September 16th saw the appearance of an article titled “Israeli PM Netanyahu vows stone-thrower crackdown” on the BBC News website’s homepage, ‘World’ page and Middle East page. The subject of that headline is an emergency meeting of government ministers and officials on the evening of September 15th following the death two days earlier of an Israeli man after his vehicle was attacked by Palestinian stone throwers in Jerusalem.
Remarkably, the BBC’s minimalistic portrayal of the incident in which Alexander Levlovich was killed and two other people injured erases all mention of the attackers’ identity and fails to clarify that similar incidents have taken place in the past at the same location.
“The Israeli prime minister has vowed to “use all necessary means” to stop stone throwers after an Israeli man died in a car crash linked to such an attack. […]
Alexander Levlovitz died in a car accident apparently caused by a rock-throwing attack in Jerusalem. […]
Mr Levlovitz died and two passengers were reportedly injured after their car was pelted with stones on Monday. Police are investigating the incident.”
As regular readers are aware, the BBC refrained from reporting on any of the three previous Israeli fatalities caused by terror attacks since the beginning of this year. In this case, whilst Mr Levlovich’s death is reported, audiences are nevertheless left without the details and context which would enable them to understand the story properly.
Half of this article’s word count is devoted to another subject. [all emphasis added]
“Meanwhile, clashes between Israeli police and Palestinian protesters continued for a third day in the city. […]
Separately, violence has again rocked the al-Aqsa mosque compound.
The compound – known to Jews as the Temple Mount and to Muslims as al-Haram al-Sharif – is the holiest site in Judaism, and contains the al-Aqsa Mosque – the third holiest site in Islam.
The compound is a source of religious and political tension between Israel and the Palestinians. It is a frequent flashpoint for violence.
On Tuesday, police spokeswoman Luba Samri told AP that police entered the Al-Aqsa mosque compound early in the morning to disperse protesters who had stayed inside the mosque overnight.”
One of the photographs illustrating the article is captioned:
“Police dispersed protesters in the streets around the Al-Aqsa Mosque in the Old City on Tuesday”.
The BBC’s use of the term “protesters” is clearly inaccurate and misleading. It fails to clarify to readers that the organised rioters use violence both on Temple Mount and in the surrounding streets and – together with detached, neutral phrasing such as the description of Temple Mount as “a frequent flashpoint for violence” – does nothing to enhance audience understanding of the real background to this story.
Embedded into the head of this article is a filmed report by Yolande Knell which, in addition to being shown on television news programmes, also appeared as a stand-alone item on the BBC News website under the title “Netanyahu vows to stop stone-throwers after Al Aqsa clashes“. The synopsis to that report likewise fails to identify the perpetrators of the incident in which Alexander Levlovich was killed.
“On Monday an Israeli man died after his car was pelted with rocks.”
Yolande Knell does not even mention that incident in her report.
“Well what the Israeli prime minister has said after this emergency ministerial meeting – called at the end of the Jewish New Year’s holiday which has spread really over the last three days – he’s said that there will be much tougher fines for Palestinian minors who throw stones and also that they’re going to take a look at modifying the rules of engagement – as he called it – ah…for Israeli security forces who are dealing with Palestinian stone throwers.”
Apparently Yolande Knell does not know that the term rules of engagement is a standard way of describing the circumstances in which military forces engage in combat and not just a phrase used by the Israeli prime minister. She continues:
“And as you said this is really to do with the clashes that have taken place over the Jewish New Year’s holiday at the holy site you can see behind me: the Al Aqsa Mosque compound. Known to Muslims as Haram al Sharif – the Noble Sanctuary – this is the third holiest site in Islam and it’s believed that at that golden dome over there – the Dome of the Rock – that’s where the Prophet Mohammed ascended to heaven.
And then in the Al Aqsa Mosque here – which is just a bit closer to me – that’s where these clashes happened over the last three days. There were young Palestinian demonstrators who barricaded themselves inside the mosque. They were very worried about Israeli police bringing non-Muslim Jewish visitors – hundreds of them – to this site because of course for Jews this is Temple Mount and for Jews this is the holiest site in Judaism. Many people wanted to visit over the holidays.”
The Israeli police of course do not ‘bring’ visitors to Temple Mount but ensure their security during visits. Neglecting to mention the pipe bombs found at the site on September 13th, Knell goes on:
“Ahm…now Palestinians were throwing stones at the Israeli police, also fireworks. The Israeli police were responding with stun grenades and also with tear gas. They moved to the mosque – they say just to close the doors of it to stop people from coming out. The Palestinians say that actually they came inside the mosque; they intruded inside the mosque. And this has all really ratcheted up tensions, particularly with dramatic amateur footage circulated by both sides of what happened over this period.” [emphasis added]
The spokesman for the Israeli police has made it quite clear that the security forces did not enter the Al Aqsa Mosque (Newsweek has already corrected a similar error, as has the New York Times) and obviously it is Yolande Knell’s job to provide BBC audiences with a factual account of events rather than amplification of baseless – and dangerous – rumour.
As we see, Knell’s report is as unsatisfactory as the written article in that it fails to provide BBC audiences with the full range of background information needed to understand the organized and premeditated nature of the violence on Temple Mount and the underlying issues of official PA incitement and the groups of Islamist agitators paid to harass non-Muslim visitors to the site and provoke tensions with the Israeli authorities. As Ha’aretz reported in late 2014:
“A senior security official told Haaretz that the defense establishment has learned that the Mourabitoun guards receive a monthly salary of between 3,000 and 4,000 shekels ($776 – $1036). Some of the funds come from the Gulf States, through the occupied territories by way of couriers, and from there the money makes its way into East Jerusalem. Recently, the Shin Bet and Israel Police apprehended a courier at the Jordanian border in possession of 1 million shekels, meant for the Mourabitoun guards.”
This is not a story about ‘worried protesters’ and ‘clashes’ as Yolande Knell would have viewers believe. It actually involves much wider and more complex issues about which the BBC has consistently failed to inform its audiences, thus deliberately failing to enhance their understanding of this recurring story – as its public purpose remit demands.