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’

 

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BBC News amplifies inaccurate US claim of ‘new settlement’

On October 6th an article appeared on the BBC News website’s Middle East page under the headline “US ‘strongly condemns’ Israel over new settlement plan“. The report opened by telling readers that:shilo-planning-art

“The US has “strongly condemned” Israel for approving plans for new settlement construction in the occupied West Bank.”

Later on readers were informed that:

“”The actions of the Israeli government in announcing this settlement undermine the pursuit of peace,” said White House spokesman Josh Earnest.

State department spokesman Mark Toner said the new settlement would be “another step towards cementing a reality of perpetual occupation” that would “further call into question Israel’s commitment to achieving a negotiated peace”.” [all emphasis added]

Although the version of the story promoted by the US administration – and uncritically amplified by the BBC – is inaccurate, the corporation did not bother to inform readers in its own words of the fact that no “new settlement” has been announced or planned. Instead it promoted a ‘he said-she said’ account of the story without providing audiences with the background information necessary for their understanding of which of the two versions is correct.

“Its [Israel’s] foreign ministry said the new homes would be built within the area of an existing settlement.”

Some seven hours after its initial publication, the article was amended to include the following additional information:

“However, Israel’s foreign ministry said the new units did not constitute a “new settlement”.

“This housing will be built on state land in the existing settlement of Shilo and will not change its municipal boundary or geographic footprint,” a statement said.”

The 98 approved housing units – and not 300 as this article inaccurately suggests – are indeed intended to be built in a neighbourhood of Shilo, with the purpose of providing accommodation for residents of the unauthorised outpost of Amona which is to be evacuated according to a High Court ruling.

Notably, the BBC did not tell its readers that part of the story. Instead, audiences were left to reach their own conclusions as to whether a “new settlement” is to be constructed or not.

The impartiality of BBC reporting on the subject of construction in Israeli communities in Judea & Samaria and some areas of Jerusalem is already compromised because of the repeated promotion of a politicised narrative.  The bizarre style of reporting seen in this latest article not only does nothing to persuade audiences that the BBC is committed to their going away with an accurate and impartial understanding of the story but also clearly fails to contribute to meeting the corporation’s remit of building understanding of international issues.

Related Articles:

BBC News amends misleading portrayal of Israeli construction

More BBC promotion of the ‘Peace Now’ narrative on construction

Terrorism the BBC chose not to report this week

Most of the coverage of Israel appearing on the BBC News website’s Middle East page over the past week has been devoted to the topic of the arson attack in Duma on July 31st (which has now claimed another life) and associated subject matter.

In addition to that attack, several other terrorist incidents took place in the region this last week.

On August 1st missiles were fired from the Gaza Strip and on August 6th another attack took place. In both cases the missiles fell short and landed in the Gaza Strip or near the border fence and the attacks were claimed by Gaza based Salafist Jihadists. BBC News did not report those attacks.Kissufim missile 7 8 BBC Arabic

On August 7th one of several missiles fired from the Gaza Strip landed in the Kissufim area of southern Israel. The attack was claimed by Salafist Jihadists and the IDF responded with a strike on a Hamas training facility. In the now well-established pattern, there was no English language coverage of that attack but Israel’s response was reported on the BBC Arabic website.

On the evening of August 3rd a couple driving near the Beit Hanina junction in north Jerusalem were attacked with a firebomb.

“A 27-year-old Israeli woman was moderately hurt by the Molotov cocktail, suffering burns on her body. The woman and her husband abandoned their burning car, which proceeded to roll down and hit a 20-year-old pedestrian, who was lightly hurt.

A third man was lightly injured after he tried to extinguish the car.”

Despite at least one BBC staffer clearly being aware of the attack, it was not reported by BBC News on its website’s Middle East page.

On August 6th a vehicular attack took place near Shilo.

“Three IDF soldiers were wounded when a car deliberately ran into them on Thursday afternoon near the Shiloh junction north of Ramallah in the West Bank. The attacker was shot and neutralized by a fourth soldier.

Magen David Adom [ambulance service] reported that two were seriously wounded and another lightly. Officials said that one of the wounded was 20-years-old and suffered from a head injury.”

The attack was praised by Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad. Whilst the BBC was clearly aware of the incident and a report on the subject appeared on the BBC Arabic website, no English language coverage was to be found on the BBC News website’s Middle East page.

That same BBC Arabic report also mentions an explosion which occurred in Rafah in the Gaza Strip on August 6th, killing four people and wounding many others. Interestingly, whilst the BBC Arabic report unequivocally attributes the blast to “Israeli missile remnants” – i.e. unexploded ordnance – other media outlets reporting on that story were more cautious. Reuters reported:

“Media outlets of the Hamas Islamist group that controls the Gaza Strip blamed the blast on an unexploded Israeli missile from last year’s war.

The Hamas-run Interior Ministry said it was checking the cause of the explosion, which destroyed the home of Ayman Abu Nqeira, a Hamas member.”

The Guardian’s report on the subject states:

“Early reports suggested the blast was caused by unexploded ordnance (UXO) left from last summer’s 50-day war between Israel and Gaza. Swaths of Rafah were almost obliterated during weeks of shelling from air, sea and land. Ashraf al-Qidra, a spokesman for the Gaza ministry of health, said the dead men had been clearing rubble from a house that was destroyed during the war. The home was hit in an Israeli air strike on 9 July last year.

However, masked and armed men from Al-Qassam Brigades, Hamas’s military wing, blocked access to the area, fuelling suspicions that the house or a nearby property may have been used to store explosives or rockets. Some locals said the area was a weapons base for Al-Qassam Brigades; others said Israeli unexploded ordnance was the cause of the blast.

A spokesman for Gaza’s interior ministry said: “We can’t give a clear reason for what happened.” An investigation was under way, he added.”

Remarkably, BBC Arabic – part of the organization which describes itself as “the standard-setter for international journalism” – appears to have unquestioningly adopted and amplified the exact same line as Hamas’ media outlets.