Political messaging and inaccuracies in BBC Radio 4’s ‘Terror Through Time’

On December 2nd another edition of the BBC Radio 4 series ‘Terror Through Time’ (presented by Fergal Keane) was broadcast under the title “Death Wish: Battling Suicide Bombers“. The programme’s synopsis reads as follows:Terror Through Time 2 12 14

“Fergal Keane visits Tel Aviv and Jerusalem to discover how Israeli society reacted to a wave of suicide bombers. He’s joined by Assaf Moghadan, a researcher at the International Institute for Counter Terrorism, former Israeli Army commander Nitzan Nuriel and by Professor Rashid Khalidi of Columbia University.”

The programme begins with a recording of Bill Clinton speaking at the signing of the Oslo Accords in September 1993, after which Keane informs listeners:

“But within months, a new campaign of terrorism was bringing carnage to the streets of Jerusalem and Tel Aviv…”

Of course the post-Oslo terror campaign also took place in many additional locations in Israel besides its two largest cities, contrary to the inaccurate impression given by Keane. He goes on to interview Israeli film-maker Noam Sharon, stating “I’m here in the Old City of Jerusalem”. In fact, as Sharon states, the interview took place on Yoel Moshe Salomon street, which is not located in the Old City. After Sharon has described some of the suicide bombings which took place in that district in Jerusalem, Keane goes on to interview Assaf Moghadan and then states:Map Yoel Moshe Salomon

“By the 1990s the balance of power among the Palestinians was shifting. Islamist groups like Hamas and Islamic Jihad, as well as militant elements within Yasser Arafat’s Fatah, were opposed to the peace process. Support for a path of violent opposition to Israel would grow sharply in the wake of a massacre of Palestinians carried out at the Cave of the Patriarchs by a Jewish extremist.”

After a recording of an archive news bulletin, Keane once again inadequately introduces political activist cum academic Rashid Khalidi, failing to provide audiences with the crucial background summary of Khalidi’s “viewpoint” which would enable them to put his contribution into its appropriate context.

Keane: “Rashid Khalidi is professor of modern Arab studies at Colombia University, New York.”

Khalidi: “Suicide attacks were carried out in the wake of the Hebron Mosque massacre – the Haram al Ibrahimi massacre – by Baruch Goldstein in 1994, when dozens of worshippers were gunned down by this armed settler fanatic.”

But do the facts actually support Khalid’s claim? Suicide attacks had in fact already begun in 1989 with the one on the 405 bus carried out by the PIJ. Two attacks were carried out in 1993 by Hamas and in 1994 five attacks by Hamas took place. The years that followed showed a slight decline in suicide attacks – 1995: 4, 1996: 4, 1997: 3, 1998: 2, 1999: 2. The surge in suicide attacks actually came during the second Intifada which began six and a half years after Goldstein’s terror attack at the Cave of the Patriarchs – 2000: 5, 2001: 40, 2002: 47 attacks. Hence, Khalidi’s linkage is doubtful to say the least. Keane goes on to tell listeners:

“Rashid Khalidi says that Palestinian anger over a peace process that failed to stop the building of Jewish settlements on Palestinian land helped to create support for violent action against Israeli civilians.”

Of course Keane’s blind adoption and amplification of Khalidi’s politically motivated narrative means that he erases from audience view several vital points, one of which is the fact that the representatives of the Palestinian people willingly signed the Oslo Accords in which no limitation on Israeli (or Palestinian) building was stipulated. He also ignores the fact that construction in existing communities took place in Area C which, according to the terms of the Oslo Accords is to have its status determined in final status negotiations, making Keane’s description of that area as “Palestinian land” inaccurate and misleading.

Khalidi: “Instead of punishing the settlers by doing what a majority of his cabinet apparently wanted to do, which was to remove settlers from Hebron and perhaps even remove the Kiryat Arba settlement where the most fanatic, most extreme armed settlers were concentrated, Rabin did quite the opposite. He began the enforcement of incredibly restrictive conditions on the population of Hebron in the area where the Jewish settlers had set up in the city, such that it became clear to the Palestinians that the peace process was not delivering and to settlement and improvement of the situation for Palestinians: quite the contrary.”

Neither Khalidi nor Keane bother to inform listeners that the status of Hebron and the security arrangements there are the product of the Hebron Protocols – again willingly signed by the Palestinian leadership. Clearly that fact does not fit into Khalidi’s politically motivated narrative which portrays Palestinians exclusively as victims.

Keane then goes on to discuss with Ronen Bergman and Nitzan Nuriel Israel’s methods of coping with the wave of suicide bombings during the second Intifada before informing listeners that:

“The most profound, long-term impact was political. Suicide bombing created fear among the Israeli public and a sense of betrayal. Where were the promises of peace, they asked. And so voters gradually turned away from the likes of Shimon Peres and Ehud Barak of Labour and towards the right-wing in the form of Binyamin Netanyahu and Ariel Sharon. As suicide bombing reached its peak in 2002, Sharon ordered the army into West Bank towns controlled by the Palestinian Authority. Operation Defensive Shield was the largest military operation in the West Bank since the war of 1967. The compound of PLO leader Yasser Arafat was besieged and according to the United Nations, 497 Palestinians were killed along with 30 Israeli soldiers. Arafat was accused of supporting suicide bombers from the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades – a faction of his Fatah movement. Human Rights Watch said that while he didn’t have command responsibility, he bore a heavy political responsibility for the atrocities. More than a hundred people died in bomb attacks in Israel from March to May 2002.”

Notably, at no point in this programme is it clarified that Arafat was not only the leader of the PLO, but also the president of the Palestinian Authority. No mention is made of his instigation of the second Intifada and, as we see above, his role in financing that terror war is downplayed to the level of ambiguous “political responsibility”.

After discussing the role of the anti-terrorist fence in reducing suicide bombings with Assaf Moghadan, Keane once again turns his attentions away from counter-terrorism and towards politics.

“But Israel’s politics changed dramatically. The old existential fear dominated and produced governments for whom security – rather than a long-term pact with the Palestinians – became the primary focus. Along with this came the steady expansion of Jewish settlements on Palestinian land: a deep cause of Palestinian fury. For the Palestinian militants, instead of suicide bombers the new terrorism would see hundreds of rockets fired at Israeli civilians.”

So according to Keane’s version of events, it was “Jewish settlements” which caused “fury” which prompted the continuation of terror attacks against Israeli civilians, with the tactic changing from suicide bombings to rockets.

The one major hole in Keane’s inaccurate theory is of course that the majority of the thousands – not “hundreds”- of missile attacks from the Gaza Strip took place after Israel’s disengagement from that territory in 2005 – including the evacuation of all ‘settlements’ – and hence one can in fact see that Keane’s linkage between the Palestinian terror organisations’ activities and ‘settlements’ is fallacious to say the least.

Missile attacks from GS

Keane proceeds with a very odd question:

“As with the airline hijackings of the 1970s, the suicide bombing campaigns focused attention on the Palestinian cause. But did they improve living conditions or bring a Palestinian state any closer?”

Keane gives the last word to Khalidi.

“Well, I would argue that attacks carried out in particular during the second Intifada which began in 2000 – and those attacks really reached a peak in 2001/2002 with bus bombs and other atrocities all over Israeli cities – had a devastating effect on the Palestinians, not only in terms of public opinion but in terms of hardening Israeli opinion against the Palestinians in terms of unifying Israeli opinion around the most extreme right-wing positions in Israeli politics. So their ultimate impact, besides the havoc that the Israeli army wreaked on the Palestinians as part of the re-occupation of the tiny areas that they had originally evacuated as part of the Oslo Accords, the public opinion impact worldwide of the Palestinians blowing up buses – all of these things together in my view had a devastating impact on the Palestinians primarily. Obviously there was enormous suffering caused by the actual attacks, but strategically I would say the balance is entirely in Israel’s favour and that should be a strategic factor for any Palestinian political leader.”

In other words, BBC audiences are left with the message that suicide bombings are undesirable not because they are morally wrong or abhorrent, but because they do not serve the strategic interests of Palestinian public relations. They are also told that Israeli public opinion is ‘unified’ around “the most extreme right-wing positions in Israeli politics” – a claim not borne out by the results of the 2013 elections or those which went before them. Khalidi also erases the fact that Arafat’s campaign of terror actually coincided with an increase in foreign donor contributions to the Palestinian Authority and that continuing terrorism cannot be said to have had a detrimental effect upon the provision of foreign aid funding.

Ostensibly, Fergal Keane set out to explore in this programme “how Israeli society reacted to a wave of suicide bombers”. What he actually achieved was – once again – uncritical amplification of political messaging from the Rashid Khalidi show. 


BBC R 4’s ‘Terror Through Time’ asks a silly question, gets a silly answer

The BBC Radio 4 programme ‘Terror Through Time’ – presented by Fergal Keane – is back with a new series and its November 24th edition was titled “Mossad: The Wrath of God“.Terror Through Time

The programme’s synopsis states:

“In the first episode of ten examining the world of terrorism in the run-up to 9/11, Fergal Keane asks if the reputation of Mossad has been a help or a hindrance to peace in the Middle East. Has the agency’s ruthlessness destroyed the efforts of moderate voices on both sides or stopped the worst perpetrators of violence in their tracks?”

Leaving aside the fact that (contrary to the asinine suggestion repeatedly promoted by the BBC) “peace in the Middle East” is obviously a much broader issue than the Arab-Israeli conflict, solving that particular conflict is not part of the job description of The Institute for Intelligence and Special Operations – or Mossad – and hence that is a rather odd and redundant question to be asking in the first place.

And in fact, Keane does not really ask the question or provide any relevant or enlightening answers to it in his programme. What he does do, however, is to use it as a hook upon which to place some political messaging from a contributor misleadingly (and in breach of BBC Editorial Guidelines on impartiality which demand that the viewpoint of interviewees should be summarised) presented merely as an academic.

Keane: “So is it a successful policy as far as Israel is concerned? Have the assassinations weakened Israel’s enemies? Rashid Khalidi is professor of modern Arab studies at Columbia University. He’s convinced that the killings have fundamentally weakened the political capabilities of the Palestinians.”

Khalidi: “I think it is the case, going back to the 1970s, that what Israel has done in assassinating Palestinian leaders – some of whom are literary figures, some of whom were spokespeople, some of whom were organizational leaders, some of whom were military leaders – has been to decapitate the secular Palestinian movement. If you look at the leadership of Fatah, at least a dozen of the most gifted leaders were murdered: most of them assassinated by the Israelis, some of them unfortunately assassinated by the intelligence services of Arab regimes; whether Syria or Libya or Iraq. And this has had a devastating effect on Fatah and on the PFLP and on other of the groups that make up the PLO. Something of the same sort has happened to Hamas and to Islamic Jihad in the more recent period when they were the ones leading…err….armed resistance and carrying out attacks on Israeli civilian and other targets, such that in a certain sense, the best and the brightest are all six feet under.”

Anyone familiar with Rashid Khalidi’s record of political activism will of course not be in the least bit surprised by his attempt to turn arch-terrorists such as Fatah’s Abu Jihad (Khalil al Wazir), the PFLP-GC’s Ahmed Jibril or Black September leader Ali Hassan Salameh into “the best and the brightest” and “gifted leaders” or by his far-fetched implication that a political solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict has been thwarted by Israeli assassinations of the terrorists who – according to his spurious theory – would have made it happen.

The trouble is that the majority of listeners to BBC Radio 4 will not know who Rashid Khalidi is or what the political motivations inevitably underscoring his commentary entail and hence will be unable to put his words into their appropriate context. The bigger problem is, of course, that the BBC has denied them that ability. 


BBC R4 gives a platform to terrorist Leila Khaled

The attempted hijacking of El Al flight 219 from Amsterdam to New York by Leila Khaled and Nicaraguan Patrick Arguello of the PFLP on September 6th 1970 lasted some three minutes and twenty seconds according to a reconstruction later carried out by the Israel Security Agency.

On October 21st 2013 BBC Radio 4 gave Leila Khaled a platform lasting almost the same length of time from which to promote her unchallenged narrative of the event in a fifteen-minute programme titled “Hijack!” (available here or here on iPlayer) which forms part of Fergal Keane’s series “Terror Through Time”, previously discussed on these pages. 

Terror Through Time Hijack

Keane states:

“Leila Khaled fled with her family from her birthplace of Haifa after the Israeli victory in the war of 1948. She was imbued with the determination to strike back against Israel.”

As is well documented, Khaled’s opprobrium would of course have been better directed against the Arab leaders who instructed their population to leave Haifa – even before the fighting had reached that area.

At 04:25 listeners can hear Khaled laughing about the stringent security measures now necessary on all flights as a result of terrorism. At 04:33 Keane says:

“But the operation already had problems. Two PFLP members had missed the flight, leaving just Khaled and Arguello to seize a jet that was protected by armed Israeli guards.”

In fact the other two members of the terror cell had not “missed the flight” but were prevented from boarding it by Israeli security. Maariv flight 219

Khaled then says:

“After half an hour we stood up and I took the hand grenades and with my teeth I opened them. The minute we stood up and screamed, they began to shoot – all the security men from behind us.”

So listeners are led to believe that she and her accomplice were shot at immediately after having “stood up and screamed”.  According to the ISA reconstruction however, it was Arguello who fired the first shot, wounding flight attendant Shlomo Vider when the latter tried bare-handed to prevent him from approaching the cockpit. A female flight attendant managed to get to the back of the plane where one of the two air marshals on board (the other was in the cockpit at the time) was sitting – unaware at that point that a hijacking attempt was ongoing – and he then moved to the front of the aircraft where Khaled and Arguello were situated. The air marshal, together with the wounded, unarmed flight attendant, tried to overpower Arguello and the air marshal shot Arguello. The air marshal then overcame Khaled and, together with a passenger, managed to find the grenade’s pin and neutralize it.

Keane however allows Khaled to present an unchallenged version of events according to which she becomes the victim of an “attack”.

“I said OK, you don’t want to open [the cockpit door], so I made like this – one hand up, one hand down – with the hand grenades. I count for three: if you don’t open I will explode the plane. I said it, but I didn’t want to explode the plane. They did not open the cockpit. In a minute they had two attack me from behind and I fainted.”

Towards the end of the item, Keane remarks that:

“In the space of a few weeks, a fascinated news media had cemented her [Khaled’s] position as an icon of terrorism”

Most licence fee-payers would probably find it highly regrettable that by providing a platform for the unchallenged propaganda of terrorists, the BBC continues to embellish that “icon”. 

BBC R4 presents jaundiced account of San Remo conference

BBC Radio Four is currently running a series called “Terror Through Time” presented by Fergal Keane. The instalment broadcast on Friday, October 11th 2013 was titled “Stirring the Middle East” and it can be heard here.

Stirring the Middle East

The programme’s synopsis reads:

“Fergal Keane on the British promises in WW1 that provoked conflict in the Middle East.
The collapse of the Ottoman Empire after the First World War created a tangle of real and potential conflicts for world leaders to unpick.

The toughest nut to crack would be the future of Palestine. In the course of the war Britain, in its desperate quest for allies, made three apparently contradictory promises. A secret deal with France divided future control of the Middle East between the two allies, the Sharif of Mecca was offered a new Arab kingdom and support for a Jewish homeland had been given to the Zionists.

Fergal Keane explores how Britain tried and failed to untangle the knots, setting the scene for so much of the violence to come in the Middle East.”

As may be expected of an item lasting less than fourteen minutes which relies mainly upon input from anti-Zionist campaigning academic Avi Shlaim and partisan activist academic Rashid Khalidi, the programme presents a very one-sided, partial view of the Balfour Declaration and the Mandate for Palestine. Interestingly – in light of a recent ECU decision – the two contributors are introduced solely by their academic titles, with no “summarizing the standpoint” of Shlaim and Khalidi whatsoever. 

Listeners to the programme will not hear a full explanation of the legal status of the Mandate for Palestine issued by the League of Nations or of the fact that 77% of its intended area was later assigned to the creation of Transjordan. They will hear of the Hussein-McMahon Correspondence, but not that none of the letters referred to Palestine or that – as was reported in The Times in 1937 – Sir Henry McMahon later clarified:

“I feel my duty to state, and I do so definitely and emphatically, that it was not intended by me in giving this pledge to King Hussein to include Palestine in the area in which Arab independence was promised. I also had every reason to believe at the time that the fact that Palestine was not included in my pledge was well understood by King Hussein.”

Listeners will hear Keane say at 11:22:

“There were no Palestinian Arabs present at all when the final deal was reached at San Remo in 1920.”

They do not get any explanation of the fact that at the time no such separate identity as “Palestinian Arabs” was recognized – certainly not by Arab powers with their own territorial designs. Neither are they made aware that at the same San Remo conference, the foundations for Syria, Lebanon and Iraq were laid down.  

They will hear Khalidi’s politically motivated description of the Balfour Declaration as a vehicle for British imperialism and hear him claim that “the Palestinians were basically written out of the Mandate” whilst he himself completely ignores the fact that the “non-Jewish population of Palestine” referred to in the Balfour Declaration actually includes other groups besides the “Arabs and Palestinians” to whom he exclusively refers.

In light of the presentation of this politicized version of events, readers may be interested to know that the episode of this series scheduled for Monday, October 14th at 13:45 BST is titled “The Murderous Mandate”. According to the synopsis:

“In April 1947 a young French woman talked her way past the guard of Dover House in Whitehall. She told him she was desperate to use the toilet. In fact Betty Knut was there to plant a bomb at the very heart of the Empire. It proved just how far some militants were willing to go in their campaign to remove the British from Palestine.

In part six of Fergal Keane’s exploration of the changing nature of terrorism, he’s joined by historian David Cesarani and former member of the Jewish underground, Hanna Armoni, to tell the story of the dedicated groups that turned their bombs and bullets against the British occupation.”

The Murderous Mandate