BBC WS programme on anti-terrorist fence promotes inaccurate information

The April 16th edition of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘The Documentary’ was titled “Walls and Peace“. In that programme, Professor Cathy Gormley-Heenan of Ulster University visited locations in her native Northern Ireland, in the USA and in Israel asking “do walls built for political purposes create bigger problems than they solve?”.

Gormley-Heenan’s own position on the topic (she is not in favour) is very much apparent in the programme’s conclusion but along the way to that summing up, she ostensibly presents both sides of the debate.

The synopsis to the online version of the programme includes the following:

“Professor Gormley-Heenan is a specialist in barrier walls, which she has witnessed and studied in her native Belfast, where “peace walls” still separate Nationalist and Unionist communities. […]

There have been fewer militant attacks in Israel since the barrier with the West Bank was built there, yet many Palestinians are cut off from, for example, their olive groves on the Israeli side. And even Jewish settlers in the West Bank, who are now on the Israeli side of the barrier, and feel safer, are adversely affected by the barrier.”

The photograph used to illustrate the programme is described by the BBC World Service as follows:

‘Photo: man climbs a wall on a ladder. Credit to Heidi Levine, with kind permission’

That photograph – from 2002 – was in fact taken in Israel. Why the BBC chose to change the original caption is unclear.

The section of the programme relating to the anti-terrorist fence constructed by Israel during and after the second Intifada commences at 13:20 and goes on for over 17 minutes.

Gormley-Heenan’s introduction to that section includes generalised speculations about the socio-economic status of the residents of neighbourhoods near the structure which are absent from the sections of the programme relating to Northern Ireland or the USA.

“Here’s another one [wall]. It’s made of concrete slabs 9 meters high in the middle of a major city and there’s a big contrast between the housing on the two sides. This is the separation barrier in East Jerusalem. The Palestinian side is very densely populated with high-rise blocks of housing packed close together. The western, Israeli side is more spacious with more beds of grass and a population – judging by the style and quality of the housing – seems considerably better off. The barrier isn’t a wall everywhere; only in cities. It was put there by popular demand from the Israeli side.”

BBC coverage of the anti-terrorist fence has never been notable for its balance and impartiality and so the fact that listeners to this programme got to hear from the man who planned it is remarkable.

“My name is Colonel (retired) Danny Tirza. In March 2002 in one month we lost 128 people that were murdered by terror attacks. And people said to the government ‘enough is enough; we cannot live with such level of terror. Do something. Build something’. And the government took the first decision to let the army design and build a security fence. And that was the moment when I got the mission to be the head of this project. From 2000 till the end of 2006 we had in Israel more than four thousand terror attacks. We lost in this period 1,562 people that were murdered by terror attacks. We’re a very small country.”

Unfortunately, nowhere in the item are listeners provided with statistics concerning the reduction in the number of terror attacks following construction of the anti-terrorist fence.

Gormley-Heenan then goes to meet a resident of the community of Tzofim in Samaria – Hagai Mayer. Her introduction to that interview includes standard BBC messaging concerning ‘international law’ but does not clarify to listeners that, like all Israeli communities in Judea & Samaria, Tzofim is located in Area C and under the terms of the Oslo Accords, its final status is to be determined in negotiations.

CGH: “Away from the cities, in the more rural areas, things look different. The concrete wall turns into a high metal fence with sensors and cameras. So let’s go meet residents to find out what it’s like to live close to these barriers. This is Tzofim; a Jewish settlement in the occupied West Bank. The international community considers these settlements illegal but Israel disputes this. In places the separation barrier runs right on the ‘green line’; the 1949 Armistice Line separating Israel from the West Bank. Elsewhere the barrier diverges into the West Bank to surround settlements like Tzofim which now finds itself on the western, Israeli side of the barrier along with 9.4% of the West Bank.”

After her interviewee has told her about his feelings and experiences before and after the fence’s construction and explained the procedures put in place to provide access to Palestinians with agricultural land on the western side of the fence, listeners again hear from Col. Danny Tirza.

CGH: “Despite the inconvenience in places like Tzofim, the barrier is popular in Israel. But why was it built in the particular way that it was? Colonel Tirza remembers why he designed it the way he did.”

DT: “I tried to construct only wire fences. But when we came to urban areas I had to construct concrete walls. In some areas like along road number 6 cross-Israel highway, there are two Palestinian towns – Tulkarem and Qalqilya – and they were shooting from their towns to where the traffic that runs on the main highway of Israel. So I had to construct there concrete wall. Another reason: in urban areas I wanted to reduce the friction between the soldiers and the people that lives on the ground. I didn’t want that some Palestinian children will throw stones on the fence. The fence is very sensitive so the fence will react, the soldiers will run and it will start something between the soldiers and the people on the ground. There is another reason; the fence costs a lot of money and I didn’t want the Palestinians to harm the fence. Therefore, in urban areas – concrete walls. So a lot of people says to me OK, we can understand that but why so high? Mostly it’s 9 meters high. Can you make it some shorter? Well really at first I tried to construct only 6 meters high but six meters, if you climb it, some people can jump. Nine meters; nobody jumps.”

Gormley-Heenan then introduces her own agenda into the story by promoting a specific theory in the form of a ‘question’ and finding an interviewee who will give her the desired answer [from 21:43].

CGH: “I wonder though, could the separation barrier make Israelis less safe in the long-run? Might it be counter-productive by further escalating tensions and anger in the Palestinian areas? Here’s what Barbara Opall-Rome says. She’s the Israel bureau chief of Defense News – a US publication.

BOR: “Absolutely. There’s a fine line between deterrence and provocation. And these physical barriers are deterring but – as you noted – the other side can see it as a source of oppression; something to rebel at, something to gain their courage and act upon. When assessing threats you always have to take two things into consideration; capabilities and intent. So the fact that Israel has built these barriers, whether it’s all along the Gaza border – where they’re reinforcing and fortifying even more – or along all of its borders, with these barriers the ability is diminished but the intent; that could have expanded, that could have been accentuated. So it’s always a fine balance and it’s an interesting question that you pose. I would assume that along with deterrence comes a perception of provocation on the other side.”

Remarkably, that lengthy response to a deliberately posed question completely erases the political and religious ideology behind the terrorism that has necessitated the building of fences in Israel.

Gormley-Heenan than goes to visit Palestinians “on the other side” – beginning in Nazlet-Isa near Baka al Garbiya. There, the head of the village council recounts how the construction of the anti-terrorist fence “affected directly on the local economy of the village because it affected on the income that they were having before through the open road and the open market and shops on the main road of the village”.

It is of course true that the terrorism of the second Intifada – which included several cases of murders of Israeli shoppers in Palestinian villages – and the later construction of the fence caused Israelis to cease shopping in Palestinian areas, as used to be the case. However, without providing the relevant background information, the BBC found it appropriate to include the following statement from that interviewee:

“I have no logical idea about why did they construct such a barrier inside the village. […] they say that it’s for security issues but we don’t understand what are the security concerns.”

Ignoring the Oslo Accords, the fact that Area C is subject to final status negotiations and the fact that the 1949 Armistice Agreement specifically and purposely defined the ‘green line’ as not marking a border, Gormley-Heenan goes on to promote the notion of “Palestinian territory”.

“In Nazlet-Isa the wall is exactly on the ‘green line’ – the 1949 Armistice Line that divides Israel from the occupied West Bank. But elsewhere the barrier diverges from the ‘green line’ and cuts into Palestinian territory; sometimes by several kilometers. As a result, 9.4% of the West Bank is now on the Israeli side of the barrier. Some see this as an Israeli land-grab but Israel says it’s for security, including that of the Jewish settlers.”

That is the second time that listeners to this programme heard the figure “9.4%” together with the word “now”. However, even political organisations that tout that figure – eg UN OCHA and CAABU – clarify that it does not relate to the current situation and that it includes areas such as Ma’ale Adumim where the fence has not yet been constructed.

“Some 85% of the Barrier’s route runs inside the West Bank, rather than along the Green Line; if completed as planned, the Barrier will isolate 9.4% of the West Bank, including East Jerusalem.” [emphasis added]

Gormley-Heenan then visits Jayus to interview a man – identified as Abu Azzam – who challenged the route of the fence in court and won his case. Once again erasing the Oslo Accords and final status negotiations from her story, she again promotes the term “occupied Palestinian land”.

CGH: “Just on the other side of the barrier, across from Abu Azzam’s village, is the Jewish settlement of Tzofim that we visited earlier. It’s the one that’s now on the Israeli side of the barrier despite being situated on occupied Palestinian land.”

Gormley-Heenan also facilitates her interviewee’s promotion of patently false claims concerning water and land.

AA: “If it [the fence] is for security they have on the ‘green line’ two fences. No dog, no cat can pass through it. If it is about security, those two fences are enough. And if it is a matter of security, why go 22 kilometers inside West Bank land? So why?

CGH: “So why do you think?”

AA: “It’s clear. It is to steal as much as possible from our main waters in addition to the fertilized areas. We are not allowed to pump water as much as we need.” […]

CGH: “The barrier has given Israel control over more land and resources.”

That, of course, is untrue. It is, however, consistent with the ‘land-grab’ falsehood that has been promoted by the BBC consistently over the years.

Returning to previous interviewee Barbara Opell Rome, Gormley-Heenan chooses to close the part of the programme relating to Israel in a truly bizarre manner [from 30:00].

CGH: “Let’s talk now a little bit about the technology that has underpinned the construction of these barriers. Has it given a boost to the defence industry in Israel?”

BOR: “In a word, yes. Big time yes. This is a multi-million dollar global business. And Israeli industries view themselves as the forefront in this industry. They have proven operationally deployed barriers and technologies that are…and when we talk about a barrier it’s not just a barbed wire fence and ditches and patrol paths. These are sensor-fused border protection elements where they have every 150 to 200 meters there are stationary cameras and radars that are all fused together and they filter in to command centres. It’s fortress Israel and I can tell you that it is big business: billions of dollars. A major company in Israel that is at the forefront is Elbit Systems and Elbit has been selected by the US government some years ago to protect and render some type of similar programme along the border with Mexico.”

Beyond the convenience of creating a smooth transition to Gormley-Heenan’s next port of call – the US-Mexico border – it is difficult to understand why those statements from Opall-Rome were deemed relevant to the programme’s supposed subject matter.

While this programme did go somewhat against the grain of usual BBC reporting on the anti-terrorist fence in that it presented a more accurate picture of actual structure and included rarely heard information from Col. Danny Tirza, it nevertheless stuck to the usual BBC mantras on ‘international law’ and promoted to audiences information that is inaccurate and misleading.

Related Articles:

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

CAMERA Corrects Defense News on ‘Breaking the Silence’ (CAMERA) 

 

 

 

Inaccuracies unchallenged in BBC ‘Hardtalk’ interview on UN ‘apartheid’ report

The April 17th edition of the BBC programme ‘Hardtalk‘ was devoted to an interview with Rima Khalaf – the former head of UN ESCWA.

The programme was broadcast on BBC television channels (available to UK-based readers on iPlayer here) and a clip from the filmed version was promoted on the BBC World News website under the title “Non-Jewish Israelis ‘cannot challenge’ their status”.

“The former head of a UN agency has said that under current laws, non-Jewish citizens of Israel “cannot challenge their subordinate status”.

Rima Khalaf was the executive secretary of the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA) until March 2017.

She resigned in March 2017, after the UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres asked her to withdraw a report categorising Israel as an apartheid regime.”

An audio version of the interview was also broadcast on BBC World Service radio.

“Why did a UN agency publish a report that categorised Israel as an apartheid state? Rima Khalaf was Executive Secretary of the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia until March 2017. She commissioned a report which accused Israel of systematically implementing apartheid policies and promptly resigned from her UN post when the Secretary General refused to accept the work. What were her motives?”

Audiences certainly did not hear an honest account from Khalaf of her own motives or those of the member states of the UN agency she headed. They did however hear presenter Stephen Sackur challenge her robustly on that topic as well as on the issue of the controversial choice of authors for the report and on the use of the term ‘apartheid’ in connection with Israel.

However, Sackur was apparently less able or willing to challenge the numerous falsehoods promoted by Khalaf throughout the interview, with the result that audiences were highly likely to go away with numerous inaccurate impressions.

On more than one occasion Khalaf brought up the subject of the legal system in Judea & Samaria.

“I mean in the West Bank you have a dual legal system; one that applies to Jewish settlers and one that applies to the Palestinian inhabitants of the occupied territory.”

“When Richard Falk said that there is a dual legal system applied in the West Bank, there is a dual legal system.”

“…the apartheid problem emerges not from the occupation but from the fact that you have two populations on the same land and you have two different laws applying to the two populations.”

Audiences were not informed that the legal system that exists does so because Israel has not annexed the area and that certain elements of that legal system – e.g. Ottoman law (1517-1917), which regulates property and lands; British law (1917-1948), which regulates defense; Jordanian law (1948-1967), which regulates planning, construction and parts of the penal code – pre-date Israeli control over the territory. Neither were they informed that the vast majority of Palestinians – who reside in Areas A and B – are subject to the legal system of the Palestinian National Authority under the terms of the Oslo Accords.

Khalaf’s false claim that Israel “sends” civilians to live in Judea & Samaria was not challenged.

“…this is a case where Israel sends its population to settle in the West Bank, to colonise the West Bank…”

Khalaf’s false claims concerning the rights of Israeli citizens were not challenged at all.

“… in Israel there is a differentiation between nationality and citizenship – and this is very strange by the way – and that you have to be a Jew in order to be a national. And there are lots of rights that are associated with nationality. So you can be a citizen but you cannot have those other rights. And this is extremely important. You cannot discriminate between your citizens.”

Likewise, her misrepresentation of land related issues – further amplified in the promoted clip – went unchallenged.

“In Israel, I’m sure you know that 93% of the land is owned by the state. And land laws allow agencies to develop and sell land to Jews only. So you talked about 20% of the population who are non-Jewish; fine. But they’re not allowed to buy land in Israel except the lands that stayed with them after Israel was established…”

While it is true that the Israel Land Administration does administer around 93% of the land, it is not true that land is only sold to Jews – as explained in this backgrounder produced by CAMERA.

“In 1960 under Basic Law: Israel Lands, JNF-owned land and government-owned land were together defined as “Israel lands,” and the principle was laid down that such land would be leased rather than sold. The JNF retained ownership of its land, but administrative responsibility for the JNF land, and also for government-owned land, passed to a newly created agency called the Israel Land Administration or ILA.

Today, of the total land in Israel, 79.5% is owned by the government, 14% is privately owned by the JNF, and the rest, around 6.5%, is evenly divided between private Arab and Jewish owners. Thus, the ILA administers 93.5% of the land in Israel.

Statements that Israel refuses to sell state-owned land to Israeli Arabs are extremely misleading, since, as stated above, such land is not sold to Israeli Jews either, but is instead leased out by the ILA and is equally available to all citizens of Israel.”

Khalaf also misled audiences – unhindered – on the topic of political parties and that misinformation was further amplified in the promoted clip from the programme.

“But you mentioned also political parties. Do you know that it is unlawful in Israel to establish a political party that questions the nature of the state as a Jewish state. So basically you’re telling the non-Jewish citizens of Israel you can vote but once you’re elected you cannot…you cannot question your subordinate status. OK; you can lobby for better budgets, for municipal services, for better health and better education. But the basic laws that discriminate against you and that establishes [sic] inequality are beyond your reach because if you do, you’re illegal as a party.”

In fact, the establishment of such a party is not illegal as Khalaf claims but it might be prevented from running in elections as explained here:

“According to the Basic Law: The Knesset, the Central Elections Committee may prevent a candidates’ list from participating in elections if its objectives or actions, expressly or by implication, include one of the following:

  • negation of the existence of the State of Israel as the state of the Jewish people;
  • negation of the democratic character of the State;
  • incitement to racism.”

That clause was applied in 1988 in the case of the ‘Kach’ party. In contrast to the impression given by Khalaf, the anti-Zionist party Balad has been continuously represented in the Knesset since 1996 and one would of course expect a seasoned interviewer such as Stephen Sackur to know that and to ensure that audiences were provided with that information.  

Khalaf invoked UN GA resolution 181 but the fact that the Arab states rejected that recommendation was not clarified to BBC audiences.

“I suggest you and probably the audience they go back to the UN resolution that establishes Israel: the Partition resolution. That resolution was very clear: there is a Jewish state and there is an Arab state. But neither of the two states – neither the Jewish state nor the Arab state – can have laws that discriminate between people based on religion, sex or race. So that was the condition for establishing the state. Actually the declaration of independence for Israel does not discriminate based on any of those factors. But then later on, laws that discriminate based on religion and ethnic origin crept into the legal structure of Israel.”

Khalaf’s suggestion that peace in the Middle East depends on Israel was not questioned and her deliberate misrepresentation of the words of the Israeli prime minister was not challenged or clarified.

“What I am saying is, if we want peace in the region, we really need to address those laws, particularly now that we’re talking about recognising Israel as a Jewish state. My reference is the prime minister of Israel. When asked what do you mean by a Jewish state, his response was a state for the Jewish people and for the Jewish people only.”

In fact, while referring in 2014 to a proposed bill, Netanyahu said:

“The State of Israel provides full equal rights, individual rights, to all its citizens, but it is the nation-state of one people only – the Jewish people – and of no other people. And therefore, in order to bolster the status of the State of Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people, I intend to submit a basic law that will anchor this status. The new law will be formulated in dialogue with all components of the coalition so that the values of the State of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state are preserved.”

Sackur made no comment when Khalaf invoked the Livingstone Formulation.

“Look, and I know that there are lots of laws where criticising Israel will lead to defamation and to labelling you as an antisemite….”

Moreover, Sackur himself contributed to the misinformation relayed to audiences in this interview by referring to “roads that are specifically for Jewish settlers”.

Sackur [13:21]: “Of course the Israelis say that so many of the conditions they impose on Palestinians in the occupied territories in the West Bank are connected to security. It is security, they say, that led them to build that barrier fence or wall – whatever you choose to call it. It is security that leads them to have roads that are specifically for Jewish settlers to get them safely to their settlements. And that is not about a racial theory; that is about the practicalities of security.” [emphasis added]

Such roads of course do not exist: while vehicles with PA plates have been restricted from travelling on a small number of roads (a total of 40.22 kms according to B’Tselem) in Judea & Samaria for security reasons, non-Jewish Israelis and tourists were always free to use them. CAMERA has secured numerous corrections in the past from media outlets that have promoted the same falsehood.

Stephen Sackur’s robust questioning on the topic of the intentions behind the ESCWA report, its author and the use of the ‘apartheid’ smear was a refreshing novelty on ‘Hardtalk’ and particularly important seeing as previous BBC coverage of the story (see ‘related articles’ below) refrained from addressing those issues. Unfortunately, his failure to challenge Rima Khalaf’s misleading claims equally robustly and his own promotion of inaccurate information detracted from the interview and made it highly likely that uninformed members of the public would go away with multiple misconceptions.   

Related Articles:

BBC News erases identity of authors of UN ‘apartheid’ report

BBC Two’s ‘Newsnight’ jumps on the ‘cultural censorship’ bandwagon

h/t JS

For well over a year the BBC has been telling its audiences dark – though consistently inaccurate – tales of supposed cultural censorship in Israel.

December 2015, BBC World Service: BBC World Service ‘Newshour’ reports a ‘book ban’ that does not exist.

January 2016, BBC News website: How many inaccuracies can the BBC cram into a 23 word sentence?.

January 2016, BBC World Service: BBC World Service continues to promote the fiction of an Israeli ‘book ban’.

February 2016, BBC Radio 4: How an uncorrected inaccuracy became BBC conventional wisdom.

March 2016, BBC World Service: BBC WS yet again promotes inaccurate claim of Israeli book ‘ban’.

November 2016, BBC World Service: In which the BBC WS stereotypes over 7,000 Israelis as ‘fanatic’ and ‘racist’.

On April 12th BBC Two’s ‘Newsnight‘ jumped on that bandwagon with a filmed report by the BBC’s West Africa correspondent Thomas Fessy that was heavily promoted (see here, here, here and here) on Twitter.

The seven minute long report was also uploaded to Youtube where it is presented as follows:

“While the peace process between Israel and the Palestinians remains frozen, Israel is itself divided, not least on issues of culture. There have been fights over plays, music, books, the funding for the arts and academic awards. The populist culture minister – a rising star of the right – is rarely out of controversy. So what is that culture war all about? Thomas Fessy has been finding out.” 

Fessy’s report opens with showcasing of a play called ‘Palestine, Year Zero’ and viewers are told that “it deals with an insurance assessor who is estimating the cost of damage done to Palestinian homes by the Israeli authorities” before they see equally context-free subtitles on screen saying “In 2016: 34 homes demolished, 130 people evicted”.

A journalist committed to providing his audiences with an objective view of the story would of course have clarified at this point that the play in question is a political as well as artistic project and that its writer received ‘guidance’ and ‘assisstance’ from individuals and NGOs (eg ‘Zochrot’) that campaign for the elimination of the Jewish state. Fessy, however, tells his viewers that:

“Before it was first performed the office of the culture minister, Miri Regev, assessed it. A complaint had been lodged because the play apparently contained messages of incitement that undermined the state and insulted its symbols.”

Viewers then see the play’s writer and director recount how “scared” she was of people coming to watch rehearsals because of the suspicion that they “had been sent by the culture minister”.

While a complaint concerning the play was indeed lodged, the ominous picture painted by Fessy does not – according to the play’s writer – reflect the whole story and in fact no ministry representative ever visited rehearsals.

Having presented BBC audiences with that partial story, Fessy then goes on to explain the ‘rationale’ behind his report.

“Israel likes to project an image around the world that it is an open society in which dissent is not persecuted. But there’s a growing fear here that a new generation of political leaders wants to shut down critical voices. Some say the culture minister, Miri Regev, is trying to gain control over cultural production, putting the vitality of this country’s culture and its freedom of creation in jeopardy. Many talk of a culture war that has been declared against Israeli artists.” [emphasis added]

Exactly who those “some” and “many” are is not disclosed to viewers.

The antagonist in Fessy’s story is very clearly the Minister of Culture and Sport, Miri Regev. Although at no point do viewers get to hear a response from her or her office, Fessy tells them that:

“Here is a culture minister who has called artists arrogant, hypocritical and ungrateful and she rails against the liberal elite. She set out a so-called loyalty in culture plan, threatening to condition support for cultural institutions or on the contents they present or the place where they perform.”

Later viewers see footage from last November taken in Kiryat Arba as Fessy tells them:

“One of her [Miri Regev] other battlefields: the Jewish settlements. We followed her to Kiryat Arba in the occupied West Bank. That night was the first time that the national theatre had ever come to perform here – a move that many say normalises the residence of settlers in occupied territory, or Judea and Samaria in biblical terms.” [emphasis added]

Fessy once again refrains from disclosing to viewers who the “many” he quotes actually are and he makes no effort to clarify that the financial aid given to theatre groups is financed by taxes paid by Israeli citizens living on both sides of the ‘green line’. He fails to tell audiences that while that may indeed have been the first performance by ‘Habima’ in that specific location, the theatre company has appeared in what he would call “the occupied West Bank” (i.e. in communities in Area C) in the past – long before Miri Regev became culture minister and despite his transparent attempt to create false linkage.

“The culture ministry issued a memo that’s become known as the loyalty form. From now on, cultural institutions that would perform in the occupied West Bank would benefit from a financial bonus. Those that wouldn’t may face funding cuts.”

Failing to provide viewers with the name of the organisation he describes as campaigning “to end the occupation”, Fessy devotes part of his report to a tour of Hebron by an Israeli actress, portraying it as an effort on her part to express dissent.

“But some of the performers want to make their feelings clear. […] Not a word – but her tour said it all.”

According to Israel’s Channel 2, however, that political tour was in fact initiated by the NGO ‘Breaking the Silence’.

Throughout the whole seven minute and twelve second-long report, viewers see just 37 seconds of footage presenting an alternative view of the story. A man at the ‘Habima’ performance in Kiryat Arba is given three seconds of airtime while commentator Isi Leibler accurately and succinctly explains the issue in 34 seconds.

Nevertheless, Fessy chooses to close his report with take-away messaging concerning “a society turning its sights inward” and “censorship”, invoking “the peace process” which of course has absolutely nothing to do with the story.

“As the peace process with the Palestinians remains frozen and with new leaders leaning to more populist agendas, Israel is for now busy fighting on the cultural front.”

Once again we see that the BBC is intent upon promoting – with more than a pinch of artistic licence – a politically motivated non-story concerning an alleged “shut down” of “critical voices” and a “culture war” that simply does not exist. 

BBC contradicts years of its own narrative on Israeli construction

The use of imprecise language in BBC reports has frequently steered audiences towards the inaccurate belief that in recent years new communities have been built in Judea & Samaria and the parts of Jerusalem occupied by Jordan between 1948 and 1967. Some of the latest examples of that practice include: [all emphasis added]

“An increase in settlement construction in recent months has led to international criticism of Israel…” Yolande Knell, BBC Radio 4 news bulletin, December 24th 2016. 

“Pro-Palestinian groups criticised the deal, saying it rewards Israel despite the ongoing construction of Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank. […]

Last month, the White House warned that the construction of settlements posed a “serious and growing threat to the viability of a two-state solution” to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.” BBC News website, September 13th 2016 (later amended following a complaint from BBC Watch)

“But the outgoing Obama administration has long made clear its opposition to Israeli settlement-building in occupied territory…” BBC News website, December 23rd 2016.

“This is a vote on a resolution that condemns the building of Israeli settlements on occupied Palestinian territory. It says it’s illegal under international law. […]

“They themselves [the US administration] have been very critical of settlement building over the last year.” BBC News website, December 23rd, 2016.

“The resolution reflects an international consensus that the growth of Israeli settlement-building has come to threaten the viability of a Palestinian state in any future peace deal.” BBC News website, December 23rd and 24th, 2016.

“The US president-elect Donald Trump has called for a UN Security Council resolution aimed at halting the building of Israeli settlements to be vetoed.”

“…this particular Israeli government has…has done a lot of settlement building and it is…it’s very much its policy.” BBC World Service radio, December 22nd 2016. 

“I think Britain is concerned about the number of settlements that he’s [Netanyahu] authorised in the occupied Palestinian territories…” Jeremy Bowen, BBC Radio 5 live, February 6th 2017.

As has been noted here on numerous occasions, the employment of such lax terminology obviously leads BBC audiences to mistakenly believe that Israel has been constructing new communities rather than – as is actually the case – building homes in existing towns and villages, most of which would under any reasonable scenario remain under Israeli control in the event of an agreement. Concurrently, the BBC has not bothered to inform its audiences that the existing agreements between Israel and the Palestinians – the Oslo Accords – place no limitations whatsoever on construction in Area C or Jerusalem.

In early February the BBC News website reported that:

“…Israel’s prime minister has announced that he plans to establish a new settlement in the West Bank for the first time in more than two decades.” [emphasis added]

Visitors to the BBC News website on March 31st found a report headlined “Israel approves first new West Bank settlement in 20 years” which includes a recycled map sourced from the political NGO B’Tselem as well as statements from the political NGO ‘Peace Now’ and a link to its website. BBC audiences were not informed that the plan to build a new community is dependent upon approval from the full cabinet.

“Israel has approved the establishment of its first new Jewish settlement in the occupied West Bank in two decades. […]

While Israel has continued to expand settlements and has retroactively approved outposts constructed without permits, this is the first time it has agreed a new settlement since the 1990s, reports the BBC’s Yolande Knell in Jerusalem.” [emphasis added]

Listeners to BBC Radio 4’s ‘Today’ programme on March 31st heard Sarah Montague discussing the same story with Yolande Knell (from 2:56:26 here).

Montague: “Israel’s security cabinet has approved the construction of the first new settlement in the occupied West Bank for two decades.”

Knell: “….it’s something of real symbolic importance. Israel hasn’t built a new settlement since the 1990s. Instead, the construction that we hear a lot about has been focused on building within existing settlements…”

Clearly then the BBC understands that there is a significant difference between the construction of houses within the municipal boundaries of existing communities and the establishment of a “new settlement”. The question that therefore arises is why – given its supposedly rigorous standards of accuracy – for so many years its journalists regularly employed imprecise language that materially misled audiences on the topic of Israeli construction.

While we do not anticipate any public accountability on that issue, we will be closely monitoring the language used in future BBC reporting relating to construction.

Another notable aspect of the March 31st written report comes in this paragraph:

“It [ the Israeli security cabinet] also approved tenders to build 1,992 new homes at four other existing settlements, and declared almost 100 hectares (247 acres) as “public land” in order to enable the retroactive legalisation of three outposts, according to Peace Now.”

Readers are not told that those “1,992 new homes” were already reported by the BBC when they were first announced in January. As has been noted here on previous occasions, BBC audiences often receive misleading impressions regarding the scale of construction in Judea & Samaria and parts of Jerusalem because – rather than reporting actual building – the BBC covers announcements of building plans, planning approvals and issues of tenders, regardless of whether they actually come to fruition.

Related Articles:

Continuing documentation of the BBC’s B’Tselem map binge

How the BBC invents ‘new settlements’ with lax language

Quantifying BBC ‘due impartiality’ on ‘international law’

 

Quantifying BBC ‘due impartiality’ on ‘international law’

For years visitors to the BBC News website have regularly come across claims concerning ‘international law’ in the corporation’s Israel-related content. For example:  

“The settlements are considered illegal under international law, though Israel disputes this.”

Or:

“More than 600,000 Jews live in about 140 settlements built since Israel’s 1967 occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem – land Palestinians claim for a future state.

The settlements are considered illegal under international law, though Israel disputes this.”

As has been noted here in the past, that more or less standard insert does not include a definitive cited source underpinning the claim of illegality and no explanation is given regarding the legal basis for alternative opinions to the one promoted. The claim is erroneously presented as being contested solely by the government of Israel, thereby erasing from audience view the existence of additional legal opinions which contradict the BBC’s selected narrative and thus breaching its own editorial guidelines on impartiality.

In recent months the level of audience exposure to that narrative has risen.

The graph below shows the appearance of written reports on the BBC News website which included claims concerning ‘settlements and international law’ during the whole of 2016 and the first two months of 2017 (links provided below). It does not include filmed reports or content from additional BBC platforms.

In all of those 42 reports, BBC audiences were told that ‘settlements are considered illegal under international law’ and that ‘Israel disputes this’ but only in one of them – a backgrounder published in December 2016 – were they given any information concerning  the legal basis for those conflicting opinions. On no occasion throughout the past 14 months were audiences informed of the existence of additional alternative views of the subject beyond that of Israel. 

Readers of that backgrounder were told that:

“Most of the international community, including the UN and the International Court of Justice, say the settlements are illegal.

The basis for this is the 1949 Fourth Geneva Convention which forbids the transfer by an occupying power of its people into occupied territory.

However, Israel says the Fourth Geneva Convention does not apply de jure to the West Bank because, it says, the territory is not technically occupied.

Israel says it is legally there as a result of a defensive war, and did not take control of the West Bank from a legitimate sovereign power.

It says the legal right of Jewish settlement there as recognised by the 1922 League of Nations Mandate for Palestine was preserved under the UN’s charter.”

The BBC has editorial guidelines relating to due impartiality on ‘controversial subjects’:

“When dealing with ‘controversial subjects’, we must ensure a wide range of significant views and perspectives are given due weight and prominence, particularly when the controversy is active.”

The BBC’s near standard ‘international law’ insert obviously does not meet those criteria. It purports to inform audiences what is ‘illegal’ but does not provide them with sufficient information or access to alternative views in order to enable them to reach their own conclusions and opinions on the issue.

In other words, this increasingly touted mantra promotes a specific political narrative rather than meeting the BBC’s professed standards of ‘due impartiality’.

January 2016:

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-35155227

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-35351388

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-35428457

March 2016:

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-35901317

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-35910853

April 2016:

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-36091872

http://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-36102449

July 2016: 

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-36682056

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-36682062

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-36720851

August 2016:

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-37235922

September 2016:

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-37345444

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-37376069

October 2016:

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-37570670

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-37633012

November 2016:

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-37978099

December 2016:

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-38215653

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-38450424

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-38412079

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-38416144

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-38421026

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-38425512

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-38429385

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-38431399

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-38451258

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-38455753

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-38458884  backgrounder

January 2017:

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-38608995

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-38621527

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-38608990

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-38667119

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-38711701 

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-38740712

February 2017:

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-38830103

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-38842551

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-38850975

http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-politics-38879100

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-38888649

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-38907755

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-38931180  

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-38987028

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-38989906

Related Articles:

Standard BBC ‘international law’ insert breaches editorial guidelines

‘Due impartiality’ and BBC reporting on Israeli construction

 

 

 

BBC News erases identity of authors of UN ‘apartheid’ report

h/t AM

On March 15th a UN body titled ‘United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia’ (ESCWA) – part of the United Nations Economic and Social Council – published a report claiming that Israel imposes an ‘apartheid regime’ on Palestinians.

“UN Under-Secretary General and ESCWA Executive Secretary Rima Khalaf said the report was the “first of its type” from a U.N. body that “clearly and frankly concludes that Israel is a racist state that has established an apartheid system that persecutes the Palestinian people”. […]

ESCWA comprises 18 Arab states in Western Asia and aims to support economic and social development in member states, according to its website. The report was prepared at the request of member states, Khalaf said.

UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric told reporters in New York that the report was published without any prior consultation with the UN secretariat.

“The report as it stands does not reflect the views of the secretary-general (Antonio Guterres),” said Dujarric, adding that the report itself notes that it reflects the views of the authors.” [emphasis added]

The ESCWA member states that commissioned the report are Bahrain, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Mauritania, Morocco, Oman, ‘Palestine’, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Syria, Tunisia, the UAE and Yemen. The report was written by Richard Falk and Virginia Tilley and, given the records of both those authors, its conclusions were foregone.

In 2012 Virginia Tilley – a supporter of the ‘one-state solution’published a study titled “Beyond Occupation: Apartheid, Colonialism and International Law in the Occupied Palestinian Territories”. Richard Falk – who in his former role as UN rapporteur was frequently quoted by the BBC – is infamous for his antisemitism, his promotion of conspiracy theories concerning the 9/11 and Boston marathon attacks, his support for Hamas and more.

Although the BBC did not cover the publication of the ESCWA report on March 15th, one BBC employee found it appropriate to retweet the Reuters report on the subject to his followers.

Two days after the report’s publication and following a request from the UN Secretary General to remove it from the ESCWA website, the body’s secretary-general resigned.

The BBC then published an article titled “UN’s Rima Khalaf quits over report accusing Israel of apartheid” on its website’s Middle East page.

“A UN official has resigned after saying the UN had pressured her to withdraw a report accusing Israel of apartheid over its treatment of Palestinians.

The report was published by the Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA), led by Under Secretary General Rima Khalaf. […]

Speaking in the Lebanese capital Beirut, Ms Khalaf, a Jordanian, said she had submitted her resignation to Mr Guterres after he insisted on the report’s withdrawal.”

The article goes on to amplify a statement made by Khalaf:

“”We expected of course that Israel and its allies would put huge pressure on the secretary general of the UN so that he would disavow the report, and that they would ask him to withdraw it,” she was quoted as saying by AFP news agency.”

However, readers are not told of an obviously relevant statement made by the UN Secretary General’s spokesperson:

“The secretary-general cannot accept that an under-secretary-general or any other senior UN official that reports to him would authorize the publication under the UN name, under the UN logo, without consulting the competent departments and even himself.”

Neither are they told that Khalaf’s term of office was in any case due to come to an end.

“The spokesman said that Mr. Guterres had not asked Ms. Khalaf to resign, and that her term had been set to expire at the end of the month.”

The article describes ESCWA as follows:

“It [the report] was published on Wednesday by the ESCWA, which promotes economic and social development in 18 Arab countries, and is based in Beirut.”

At no point are readers informed which countries make up ESCWA or of the fact that all are members of the ‘Organisation of Islamic Cooperation’ which has a long history of anti-Israel campaigning at the UN.

At no point are BBC audiences informed of the identities of the authors of the report and the obviously relevant issue of their well-documented anti-Israel stances.

The article includes Israel’s reaction to the ESCWA report:

“Israel has condemned the report. “The attempt to smear and falsely label the only true democracy in the Middle East by creating a false analogy is despicable and constitutes a blatant lie,” Israeli UN Ambassador Danny Danon said in a statement.”

However, readers are not provided with background information concerning the employment of the ‘apartheid’ trope by anti-Israel campaigners to delegitimise the country and the BBC’s article refrains from telling audiences in its own words that accusations of ‘apartheid’ against Israel are baseless, while amplifying the report’s ‘findings’:

“She [Khalaf] had said it was the first to conclude Israel was a racist state. […]

The report itself said it had established on the “basis of scholarly inquiry and overwhelming evidence, that Israel is guilty of the crime of apartheid”.”

The article then goes on to provide what is apparently intended to be seen as ‘back-up’ to those claims:

“In 2014, the then US Secretary of State, John Kerry, warned that Israel risked becoming “an apartheid state” if a two-state solution to its conflict with the Palestinians was not found soon.”

That link leads to a BBC article from April 2014 that, as noted here at the time, included ‘analysis’ from Paul Danahar which not only failed to explain to BBC audiences why the ‘apartheid’ trope is used and by whom, but suggested that there is a “debate” to be had on the issue.

The article closes with the BBC’s standard promotion of a partial narrative on ‘international law’:

“The settlements that Israel has built in the West Bank are home to nearly 500,000 people and are deemed to be illegal under international law, although Israel disputes this.”

In order for readers to be able to understand this story properly, they need to be made aware of its subject matter’s background and context. While BBC audiences not infrequently find the ‘apartheid’ trope mainstreamed in BBC content, they have long been deprived of information which would help them comprehend its redundancy and the true aims of those who promote that tactical smear. This latest article merely perpetuates that deprivation.  

Related Articles:

The BBC and the ‘apartheid’ smear

BBC rejects complaint because interviewee ‘did not take issue’

As readers may recall, on January 23rd listeners to the BBC Radio 4 programme ‘Today’ heard presenter Sarah Montague interviewing the Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely.

The conversation included the following: [emphasis in the original]

Montague: “Of course, as I say, the majority of the rest of the world take a very different view but one thing that – clearly you think differently – but do you recognise that the building of these homes makes peace less likely?”

Hotovely: “Absolutely not. What we saw throughout last year is that every time Israel went through a process of concessions and when Israel committed disengagement from the Gaza [in] 2005, what we saw was more extremists on the other side. We saw Hamas regime taking over; terror regime that the Palestinians chose on a democratic vote. So what we saw is actually the opposite. When settlements were not there, instead of having democratic flourish in the Palestinian side, we just saw extremist radicalism and radical Islam taking over. Unfortunately…”

Montague [interrupts]: “You’re talking about a flourish…yes…you’re talking about flourishing of a particular one [laughs]…the…the…Israeli Jews in settlements; they are flourishing. Of course the Palestinians are not. I wonder, do you think that the idea of a two-state solution – because this is of course land that would have been Palestinian under the two-state solution – is the idea of that now dead?”

BBC Watch submitted a complaint concerning the breach of impartiality resulting from Montague’s insertion of her own subjective, unsubstantiated, politicised – and frankly irrelevant – view of who is – and is not – “flourishing”. The response received included the following:

“Thank you for contacting us regarding BBC Radio 4’s ‘Today’ broadcast on 23 January.

I understand you believe Mishal Husain [sic] displayed bias when interviewing Tzipi Hotoveley.

Israeli’s deputy minister of foreign affairs was on the programme to discuss the consequences to Israel’s approval to the building of hundreds of new homes on land it has occupied in East Jerusalem.

Mishal’s [sic] interjection when referring to Palestine [sic] while discussing the “flourishing of Israeli Jews in settlements” was to put into context Palestine’s situation, and to provide the information which listeners may want to hear.

All BBC staff are expected to put any political views to one side when carrying out their work for the BBC, and they simply try to provide the information and context on the story or issue using their professional insight to allow our listeners to make up their own minds.

BBC News aims to show the political reality and provide a forum for discussion on issues, giving full opportunity for all sides of the debate to be heard and explored. Senior editorial staff within BBC News, the BBC’s Executive Board, and the BBC Trust keep a close watch on programmes to ensure that standards of impartiality are maintained.

The key point is that the BBC as an organisation has no view or position itself on anything we may report upon – our aim is to identify all significant views, and to test them rigorously and fairly on behalf of our audiences.”

As readers may recall, the BBC’s ‘style guide‘ tells journalists “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”. Apparently the BBC complaints department does not follow that instruction. 

Given that the response received did not even correctly identify the interviewer, we were not confident that the complaint had been addressed seriously and so it was re-submitted. The second response received included the following:

“Thanks for contacting us again. We’re sorry you had to come back to us and appreciate why.

We always aim to accurately address the points raised by our audience and regret any cases where we’ve failed to do this. We’ve raised the issues with your previous reply with the right people. We’d like to offer you a new response here. The following should now be considered your first reply.

We’ve listened in full again to Sarah’s interview on Jan 23. It was introduced as follows: “Israel has just approved 566 new homes for building in East Jerusalem, saying “Now we can finally build”.

The flourishing discussed was in the light of new relations with the US, which is giving Israel new confidence to continue with settlement plans.

Q1″Are we going to see more settlement building, now that President Obama is gone?”

Q2 “Does the building of these homes make peace less likely?”

Tzipi [sic] explains that Israel disengaging has caused more extremism and that flourishing only happens when the settlements are occupied.

Sarah offers a counterpoint – that not everyone flourishes in these circumstances, which Tzipi doesn’t actually challenge or object to.

Q3 “Is the idea of a two state solution now dead?”

Q4 “The arrival of President Trump – is it a game-changer?”

With the above in mind, we can’t agree that the discussion was about democracy flourishing, but rather on the building of new settlements in the light of a new US administration.

Sarah’s interjections were justified, in ensuring that both sides of the story were heard by listeners. The ‘Today’ audience expect firm but fair holding to account, whoever is in the guest seat.

We would take the same approach with people on either side of a debate – we realise you beg to differ here, but we’re confident the inclusion of alternative angles improves the context of an interview, rather than taking away from it.

A challenge offers a guest the opportunity to clarify their position, or reject a point with evidence of their own.

Ms Hotoveley, however, did not take issue with the suggestion that Palestinians were not flourishing as a result of the settlements.”

Not for the first time we see that the BBC is apparently of the opinion that an Israeli giving an interview to the corporation (often in a second or third language) is responsible for refuting any content which might breach BBC editorial guidelines on accuracy and impartiality and that his or her failure to do so absolves the BBC from any responsibility to correct or qualify statements, slurs claims which may mislead audiences. 

Related Articles:

The bizarre basis for the BBC’s rejection of an appeal

Challenged and unchallenged claims in a BBC ‘Hardtalk’ interview – part two

In part one of this post we looked at the claims and topics on which presenter Stephen Sackur chose to challenge Fatah’s Husam Zomlot during a ‘Hardtalk’ interview broadcast on BBC World News on March 2nd. In this post we will look at the claims and statements that Sackur chose to let stand by failing to use his role as interviewer to intervene and clarify issues to BBC audiences.

For example, Sackur made no effort to challenge Zomlot’s inaccurate and misleading portrayal of the Oslo Accords, failing to point out that they do not include the stipulation that Israel should withdraw from “all the territories” which came under its control following the Six Day War and that they do stipulate that the issue of borders is to be determined in final status negotiations. Neither did Sackur bother to remind viewers that Israel disengaged from the Gaza Strip in 2005 or to clarify that the territory is not ‘besieged’. Likewise, he refrained from clarifying that the 1949 Armistice lines are not borders and that definition of the two-state solution as meaning “a State of Palestine on the 1967 borders” is merely the PLO’s interpretation of the term.

[emphasis in italics in original, emphasis in bold added]

Zomlot: “…you know I also witnessed the Oslo process as a young man, you know, witnessed the demise of the implementation of the peace process. I think if you are talking about the process itself, yes, it has been discredited. All along since 1997 we should have had a state. According to the Oslo Accords Israel should have withdrawn from all the territories it occupied in 1967 and in fact what happened after was the deepening of the occupation and the spread of colonial settlements and the besiegement [sic] of the people in Gaza and what have you and therefore, yes; you’re right – the process has failed miserably to deliver the outcome. And to many people it was a process actually designed to prevent the outcome; a process that was going in the opposite direction. But the hope and the aspiration and the goal of two states – of a State of Palestine on the 1967 borders – the hope for two states…”

Zomlot’s whitewashed and misleading portrayal of the PLO charter went unchallenged by Sackur with no effort made to clarify that Jews in Zomlot’s “egalitarian” Palestinian state only include those “who had normally resided in Palestine until the beginning of the Zionist invasion”.

Zomlot: “The PLO official…the Palestine Liberation Organisation official platform until 1988 was a one democratic state for all its citizens in the historic land of Palestine for Muslims, Christians and Jews but that platform had to be compromised simply because there was a condition by the international community – in fact by Reagan, the Reagan administration – on the PLO that we must abandon our dream of one democratic, egalitarian state, diverse and respecting the rule of law for all of its citizens, to a two-state solution.”

Sackur failed to challenge the falsehood promoted by Zomlot according to which the current economic situation in the PA and Hamas controlled areas is “unprecedented” and refrained from clarifying that GDP is currently significantly higher than was the case during the second Intifada and in 2006. Neither did Sackur challenge Zomlot’s bizarre claim of a Palestinian population of 12.7 million or the falsehood that Palestinians are ‘coerced’ into working in Israel.

Zomlot: “The socio-economic situation in the West Bank and Gaza is simply unprecedented in terms of how deteriorated it has been. All economic indicators show some sort of an economic – what’s the word? – slaughter-house, actually. Let me give you some numbers very, very quickly about the economic disparity because of us having to work in Israel – not, by the way, by choice but by coercion. You know our population is around 12.7 million. We have 95% literacy and we have 70% under age of 29. This is a very youthful, very educated society. And we have very wealthy natural resources yet GDP – our GDP – I’m talking about 2015 – just a quick number – is $12 billion compared to $305 billion in Israel. Our per capita is 2,800 compared to 36,000 in Israel. Our unemployment rate…”

Sackur failed to inform viewers that Zomlot’s claims that the Israeli government seeks “full annexation of the West Bank” and that such a move is ongoing “on a daily basis” are false.

Zomlot: “…in our situation, given the calamity of the Israeli agenda now – the current government – and it’s very clear: they want full annexation of the West Bank. This is not what I’m saying; this is what they’re saying and doing on a daily basis. You’ve just quoted some of their bills passed in the Knesset and we are witnessing on a daily basis here in the West Bank and Jerusalem of course – East Jerusalem. Now if this is their agenda…by the way part of them pushing Gaza out of the equation so their annexationist agenda can prevail.”

Zomlot’s denial of Jerusalem as the capital – and seat of government – of Israel, his ridiculous claim concerning water consumption and his use of ‘apartheid’ and ‘colonisation’ tropes went unremarked by Sackur.

Zomlot: “Steve, the whole situation here is that of a system of entitlement. These people – some people in Tel Aviv right now – the government, the Right-wing extreme government, wants to keep a system whereby there is a group that are privileged as per these numbers. It’s our own water that they consume, most of it. Some groups that are privileged and others that are disprivileged [sic] and discriminated whether by means of occupation or by means of colonisation or by means of apartheid.”

Even the ridiculous claim that Palestinians are “treated as slaves” and use of the ‘chosen people’ trope produced no reaction from the BBC interviewer.

Zomlot: “Does this mean ending Israel’s occupation and establishing a State of Palestine? We are happy to proceed with you as partners. But if this means we will continue to be treated as slaves in our own land and we continue to put up against some people who argue that God is estate agent and God chose some people at the expense of others.”

In addition, on several occasions Sackur himself failed to adhere to the BBC’s own style on the use of the term ‘Palestine’ which states “in day-to-day coverage of the Middle East you should not affix the name ‘Palestine’ to Gaza or the West Bank” – for example:

Sackur: “I’m going to stop you because you’re raising so many different points, all of which are important, about internal politics in Palestine.

As we see, while Sackur challenged Zomlot repeatedly and rigorously on claims concerning internal Palestinian affairs during this interview, the same standard was not applied when Zomlot was speaking about other issues. The result of that discrepancy is that Zomlot was allowed him a free hand to mislead BBC audiences by propagating blatant falsehoods, delegitimising tropes and inaccurate anti-Israel propaganda.

 

 

BBC Radio 4 amplifies PLO interpretation of the two-state solution

The February 15th edition of BBC Radio 4’s ‘The World Tonight’ included an item (from 19:53 here) relating to that day’s meeting between the US president and the Israeli prime minister in Washington.twt-15-2

In that item, presented by Shaun Ley, listeners heard yet another baseless claim of a shift in US policy along with the inaccurate suggestion that the two-state solution formed part of the Oslo Accords. [emphasis added]

Ley: “Now for a quarter of a century a two-state solution to the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians has been the default position of diplomats and politicians alike. It would mean an independent Palestine set up alongside Israel. Tonight at a White House news conference with Israel’s Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, President Trump appeared to tear up what has been the US foreign policy objective under his three most recent predecessors – Democrat and Republican alike.”

Listeners then heard a recording of the US president speaking at that press conference which was apparently intended to support Ley’s claim that Trump had changed US foreign policy.

Trump: “So I’m looking at two-state and one-state and I like the one that both parties like. I’m very happy with the one that both parties like. I can live with either one. I thought for a while that two-state looked like it may be the easier of the two. But honestly, if Bibi and if the Palestinians…if Israel and the Palestinians are happy, I’m happy with the one they like the best.”

Ley continued with what has become a standard BBC theme: promotion of ‘settlements’ as the main obstacle to an agreement, with numerous no less relevant factors such as the Hamas-Fatah split, Hamas’ rejection of the two-state solution or the PA’s refusal to recognise Israel as the Jewish state obscured from audience view.

“Mr Netanyahu certainly received a much warmer welcome here than he had when President Obama was in the White House and he appeared to be enjoying the experience. There was an awkward moment though when, having talked about the need for compromise, the president raised the thorny issue of Israeli settlements: a longstanding obstacle to any deal.”

Another recording from the press conference was then heard.

Trump: “As far as settlements; I’d like to see you hold back on settlements for a little bit. I would like to see a deal being made. I think a deal will be made. I know that every president would like to. Most of them have not started till late because they never thought it was possible. And it wasn’t possible because they didn’t do it. And I think we’re going to make a deal. It might be a bigger and better deal than people in this room even understand.”

Netanyahu: “Let’s try it.”

Trump: “Doesn’t sound too optimistic…good negotiator.”

Netanyahu: “That’s the art of the deal.”

Ley then inaccurately told listeners that Netanyahu’s reply “Let’s try it” related to the topic of settlements rather than to a deal.

Ley: “Well you may just have heard, just before the end of that clip was Mr Netanyahu apparently replying to the challenge over settlements with the words ‘let’s try it’. But on the question of two states or one the Israeli prime minister said too much time over the years had been devoted to labels rather than substance.”

Netanyahu: “So here’s the substance: there are two prerequisites for peace that I laid out several years ago and they haven’t changed. First, the Palestinians must recognise the Jewish state. Second, in any peace agreement Israel must retain the over-riding security control over the entire area west of the Jordan river because if we don’t, we know what will happen.”

Ley: “This evening the Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas welcomed Donald Trump’s call on Israel to pull back on settlement building and pledged to work with the Americans. Manuel Hassassian leads the Palestinian mission in the UK. He believes President Trump made a terrible mistake.”

Listeners then heard Manuel Hassassian again promote the inaccurate notion that the two-state solution was included in the Oslo Accords. They also heard him make the false claims – completely unchallenged by Shaun Ley – that the 1949 Armistice lines are “borders” and that the definition of the two-state solution is that a Palestinian state would be established on all of the land occupied by Jordan and Egypt in 1948.

Hassassian: “For the last 24 years when we embarked on the peace process, everybody agreed that the two-state solution would be the solution that will end the conflict and end the occupation – meaning that the Palestinian will have a state on the borders of 1967 as a result of the Security Council resolutions 234 and 388. There is a international consensus. International community talking all the time about a two-state solution.”

Seeing as UNSC resolution 388 relates to Rhodesia, Hassassian may have intended to say 338. However, neither UN Security Council resolution 234 nor 338 make any reference to a Palestinian state but Ley failed to challenge Hassassian on that too, continuing:

Ley: “But that consensus has achieved over 25 years next to nothing. Isn’t there an argument that actually on the ground people have long since given up on the idea of a two-state solution because they haven’t seen it…it’s been a convenient parking space for talking. It’s been a way of saying ‘oh look: we have something that we’re aiming for but then we don’t actually have to do anything about it’. Isn’t at least the consequence of this to throw all the pieces up into the air and force people to start talking for real?”

Hassassian: “Yes, the two-state solution and the peace process for the last 24 years have brought nothing except pain and humiliation and suffering for the Palestinian people. We have not seen any breakthrough in this peace process because I think the United States, personally, was not an honest broker of peace and they never really put any pressures on the Israelis to halt settlements. And settlements now are the major impediment to any kind of agreement and a lasting solution.”

Ley’s failure to challenge Manuel Hassassian on the claim that “settlements now are the major impediment” to an agreement is of course unsurprising since he too had made that same claim just minutes earlier, showing the extent to which the BBC has adopted the PLO’s talking points. Similarly failing to ask Hassassian why the PA initiated the second Intifada in 2000, why the PA refuses to recognise Israel as the Jewish state or what the PLO intends to do about Hamas’ refusal to accept the two-state solution, he continued.

Ley: “I mean President Trump did challenge the prime minister on this. He said can you…can you hold off on the settlements for a little bit.”

Hassassian: “Well basically he said it’s a problem but he did not really challenge Netanyahu to stop settlements. Since Clinton administration the US position has always been a two-state solution known [knowing] that the borders will be the 1967 borders.”

Clinton peace plan

Clinton peace plan

That claim too is of course false: the Clinton parameters (which were rejected by the Palestinians) clearly included land swaps and did not advocate a two-state solution based on mythical ‘1967 borders’. Hassassian went on:

“Now this is a dramatic shift in Trump’s policy to look at the peace process as something between two partners that can work out a solution with the blessings of the United States, short of a Palestinian state and more appeasing basic to Netanyahu. And the idea of Trump moving the embassy of the United States to Jerusalem is against international law…”

Ley: “Which he repeated again today. He repeated again today he is considering doing that or looking very seriously at it.”

Hassassian: “If he does that he is just ruining the entire peace process. He is defying the international law and he knows very well that moving the embassy to Jerusalem is a breach to all kinds of agreements; to all UN Security Council, believing that Jerusalem is the united capital – the eternal capital – of the State of Israel. That will dramatically shift the entire game and the entire negotiations and the entire peace process. If he does that, this is a recipe for another intifada or a reaction and he is going to lose partners from the European Union that have adamantly supported the two-state solution when East Jerusalem is considered to be an occupied city. If he does that then there is no role for the United States as a gavel holder or as a shepherd to this entire peace process. He is opening a Pandora’s box of conflicts with the Europeans, with the Islamic world, with the Arab world, with the international community, defying UN Security Council resolutions and where does that leave us?”

Apparently uninterested in Hassassian’s unveiled threats of violence and failing to clarify to listeners that the Quartet – which includes the EU – calls for “a negotiated resolution on the status of Jerusalem”, Ley closed the interview there.

The BBC’s remit includes the priority of enhancing “UK audiences’ awareness and understanding of international issues”. Obviously the inaccurate and misleading claims made by the presenter together with his complete failure to challenge the falsehoods and propaganda promoted by his interviewee did nothing to contribute to meeting that objective.

How the BBC invents ‘new settlements’ with lax language

We have on many occasions documented the use of imprecise language in BBC reports which results in audiences being given inaccurate impressions of construction in Judea & Samaria and parts of Jerusalem.

“The employment of phrases such as “Israeli settlement building”, “construction of Jewish settlements” and “construction of settlements” obviously leads BBC audiences to mistakenly believe that Israel is constructing new communities rather than – as is actually the case – building homes in existing towns and villages, most of which would under any reasonable scenario remain under Israeli control in the event of an agreement.”

Last September the BBC News website corrected one such article but the phenomenon remains widespread.

On February 2nd the BBC News website reported that:

“…Israel’s prime minister has announced that he plans to establish a new settlement in the West Bank for the first time in more than two decades.

A statement from Benjamin Netanyahu’s office said he had set up a committee that would “begin work immediately to locate a spot and to establish the settlement” for those evicted from Amona.” [emphasis added]

As the Jerusalem Post noted in its coverage of that February 2nd announcement:

“This would be the first new government-authorized settlement in the West Bank since the establishment of Revava near Ariel in 1991, when Yitzhak Shamir was prime minister.”

On February 6th the BBC’s Middle East editor told listeners to BBC Radio 5 live that:

“Mr Netanyahu has authorised the…ah…six thousand new dwellings in the settlements plus the first all-new settlement in about thirty years.” [emphasis added]

Clearly then the BBC understands that there is a significant difference between the construction of houses in existing communities and the establishment (so far not even on paper) of a “new settlement”.

Nevertheless, the day before that announcement was made, listeners to the February 1st edition of the BBC World Service programme ‘Newshour’ heard Owen Bennett Jones use the inaccurate term “new settlements” to describe the announcement of building in existing communities (from 50:22 here).newshour-gaza-1-2-franks

Bennett Jones: “…And there is another big development we need to mention today. The Israeli government has announced thousands more housing units for settlers on occupied territory in East Jerusalem and the West Bank and the evacuation of an outpost. Let’s hear now from Yolande Knell.”

Following Knell’s report of the evacuation of Amona, Bennett Jones continued: [emphasis added]

“And that was Yolande Knell from Amona and we’ve still got Tim Franks on the line. So all these new…ah…new units, housing units, new settlements and then that news from Amona – is any of this tied to the new president in the United States or is it all driven internally?”

Franks: “It’s both, Owen, because I mean the case over Amona has been dragging on for years. They were talking about evicting people from Amona when I was posted here and that was some years ago. Ahm…but undoubtedly all the announcements of thousands of new…eh…eh…eh…homes for settlers in the West Bank and East Jerusalem – yes; the Israeli government feels liberated by the…eh…the incoming Trump administration…”

It really should not be difficult for the BBC to ensure that its journalists are aware of the difference between construction in existing neighbourhoods, towns and villages and “new settlements” and that they use precise language to describe the story they are reporting in order to prevent audiences from repeatedly going away with inaccurate impressions.