BBC’s Corbin sidesteps prime issues in Balfour reports – part one

The BBC’s extensive Balfour Declaration centenary coverage included two contributions from Jane Corbin: a filmed programme first aired on BBC Two on October 31st under the title “The Balfour Declaration: The Promise to the Holy Land” (available for a limited period of time in the UK here, transcript here) and a written article that appeared on the same day in the ‘features’ section of the BBC News website’s Middle East page under the headline “The Balfour Declaration: My ancestor’s hand in history“.

Both of those reports opened with promotion of a theme often seen in BBC content: the exaggerated notion of the Arab-Israeli conflict as the world’s prime dispute.

Filmed: “100 years ago, a British promise – just a few words in a letter – lit a fire in the Holy Land. The Balfour Declaration ignited one of the most bitter and intractable struggles of modern times: the Arab-Israeli conflict.”

Written: “One hundred years ago, only 67 words on a single sheet of paper lit a fire in the Holy Land, igniting the most intractable conflict of modern times.” [emphasis added]

Very early on, both reports also included promotion of Palestinian talking points concerning the Balfour Declaration.

Filmed: (synopsis) “But the Palestinians and many Arabs will greet the centenary with protest and bitter accusations – they still hold Britain responsible for a century of injustice, and conflict in the Holy Land.”

Written: “While many Israelis believe it was the foundation stone of modern Israel and the salvation of the Jews, many Palestinians regard it as a betrayal.”

As has been the case across the board in the BBC’s coverage of the Balfour Declaration centenary, both Corbin’s reports focused audience attentions on one particular part of the text. Coincidentally or not, it is that section of the text that has also been the focus of anti-Israel campaigners’ Balfour related propaganda.

Filmed: “Leo Amery added a sentence. ‘Nothing should be done’ he wrote, ‘which might prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities’. The line was intended as a safeguard for the majority population in Palestine – the Arabs. But they would interpret it as anything but.”

Written: “My mother, Olive Amery, told me stories when I was a child about this relative – a British politician involved in the drafting of the declaration. He added a sentence intended to safeguard the civil and religious rights of the majority population, the Palestinian Arabs.”

While Corbin did accurately portray that part of the letter’s text as referring to “civil and religious rights” (rather than ‘rights’ in general, as seen in much other BBC content), nowhere in either of her reports were BBC audiences told of the part of that same sentence likewise intended to safeguard “the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country”.

In her filmed report Corbin revisited a previous interviewee.

Filmed: Corbin: “Most Palestinians have certainly failed to reap the benefits of Israel’s success. Their living standards are far lower. There’s a crisis in their economy and public finances. It all stems, many Palestinians believe, from the unfair hand that Britain dealt them 100 years ago. I first met Jawad Siyam, a Palestinian activist, seven years ago, protesting against the takeover by some Israelis of a building in an Arab area of Jerusalem. For Jawad, his battle over the land today is a continuation of the struggles of his grandparents.”

Corbin did indeed meet Siyam in 2010 when he appeared in her highly problematic Panorama programme “A Walk in the Park” in which audiences heard him claim that:

“They are demolishing the houses because they want to. It’s ethnic cleansing for Silwan, for east Jerusalem. … It’s the most racist state in the world, you see. See this state? It’s the most racist state in the world. [To Israeli police:] You are the most racist people in the world!”

Since then Siyam has been featured in BBC content on at least two additional occasions but in this latest film by Corbin , beyond the tepid description “activist”, nothing was done to inform audiences of the nature of his political activities and his agenda – as required by BBC Editorial guidelines on impartiality.

In both reports Corbin visited Lifta.

Filmed: “In the violence, and after attacks by Jewish forces, hundreds of thousands of Palestinians, whose homes lay within the new state of Israel, fled or were forced to flee. The village of Lifta, on the outskirts of Jerusalem, was abandoned. Lifta has lain empty for nearly 70 years. Palestinians have never been allowed to return to live here. But, every year they come back with their children and grandchildren to remember.

Written: “One of the most poignant moments for me was visiting the ruins of Lifta – a Palestinian village abandoned nearly 70 years ago – with some of the old residents.

Many Palestinians from here became refugees and have never been allowed to return to live in Lifta. But every year they come back with their children and grandchildren to remember.

Hamid Suhail was seven when he fled – now he leans on a stick as his son Nasir helps him down the overgrown rocky slopes.

“I hope the day will come when we will have the right to come back here and live in peace,” says Nasir. Hamid’s granddaughter, Sohar, is emotional as she says: “It makes me angry and sad at the same time to come here – although it is important to remember the history of these houses.””

Unsurprisingly, Corbin’s account did not make any mention of the violence against Jews perpetrated by residents of Lifta on countless occasions throughout the decades before Israel came into being. Neither were audiences told that in early December 1947, the residents of Lifta received orders from the Arab Higher Committee to evacuate the village’s women and children to Ramallah and that the village was made into a base for the Najada militia, from which attacks were launched on Jewish neighbourhoods on Jerusalem’s western side such as Kiryat Moshe, Givat Shaul and Romema.

Discussion of Corbin’s reports will continue in part two of this post.

Related Articles:

The BBC’s Haneen Zoabi show

Jane Corbin’s BBC documentary on plight of ME Christians promotes jaded Israel-related narratives

One to watch: BBC’s Panorama on ‘The War of the Tunnels’

 

 

Advertisements

BBC presents property purchased by Jews as ‘settlements’

On October 25th the BBC News website’s Middle East page ran an article titled “US urges probe after teenager shot dead in West Bank“. Apparently based at least in part on a report appearing in Ha’aretz, the article informs readers that:Silwad art

“The US state department has called for a “speedy and transparent investigation” into the death of a Palestinian-American teenager killed by Israeli soldiers on Friday.

Police said that Orwa Hammad, 14, was about to throw a petrol bomb near Ramallah in the West Bank. […]

A relative identified the teenager as Orwa Abd al-Wahhab Hammad, who was born in New Orleans and came to the West Bank when he was six, Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported.”

Other media reports (quoting Palestinian media outlets and Palestinian officials) have described the youth as being sixteen or seventeen years old.

With regard to the circumstances of the incident, in addition describing its location as “near Ramallah”, the BBC informs its audiences that:

“He [Hammad] was reported to have been shot in the head during clashes between IDF soldiers and stone-throwing protesters.

Some of the protesters were seen making and throwing Molotov cocktails.

An IDF spokesman initially told Reuters that forces “managed to prevent an attack when they encountered a Palestinian man hurling a Molotov cocktail at them on the main road. They opened fire and confirmed a hit.” “

In the caption to one of the photographs used to illustrate the report, readers are also told that:

“Molotov cocktails and stones were thrown at Israeli jeeps and soldiers in Silwad, near Ramallah”

So where did the incident occur and what actually happened? Channel 10 News reported as follows:

“According to an announcement by the IDF Spokesman, at around 19:00 hours a unit of the parachute regiment engaged in operational activity between the village of Silwad and Route 60 in the Ramallah area identified a Palestinian throwing petrol bombs in the direction of the road upon which Israeli vehicles were travelling.”

Walla reported:

“A Palestinian youth was killed yesterday (Friday) by fire from an IDF unit which was in an ambush in the village of Silwad, north-east of Ramallah, after the unit identified him throwing a petrol bomb at Route 60 and opened fire.”

The Jerusalem Post reported:

“A Palestinian was shot dead by IDF troops outside the village of Silwad in the West Bank on Friday evening, after he threw a Molotov cocktail at traffic on highway 60, the IDF Spokesperson’s Department said.

The IDF said that the soldiers were on patrol in the area and had set up an ambush overlooking the stretch of highway when they saw the assailant throw the bottle.

They said that the soldiers opened fire “in order to neutralize the threat to the lives of civilians driving on the highway.” “

In other words, the incident did not take place “near Ramallah” as stated by the BBC, but some fifteen and a half kilometers away outside Silwad on a main highway used by both Israeli and Palestinian motorists. Additionally, it is likely that civilian motorists were the target of Hammad’s petrol bomb rather than – as suggested by the BBC – IDF forces, with the BBC’s claim that Hammad was shot “during clashes between IDF soldiers and stone-throwing protesters” not being supported by other media reports.Silwad map

Like the US State Department, the BBC is apparently not overly interested in investigating why a US citizen was throwing petrol bombs at motorists on a main highway.

Notably too, this report misleads readers with the following statement, which appears both as a caption to an illustrative photo and in the body of the report:

“Tensions have been high since the end of the 50-day conflict in Gaza.” 

Later on, a seemingly contradictory statement is presented:

“Although a fragile ceasefire has been holding since the end of the 50-day conflict between Israel and Palestinians in Gaza, incidents of violence have continued sporadically throughout the West Bank and near holy sites in Jerusalem.”

Of course the ceasefire which brought this summer’s conflict in Israel and the Gaza Strip (not exclusively “in Gaza” as described by the BBC) between Israel and Hamas (not “Palestinians” as the BBC claims) has absolutely no bearing on the rioting and violent attacks carried out in other areas.

Whilst on the one hand the BBC informs audiences that tensions “have been high” since the ceasefire came into effect, on the other hand it claims that violent incidents have been ‘sporadic’: i.e. “occurring at irregular intervals; having no pattern or order in time“.

So what are the facts behind those two BBC statements?

In fact, according to data collected by the ISA, violent attacks by Palestinians in Judea & Samaria and Jerusalem peaked during July and have since returned to the levels seen prior to Operation Protective Edge. However, it is difficult to see how they can be accurately described as having “continued sporadically” seeing as their occurrence (usually not reported by the BBC) is a daily event.

Silwad graph

But the really interesting part of this BBC report is its shoehorning of the topic of ‘settlements’ into its ‘contextualisation’ of Palestinian terror. Despite there being no confirmation of the motives of Orwah Hammad as he lobbed petrol bombs at passing cars, one of the images used to illustrate the report is presented with the following tendentious caption:

“Palestinians were protesting against the expansion of a Jewish settlement in the West Bank”

Silwad art pic

Relating to the terror attack in Jerusalem on October 22nd, the article later informs readers that:

“Wednesday’s car attack was carried out by a Palestinian man from Silwan in East Jerusalem, where tensions are high among Palestinians who are angry over Jewish settlements in the area.”

Oddly, some might say, the BBC appears to believe that “tensions” and ‘anger’ felt by those who oppose people of a certain ethnicity living in a certain place are a factor which can be used to ‘explain’ both petrol bomb attacks on motorists and the deliberate murder of a three month-old baby.

But are there in fact “Jewish settlements” in the Silwan (Kfar Shiloach) neighbourhood of Jerusalem? Well, not according to the BBC’s own definition of ‘settlements’:

“Settlements are residential areas built by the Israeli government in the territories occupied by Israel following the June 1967 war. They are illegal under international law – that is the position of the UN Security Council. Israel rejects this assertion. ” [emphasis added]

What there is in that neighbourhood of Jerusalem is existing housing purchased and inhabited by some 90 Jewish families (roughly 500 people out of a population of over 50,000). Hence we see that the BBC is herding audiences towards a very dubious narrative which encourages them to view the purchase of property in certain areas of a city by people of a specific faith and ethnicity as “illegal” and undesirable. One has to wonder whether the BBC’s ‘progressive’ approach would extend to encouraging its audiences to view neighbourhoods of mixed religion, ethnicity (and perhaps colour or sexual orientation) in any other city in such a light.

But of course that anachronistic BBC narrative does not appear by chance: it is also the narrative of the Palestinian Authority, the president of which recently introduced new punishments (unreported by the BBC) for those who sell property to Jewish Israelis.

“Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas on Monday issued an order that would toughen punishment for Palestinians involved in real estate deals with “hostile countries” and their citizens.

Abbas’s decision came following reports that Palestinians have sold houses in Jerusalem’s Silwan neighborhood to Jews. […]

In his order, Abbas decided to amend the Palestinian penal code so that it would include hard labor in addition to life imprisonment for Palestinians who sell, rent out or serve as mediators in real estate transactions with “hostile countries” and their citizens.

In 2010, a PA court reaffirmed that the sale of Palestinian land to Israelis is punishable by death. Although the death sentence has not been officially executed, several Palestinians have been murdered in east Jerusalem and the West Bank over the past four decades after being accused of involvement in property transactions with Jews. ” 

Whilst BBC licence fee payers got a hefty dose of PA propaganda in this article, they have clearly not been provided with the accurate, impartial or comprehensive reporting to which the BBC is committed.

BBC’s Bowen continues to pronounce the demise of the two-state solution

In his continuing efforts to convince BBC audiences that the two-state solution is as dead as a dodo (see ‘chapter one’ of that effort here), the BBC’s Middle East Editor Jeremy Bowen produced an audio report broadcast on BBC Radio 4 on April 29th, which is available here. The item was probably broadcast on the ‘Today’ programme, but unfortunately the entry for that day on the webpage is actually the edition previously broadcast on April 22nd.

Sticking faithfully to the line promoted in other BBC coverage of the end of the negotiations (according to which they ceased solely because Israel suspended them) the presenter introduces Bowen’s item:

“This morning was supposed to be the deadline for the latest round of peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians. Before they started last year the American Secretary of State John Kerry said they might be the last chance for peace. Well…err….the Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu who suspended the talks last week, he blames the Palestinians, they blame him, President Obama blames both sides. Talks have been going on – on and off – for more than two decades now and the objective’s been the so-called two-state solution which would produce – it is said – peace by creating an independent Palestine alongside Israel. Now these negotiations have failed time and again. Our Middle East Editor Jeremy Bowen is in Jerusalem and he wonders if it’s time to face up to the fact that the two-state solution isn’t going to come about.”

Bowen introduces his item by engaging in his usual practice of pretending that history in the Middle East only began in 1967 and erasing from the picture any mention of the fact that prior to the 19-year Jordanian occupation of the city, there was no separate ‘East’ Jerusalem.tunnel City of David

“I’m in East Jerusalem – or rather under it. This tunnel is very narrow, it’s about at the moment knee-deep in cold water and it is pitch black. East Jerusalem was captured by Israel from Jordan in the 1967 war and it’s claimed by the Palestinians as capital of their future state. But down here, in a water course which is getting on for three thousand years old, that it not a view which is popular because this is an archaeological site that shows evidence that Jewish kings David and Solomon were here. For many of the Israelis who visit here every year and lots of other people too, all this is proof of Israel’s claim to Jerusalem – to all of Jerusalem. It’s a remarkable piece of engineering from the world of 2,700 years ago, but of course this is Jerusalem so it’s about a lot more than archaeology; it’s about politics as well, it’s about religion and it’s about building states: Israel and a future Palestine.”

Bowen then goes on to imply some sort of redundant linkage between the City of David archaeological site and the negotiations, perhaps forgetting that during the past twenty years, Israelis have of course not put their country on hold.

“The City of David site, which is still expanding, has been developed during the years of the peace talks. City of David’s vice-president Doron Spielman says everything they’ve found here means this part of East Jerusalem should never be part of the capital of a Palestinian state.”

The recording then cuts to a short statement by Doron Spielman, after which Bowen returns.

“The site [City of David] is in the midst of a scruffy, overgrown Palestinian village called Silwan which is right on the edge of the Old City. Since the peace process started Israeli settlers have moved into some of the buildings here under armed guard paid for by the Israeli government.”

Again, Bowen’s implied linkage between the peace process and the fact that people have relocated to a neighbourhood of Israel’s capital city is gratuitous. Of course Bowen does not bother to clarify to listeners that Silwan was also previously known as Kfar Shiloach, that its Jewish residents were expelled by British Mandate forces after waves of Arab rioting or that like the rest of the area conquered by Jordan in 1948, its subsequent annexation by Jordan was not recognized by the international community.

Later, Bowen goes on to say:

“I’m here [in Silwan] with a local man; a Palestinian activist called Jawad Siam and he’s been campaigning against what Israel’s doing here, which he says is illegal. He says it’s creeping colonization of land that should be part of the capital of an independent Palestinian state. And what’s more, he says it’s happening at the expense of Palestinians who are being forced out of their homes.”

Despite the stipulation in the BBC editorial guidelines which states the necessity of the “need to make it clear to the audience when contributors are associated with a particular viewpoint” and the BBC ECU’s recommitment last year to”summarising the standpoint of any interviewee where it is relevant and not immediately clear from their position or the title of their organization”, Bowen does not make any attempt to tell his audiences who his “local man” really is.

He fails to clarify that Jawad Siam is the director of the Wadi Hilweh Information Centre and the Madaa Centre which, inter alia, is funded by the Middle East children’s Alliance; an American organization with links to the ISM.  The Wadi Hilweh Information Centre also collaborates with the Human Rights Defenders Fund.

Bowen also  neglects to point out that the relevance of his interviewee’s opinions – as amplified by Bowen to BBC audiences – regarding the legality of “what Israel’s doing here” should be assessed in light of the fact that Mr Siam is a social worker by training. It would also have been relevant for BBC audiences to have been made aware of the fact that Jawad Siam stood trial in 2010-13 for attacking a man from Silwan he suspected of selling land to Jews and that the case was eventually resolved by plea bargain.SONY DSC

Towards the end of the item, Bowen returns to the City of David archaeological site and presents the historically challenged implication that Palestinians should appear in a film about Jerusalem as it was three thousand years ago.

“In this 15 minute film for visitors to the City of David archaeological site, Palestinians don’t get a mention. The Israeli government says a major reason why the talks failed is that Palestinians won’t acknowledge the Jewish nature of their state.”

Bowen of course misrepresents the issue of recognition of Israel as the Jewish state and – as has been the case in all BBC coverage of that issue to date – fails to clarify to audiences why it is important for the end of all future claims and a permanent and lasting conclusion to the conflict.

He concludes by once more announcing the demise of the two-state solution.

“President Obama blamed both sides for the collapse of the latest negotiations. Maybe it’s time to face the facts: Palestinians and Israelis both want peace, but their ideas of how that looks are so wildly different that the two-state solution will not happen, despite years of talks and violence. If that’s correct, the future is threatening.”

Once again – despite Bowen’s job description – audiences are presented with context-free, historically lacking, subjective material which does little to contribute to their wider comprehension of the subject of why, like its predecessors, this round of negotiations failed to bear fruit.