BBC’s Golan Heights profile misleads on water and borders

All three of the BBC News website’s March 21st and March 22nd reports concerning the US president’s announcement of the intention to recognise Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights included links to the BBC’s profile of that area which was last updated on March 14th.

In that profile BBC audiences are told that:

“The area [Golan Heights] is also a key source of water for an arid region. Rainwater from the Golan’s catchment feeds into the Jordan River. The area provides a third of Israel’s water supply.”

While that may have been the case in the past, does the Golan Heights really currently provide “a third of Israel’s water supply”?

A document produced by the Knesset Research and Information Center last year shows that three main natural sources – one of which is the Kinneret (Sea of Galilee) basin – currently together provide just 40% of Israel’s water.

“The Israeli water sector has natural and artificial sources of water. The main natural sources are the Kinneret Basin, which includes aquifers and rivers that flow into the Sea of Galilee, the Coastal Aquifer, and the Mountain Aquifer. Natural fresh water makes up some 40% of water consumption. In addition to the sources of natural water, two sources of artificial water play a vital role in the water sector: desalinated water (mostly seawater), which in 2016 provided 25% of water consumption, and reclaimed wastewater, used mostly for agriculture, which in 2016 provided 25% of the water consumed across all sectors.”

Moreover, rainfall on the Golan is just one of several sources of water supply to the Sea of Galilee and, as the Knesset report goes on to say:

“For years, Israel has faced a water crisis, which has manifested itself in low precipitation and dwindling natural resources (groundwater and sources of surface water, primarily the Sea of Galilee). The drought in Israel’s north, an area that usually receives greater precipitation, is particularly severe.”

“…the volume of water flowing into the Sea of Galilee in the past four years is the lowest ever on record: in August 2017, water flow to the Sea of Galilee reached a record low—that month, the Sea of Galilee lost 26 MCM of water (the previous record was set in August 2014). As a result, the water level in the Sea of Galilee is expected to drop and may break the record low set in 2001, despite the fact that almost no water has been pumped from the Sea of Galilee in recent years.” [emphasis added]

With the Sea of Galilee being only one of the three main natural sources which together currently provide just 40% of Israel’s water supply and the Golan Heights being only one of several severely reduced sources of water to the lake, the BBC’s claim that a third of Israel’s water supply comes from the Golan Heights is clearly inaccurate and misleading.

Readers of this profile also find the following:

“Syria wants to secure the return of the Golan Heights as part of any peace deal. In late 2003, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad said he was ready to revive peace talks with Israel.

In Israel, the principle of returning the territory in return for peace is already established. During US-brokered peace talks in 1999-2000, then Israeli prime minister Ehud Barak had offered to return most of the Golan to Syria.

But the main sticking point during the 1999 talks is also likely to bedevil any future discussions. Syria wants a full Israeli withdrawal to the pre-1967 border. This would give Damascus control of the eastern shore of the Sea of Galilee – Israel’s main source of fresh water.

Israel wishes to retain control of Galilee [sic] and says the border is located a few hundred metres to the east of the shore.” [emphasis added]

There is of course no such thing as a “pre-1967 border”. There is however a 1923 border set out by the then mandatory powers Britain and France.

“The territorial aspects of the Syrian-Israeli dispute date to 1920–23, when Great Britain and France devised a boundary between Syria (then including “Greater Lebanon”) and Palestine, two entities that would fall under League of Nations mandates. Often referred to as the “1923 international boundary,” the line was drawn to keep the upper course of the Jordan River (between Lake Hula and the Sea of Galilee) and the Sea of Galilee itself entirely within Palestine and to give Palestine a few kilometers of frontage on the Yarmouk River. Between Lake Hula and the Sea of Galilee, the boundary ran between fifty and four-hundred meters east of the Jordan River, just below the Golan Heights. Along the northeastern shore of the Sea of Galilee, it ran parallel to the shore and ten meters from the water’s edge. Sovereignty over these water resources was vested in Palestine.” [emphasis added]

There is also a 1949 Armistice Agreement Line, which was specifically defined as not being a border. Article V of the agreement states:

“1. It is emphasized that the following arrangements for the Armistice Demarcation Line between the Israeli and Syrian armed forces and for the Demilitarized Zone are not to be interpreted as having any relation whatsoever to ultimate territorial arrangements affecting the two Parties to this Agreement.

2. In pursuance of the spirit of the Security Council resolution of 16 November 1948, the Armistice Demarcation Line and the demilitarized Zone have been defined with a view toward separating the armed forces of the two Parties in such manner as to minimize the possibility of friction and incident, while providing for the gradual restoration of normal civilian life in the area of the Demilitarized Zone, without prejudice to the ultimate settlement.” [emphasis added]

As documented by Frederic C. Hof:

“During the 1948 Arab-Israeli War, Syrian troops penetrated Palestine-Israel in several areas. When an armistice was signed in July 1949, Syrian forces still held blocs of territory west of the 1923 international boundary. The parties agreed to a compromise: Syrian forces would withdraw from the farthest extent of their advance (the truce line—later the Armistice Demarcation Line [ADL]) to the 1923 international boundary, and Israel would refrain from introducing military forces into areas vacated by Syria. Thus was created a demilitarized zone consisting of three, non-contiguous blocs of land in what had been mandate Palestine totaling 66.5 square kilometers. In some places the ADL corresponded to the 1923 international boundary, and in others it penetrated into the former Palestine mandate. The demilitarized zone was everything between the ADL and the 1923 international boundary. Syria — quite inexplicably — agreed that the ADL along the northeastern shore of the Sea of Galilee would correspond to the 1923 international boundary (i.e., the 10-meter strip), even though its soldiers and civilians enjoyed access to the sea’s waters before, during, and after the 1948 fighting. Therefore, any time a Syrian national—military or civilian— crossed the invisible line to swim or fish an armistice violation occurred. Israel claimed sovereignty over the entire 66.5 square kilometer zone. Syria did not, reserving its claims for a future peace conference.” [emphasis added]

There is also what is termed the Line of June 4, 1967 (link includes map). That line is also not a border: it represents the positions – despite the Armistice Agreement – held by Israel and Syria on the eve of the Six Day War.

“Neither side lived up to its [Armistice Agreement] obligations. Syria retained pieces of the demilitarized zone, including the Palestinian Arab town of El Hamma on the Yarmouk River, and treated the 10-meter line paralleling the northeastern shoreline of the Sea of Galilee as if it did not exist. […] Secret talks in 1952–53 to partition the demilitarized zone failed. Between 1954 and 1967 there was a “game of inches” for control of the zone, always fought to the advantage of Israel. On the eve of war in June 1967, Syria still controlled the 10-meter strip and some 18 of the zone’s 66.5 square kilometers, including El Hamma (along with a small salient to its west along the Yarmouk River), the east bank of the Jordan River between Lake Hula and the Sea of Galilee, some high ground overlooking the Sea of Galilee, and a small patch of land overlooking the Hula Valley.” [emphasis added]

Hof goes on:

“As a result of American shuttle diplomacy, Syria came to believe, by July 1994, that Israel would seriously contemplate full withdrawal “to the line of June 4, 1967” in return for a peace treaty satisfactorily addressing Israel’s core concerns. Syria demanded that all land wrested by Israel from Syrian control in June 1967—18 square kilometers of demilitarized zone in the Jordan Valley and the 10-meter strip along the northeastern shore of the Sea of Galilee and the Golan Heights—be returned to Syria in its entirety. […] Syria wanted a line that had, for the most part, not been demarcated: a line that, in several key areas, corresponded neither to the 1923 international boundary nor to the 1949 ADL. Syria wanted the eve of war (1967) status quo restored and a boundary drawn reflecting, in effect, a snapshot of who was where on June 4, 1967.”

In other words, the BBC falsely claims the existence of a “pre-1967 border” and its assertion that the existence of a border to the east of the shore of the Sea of Galilee is something that only “Israel says” exists is untrue.  

The claim that a return to a “pre-1967 border” would “give Damascus control of the eastern shore of the Sea of Galilee” is inaccurate, seeing as the only border in existence prior to 1967 was the one agreed upon in 1923 by France and Britain which left access to the lake within the borders of Mandate Palestine. 

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BBC gets Golan Heights population wrong again

Listeners to BBC Radio 4’s ‘Six O’Clock News’ on March 21st heard (from 17:47 here) the following report: [emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]

Newsreader: “President Trump has said it’s time for the United States to recognise Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights – territory which was captured from Syria during the Six Day War in 1967. The announcement – in the form of a Tweet – has been welcomed by the Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu but is highly controversial as our world affairs correspondent Paul Adams explains.”

Adams: “Not for the first time Donald Trump has chosen Twitter to make a foreign policy announcement with huge ramifications. Israel seized the Golan Heights from Syria during the 1967 Middle East war – the same conflict which saw it occupy East Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza Strip. It never formally annexed the Golan but passed a law in 1981 which had much the same effect. Twelve thousand Israeli settlers have moved there. Now President Trump says it’s time to recognise what he calls Israel’s sovereignty. The Golan, he said, was of critical strategic and security importance to Israel. If he follows through, Israel will be delighted – as it was when he decided to move the American embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem last year. Bit by bit Mr Trump seems determined to change the course of long-established American Middle East policy.”

The population of the Golan’s one town, Katzrin, is currently around 8,000. The combined population of the other smaller Israeli communities on the Golan Heights (not including the four Druze communities and the Alawite village of Ghajar, where the residents are also Israeli citizens) is around 17,600. The total number of what Paul Adams terms “settlers” in the Golan Heights is therefore around 25,600 – i.e. more than double the number of people he claims “have moved there”.

With nearly 52 years have passed since the Golan Heights came under Israeli control, a significant proportion of the people living in the region did not ‘move there’ at all but were born as second and third generation Golan Heights residents. Seeing as it is however highly unlikely that Paul Adams was seeking to differentiate between those who came to live in the Golan Heights after 1967 and those residing there since birth, we can conclude that Adams’ inaccurate claim of 12,000 “settlers” is once again the result of inadequate research.

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BBC World Service reduces Golan Heights population by a third

Partial portrayals of international law in three BBC reports

 

Partial portrayals of international law in three BBC reports

In recent days visitors to the BBC News website’s ‘Middle East’ page have found three reports relating to the US president’s announcement of the intention to recognise Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights.

One of those reports was written by the BBC’s State Department correspondent Barbara Plett Usher and the other two included inserts of her analysis. All three promoted specific messaging on the topic of international law.

1) Trump: Time to recognise Golan Heights as Israeli territory March 21st:

“Richard Haass, a former senior US state department official who is now president of the Council on Foreign Relations think-tank, said he “strongly disagreed” with Mr Trump. He said such recognising Israeli sovereignty would violate a UN Security Council resolution, “which rules out acquiring territory by war”. […]

So critics have concluded this was a blatant attempt to give Mr Netanyahu a boost in a hotly-contested election.

If so, it’s one that violates important principles of international law, they say: Mr Trump has endorsed the seizure of territory, and will have no moral authority to criticise Russia for doing so in Ukraine’s Crimea.”

2) Golan Heights: Syria condemns Donald Trump’s remarks March 22nd:

“Richard Haass, a former senior US state department official who is now president of the Council on Foreign Relations think-tank, said he “strongly disagreed” with Mr Trump and that the decision would violate a UN Security Council resolution “which rules out acquiring territory by war”. […]

Critics have concluded this was a blatant attempt to give Mr Netanyahu a boost in a hotly-contested election. If so, it’s one that violates important principles of international law, they say: Mr Trump has endorsed the seizure of territory, and will have no moral authority to criticise Russia for doing so in Ukraine’s Crimea.”

3) Trumplomacy on Golan Heights: What it all means March 22nd, Barbara Plett Usher:

“First and foremost is one of international law: in recognising Israeli sovereignty over the Golan, Mr Trump is in effect endorsing its seizure of the territory. By what moral authority then could he challenge others who do the same, such as Russia’s annexation of Crimea?”

As Professor Eugene Kontorovich pointed out in testimony given to the US House of Representatives last year:

“The widely-repeated view that recognizing Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights would be contrary to international law is based on one fundamental assumption: that at least since the adoption of U.N. Charter, international law prohibits any acquisition of foreign territory by force. While such a formulation of the rule is largely accurate, it omits crucial exceptions quite relevant to the case of the Golan Heights.

Whatever the current status of an absolute prohibition on territorial change resulting from war, there was certainly no such blanket prohibition in 1967, when the territory came under Israeli control. At the time, international law only prohibited acquisition of force in illegal or aggressive wars. This is evident from the source of the prohibition in the UN Charter, post-Charter state practice, and the understandings of international jurists at the time. There is simply no precedent or authoritative source for forbidding defensive conquest in 1967.

The U.N. Charter prohibits war for most purposes. When the use of force is illegal, it is natural to conclude that any territorial gains from such aggression cannot be recognized as well. Thus the illegality of conquest arises from the presumptive illegality of the use of force. But crucially, the U.N. Charter does not make all war illegal. Indeed, it expressly reaffirms the legality of a defensive war. Since defensive war is not illegal, it follows that the defender’s territorial gains from such a war would not be illegal.”

Notably, readers of the first report were also told that:

“In 2017, Mr Trump recognised Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and ordered the relocation of the US embassy to the city from Tel Aviv. The decision was condemned by Palestinians, who want East Jerusalem to be the capital of a future Palestinian state, and the UN General Assembly demanded its cancellation.”

The second article likewise stated:

“In 2017, Mr Trump recognised Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and ordered the relocation of the US embassy to the city from Tel Aviv.

The decision was condemned by Palestinians, who want East Jerusalem to be the capital of a future Palestinian state, and the UN General Assembly demanded its cancellation.”

Under the heading “How will this affect the West Bank?” readers of the third article were informed that:

“The occupied West Bank is different from the Golan Heights. It was also captured by Israel in the 1967 war, from Jordan.”

As usual the BBC’s presentation of history commences in June 1967 with no mention of the relevant fact that in 1948 Jordan launched an attack on the regions included in the Mandate for Palestine which the BBC terms “the West Bank” and “East Jerusalem” and subsequently illegally annexed both areas.  

Predictably, while amplifying Palestinian claims to parts of Jerusalem which were under Jordanian occupation for 19 years, the BBC has nothing at all to tell its audiences about the legality of that particular case of seizure of territory by war.

BBC News continues to sell audiences short on Jerusalem

Following the December 15th announcement by the Australian prime minister the BBC News website published an article titled “Australia recognises West Jerusalem as Israeli capital“.

As has been the case in several previous articles relating to recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, a problematic backgrounder video by Yolande Knell dating from December 2017 was promoted in this latest report. 

Also in common with similar previous reports, readers were told that:

“US President Donald Trump drew international criticism last year when he reversed decades of American foreign policy by recognising the ancient city as Israel’s capital. The US embassy was relocated from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem in May.”

The fact that the US Congress actually voted to recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital over two decades ago was yet again concealed from audience view.

Under the sub-heading “Why is the status of Jerusalem so contentious?” readers saw the background to the story portrayed thus:

“The status of Jerusalem goes to the heart of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Israel regards Jerusalem as its “eternal and undivided” capital, while the Palestinians claim East Jerusalem – occupied by Israel in the 1967 Middle East war – as the capital of a future state.

Israeli sovereignty over Jerusalem has never been recognised internationally, and according to the 1993 Israel-Palestinian peace accords, the final status of Jerusalem is meant to be discussed in the latter stages of peace talks.

Since 1967, Israel has built a dozen settlements, home to about 200,000 Jews, in East Jerusalem. These are considered illegal under international law, though Israel disputes this.

In December 2017, UN member states voted decisively at the General Assembly in favour of a resolution effectively declaring US recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital to be “null and void” and demanding it be cancelled.”

Similar or identical portrayals have often been seen by visitors to the BBC News website in the past; most recently in November 2018 and October 2018.  

Obviously if the BBC’s audiences are to understand the background to this story they need to be told of the inclusion of Jerusalem in the territory assigned by the League of Nations to the creation of a Jewish homeland. They also need to be informed of the belligerent Jordanian invasion and subsequent ethnic cleansing of Jews who had lived in Jerusalem for generations from districts including the Old City in 1948, together with the destruction of synagogues and cemeteries, as well as the fact that the 1949 Armistice Agreement between Israel and Jordan specifically stated that the ceasefire lines were not borders.

Once again readers of this report found the BBC’s usual partisan framing of ‘international law’ and ‘settlements’ with no mention of the fact that some of the Jerusalem neighbourhoods it chooses to define as such were inhabited by Jews until the Jordanian occupation.

Since the BBC began covering stories concerning the recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in late 2016 – and particularly since the US announcement concerning its embassy’s relocation in December 2017 – the comprehensive background information which would enable BBC audiences to fully understand these stories has been serially withheld.

With every new announcement by a foreign government of recognition of Israel’s capital it becomes more and more obvious that the BBC’s chosen framing of the story is not intended to meet its obligation to “provide accurate and impartial news, current affairs and factual programming of the highest editorial standards so that all audiences can engage fully with issues across the UK and the world”.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Related articles: 

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

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

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

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

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

Resources:

S4C complaints

BBC complaints

 

 

 

 

A story BBC audiences are unlikely to be told

As has often been noted here – most recently in relation to the Airbnb story – according to the BBC’s chosen narrative, any place which fell on the Jordanian side of the 1949 ceasefire lines is ‘Palestinian land’ (regardless of the fact that the Armistice Agreement specifically stated that the ceasefire lines were not borders) and any community populated by Israelis in those areas is a ‘Jewish settlement’ in either ‘East Jerusalem’ or ‘the West Bank’ which is portrayed as being ‘illegal under international law’ regardless of its history.

There is no place at all in the BBC’s simplistic and politically partisan narrative for nuances such as the fact that Jews lived for centuries in the Old City of Jerusalem before being ethnically cleansed by the Jordanian army. Neither is there any room in that frequently promoted portrayal for facts concerning places such as Neve Ya’akov  or Gush Etzion where Jews legally purchased land years before the belligerent Jordanian invasion.

Last week a 22 year-long legal case came to an end.

“The Israeli High court ruled that 522 dunams (129 acres) of disputed land near Kibbutz Rosh Tzurim in Gush Etzion does in fact belong to the Kibbutz and a subsidiary organization of the Jewish National Fund (JNF-KKL) […]

The JNF purchased the land in question in 1944 through a JNF subsidiary organization called Himnota. The Arab family who sold the land emigrated to South America.”

A kibbutz called Ein Tzurim was originally established on that land purchased in 1944 but it was destroyed in 1948 when Gush Etzion fell to the invading Jordanian army. Following the Six Day War, a new kibbutz named Rosh Tzurim was established in 1969 on the same site.

As reported on Hebrew language news sites, in 1996 Palestinians from a nearby village claimed ownership of the land and the case went to the district court. In 2016 the Jerusalem District Court ruled that the documents presented by the Palestinians were fake. The petitioners submitted an appeal to the High Court – with their legal counsel provided by the Palestinian Authority. The High Court judges ruled that the district court’s decision should stand.

Not only are BBC audiences highly unlikely to ever hear that story but – despite being obliged under the terms of its Charter to provide “impartial news and information to help people understand and engage with the world around them” – the corporation will doubtless continue to describe that area and others as ‘occupied Palestinian land’.

Related Articles:

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BBC R4 ‘Today’ listeners sold short by Knell’s portrayal of Jerusalem

The BBC’s domestic coverage of the Duke of Cambridge’s visit to Jordan, Israel and the Palestinian Authority controlled territories continued on June 26th with no fewer than three items aired on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.

In addition to reports from the corporation’s royal correspondent Jonny Dymond at 0:12:30 and during the news bulletin at 2:08:38, listeners also heard a report by the BBC Jerusalem bureau’s Yolande Knell at 1:20:40.

During that report Knell – like Jeremy Bowen in the previous day’s programme – brought up the topic of the objection of an Israeli minister to the wording of the itinerary put out by the Royal Household.

[emphasis in italics in the original]

1:22:26 Knell: “On his solo trip the prince will watch Jewish and Arab Israeli children playing football. But political differences here aren’t always so easy to overcome. Israeli politicians are criticising his schedule for presenting Jerusalem’s Old City as part of the occupied Palestinian territories.”

Obviously if the BBC’s domestic audiences are to understand the reason for the objection to that description of the Old City of Jerusalem as ‘occupied Palestinian territory’ they would need to be told of the inclusion of Jerusalem in the territory assigned by the League of Nations to the creation of a Jewish homeland. They would also need to be informed of the belligerent British-backed Jordanian invasion and subsequent ethnic cleansing of Jews who had lived in Jerusalem for generations from districts including the Old City in 1948, together with the destruction of synagogues and cemeteries, as well as the fact that the 1949 Armistice Agreement between Israel and Jordan specifically stated that the ceasefire lines were not borders.

However in typical BBC style, Yolande Knell erased all the history prior to June 1967 from her simplistic account:

Knell: “Israel captured the east of the city in the 1967 war and later annexed it in a move that’s not internationally recognised. It sees all the city as its capital but Palestinians want East Jerusalem as their capital.”

Knell then went on to provide listeners with an overtly partisan view of the issue from the PLO’s Hanan Ashrawi:

Knell: “Palestinian official Hanan Ashrawi says the Palace is using the right descriptions.”

Ashrawi: “The only country that has violated international law openly and admitted Jerusalem as the capital of Israel is the US…is Trump. And the UK has not changed its position. It still considers Jerusalem as occupied territory. You cannot expect the royal visit to come and become complicit in land theft and the illegal annexation of Jerusalem.”

Not only did Knell not bother to challenge Ashrawi’s inaccurate and deliberately provocative claim of “land theft” or to clarify that her selected contributor’s claims concerning “international law” are a matter of opinion, she did not even make the effort to inform Radio 4 listeners that – as she doubtless knows, because their embassies are located in the same Jerusalem complex as the BBC’s own offices – in addition to the United States, Guatemala and Paraguay have also recognised Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. 

Instead, Knell simply changed the subject and moved on with her report.

While it is standard BBC practice to avoid informing audiences of the history and status of Jerusalem before June 1967 – including the internationally unrecognised 19 year-long Jordanian occupation of parts of the city – obviously that practice does not contribute to meeting the BBC’s public purpose obligation to provide its funding public with “accurate and impartial news, current affairs and factual programming of the highest editorial standards so that all audiences can engage fully with issues across the UK and the world”.

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Reviewing the BBC’s presentation of Jerusalem history

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BBC News website adopts selective history in royal visit article

BBC’s Jerusalem backgrounder for young people breaches style guide

In September 2017 the BBC World Service launched a new project aimed specifically at younger audiences.

“Stephen Titherington, Sr Commissioning Editor of BBC World Service English, says: “BBC Minute has turned News on its head. Young people are information hungry, but only if it’s done in a way which matches their own energetic curiosity. With new BBC Minute Video, partners can now share vision as well as sound with their audience. We are delighted to have two new partners in Egypt and Jordan, bringing BBC Minute’s fresh sounding news coverage to more audiences in the region.”

Broadcast in the English language, BBC Minute bulletins are vibrant audio summaries of the news headlines and topical stories delivered in a high-energy style that entertains as much as it educates and informs. It is broadcast twice an hour, 24 hours a day, seven days a week by a team of young journalists in London. The team also produce BBC Minute On… which focus on a single subject or key story in more detail and is broadcast twice daily.”

Those ‘BBC Minute On’ backgrounders – billed as “making sense of the news” – are available online and hence potentially the subject of editorial complaints.

In early December 2017 one edition appeared under the title “BBC Minute: On Jerusalem“. Its synopsis states:

“The US President Donald Trump is expected to recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. The Palestinians said it would be a “kiss of death” for the Middle East peace process, but an Israeli minister urged other countries to follow the US lead. But how did the city become so politically important for both sides? The BBC’s Yolande Knell and BBC Arabic’s Hadya Al-alawi explain.”

The ‘explanation’ given to the target audience of “young people” around the world is as follows: [emphasis in italics in the original]

Presenter: “This is BBC Minute on Jerusalem. The city’s holy to Jews, Christians and Muslims. But why is it politically significant for Israelis and Palestinians? Here’s the BBC’s Yolande Knell.”

Knell: “Not long after the modern state of Israel was created in 1948, the Israeli parliament was set up in the west of the city. But it wasn’t until the 1967 war with neighbouring Arab countries that Israel captured East Jerusalem and then later annexed it in a move that’s not recognised internationally.”

Presenter: “Now about a third of the people of Jerusalem are Palestinians. But what do Palestinians in general want? Here’s BBC Arabic’s Hadya Al-alawi.”

Al-alawi: “So Palestinian authorities have been negotiating a two-state solution which means returning to the 1967 internationally recognised borders. Also they want East Jerusalem to be their capital. However Palestinians on the ground might not agree. They want the whole of Jerusalem and also returning to the historical Palestine.”

As we see, the BBC’s audiences around the world – including in Middle Eastern countries – are not given any information concerning either the status of Jerusalem before 1948, the 19-year Jordanian occupation of parts of the city or the circumstances that caused Jordan to enter the Six Day War and loose its hold on that territory.

Worse still, BBC audiences are presented by Hadya Al-alawi with a partisan portrayal of the two-state solution which promotes and amplifies the PLO’s interpretation of it as meaning a Palestinian state on all of the territory occupied by Jordan and Egypt between 1948 and 1967.

Moreover, Al-alawi promotes the inaccurate notion that the 1949 armistice lines are “internationally recognised borders” when in fact the armistice agreement that created them specifically states that they are not borders – as does the BBC’s ‘style guide’.  

“The Green Line marks the boundary between Israel and the West Bank. It is properly referred to as the 1949 Armistice Line – the ceasefire line of 1949. […]

In describing the situation on the ground, take care to use precise and accurate terminology. The Green Line is a dividing line or a boundary. If you call it a border you may inadvertently imply that it has internationally recognised status, which it does not currently have.” 

Given Al-alawi’s subsequent use of the politically loaded term ‘historical Palestine’ and promotion of the notion of ‘return’ without clarifying to listeners that what that actually means is the destruction of Israel, it is hardly surprising that her portrayal of the 1949 ceasefire lines is likewise intended to promote a specific political narrative and agenda.

Nevertheless, one would obviously expect a BBC journalist participating in a project declared to be aimed at “making sense of the news” for young people around the world to stick to the BBC’s style guide as well as its supposed editorial standards of accuracy and impartiality.

 

 

BBC WS radio’s ‘Newshour’ and the split screen – part one

Writing at the New York Times, Matti Friedman discusses media coverage of the May 14th pre-planned events along the Gaza Strip-Israel border:

“About 40,000 people answered a call to show up. Many of them, some armed, rushed the border fence. Many Israelis, myself included, were horrified to see the number of fatalities reach 60.

Most Western viewers experienced these events through a visual storytelling tool: a split screen. On one side was the opening of the American embassy in Jerusalem in the presence of Ivanka Trump, evangelical Christian allies of the White House and Israel’s current political leadership — an event many here found curious and distant from our national life. On the other side was the terrible violence in the desperately poor and isolated territory. The juxtaposition was disturbing.

The attempts to breach the Gaza fence, which Palestinians call the March of Return, began in March and have the stated goal of erasing the border as a step toward erasing Israel. A central organizer, the Hamas leader Yehya Sinwar, exhorted participants on camera in Arabic to “tear out the hearts” of Israelis. But on Monday the enterprise was rebranded as a protest against the embassy opening, with which it was meticulously timed to coincide. The split screen, and the idea that people were dying in Gaza because of Donald Trump, was what Hamas was looking for.

The press coverage on Monday was a major Hamas success in a war whose battlefield isn’t really Gaza, but the brains of foreign audiences.”

BBC World Service radio of course does not have a literal split screen but the May 14th afternoon edition of ‘Newshour‘ – presented by Razia Iqbal – certainly managed to create an audio equivalent of that “storytelling tool”.

“Dozens of Palestinians have been killed and nearly 2,000 injured by Israeli forces on Gaza’s border. The clashes came as the United States formally opened its embassy in Jerusalem. We will hear from both Palestinian and Israeli voices.”

The overwhelming majority of that hour-long programme was devoted to those two concurrently presented topics: the inauguration ceremony of the US embassy in Jerusalem and the May 14th rioting along the Gaza border. In addition to Iqbal’s own commentary, listeners heard live excerpts from the ceremony at the new US embassy along with a report from the BBC Jerusalem bureau’s Yolande Knell and interviews with one Israeli MK, one Palestinian politician, one Palestinian demonstrator, a former US Senator and an American member of a political NGO.

In the two parts of this post we will look at how the former event was presented to BBC audiences and in a future post we will discuss the programme’s presentation of the second topic.

Razia Iqbal introduced the broadcast (from 00:11 here) thus: [emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]

Iqbal: “Our programme is dominated today by the city of Jerusalem – a city which embodies that very potent mix of religion, politics and history. Today – as we speak – the United States is inaugurating its embassy there following President Trump’s decision to recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel in early December last year. It could mark the beginning of a seismic shift in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The status of Jerusalem is among the issues which remain open for negotiation in any final peace accord; as a recognition of how contentious it is. The Israelis regard the undivided city as their capital and the Palestinians – as well as international law – regard the east of the city as territory occupied by the Israelis after the 1967 war and there for the Palestinians to make as their capital of any Palestinian state. The new US embassy will be located in west Jerusalem but President Trump has said that his unilateral decision to recognise it as Israel’s capital takes it off the table. It is among several issues which now separate the United States from the rest of the international community. We’ll be getting views from all sides about what’s happening today, right now, and also what it means for a peace process which has long been dormant.”

Already in that introduction the themes which would be repeatedly emphasised throughout the rest of the programme were apparent. Despite the fact that, even as Iqbal spoke, tens of thousands of Palestinians were literally demonstrating the fact that they are not interested in a peace agreement by participating in an event promoting efforts to eradicate the world’s only Jewish state, for the BBC it was the placement of a new plaque on an existing US mission in Jerusalem which was the “seismic shift” and the factor which would affect the ‘peace process’.

Iqbal’s partisan portrayal of ‘international law’ was likewise a theme repeated throughout the programme, as was that of US ‘isolation’ from a touted ‘consensus’ within the ‘international community’. Notably, on the two occasions that she mentioned the name of the Jerusalem neighbourhood in which the US embassy is now situated, Razia Iqbal could not even be bothered to get its name – Arnona – right.

03:20 Iqbal: “Not very far from what’s happening in the Arona neigbourhood of Jerusalem where the new US embassy is going to be is quite a different scene.”

30:06 Iqbal: “In the past few minutes as the ceremony has been taking place in the Arona suburb of Jerusalem…”

At 08:26 Iqbal began a live interview with Israeli MK Sharren Haskel, asking her first for her thoughts on the opening of the US embassy in Jerusalem. When in the course of her answer Haskel pointed out that “you cannot separate Jerusalem from the Jewish identity” and that the move is “very exciting”, an audibly hostile Iqbal (and one has to listen to it to appreciate the level of aggression) interrupted her.

Iqbal: “OK. So very exciting from your perspective. Arabs have also lived in Jerusalem for millennia. The Palestinians regard East Jerusalem…please let me ask a question Sharren Haskel. Please let me ask a question. And Arabs regard…Palestinians regard East Jerusalem as occupied territory – occupied illegally by Israel – and they see it as a possible future capital for a Palestinian state. What do you think about the view put by many people, including many in the international community, that the United States is joining the occupier in violating international law?”

The source of that “view put by many people” which Iqbal promoted became apparent minutes later when – at 16:05 –Iqbal introduced a notably less aggressive pre-recorded interview with BBC frequent flyer Mustafa Barghouti which will be discussed in part two of this post.

 

BBC WS airs ‘Great Return March’ falsehoods and more

The May 13th edition of the BBC World Service radio programme Weekend – presented by Julian Worricker – included a long item (from 04:38 here) relating to the next day’s opening of the new US embassy in Jerusalem. Given the BBC’s coverage of that story so far, it was hardly surprising to see that event once again portrayed as “controversial”.

“The United States will officially open its embassy in Jerusalem tomorrow, following the controversial decision by President Trump to relocate it from Tel Aviv.”

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

Worricker: “…we turn our attention to the Middle East and particularly the events of the next few days. Today it’s an Israeli national holiday commemorating the reunification of Jerusalem and the establishment of Israeli control over the Old City in the aftermath of the June 1967 Six Day War. The day is officially marked by state ceremonies and memorial services. Then tomorrow the American embassy is officially moved from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. No country has its embassy in Jerusalem because of its contested status. Both Israelis and Palestinians see the ancient city as their capital. But in making the move President Trump is reversing seven decades of US policy and defying a long-standing international consensus.”

In fact, the US Congress of course voted to recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital over two decades ago. Worricker could have told listeners that Guatemala and Paraguay are in the process of moving their embassies to Jerusalem too but obviously that would have spoilt the chosen narrative of “international consensus”.

Worricker: “Indications of the controversy aroused come from, among others, Saeb Erekat – the chief negotiator for the Palestinian Liberation Organisation – who has asked fellow diplomats to boycott Monday’s event. And Israel says it will almost double the number of troops on its border with the Gaza Strip and in the occupied West Bank to deal with any wider Palestinian protests about the opening of the embassy.”

Worricker refrained from informing listeners that “protests” on the Gaza border were planned months ago and are billed as having an aim unrelated to the US embassy move: the breaching of that border and infiltration into Israel.

After promising “Israeli and Palestinian voices on this in a moment”, Worricker presented a recycled brief history of Jerusalem from British historian Simon Sebag Montefiore before introducing Gil Hoffman of the Jerusalem Post. Having asked him for his view on why the US embassy move matters, Worricker went on to promptly criticise his interviewee’s reply.

Worricker: “The problem with that view – as you know only too well – is that the Palestinians claim East Jerusalem, occupied since 1967, as the potential capital of its future state. So how do you square that circle?”

After Hoffman had pointed out that the US president said in his December 6th 2017 statement that the borders in Jerusalem are to be determined by the parties concerned and that Saeb Erekat – to whom Worricker had referred to earlier – had failed at his job of negotiating with Israel, Worricker found it necessary to both defend Erekat and promote the PLO position.

Worricker: “Well he [Erekat] would say obviously that if he has – to use your word – failed, it’s because the other side hasn’t done what he would require them to do by way of a compromise. Really, we’ve seen decades of US neutrality on this issue. How can it facilitate future negotiations if the US now – on this – favours one side so obviously over the other?”

In response to Hoffman stating that US neutrality had to date failed to resolve the issue, Worricker retorted:

Worricker: “Let me invite you to look at it from the other point of view in that case because going back to my neutrality point, if this is, quote – and this is a crude way of describing it – a big win for Israel, what do you offer to give back in return to those who are clearly angered by this, whether you think their anger is justified or not?”

As Hoffman began to respond by saying that Trump has a plan he’s been working on, Worricker interrupted him:

Worricker: “Mr Trump and Mr Netanyahu clearly are in agreement over this so the two are working to a degree hand in hand.”

Hoffman replied that the US peace plan will no doubt include Israeli concessions in Jerusalem before Worricker closed the interview.

Clearly that less than four-minute interview did not provide listeners with much understanding of “Israeli voices” because Worricker was too busy criticising Hoffman’s replies. 

Worricker next went on to tell listeners that “the 70th anniversary of the creation of Israel” would take place on May 15th – while failing to note that the occasion was marked by Israel on April 19th.

Worricker: “I mentioned Palestinian voices as well. Well protests are expected at that embassy on Monday. It’s a sensitive time because it’s a day before the 70th anniversary of the creation of Israel but the day that Palestinians refer to as a Nakba – catastrophe. That is the day after that independence in 1948 when hundreds of thousands of Palestinians fled their homes or were displaced.”

Worricker next conducted an interview with a Palestinian film-maker called Azza el Hassan who made a film about PLO propaganda films from the 60s and 70s. At one point (13:09) during that five-minute conversation, Hassan said:

Hassan: “…you know what’s so beautiful about these films? In these films Palestinians are not victims. In fact they’re liberators; they’re going to change the world. They’re propaganda films but there is this nice, dreamy element in them which makes you think it’s a pity that all of this was lost somehow.”

Worricker: “You use the word propaganda, because I am bound to point out that during the 60s and 70s when the PLO – the Palestine Liberation Organisation – was a professedly violent organisation pursuing its aims by violent means – that’s not something to celebrate, is it?”

Hassan: “Well you have to remember that the 70s…you cannot read the 70s from what you’re reading today. The 70s was the period of the Cold War. For example the South African movement was also a military movement – the ANC I mean by that. So when you say that the PLO was into [inaudible] you’re absolutely right but so was all liberating movements at that time.”

Worricker: “Mmm…but it doesn’t justify some of the dreadful acts that were carried out at that time.”

Listeners then heard false claims regarding the ‘Great Return March’ in which the majority of those killed during violent rioting since the end of March – rather than “in the last week” – were shown to be linked to terror organisations. Worricker made no effort whatsoever to challenge those falsehoods.

Hassan: “Absolutely, but if you want to talk about violence now, now in the last week Israel have killed 50 innocent people in Gaza who were just protesting peacefully. So violence is…what’s important is what’s happening now.”

Worricker: “Well let’s talk about what’s happening now because clearly there is a reason for having this conversation beyond the film that you made. We’re going to see in the coming days the American embassy in Israel moving from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. And we’re going to see the anniversary of the events of 1948 which led to the creation of the State of Israel, so Israelis will celebrate that. Palestinians will regard that as – to use their word – a catastrophe. In other words, the sides are so, so, so far apart. Do you see any hope of anything changing?”

Apparently Worricker is not aware of the fact that Israelis will not be celebrating “in the coming days” an event they have already marked. Listeners then heard promotion of elimination of the Jewish state.

Hassan: “I think there’s always hope. I think nothing will ever stay…nothing ever stays the same. Things have to move. And I believe in a one-state solution. I’ve always believed in it. And…”

Worricker: “One state rather than two?”

Hassan: “Yeah. I think…wouldn’t you want a one-state solution? Why would you want a two-state solution? But what needs to happen is you have to create a humane environment and an equal environment for everyone. And then we can move forward.”

Worricker: “When you look at the way the Palestinians – particularly those in charge, whether it’s in the West Bank or the Gaza Strip – the way they have tried to conduct the campaign that they have conducted in recent years, when you look at the failings and the shortcomings, what should they have done differently?”

Hassan: “As a Palestinian I feel we are in our worst point of history. We don’t even have a proper political position. So lots of shortcomings are appearing and I agree with you but I also find them a natural conclusion to an unnatural and unjust situation.”

Worricker closed that second and distinctly less confrontational interview at that point.

As we see listeners to this long item heard inaccurate claims concerning US policy on Jerusalem and Israel’s Independence Day celebrations. Audiences also heard inaccurate claims relating to the events on Israel’s border with the Gaza Strip and – as was the case in the very few reports produced when Israelis actually did celebrate the 70th anniversary of their country’s independence – promotion of the ‘Nakba’ and the campaign to eradicate the Jewish state known as the ‘one-state solution’ was also in evidence.

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