make peace. In the second part of this post we shall see whether or not any balance was introduced into the latter half of the discussion.

BBC R4 FOOC report on Palestinian music promotes one-sided politics

The May 31st edition of BBC Radio 4’s ‘From Our Own Correspondent’ included an item by freelance journalist Robin Denselow which was introduced by presenter Kate Adie (from 17:06 here) as follows: [emphasis in italics in the original]

Adie: “The history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is long, complicated and contentious. And both sides want their version of that history to dominate as they try to win over foreign diplomats, politicians and the wider world. Violence brings one set of headlines. Cultural events and exchanges are seen as another way of achieving that. A festival was held in the West Bank recently aiming to give the growing Palestinian music scene a major boost and to amplify the voices of ordinary Palestinians. Robin Denselow was in Ramallah.”

Listeners certainly did hear one dominant, context-free narrative during the next five minutes with Denselow repeatedly referring to ‘Palestine’, thus breaching the BBC’s ‘style guide’ which states:

“…you should not affix the name ‘Palestine’ to Gaza or the West Bank – rather, it is still an aspiration or an historical entity.”

Audiences were told that Palestinians are “so isolated from the rest of the world” and of course no BBC report from PA controlled territory would be complete without a mention of “checkpoints”.

“The young audience had travelled to the Palestinian Music Expo – or PMX – from right across the West Bank, negotiating the Israeli checkpoints on the way.”

Listeners were told that foreign visitors to that music festival:

“…were welcomed by the Palestinian minister of culture, Ihab Bseiso, for whom PMX clearly had political significance. Promoting culture in Palestine is absolutely crucial, he told me. It’s a form of resistance, protecting the national heritage. The minister, who enthused about the years he spent studying at Cardiff University, gave us a personal tour of an uncompleted but palatial new building on a Ramallah hilltop. Originally intended as a grand guest-house for visiting dignitaries, it’s to be Palestine’s new national library and cultural hub.”

Denselow refrained from telling listeners that the building originally had another function too:

“Originally, the guest palace in Ramallah was intended to serve as the residence for the Palestinian president and to house international diplomats, leaders and delegations during visits.

However, a senior Palestinian official was quoted as saying that Abbas decided to remain in his own home out of fear that the extravagant 4,700 square meter palace, which cost 6 million dollars to build, would evoke negative reactions among the Palestinian public.”

Again paraphrasing his host Bseiso, Denselow told listeners that:

“He claimed that what is happening on the cultural front in Palestine is a miracle it’s exceptionally hard to achieve under occupation. And he went on to recite the everyday problems of checkpoints and restrictions on movement.”

Denselow of course did not bother to remind Radio 4 audiences that checkpoints and “restrictions on movement” did not exist until the Palestinians chose to launch the second Intifada terror war. He went on to describe excursions without clarifying whether the organisers were the Palestinian Authority or his PMX hosts.

“They organised a trip to show their foreign visitors their side of the conflict. We were driven out through Qalandiya checkpoint, where Israeli troops looked through out passports, and then taken to the bitterly divided city of Hebron.”

At that point it would of course have been helpful to listeners to have been reminded of the fact that Hebron is “divided” because twenty-one years ago the Palestinian Authority agreed to divide it into two areas: H1 under PA control and H2 (roughly 20% of the city) under Israeli control. That reminder was not forthcoming and neither was any mention of the ancient Hebron Jewish community or the massacre of 1929.

“In the Israeli-controlled sector settlers live alongside the Palestinians who complained to us how many of their shops have been closed, how they need nets to protect their market from rocks thrown by settlers and about the streets where they claimed they’re now banned from walking.”

The fact that those shops – located on one street – were closed due to Palestinian violence during the Second Intifada was not communicated to listeners. With a nod towards the BBC’s supposed editorial standards on impartiality, Denselow then inaccurately told listeners that the victims of Palestinian violence in Hebron have been exclusively “Israeli soldiers”.

“Over the years of conflict Palestinians have attacked Israeli soldiers with knives and rocks too and the small settler community says it also fears for its safety.”

Stories such as that of ten month-old Shalhevet Pass – murdered by a Palestinian sniper – or thirteen year-old Hallel Yaffa Ariel clearly do not fit into Denselow’s narrative. His story then took a bizarre turn:

“But being seen here with a Palestinian guide was clearly dangerous. A car – apparently driven by an angry settler – narrowly missed our group then did a U-turn and drove back at us again at speed. One record industry executive would almost certainly have been hit if he hadn’t been pulled back.”

Neither Israeli nor Palestinian media outlets have any record of such an event having taken place in Hebron around the time of the PMX event between April 11th and 13th.  Denselow provided no evidence to support his guess that the car was “driven by an angry settler” but promoted it to BBC audiences regardless.

Interestingly, a similar claim is to be found in a post shared on the PMX Facebook page on April 18th. That post was written by one Younes Arar – who was apparently guiding Denselow’s group on their visit to Hebron.

Younes Arar is involved with an NGO called ‘Frontline Defenders’ and the co-founder of a campaign against what it calls “illegal Israeli settlements in Hebron” under the slogan ”Dismantle the Ghetto, Take Settlers Out of Hebron”. According to the NGO’s website he is also “the Director of Hebron section of the Colonization and Wall Resistance Committee of the Palestinian Liberation Organisation – a grass-roots extension of the Palestinian Ministry on the Wall and Settlements Affairs”. As can be determined by a quick perusal of the activist’s Twitter account, Younes Arar is not particularly committed to accuracy, facts or a peaceful two-state solution to the Arab Israeli conflict.

Interestingly, the prolific Tweeter Younes Arar made no mention on his Twitter account of that alleged incident in Hebron at the time.

Denselow went on to describe another trip, again erasing from his story the Palestinian terrorism that made the building of the anti-terrorist fence necessary.

“Other excursions included a visit to the overcrowded Shuafat refugee camp hidden away behind walls and a checkpoint in Jerusalem.”

When he finally got round to describing the music festival itself, the earlier motif of Palestinian “national heritage” went somewhat awry.

“From jazz to satirical political rock songs, Balkan-Palestinian fusion and angry hip-hop. Musicians from Gaza had been refused travel permits to attend but there was an extraordinary video from a rapper who calls himself MC Gaza filmed amid the violent and bloody ‘Great March of Return’ protests on the border with Israel.”

Denselow did not bother to tell Radio 4 listeners that the video he described as “extraordinary” advocates the destruction of Israel. Describing another band, he went on:

“‘This is the only way to fight back against the occupation’ band member Adnan Jubran commented on stage. Later he told me ‘it’s trying to delete our culture. This is how we say no’.”

Near the beginning of his report Denselow stated that one of the festival’s purposes is:

“…to give those [foreign] visitors a distinctively Palestinian view of the place and its problems.”

There can be no doubt that Denselow and the other foreign visitors got exactly that. Unfortunately however, so did BBC Radio 4 listeners – with no provision of essential context and no regard for the BBC’s supposed editorial standards of accuracy and impartiality.  

 

More context free portrayal of Jenin on BBC Radio 4

On March 15th BBC Radio 4 aired an edition of a “contemporary art” programme called ‘The Art of Now titled ‘Dangerous Places’.

As can be seen in the synopsis, all but one of the stories showcased in that programme relate in one way or another to Israel.

“Composer Errollyn Wallen meets some of the artists working in places of conflict, violence and oppression around the world. She hears their personal testimonies and explores why art and music, poetry and drama can sometimes flourish in times and locations of danger and violence.

What use is art in a warzone, and what can these individuals and their work tell artists in more peaceful places about making art that helps us question and communicate?

Cartoonist and free improvisational trumpeter Mazen Kerbaj talks about his work during the 2006 Lebanon war and the problem of exoticising art from warzones. Journalist and poet Bejan Matur describes how living as a Kurd in southeastern Turkey has shaped her work. Actor and educator Ahmed Tobasi explains how Jenin’s Freedom Theatre changed his life, and Mustafa Staiti discusses his work as artistic director of the city’s new Fragments Theatre. Composer Matti Kovler explores the impact of his experiences in the Israeli Defence Forces during the Second Intifada.”

In the first story listeners hear a completely context-free account of the second Lebanon war in 2006. The artist is described as having played “a ragged duet with the bombs falling on his home town” and “playing trumpet on the balcony while the Israeli air force was bombing Beirut”.

“You would see a hundred kids dead or a hundred persons. Then the second day it’s a hundred and seven. Then the third day it’s sixty-seven and you’re almost happy to say oh, it’s less than yesterday.”

How that war began and what was happening on the other side of the border have no place in this story – and neither does the all-important context of the Hizballah HQ in a specific neighbourhood of Beirut. 

The second story’s location is Jenin and Ahmed Tobasi sets the scene by telling listeners that “when Israel was created” his grandparents left their village and “came here to Jenin refugee camp”. No context – such as the invasion of Israel by surrounding Arab states – is provided at all. 

Wallen’s own account of her visit to Jenin is similarly devoid of context.

“On the surface Jenin city and its permanent refugee camp seem quite comfortable. As a privileged visitor you can begin to feel that life here is normal. But then you remember the journey: the separation barrier, checkpoints and soldiers. The watch towers dotting the ancient landscape.”

While Wallen tells listeners that the Freedom Theatre’s director was “assassinated”, she does not clarify that the murderer was a Palestinian. After Tobasi has admitted his membership of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, Wallen gives an account of the second Intifada that promotes the notion of equivalence between Palestinian terror attacks and Israeli counter-terrorism measures.

“In 2000 when Tobasi was 15, the second Intifada started: a time of Israeli and Palestinian violence which changed the lives of a generation.”

The fact that Jenin was one of the main centres of terrorism during the second Intifada is not mentioned. All listeners hear of the terrorists from Jenin who blew up Israelis on buses and in restaurants is a feeble reference to “bomb attacks”.

“During the 2002 Battle of Jenin, Israeli forces – responding to bomb attacks – fought to control the Jenin refugee camp.”

Tobasi tells listeners that:

“After the first five days when the 13 soldiers were killed, they went crazy. They start to destroy houses, to let tanks go inside the camp…”

The relevant fact that the terrorists in Jenin had booby-trapped buildings in the camp was not mentioned of course.

Wallen later promotes a context-free, unevidenced story:

“The young people I saw rehearsing in Jenin were making wonderful, vibrant, physical theatre….partly a way of processing things that have happened to them. Things that are terrible and hard to understand. One boy suddenly showed me a phone picture of his friend lying dead in a body bag. He told me that he’d been shot just two weeks earlier by an Israeli soldier”.

Wallen’s one Israeli interviewee is a composer who tells stories from his military service. Thus, having whitewashed the many thousands of Israeli civilians whose lives were permanently blighted by Palestinian terrorism from the picture, she is able to opine:

“For the people I met in Jenin the suggestion of any comparison would be offensive. Their lives are not directly comparable.”

Notably, only her Israeli interviewee has questions to ask of himself.

“Who are we? What are we doing here and do we have the right to do the things that we’re doing? And how to live with all this? Artists of my generation who find themselves very often outside the borders of Israel have to ask themselves these questions”.

As readers may recall, this is the second time in just over a month that Radio 4 audiences have heard a context-free portrayal of events in Jenin during the second Intifada in programmes supposedly about entertainment or art.

Related Articles:

BBC R4 airs partisan portrayal of Jenin masked as ‘entertainment’

 

BBC R4’s Bethlehem crime fiction flunks accuracy and impartiality

A BBC Radio 4 series called ‘Foreign Bodies’ is described as follows:

“Mark Lawson examines how mystery novels reflect a country’s history and political system.”

The episode aired on March 4th (and to be rebroadcast on March 10th) is called “The Bethlehem Murders” and – despite the BBC’s style guide stating that “you should not affix the name ‘Palestine’ to Gaza or the West Bank” – it is described in the synopsis as: [emphasis added]

“Crime fiction set in Palestine. Omar Yussef, schoolteacher and amateur sleuth, tries to clear the name of his former student George, falsely accused of murder in their hometown of Bethlehem. […]

In The Bethlehem Murders, Yussef tries to save the life of his former student George Saba, a Christian recently returned to his home town of Bethlehem, who has fallen foul of a Palestinian militia group. In doing so, Yussef uncovers a world of corruption, cynicism and fear which makes him regret the passing of a time when Christians and Muslims lived peacefully side by side.”

That drama – like another one scheduled for broadcast next week – is based on a novel written by a former Time Magazine correspondent from Britain who was based in Jerusalem from 2000 – 2006.

“This is the second novel of the Palestinian Quartet series by Matt Rees to be dramatised for Radio 4 by Jennifer Howarth. Matt Rees draws on his experience as Time Magazine’s Jerusalem Bureau Chief to create detective stories which give us an insight into life in Palestine in the early 2000’s.” [emphasis added]

Given that latter claim, one would expect the backdrop to the drama to be accurate and impartial. BBC editorial guidelines relating to “factually based drama” state:

“When a drama portrays real people or events, it is inevitable that the creative realisation of some dramatic elements such as characterisation, dialogue and atmosphere may be fictional.  However, the portrayal should be based on a substantial and well-sourced body of evidence whenever practicable and we should ensure it does not distort the known facts, including chronology, unduly.”

Editorial guidelines on impartiality in Drama, Entertainment and Culture state: 

“A drama where a view of ‘controversial subjects’ is central to its purpose, must be clearly signposted to our audience.  Its excellence and insights must justify the platform offered.  It may be appropriate to offer alternative views in other connected and signposted output.”

‘The Bethlehem Murders’ opens with a monologue by the main character and narrator.

“Allow me to introduce myself. My name is Omar Yussef and I’m a teacher in the city of Bethlehem in Palestine. My family, my tribe, have been here nearly 60 years – ever since we were kicked out of our homelands at the point of a gun.” [emphasis added]

The character goes on to explain that “this story opens in 2001”.

“For nearly a year now we’ve been at war with Israel. We call it the second Intifada: the Palestinian uprising against the Israeli occupation.”

Audiences are not told that by the time the second Intifada began, Bethlehem had been under exclusive Palestinian Authority control for almost five years.

The main character goes on to introduce a secondary character, describing him as living in “Beit Jala – a Palestinian Christian town just south of Bethlehem”.

Beit Jala is of course located to the north of Bethlehem.

The drama includes numerous additional issues of accuracy, impartiality and omission. While central figures in the story belong to what are described as “the Martyrs Brigades”, audiences are not informed that that terror group belongs to the ruling political party Fatah. Terrorists are repeatedly portrayed as “freedom fighters” while audiences are told that Israel “bulldozes the houses” of Palestinians who “won’t collaborate”. Israeli forces entering Bethlehem after a suicide bombing in Jerusalem are portrayed as “here to take revenge”.

Even the image chosen to illustrate the drama’s webpage lacks accuracy. A person presumably intended to represent the main character is shown against the background of a section of the anti-terrorist fence. The fence is not even mentioned in the story itself and the obvious explanation for that is that the drama is set in 2001 and construction of the fence did not commence until July 2003, when the first section was built many miles to the north of Bethlehem. Nevertheless, the BBC selected that anachronistic image to illustrate this programme.

Obviously the BBC’s claim that this radio drama gives audiences “an insight into life in Palestine in the early 2000’s” is unfortunately diminished by such accuracy and impartiality failures.

Related Articles:

Stone-Throwing Chic at Time Magazine   (CAMERA)

Time Magazine’s One-Sided Feature on Palestinians (CAMERA)

BBC amends style-guide breach in R4 synopsis