BBC WS acknowledges inaccurate claim in history show

Last month we noted that listeners to an edition of the BBC World Service programme ‘The History Hour’ had been told by its presenter Max Pearson that:

“Just the phrase ‘tension in the Middle East’ has become shorthand for referencing the decades of mistrust between Jews and Arabs following the creation of the State of Israel, carved – as it was – out of land which had belonged to the Palestinians. Giving the Jewish people of the world a homeland was supposed to be the answer to one problem but it created another.” [emphasis added]

Along with a member of the public, BBC Watch submitted a complaint regarding that inaccurate and materially misleading statement and has now received the following reply:

“Thank you for getting in touch and your complaint about an edition of History in which you claim that the presenter made a factual error when introducing a piece about the Camp David summit in 2000 which was attended by president Clinton, the then Israeli PM Ehud Barak and Palestinian leader Yaser Arafat. I forwarded your complaint to the editor of the programme Kirsty Reid. Below is her reply…

Thank you for your email.  I am sorry you feel that the edition of the History Hour that went out on August 7th, was factually incorrect against Israel.  That was certainly not our intent – and I am very sorry that you got that impression. I have listened again to the programme and can see that the assertion that Israel was ‘carved out of land which had belonged to Palestinians’ should have been worded differently. I have spoken to the presenter to make sure we are more careful with our language in future. 

Kirsty Reid

Editor

Witness

I hope the above allays the concerns you have raised.”

Although no action has been taken to inform those who listened to the programme that Pearson’s statement is inaccurate, the relevant episode is currently unavailable online.  

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BBC WS history show claims Israel ‘carved out of Palestinian land’

The August 7th edition of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘The History Hour’ included an item (from 26:40 here) about the Camp David Summit that had already been aired several days previously on the same station’s other history show ‘Witness’ and was discussed here.

In his introduction to that item, presenter Max Pearson told worldwide listeners: [emphasis added]

Pearson: “But before that we’re going to focus on a region which has seen tension and violence for the past 70 years. Just the phrase ‘tension in the Middle East’ has become shorthand for referencing the decades of mistrust between Jews and Arabs following the creation of the State of Israel, carved – as it was – out of land which had belonged to the Palestinians. Giving the Jewish people of the world a homeland was supposed to be the answer to one problem but it created another. There have of course been attempts to broker peace between the Israelis and Palestinians. One of the last major efforts ended in failure in the year 2000. At that time the two sides had been brought together by the American president Bill Clinton. Farhana Haider has been speaking to the senior diplomatic interpreter Gamal Helal who attended that fateful Camp David summit.”

Obviously the Middle East “has seen tension and violence” for a lot longer than 70 years and Pearson’s claim that “tension in the Middle East” means solely the Arab-Israeli conflict is astoundingly ignorant. Clearly too, “mistrust between Jews and Arabs” did not ‘follow’ the creation of the State of Israel but was already evident many years beforehand.

But the most egregiously inaccurate part of that introduction is obviously Pearson’s claim that Israel was “carved […] out of land which had belonged to the Palestinians”. At no point in history before the creation of the State of Israel was that the case: the land was administered by the British Mandate prior to Israel’s establishment and before that had been ruled by the Ottoman Empire for 500 years.

That inaccurate and materially misleading information is all the more troubling coming, as it does, in what claims to be a history programme.

BBC Watch has submitted a complaint to the BBC World Service highlighting the need for a speedy on-air correction.

Resources:

How to Complain to the BBC 

 

 

 

BBC WS ‘The History Hour’ promotes equivalence between reactions to cartoons

The August 14th edition of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘The History Hour’ included an item (from 09:34 here) that was introduced by presenter Max Pearson using dubious linkage.

“While the last acts of the Cold War were being played out towards the end of the 1980s, the unavoidable consequence in the Middle East was renewed uncertainty and tension. And you couldn’t necessarily escape just by moving away from the region. In 1987 the acclaimed Palestinian cartoonist Naji al Ali was gunned down in London. His attackers have never been identified. Naji al Ali’s cartoons were famous across the Middle East. Through his images he criticised Israeli and US policy in the region but unlike many, he also lambasted Arab despotic regimes and the leadership of the PLO. Alex Last has been speaking to his son Khalid about his father’s life and death.”

Listeners then heard an item that had been broadcast the previous week in the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Witness’ and was discussed here. At the close of that interview, Pearson continued the item (from 18:52) as follows:

Pearson: “Khalid al Ali was talking to Alex Last about his father the cartoonist Naji al Ali whose murder in London thirty years ago serves to highlight the potential dangers of simply trying to portray the world how one sees it. Those dangers were more recently illustrated by attacks on the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo and the threats to Danish interests after the Jyllands-Posten newspaper published cartoons depicting the prophet Mohammed. I’m joined now by the cartoonist Martin Rowson whose work appears in, among other publications, the Guardian here in Britain. Ehm…Martin; is yours a dangerous profession?”

Rowson “It always has been and always will be because the whole purpose of satire is to tell truth to power while laughing at power at the same time. And actually the laughter is always more dangerous than the truth because they cannot stand the idea that we’re laughing at them in their grandeur and the rest of it.”

Rowson later went on to say:

Rowson: “I receive death threats on a regular basis but I always work on the basis they don’t count if they come by email. It’s just somebody who has been so utterly disgusted and shocked – on somebody else’s behalf invariably – so deeply offended that they want to do something far more offensive than laughing at somebody in power and kill me. And it’s bizarre that people get so incensed by this stuff.”

Pearson: “Well you use the phrase ‘speak truth to power’ but truth is very subjective. Is speaking truth to power what the cartoonist generally does or is it that he or she is simply being rude about people or ideas with which he or she does not agree?”

Rowson: “I think that’s part of it but mostly it’s the idea of mocking the powerful. That’s where the danger comes in because the powerful and their supporters cannot endure the idea of mockery because mockery is the most powerful weapon against them. […] So any despotism – be it secular or religious – will defy people not to laugh at the absurdities inherent in them. And if you do laugh at them, it’s unendurable but also powerful.”

Pearson: “But how, looking back over history, have the red lines – the lines in the sand, so to speak – shifted? […] today there certainly will be people who will think very carefully about depicting images of the prophet Mohammed in a mocking way because of the potential consequences.”

Rowson: “Well that’s certainly true. And after the Charlie Hebdo killings I proposed to the Guardian that I do a cartoon of the prophet Mohammed with his head in his hands, so you wouldn’t see his face, wearing a ‘not in my name’ T-shirt. And they decided that actually that was too dangerous for Guardian staff working in the Middle East. And I respect that decision. Actually it was too dangerous for me as well. I’d have had to go into hiding which is preposterous but it actually gets to the point where you’re not allowed to say anything about anything.”

Then, in the very next breath – and as though it were comparable to murders, terrorism, death threats and violence over cartoons deemed offensive by some Muslims – Rowson went straight on to the topic of entirely non-violent criticism from a particular group.

Rowson: “A few years ago I just stopped doing cartoons about Israel because I was fed up of every time I did a cartoon about Israel getting literally thousands of emails accusing me of being a worst anti-Semite than Hitler, which is just not true. But everybody will use this excuse of being offended to shut up the person they’re engaged in an argument with.”

While Martin Rowson is rightly protective of his own freedom to ‘speak truth to power’ (as long as it’s not Muslim power), he is obviously less keen on the idea of anyone else criticising the power that he holds as a widely published cartoonist influencing public opinion. In the past Rowson has accused “the Israel lobby” of using antisemitism (i.e. the Livingstone Formulation) to try to silence his “criticism of their brutally oppressive colonialism”.

Here is a cartoon Martin Rowson drew in April 2001, as the second Intifada raged:

This is a Martin Rowson cartoon from July 2006 relating to the second Lebanon war that began when Hizballah conducted a cross-border raid and fired missiles at Israeli civilian communities:

These are cartoons published by Rowson during Operation Cast Lead in 2009 after thousands of missile attacks had been launched against Israeli civilians by Hamas:

Here is Rowson’s take on the 2010 ‘Mavi Marmara’ incident.

This is a Rowson cartoon published three days after the commencement of Operation Protective Edge in response to 131 missile attacks on Israeli civilians in the preceding days.

Max Pearson, however, had nothing to tell listeners about Rowson’s trite, monochrome, one-sided Israel-related cartoons or why some people might find them objectionable. Instead – immediately after Rowson’s remarks about “getting…emails” he said:

Pearson: “So almost by definition – going back to my original point – the political cartoon is dangerous.”

Rowson: “Yeah. It’s meant to be dangerous. It’s a sort of point of licence to anarchy.”

Pearson closed by thanking the “esteemed cartoonist” and BBC World Service audiences went away with the impression that indignant e-mails carry the same weight and importance as the terrorist murders of cartoonists who drew Mohammed.

Related Articles:

More narrative-driven ‘history’ from the BBC World Service

Did CiF Watch “browbeat” Guardian cartoonist Martin Rowson into submission? (UK Media Watch)

Martin Rowson: Israel lobby uses antisemitism to silence critics of Zionist brutality  (UK Media Watch)

 

 

BBC World Service history programmes on the Six Day War – part two

The second part of an account of the Six Day War on the BBC World Service radio history programme ‘Witness‘ was broadcast on June 8th (and repeated in the World Service programme ‘The History Hour’ on June 12th).

Titled “The Six Day War – A Jordanian View“, the programme’s synopsis reads as follows:

“In 1967 East Jerusalem was under the control of Jordan and Captain Nabih El Suhaimat was stationed there. In early June he and his soldiers fought in vain against Israeli paratroopers. But they lost control of the Old City and he was forced to flee Jerusalem in disguise. He has spoken to Zeinab Dabaa about the Six Day War.” [all emphasis in bold added]

That inadequate and evasive portrayal of course fails to inform listeners that the reason Jordan ‘controlled’ parts of Jerusalem on the eve of the Six Day War was because 19 years earlier it had invaded – and subsequently occupied and illegally annexed – territories designated as part of the homeland for the Jewish people at the San Remo conference in 1920.

Zeinab Dabaa’s introduction to the programme was similarly uninformative:

“Today we are going back to June 1967 and the Six Day War in the Middle East. In the second of two programmes about the conflict, I’ve been speaking to a former Jordanian army officer who tried to defend East Jerusalem which at that time Jordan controlled.”

Likewise her subsequent reference to that topic:

“Ever since the creation of the State of Israel in 1948, East Jerusalem – including the Old City which contains some of Islam and Judaism’s most holy sites – had been under the control of Jordan.”

Dabaa’s presentation of the background to the Six Day War included a vague and unexplained reference to “escalating tension”.

“It was on the 5th of June 1967 after months of escalating tension that the Six Day War began. The Israelis effectively wiped out the Egyptian air force on the first day of fighting. It was the beginning of a series of bitter defeats for Egypt, Syria and Jordan.”

A rare reference to the actions of terror groups was presented in partial terminology and without any explanation of what those groups were supposedly ‘resisting’ at a time when ‘occupation’ did not exist:

“By the mid-60s Palestinian resistance groups supported by Egypt and Syria were carrying out regular attacks on the Israeli border. This was followed by Israeli reprisals and a gradual build-up of Arab military forces around the border. Then, on the 30th of May 1967, King Hussein of Jordan and President Gamal Abdel Nasser of Egypt signed a joint defence agreement. During the signing ceremony, Nasser said ‘our basic objective will be the destruction of Israel’.”

However, completely absent from this programme’s presentation of the factors that caused the Six Day War were Soviet disinformation, Nasser’s expulsion of UN peacekeepers from Sinai, the subsequent massing of Egyptian troops in the peninsula and Egypt’s closure of the Straits of Tiran.  

Moreover, not only was the Israeli prime minister’s appeal to Jordan not to join the conflict erased from the picture given to World Service listeners but the fighting in Jerusalem was inaccurately portrayed as having been initiated by Israel.

Dabaa: “On the day the war started Captain Suhaimat and his company did their best to defend the Mandelbaum Gate into all Jerusalem.”

Suhaimat: “The fighting began at 11:25 am. The Israelis attacked us with light weapons.”

Dabaa: “But on Tuesday the Israelis started to intensify their attack.”

In fact, as Jordan’s King Hussein documented himself in his 1969 book, the Jordanians had been attacking Israel for several hours before any Israeli response came.

“It was now 9 A.M. on Monday, June 5, and we were at war.

Riad [the Egyptian general who commanded Jordanian forces] increased our fire power against the Israeli air bases by directing our heavy artillery – long-range 155’s – on the Israeli air force installations within our line of fire. Our field artillery also went into action, and our Hawker Hunters [British-supplied fighter jets] were ready to take part in the combined operation with the Iraqi and Syrians. […]

… we received a telephone call at Air Force Headquarters from U.N. General Odd Bull. It was a little after 11 A.M.

The Norwegian General informed me that the Israeli Prime Minister had addressed an appeal to Jordan. Mr. Eshkol had summarily announced that the Israeli offensive had started that morning, Monday June 5, with operations directed against the United Arab Republic, and then he added: “If you don’t intervene, you will suffer no consequences.”

By that time we were already fighting in Jerusalem and our planes had just taken off to bomb Israeli airbases. So I answered Odd Bull:

“They started the battle. Well they are receiving our reply by air.”

Three times our Hawker Hunters attacked the bases at Natanya in Israel without a loss. And our pilots reported that they destroyed four enemy planes on the ground, the only ones they had seen. […]

At 12:30 on that 5th of June came the first Israeli response to the combined bombing by the Jordanians, Iraqis and Syrians.”

Listeners also heard of displaced Palestinians – but not of the fact that the Arabs living in the areas occupied by Jordan in 1948 and illegally annexed in 1950 had been given Jordanian citizenship.

“On the 10th of June 1967 the war ended. Hundreds of thousands of Palestinians were either displaced from their homes or found themselves living under Israeli control. Israel now controlled much more territory including the Golan Heights, the Sinai desert, the West Bank and the Old City of Jerusalem.”

Both these BBC World Service history programmes supposedly provide audiences with information intended to enhance their understanding of historic events. Clearly the many omissions of important background in both these episodes, together with the second programme’s presentation of an inaccurate account of the timeline of fighting in Jerusalem, severely hinder listener understanding of the Six Day War.

Related Articles:

BBC WS ‘The History Hour’ breaches impartiality guidelines with Palestinian activist

BBC WS radio’s ‘balanced’ account of the Six Day War excludes Israelis

Reviewing a BBC News Online Six Day War backgrounder 

BBC World Service history programmes on the Six Day War – part one

 

 

BBC World Service history programmes on the Six Day War – part one

The edition of the BBC World Service radio history programme ‘Witness‘ that was broadcast on June 7th 2017 (and repeated in the same station’s programme ‘The History Hour’ on June 12th) is titled “The Six Day War – An Israeli View” and is described as follows in its synopsis:

“On 7 June 1967, Israel captured the whole of Jerusalem during the Six Day War, including its most holy site, the Temple Mount that is revered by both Jews and Muslims. Louise Hidalgo has been talking to Arik Achmon, one of the first Israeli paratroopers to enter the old city that day and reach the Western Wall.”

In among her conversation with Arik Achmon, presenter Louise Hidalgo provided listeners with background to the story, some of which – to the programme’s credit – BBC audiences rarely hear. However, other parts of that background information were incomplete and unhelpful.

Hidalgo opened the programme thus: [emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]

“Today we go back to the Six Day War between Israel and its Arab neighbours: a war that reshaped the Middle East. During those six days, Jordan, Egypt and Syria lost control of the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and the Golan Heights. But perhaps the Israelis’ most symbolic victory came in Jerusalem: the city revered equally by Jews, Muslims and Christians. “

While one can question the use of the word ‘equally’ in that portrayal, Hidalgo’s subsequent presentation of the significance of Temple Mount was accurate.

“The old walled city contains one of the world’s most holy sites, the Temple Mount. Haram al Sharif in Arabic, Har Habayit in Hebrew.”

“…this [the Old City of Jerusalem] was home to this hugely revered site the Temple Mount; the Jews’ holiest site – the site of the first and second temples – and the Western Wall where, until then, Jews hadn’t been able to pray. And also so important to Muslims: the third holiest site after Mecca and Medina.”

Hidalgo’s presentation of the causes of the Six Day War included an important – yet rare – reference to the underlying Arab refusal to accept the existence of the Jewish state.

“By 1967 Israel had existed for almost 20 years but its Arab neighbours refused to accept it. The rhetoric was becoming more and more bellicose.”

While the Egyptian-Jordanian defence pact was mentioned by Hidalgo and Arik Achmon spoke of the build-up of Egyptian forces in Sinai, no mention was made of Nasser’s expulsion of UN forces from Sinai or of the casus belli – Egypt’s closure of the Straits of Tiran. Also absent from Hidalgo’s portrayal was Levi Eshkol’s appeal to Jordan not to join the hostilities which, had it not been rejected, would have meant that Jerusalem would not have been included in the fighting.

“On the 30th of May President [sic] Hussein of Jordan and the Egyptian leader Gamal Abdel Nasser signed a defence agreement.”

“Early on Monday the 5th of June Israeli jets attacked the Egyptian airforce.”

Commendably, Hidalgo made a rare reference to Israel’s actions after the war ended:

“Those six days gave Israel not just control of the whole of Jerusalem and the Temple Mount for the first time, they also gave it control of territory many times larger than its own size. After the war the Israelis gave administrative control of the Temple Mount to the Jordanian Islamic Trust – or Waqf. Years later they’d also give back Sinai to the Egyptians.”

However, presentation of the relevant background information concerning the 1948 Jordanian invasion of territories designated as part of the homeland for the Jewish people at the San Remo conference in 1920 and the subsequent 19 year-long Jordanian occupation of parts of Jerusalem was – as is usually the case in BBC content – decidedly evasive and unhelpful to audiences.

“Since the formation of the State of Israel in 1948 it [the Old City of Jerusalem] had been controlled by Jordan but on Wednesday the 7th of June 1967, Israel captured it.”

“This city line since 1948 had divided Jordanian controlled East Jerusalem – which included the Old City with its maze of narrow alleyways and its holiest site Temple Mount – from the west of Jerusalem which the Israelis controlled.”

“No Israeli soldier had set foot in the Old City, had they? Israel had lost its only foothold there, the Jewish Quarter, in the 1948 war…”

The following day’s edition of ‘Witness’ – which also told the story of the fighting in Jerusalem during the Six Day War but from the point of view of a Jordanian soldier – will be discussed in part two of this post.

Related Articles:

BBC WS ‘The History Hour’ breaches impartiality guidelines with Palestinian activist

BBC WS radio’s ‘balanced’ account of the Six Day War excludes Israelis

Reviewing a BBC News Online Six Day War backgrounder 

BBC WS radio’s ‘balanced’ account of the Six Day War excludes Israelis

Listeners to the June 14th edition of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘The History Hour’ were told by presenter Max Pearson that the next broadcast would include “the Israeli view” of the Six Day War.

“…we’re going to take a close look at one of the twentieth century’s defining events in the Middle East. In 1967 what quickly became known as the Six Day War broke out between Israel and the armed forces of Egypt, Jordan and Syria. It resulted in a rapid redrawing of the region’s de facto borders and a significant humiliation for the Arab powers. Of course this is a deeply controversial topic with highly charged views on both sides. So, for obvious reasons, we’re going to hear from both sides – next week: the Israeli view. But right now Louise Hidalgo hears from two Palestinians about their memories of that time.”

However, by the time “next week” came around, “the Israeli view” had been side-lined and Pearson introduced the June 21st item (from 13:33 here) as follows:History Hour 21 6

“Next, as promised last week, we’re going to get a second personal view of the Arab-Israeli Six Day War in June 1967. We’ve already heard a graphic account of the Palestinian experience of the conflict which pitted the Jewish state against the armed forces of Egypt, Jordan and Syria so it’s only right and proper that we hear now from the other side and that other side doesn’t just mean those living in Israel. There was at the time a Jewish population scattered throughout the Middle East and beyond. Louise Hidalgo has been talking to someone from the Jewish community in Tripoli who was forced to flee when anti-Jewish riots broke out in Libya.”

Of course with the previous programme having been devoted to the stories told by two Palestinian interviewees, a truly balanced presentation of the Six Day War would have included accounts from Israelis equally affected by the war at the time. Such accounts could have included an explanation of the sense of impending disaster which gripped Israelis in the weeks preceding the outbreak of war and the feeling of fighting for their very existence. It could also, for example, have recounted the experiences of those who had been expelled from their homes in the Old City of Jerusalem or Gush Etzion nineteen years previously by Jordan and told stories of the first visits by Israelis to the holy sites from which they were barred throughout the years of Jordanian occupation.

But curiously, the BBC chose to tick its impartiality box by comparing apples to oranges. Whilst the story of the Libyan Jewish community is obviously important and interesting – and its airing a very rare event in BBC broadcasting – this is not “the other side” of the narrative heard the previous week by BBC audiences.

The same item by Louise Hidalgo broadcast on ‘The History Hour’ also appeared in the June 19th edition of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Witness’ – available here – where it was described as “…the second of two programmes about the effect of the Six Day War between Israel and the armed forces of Egypt, Syria and Jordan”. Hidalgo’s presentation of the background to the outbreak of conflict is as follows:Witness 19 6

“The war started in early June. Tensions had been rising for months, as had anti-Israel rhetoric. Israel made the first strike – in self-defence, it said – and in six days had defeated the Arab armies. They were six days that would change the shape of the Middle East and have repercussions far beyond the borders of the countries actually involved in the fighting.”

Hidalgo’s very superficial and brief reference to “tensions” of course does nothing to inform listeners of the real background to the conflict and the build-up of Egyptian forces in Sinai – but notably it was deemed necessary to inform them that “Israel made the first strike”.

Hidalgo presents a brief history of the Libyan Jewish community but fails to mention that some Libyan Jews were also sent to Nazi concentration camps in Europe and that pogroms against Jews in Libya actually took place three years before the establishment of the State of Israel.

“Jews had lived in Libya since before the time of the Romans. At its height the community had numbered about forty thousand but during the Second World War thousands were sent to concentration camps in North Africa by Libya’s colonial ruler Italy and after the creation of Israel in 1948 many left after riots in which more than a hundred Libyan Jews were killed. By June 1967 there were only about four thousand Jews left in Libya. By the end of that month almost all of those too had gone.”

Hidalgo also makes the following claim, ignoring the already existing context of years of persecution and anti-Jewish violence long before the Six Day War broke out.

“Demonstrations in Arab capitals that started as shows of support for the Palestinians quickly turned in Tripoli and elsewhere into attacks on Jews.”

Towards the end of the item listeners are told that:

“By the end of June 1967 there were only around 200 Jews left in Libya and across the Arab world tens of thousands more left countries that many had lived in for generations.”

Unfortunately, the story of those tens of thousands – and the hundreds of thousands more who had to leave Arab lands before them – is rarely told by the BBC and whilst this account from a Libyan Jew is undoubtedly worthy of broadcast in its own right, it is however not a true representation of “the other side” of the story promoted in the previous week’s programme.

 

BBC WS ‘The History Hour’ breaches impartiality guidelines with Palestinian activist

The June 13th edition of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘The History Hour’ included an item about “the Six Day War between Israel and its Arab neighbours” which is available here from 26:40 or from 24:35 in the podcast here or here. The transcript below is taken from the podcast version.History Hour 14 6

Presenter Max Pearson introduces the item as follows:

“…we’re going to take a close look at one of the twentieth century’s defining events in the Middle East. In 1967 what quickly became known as the Six Day War broke out between Israel and the armed forces of Egypt, Jordan and Syria. It resulted in a rapid redrawing of the region’s de facto borders and a significant humiliation for the Arab powers. Of course this is a deeply controversial topic with highly charged views on both sides. So, for obvious reasons, we’re going to hear from both sides – next week: the Israeli view. But right now Louise Hidalgo hears from two Palestinians about their memories of that time.”

In her own introduction, Louise Hidalgo makes no more effort than is apparent in Pearson’s to provide listeners with the all-important context of the reasons behind the war and the events which led to the preceding build-up of tensions.

Hidalgo: “It’s early June 1967 and Israel and its Arab neighbours are embarking on a war that will change the shape of the Middle East. Samia Khoury lived in a Palestinian neighbourhood of East Jerusalem with her husband and two small children. Jordan ruled East Jerusalem then and the West Bank and the build-up of tension with Israel had been palpable.”

Of course nobody – including Samia Khoury herself – would have described her neighbourhood as “Palestinian” at the time. Hidalgo fails to inform listeners how Jordan came to ‘rule’ parts of Jerusalem and Judea & Samaria and hence they remain unaware of one of the prime factors which contributed to this war of continuance.

Throughout the entire item, Palestinians are portrayed exclusively as powerless victims of circumstances beyond their control – and responsibility. Statements such as those made by the chairman of the PLO in the period preceding the outbreak of hostilities have no place in this politicised version of ‘history’.

Shukairy statements

Hence, listeners hear only accounts such as the following from the programme’s two interviewees.

Samia Khoury: “It really worried me. I felt could this be another Nakba. I mean, I’m going somewhere else and then I can’t come back home.”

Hidalgo adds:

“The memory of what had happened 19 years earlier in 1948 was still raw among Palestinians. Then, hundreds of thousands of Palestinians had fled or been driven out of their homes during the fighting that surrounded the birth of the State of Israel. They thought they’d be able to go back but they couldn’t. Many lived in the refugee camps that sprang up afterwards. Palestinians call that time the Nakba, or catastrophe.”

Once again, the context of the Arab decision to attack the nascent Israeli state and the calls by Arab leaders to evacuate towns and villages is erased from Hidalgo’s account: Palestinians are agency-free victims of circumstance according to her portrayal of events.

Hidalgo also says:

“By the end of those six days the scale of the Arabs’ defeat was clear. Israel now controlled territory four times its size and the Old City of Jerusalem. For the first time, Jews could pray freely at their sacred Western Wall.”

Had Hidalgo added ‘in nineteen years’ after “for the first time”, that sentence would have been accurate. However, she did not.

The item also includes a gratuitous – and of course unsupported – tale of ‘Israeli cruelty’ from someone who was an eight year-old child at the time.

Hidalgo: “Nuri remembers the terrifying walk they made across the wobbling, blackened remains of the [Allenby] bridge up the hill to the Israeli commander.”

Nuri Akram Nuri: “And my mum aid that she’s from the town of Ramallah, she lives there, her husband is there and she’d like to reunite with him. And he refused. […] This guy saw that she was persistent so he put his gun and said you go back now or I’ll shoot you in front of your kids.”

Towards the end of the item, listeners hear promotion of Samia Khoury’s politicized narrative.

Samia Khoury: “We were sure that this is going to be temporary but…ah…the more time passed by we felt so stupid. The everyday small things that you take for granted; this is what the occupation is about. It chokes you. Chokes your thinking, chokes your spirit.”

Of course Hidalgo refrains from asking Khoury whether or not nineteen years of Jordanian occupation also “chokes your spirit” and – in breach of BBC guidelines on impartiality – she also refrains from adequately ‘summarising the standpoint’ of her interviewee.

Hidalgo: “Samia Khoury still lives in Beit Hanina in eastern Jerusalem and is a trustee of the Palestinian university Birzeit which was founded by her aunt in the 20s.”

In fact, Nabiha Nasir founded the Birzeit School for Girls in 1924. Only in 1976 – whilst under Israeli rule – did the establishment officially become a university.

In addition to being a trustee of Birzeit University, Samia Khoury (like several of her fellow trustees and staff at that institution) is also a member of the Advisory Board of PACBI – Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel. She is also an activist with Sabeel – a Palestinian Christian campaigning organization which promotes the eradication of the Jewish state by means of the ‘one state solution’ and dabbles in supersessionism and ‘liberation theology’.  Like PACBI, Sabeel is part of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign against Israel.

In other words, Samia Khoury is not just some random Palestinian grandmother who does voluntary work for a university. She is a veteran activist with a specific political narrative to promote and – according to BBC editorial guidelines – that fact should have been conveyed to listeners to this programme in order to enable them to put her account of ‘history’ into its appropriate context.

Related Articles:

The Six Day War – CAMERA website

Resources:

Max Pearson on Twitter

BBC World Service contact details

How to Complain to the BBC

 

BBC WS radio’s partisan portrayal of ‘The Church of the Nativity siege’

As readers may be aware, a production by the ‘Freedom Theatre of Palestine’ is currently on tour in the UK.

“The theater company, based in the West Bank town of Jenin, structured the play around the April 2002 siege of the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem. The company, whose mission is “generating cultural resistance,” is bringing the play to the United Kingdom in May and is set to perform in a number of locales with large Jewish communities. According to the theater’s website, “The Siege” is supported by the EU, the British Council and the Roddick Foundation.

It will open in Manchester at Salford’s Lowry Theatre on May 13 and 14, and will then tour Britain, with performances at London’s Battersea Arts Centre and major stages in Leeds, Birmingham, Nottingham and Glasgow, as well as some smaller venues.”

Not surprisingly, the play has received rave reviews from the ISM (International Solidarity Movement) which at the time had members acting as voluntary human shields for the wanted terrorists inside the church. The ISM also provides some insight into the aims behind both the production itself and its British tour.

“At the Freedom Theatre, Cultural Resistance is their way of defying the occupation. Ahmed Jamil Tobassi, one of the actors from the show, explained that among many other things, theatre creates a context that can support other forms of resistance. It revives stories, gives people a way of expressing themselves and ultimately frees the mind. The idea of cultural resistance is to work alongside other forms of resistance, not against. Yet “if you cannot start by deconstructing the occupation within yourself, how are you going to be able to free the country from the bigger, external occupation?” argues Jonatan Stanczak, managing director of the Theatre.

During the months of May and June, this play will be touring the United Kingdom, a country the theatre group has not yet been too. It is also as a message for the British to take responsibility for their prominent role in the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians and the ongoing occupation.”

Coincidentally, or not, the BBC World Service chose to revisit the story of the 2002 events at the Church of the Nativity in two recent radio programmes.Siege Witness

The May 12th edition of ‘Witness‘, presented by Louise Hidalgo, was devoted to accounts from a Franciscan priest and an American photographer who were both present at the time. Among the many notable features of the programme (not least the chosen illustrative image) is the lack of essential context in Hidalgo’s inserts of ‘background’.

“Today we go back to May 2002 and one of the most dramatic sieges of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. For 38 days a group of Palestinian gunmen and civilians and nuns and monks have been holed up inside one of Christianity’s most holy sites – the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem – surrounded by the Israeli army.” […]

“The stand-off had begun in early April when Israeli tanks had entered Bethlehem as part of a series of raids across the West Bank. As the Israeli army moved into the town, local civilians and Palestinian militants fled into Manger Square. When troops opened fire there, many of them ran into the church to seek sanctuary.”

What Hidalgo describes as “a series of raids” was in fact Operation Defensive Shield. She makes no mention of the fact that by the time that operation began, the second Intifada had been underway for a year and a half and around 300 Israelis had already been murdered in terror attacks. Neither does Hidalgo clarify that the catalyst for the operation was the terror attack on the Park Hotel in Netanya on Pesach Eve, in which thirty civilians were murdered and 140 injured. As far as BBC audiences are concerned, the Israeli army simply woke up one morning and decided to carry out “raids”.

Contrary to the impression given by Hidalgo’s account, the Israeli army was not the only side to open fire before the wanted terrorists broke into the Church of the Nativity by shooting off the door lock. As the Guardian reported at the time:

“Witnesses described desperate close quarter fighting in the old part of Bethlehem, a warren of narrow alleys and stone streets behind Manger Square, as Israeli forces went from house to house and entered religious buildings searching for Palestinian fighters.

Outgunned, the Palestinians fought desperately to keep Israeli troops out of Manger Square itself. Palestinian gunmen have frequently used the area around the Church of the Nativity as a refuge, with the expectation that Israel would try to avoid fighting near it.”

Neither does Hidalgo inform listeners of the existence of accounts which suggest that the terrorists’ use of the holy site was pre-planned and tactically motivated.

“As confirmed by a senior Tanzim commander, Abdullah Abu-Hadid, “The idea was to enter the church in order to create international pressure on Israel….We knew beforehand that there was two years’ worth of food for 50 monks. Oil, beans, rice, olives. Good bathrooms and the largest wells in old Bethlehem. You didn’t need electricity because there were candles. In the yard they planted vegetables. Everything was there.””

And:

“The conspiracy was to make a siege and put all the fighters inside the church so Israel would make the siege. People from the Palestinian Authority collaborated with this conspiracy,” said Eiman Abu Eita, Fatah’s representative in the Bethlehem satellite town of Beit Sahour who at the time of the siege was Beit Sahour’s al-Aqsa Brigades chief.”

Remarkably, at no point throughout this whole programme are listeners told that the people described variously as “gunmen”, “militants” or merely “men” were in fact wanted terrorists. That coy approach to an essential part of the story is reinforced in the account given by photographer Carolyn Cole.

“I do remember when the men were saying goodbye to the leaders of the Al Aqsa Martyr Brigade who was going into exile in Cyprus – Ibrahim Abayat – and I had taken a portrait of him earlier in the week. I didn’t really know his background. I had no idea why he was the most wanted man in the church but there was a group of them who left the church first and so all the other men were gathering around them. They made a line and everyone was hugging as those men left.”

Despite having had thirteen years to find out about Abayat’s “background”, Cole and her host Hidalgo refrain from telling BBC audiences the facts.

“Abayat was born in 1973, and is a resident of the city of Bethlehem. He is head of the Fatah Tanzim terrorist organization in the city.

After the death of Atef Abayat, Ibrahim took over as the Bethlehem commander of the Tanzim. In this capacity, he was involved in dispatching and executing dozens of shooting and bombing attacks, which resulted in the death and injury of scores of Israelis. Abayat also orchestrated and participated in the shooting and mortar attacks on the Jerusalem neighborhood of Gilo and on the Bethlehem bypass roads.

Aside from the shooting and mortar attacks, Ibrahim Abayat was also involved in the following murderous terrorist attacks:

20 September 2001 – A shooting attack on an Israeli vehicle near the community of Tekoa, in which Sarit Amrani was killed.

16 July 2001 – The detonation of an explosive charge on the Beit Safafa -Talpiot bridge, Jerusalem.

15 January 2002 – The abduction and murder of Avi Boaz, a US citizen residing in Israel. Boaz was stopped at a Palestinian roadblock near Beit Sahour. There he was abducted by Abayat’s operatives, who took him to Bethlehem, and upon Abayat’s instructions, shot him to death.

18 February 2002 – The detonation of a car bomb at the Zaim checkpoint, resulting in the death of an Israeli policeman.

25 February 2002 – A shooting attack at an Israeli vehicle close to the Tekoa junction. Avraham Fisch and Aharon Gorov of Nokdim were killed in the attack, and Tamar Lipschitz, in an advanced stage of pregnancy, was wounded in the attack.

2 March 2002 – A shooting attack at a vehicle on the ‘Tunnel Route’ south of Jerusalem. Devorah Friedman was killed in the attack.

June 14, 2002 – Involvement in the planning and execution of the terrorist murder of Israeli intelligence officer, Yehuda Edri.

In addition, incriminating evidence has been found linking him to an attempt to detonate an explosive charge, in the Jerusalem suburb of Tzur Haddassah, on 31 January 2002. The explosive charge was discovered and neutralized by Israeli police sappers.”

According to some accounts from the time, Abayat also murdered Palestinians.

“Residents also said that Mr. Ja’ara and another top leader, Ibrahim Abayat, took nine Muslims whom they suspected of collaborating with Israel into an apartment near Manger Square and fatally shot them.
The executions took place shortly before the April 2 gunbattle between Israeli troops and Palestinian fighters that sent more than 200 Palestinians fleeing into the church, where they remained for 39 days.
Abayat, in a phone interview from inside the church while the siege was under way, said he was personally responsible for the killings.
He said there was no need for a trial because “it was a well-known fact that these people were linked to Israel.””

No less euphemistic is the programme’s presentation of the terrorist supporting ISM with which Cole entered the church and which she was apparently covering at the time.

Hidalgo: “Then one day, photographer Carolyn Cole had the kind of break that journalists can only dream of. It was late afternoon, she was standing at the barricade when she spotted a group of foreign protesters sneaking around the side of the church.” […]

“The protesters had coordinated by mobile phone with some of the Palestinians inside.”

Interestingly, Hidalgo makes no attempt to clarify what those so-called “foreign protesters” were actually doing in a war zone but the ISM’s press release from the time does supply some of the missing background.

“BETHLEHEM (May 2, 2002) – Ten members of the International Solidarity Movement (ISM) entered the besieged Church of Nativity at about 5:45 pm, walking past Israeli occupation soldiers. A further thirteen persons, working as decoys were arrested by the Israeli soldiers. All those inside are determined to remain until the Israelis lift their siege on the city of Bethlehem.

The ISM conceived of an intricate plan to move past Israeli soldiers outside the Church in several separate but coordinated groups carrying placards denouncing the ongoing Israeli occupation. In a move orchestrated with contacts within, two ISM teams were able to reach the Church and enter its main door before Israeli soldiers could respond. Every member carried with them food and other critical supplies badly needed by the Palestinians holed up inside. The Israeli army has denied the Palestinians, besieged since April 1, 2002, sufficient amounts of food.

This constitutes the latest in a series of success by the ISM to defy the Israeli occupation and to demonstrate to the world that the international community takes a firm stance against the illegal Israeli occupation of Palestinian territory. In light of the failure for the international community, namely the United States and the United Nations to act to help protect the Palestinian people and secure their universal rights, the ISM has had to operate on its own. Prior to this, the ISM has twice circumvented Israeli occupation forces to place activists inside of President Arafat’s compound in Ramallah.”

Hidalgo’s context-free, romanticized presentation of events was broadcast yet again to BBC World Service listeners in the May 16th edition of ‘The History Hour’ and also promoted as a podcast. There it was introduced by presenter Max Pearson as follows:Siege History Hour

“But we begin in that hotbed of historical drama; the Middle East. Ever since the creation of Israel after the Second World War – carved out of land previously inhabited by the Palestinians – there’s been tension between Jews and Arabs. This tension is frequently expressed in violence; sometimes in war. And the holy shrines of three great religions – Judaism, Islam and Christianity – have not escaped unscathed. So it was in May 2002 when one of the most dramatic sieges of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict unfolded in Bethlehem.” [emphasis added]

Pearson makes no attempt to explain to listeners what “have not escaped unscathed” meant in this particular case.

“The 39 day standoff in Bethlehem ended yesterday when 13 of the militiamen camped in the church were flown to Cyprus on their way to exile in Europe. Another 26 militiamen were released into the Gaza Strip, where they fired assault rifles in the air to acknowledge cheers from crowds lining the streets. Seventy-three Palestinian policemen and civilians were set free.

Israeli bomb experts swept the church at the request of the priests and found 40 explosive devices, several booby-trapped and hidden in corners and behind cupboards, the army said. The sappers neutralised 25 devices and an American bomb squad with sniffer dogs disarmed the rest, according to a military source.

In their joy over having control over the shrine again, Greek and Franciscan priests conducted a service, and bells rang for several minutes.

When Israeli troops later withdrew from Bethlehem, hundreds of residents who had been trapped in their houses by curfew during much of the standoff entered the church. Many lit candles near the birth grotto.

”This is the place where Jesus was born. I can’t believe this is the house of God, just look at it,” 18-year-old Sandy Shaheen, a Bethlehem Christian, said crying.

The shrine reeked of urine and dirty dishes, blankets, cigarette butts and a mass of other garbage lay about. But the building was largely unscathed by the standoff.”

Despite the lack of important background information and context and regardless of the absence of any input on this story from the Israeli side, the BBC chose to present this clearly partisan anecdotal version of events as ‘history’. That would be bad enough at any time, but in a month in which BBC audiences in the UK will likely be hearing a lot about the Jenin Freedom Theatre’s agitprop, it is all the more striking that the organisation tasked with building “a global understanding of international issues” has elected to put politics before the provision of accurate and impartial information.

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