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

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

While both reports repeated themes seen in additional BBC coverage such as incomplete presentation of the entire text of Arthur Balfour’s letter, on the other hand they did present audiences with a very rare glimpse of the grave consequences of British restrictions on Jewish immigration.

Filmed: “In 1939, the British Government bowed to the pressure of the Arab revolt, drastically restricting Jewish immigration. The immediate consequences were to be disastrous for the Jews. The timing could not have been worse. Hitler’s Final Solution was soon to come into devastating effect.”

Written: “Leo was bitterly disappointed at the British cap on Jewish immigration and I visited Atlit, one of the British internment camps, with 80-year-old Rabbi Meir Lau. He spent two weeks here when he arrived in Palestine as an eight-year-old survivor of Buchenwald extermination camp. Many other refugees were turned back – to Europe.

“It was against humanity after six years of horror,” he said, shaking his head in sorrow as we walked along the rusty barbed wire fences. “Where was the nation of the United Kingdom then? Lord Balfour would not have believed it.””

Both reports informed audiences of the Arab refusal to accept the 1947 Partition Plan but in the filmed report Corbin provided a debatable motive for the ensuing attacks by Arab states.

Filmed: “…but the Arabs would not sign up to the UN plan. All-out war followed, as Arab armies from neighbouring countries invaded in support of the Palestinians.” [emphasis added]

In her written report Corbin presented a whitewashed portrayal of events:

Written: “But Arab countries refused to sign up to the UN’s plan and, in the violence on both sides that followed, hundreds of thousands of Palestinians fled or were forced to flee the new State of Israel.” [emphasis added]

Corbin’s filmed report inaccurately portrayed the PLO as having begun its life as a terrorist organisation after – and because of – the Six Day War rather than three years before any ‘occupation’ existed. 

Filmed: “The occupation sparked an armed struggle by the Palestinian Liberation Organisation, under its leader, Yasser Arafat. Exiled from Palestine, the PLO carried out hijackings and bombings on the international stage. They killed Israeli athletes at the 1972 Olympics. Israel sent hit squads to hunt down those responsible.”

Equally inaccurate was her portrayal of the Western Wall:

Filmed: “Israel insists that Jerusalem, the site of their holiest place, the Western Wall of the temple, must be their eternal undivided capital.” [emphasis added]

Her description of the al Aqsa Mosque was no less misleading:

Filmed: “The great mosques of Islam are here, too…”

Corbin presented a highly simplistic portrayal of the failure of the Oslo peace process to achieve its aim which refrained from adequately clarifying that negotiations continued after Rabin’s death and completely airbrushed the Palestinian Authority initiated second Intifada out of the picture.

Filmed: “Despite the hopes, the peace deal was quick to unravel, under pressure from extremists on both sides. The Palestinian Islamist group Hamas rejected the peace deal and set out to undermine it by bombing Israeli buses. And Yasser Arafat’s security forces failed to prevent the attacks. […]

 Two years after the agreement, a Jewish extremist opposed to giving up land for peace, assassinated Yitzhak Rabin. […]

The Oslo Accords are the closest I’ve ever known to the kind of peaceful ideal that Balfour and Leo Amery had for Palestine. But for me, despite the progress made, the death of Yitzhak Rabin spelled the end of the Oslo peace process…”

Written: “The optimism created by the historic handshake on the White House lawn between the leaders of Israel and the Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO) was shattered when a Jewish extremist assassinated Israel’s prime minister Yitzhak Rabin and the PLO’s chairman Yasser Arafat failed to stop suicide bombings launched by the Islamist extremist group Hamas.”

In typical BBC form, Corbin amplified Palestinian messaging by telling viewers of the filmed report that there is one prime “barrier to peace”: Israeli communities in Judea & Samaria and parts of Jerusalem.

Filmed: “Well, it may not look much but I’m actually now crossing over from Israel into the West Bank where the Palestinians live. And here, an even greater barrier to any peace deal has emerged: Israeli settlements built on occupied Palestinian land. Since Oslo, Israel has more than tripled the number of settlers in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. There are now more than 500,000 Israelis living in around 140 settlements. Heading north, I’m on my way to an Orthodox Jewish settlement called Tappuah. The international community considers all Israeli settlements illegal. It’s very different today than when I first came on the West Bank 30 years ago. So many more Israeli settlements on all the hills around and so many more Israeli settlers.”

While viewers of the filmed report got some insight into the issue of Hamas’ refusal to “ever recognise Israel’s right to exist” based on their conviction that Israel is “Arab” and “Islamic” land, readers of the written report saw nothing at all on that topic.

Corbin’s take-away messaging in both reports, however, completely ignored the uncompromising approach of Hamas and additional Palestinian factions as she promoted a narrative of equivalent blame for the absence of peace that completely failed to address the century-long key issue of the basic Arab refusal to accept Jewish self-determination in the region.

Filmed: “I do believe that Leo Amery was right when he thought violence wasn’t inevitable here. It resulted from the wrong political decisions. And I think that still holds true today.  For me, what’s needed is the kind of vision that Oslo brought. Strong and inspired leadership, a leap of faith on both sides. And without that, there’s a danger that time is running out. The bloodshed and intransigence will make peace impossible for decades still to come.”

Written: “Was Leo’s vision that Jews and Arabs could live and prosper together in peace doomed to failure and was violence inevitable? These were the questions I wanted to answer when I came to Israel again this time. […]

Leo never thought violence was inevitable here. He believed it was the result of wrong political decisions and the bloody and unpredictable events of history – as I discovered myself after the Oslo peace agreement.

Now there is a danger that extremism and intransigence on both sides will make peace impossible for decades still to come.”

Like most of the rest of the BBC’s Balfour Declaration centenary coverage, these two reports by Corbin promoted the narrative that implementation of that declaration was incomplete. In the filmed report Corbin even went so far as to describe its intention as “[t]he Balfour vision of Arabs and Jews living together in the same country”.

While the Balfour Declaration’s commitment to the establishment of a homeland for the Jewish people was eventually realised (some might say despite the best efforts of the British mandate), Corbin made no reference at all in either of her reports to the fact that part of the territory originally assigned to that purpose was subsequently made over by the British (with League of Nations approval) to the creation of the Arab state known today as Jordan.

Another very significant omission in both of Corbin’s reports – particularly in light of her repeated references to Palestinian refugees – is the subject of Jewish refugees from Arab and Muslim lands: people whose rights were also supposedly safeguarded by the Balfour Declaration but whose existence and story has barely been acknowledged in the BBC’s coverage of this centenary.

Related Articles:

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In her filmed report Corbin revisited a previous interviewee.

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

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

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

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

In both reports Corbin visited Lifta.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Related Articles:

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

 

 

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

On April 15th 2015 BBC Two’s ‘This World’ programme aired a documentary by Jane Corbin titled “Kill the Christians” which is described as follows in the synopsis:Corbin This World

“Christianity is facing the greatest threat to its existence in the very place where it was born. Jane Corbin travels across the Middle East to some of the holiest places in Christendom and finds that hundreds of thousands of Christians are fleeing Islamic extremists, conflict and persecution. From the Nineveh plains in Iraq to the ancient city of Maaloula in Syria, Kill the Christians reveals the story of how the religion that shaped Western culture and history is in danger of disappearing in large parts of its ancient heartland.”

Pre-broadcast promotion of the programme included an article by Corbin titled “Could Christianity be driven from Middle East?” published on the BBC News website and another article by Corbin published in the Guardian under the headline “These may be the last Christians of the Middle East – unless we help“. The sub-heading in the Guardian article reflects one of the themes appearing in the documentary itself as well as in the other written article.

“Islamic extremism has taken persecution to a new level, but the seeds were sown a decade ago in the US- and British-led Iraq invasion”.

Whilst the version of Corbin’s article appearing on the BBC News website confines itself to discussion of the plight of Christians in Iraq and Syria, in the article appearing in the Guardian, readers got a taste of things to come in the documentary itself.

“Christianity remains a force only in Lebanon, where the common enemy for Muslims and Christians alike is Islamic extremism. There are other threats, however – in historic Palestine young Christians leave for jobs and a more secure life abroad. Emigration and fear are sapping the life of Christian communities even in relatively peaceful parts of the region.”Corbin written

At around 37 minutes into the programme Corbin tells viewers:

“But there’s one country where Christians are still secure – their last bastion in the Middle East: the Lebanon.”

That, of course, is not an accurate statement: Christians in Israel are both secure and thriving.  

Remarkably, around a tenth of this hour-long documentary ostensibly about “Christians…fleeing Islamic extremists, conflict and persecution” is devoted to what Corbin variously terms “historic Palestine” and “the Holy Land”.

“The Christians of the Lebanon have a good chance of holding on, but only if their children feel they have a future in the region. That’s not certain when you look at where it all began: historic Palestine. The Christian community has dramatically declined in the very place where Christ was born: in the little town of Bethlehem on the West Bank Palestinian territory occupied by Israel.”

Bethlehem is of course located in Area A and has been under the full control of the Palestinian Authority since 1995.

“It’s not Islamic State that threatens Christians here but a slow process of attrition. Decades of conflict between Israel and the Palestinians have driven many Christians to emigrate. In the 1920s Bethlehem was almost completely Christian; only one Muslim family lived here. But now only a third of the town’s inhabitants are Christian.”

Corbin refrains from informing her viewers of some critical background to Bethlehem’s demographics:

“In 1947 the population of Bethlehem was 85% Christian. In 1990 23,000 Christians lived there, as a 60% majority. After the Palestinian Authority took over control of the town in 1995 the town’s municipal boundaries were altered to include concentrations of Muslim population, turning the Christians into a minority. By 2010 the number of Christians in Bethlehem had fallen to 7,500.”

Corbin continues:

“The Church of the Nativity marks the very place where Christ was born in a manger. It’s somewhere every devout Christian in the world wants to visit. Much of Bethlehem’s economy depends on pilgrimage and tourism and that always suffers when there’s conflict in the Holy Land.” […]

“During the Palestinian uprising against the Israeli occupation a decade ago, the Church of the Nativity itself was besieged. Israeli forces battled Palestinian militants who’d taken refuge inside. Many Christians left Bethlehem following the uprising.” […]

Corbin makes no mention of the fact that the Palestinian terrorists who violently took over the church were in possession of weapons and explosives and held some 200 hostages – civilians and clergy.

“Life is hard in Bethlehem. The town’s now partly surrounded by the wall. Israel says it built this separation barrier for its security but Christians say it restricts their movement. Violence still regularly flares up in Bethlehem between Israeli soldiers and Palestinians.” […]

Once again we see the BBC’s standard “Israel says” formula at work in relation to the anti-terrorist fence. As usual, no effort is made to provide audiences with factual information on the subject of the fence’s effectiveness in preventing the terror attacks which were the cause of its construction and just as Corbin avoids any mention of Palestinian terrorism during the second Intifada, she also erases it from her euphemistic description of contemporary violence which, according to her, just “flares up”. Corbin also repeats the standard inaccurate BBC claim according to which Bethlehem is “partially surrounded by the wall”. In fact, not only is there no anti-terrorist fence to the south and east of Bethlehem, but the section which can accurately be described as a “wall” is one small specific section.

“Some Christians also complain of discrimination against them by the Muslim majority and they fear increasing Islamic extremism in the area.” […]

That one-liner is of course the real story behind the plight of Palestinian Christians in Bethlehem and elsewhere but – despite the ample evidence long available – it is one which does not fit the BBC narrative and hence has not been reported comprehensively. As we see, Corbin makes no effort to present an exception to that BBC rule.

“Many Christians in Bethlehem feel cut off from the greatest place of all in the life of Christ – just five miles away. Jerusalem is where three of the greatest religions on earth come together, making this the holiest city on earth. Two of those religions are still thriving in the Holy Land. Judaism is secure in the State of Israel and prayers in Jerusalem’s great Mosques echo those across the Middle East where Islam is predominant. Only Christianity is in terminal decline. They still worship in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, on the site of Jesus’ tomb. But most visitors are from far away – from places where the religion’s growing. Soon these most symbolic sites could become just museums for international pilgrims. Few Christians actually live in the place where Jesus lived and died.”

In the year following the establishment of the State of Israel – 1949 – its Christian population numbered 34,000.  In 1947 there were 28,000 Christians living in Jerusalem. During the 19 years of Jordanian rule over the eastern part of the city, 61% of them left, with the population reduced to 11,000 when the city was reunited in 1967. At the end of 2012, The Christian population of Israel numbered 158,400, 80% of whom are Arab Christians living exactly in “the place where Jesus lived and died”: the Galilee and Jerusalem.

“Most Christian Arabs live in the northern Israel, and the cities with the largest Christian populations are Nazareth, with 22,400; Haifa with 14,400; Jerusalem with 11,700; and Shfaram with 9,400.”

One year later – December 2013 – the number of Christians living in Israel had risen to 160,900, indicating a natural growth rate of around 1.9%. By way of comparison, the natural growth rate of the UK population in 2013 was 0.6%.

So as we see, Corbin’s claim that “…in the Holy Land…Christianity is in terminal decline” is not evidence-based at all. Rather, it clearly flows from the exact same politically motivated source as Jeremy Bowen’s recent attempt to persuade BBC audiences that Israel is just as much a threat to Middle East Christians as the religiously motivated persecution and slaughter perpetrated by Islamist extremists.

The issue of the persecution of Christians and other religious and ethnic minorities in the Middle East is one which clearly does need to be brought to audiences worldwide. It is therefore all the more regrettable that the BBC exploits this serious subject for the promotion of inaccurate, trite political narratives about the one country in the region in which they are not in danger, whilst at the same time downplaying and even concealing the real background to the plight of Christians living under the control of the Palestinian Authority and Hamas. 

BBC’s ‘History of Syria’ erases ancient Jewish community, distorts Six Day War

On March 11th 2013, an hour-long documentary entitled “A History of Syria with Dan Snow” was broadcast on BBC Two. An accompanying article under the heading “Syria’s priceless heritage under attack” appeared in the Magazine section of the BBC News website on March 10th. 

Readers familiar with the history themselves will no doubt have noticed that in Dan Snow’s extensive portrayal of the rich tapestry of ethnic groups making up Syria  throughout its history, one particularly ancient community was conspicuous by its absence. No mention whatsoever was made of the centuries-old Jewish community of Syria, either in the television programme or in Snow’s written article which featured the city of Haleb (Aleppo)  – home to Jews for millennia and formerly one of the oldest Jewish communities in the world – very prominently. 

Towards the end of the film (at 57:32 in the version above), Snow informs viewers that: 

“Between eruptions of violence, there is actually a long-standing tradition of tolerance and opposition to extremism in Syria.”

That portrayal of course airbrushes out the persecution of Jews in Syria completely, as well as their subsequent flight from the country. 

Another no less amazing bout of airbrushing – especially coming from someone with a background in modern history – appears at 34:23 in the above video when Dan Snow tells his audience:

“In 1967 [Hafez al] Assad was Minister of Defence when Israel launched a series of strikes against Egypt, Jordan and Syria. The Israelis humiliated Arab forces and took control of part of Syria; the Golan Heights.”

Snow of course fails to inform his audiences that the Golan Heights can only be considered to have been “part of Syria” for a maximum of 45 years before 1967, but it is his one-liner on the subject of the Six Day War which in particular stands out as a blatant breach of BBC Editorial Guidelines on accuracy. 

Children in an air-raid shelter at Kibbutz Gadot during an attack by Syrian shell fire, April 1967

Viewers are given no inkling of the events leading up to that war; indeed they might reasonably conclude from Snow’s account that Israelis simply woke up one morning and decided to attack three of the surrounding countries. Snow avoids any mention of the Arab League project to divert the headwaters of the Jordan River (the source of Israel’s main water supply at the time) and the relentless Syrian attacks upon Israeli communities below the Golan Heights during the years preceding the Six Day War.

He completely ignores the build-up to the war, including Egypt’s massing of troops in the Sinai and its expulsion of the UN forces from that area, after which Nasser informed the Arab world by radio that:

“As of today, there no longer exists an international emergency force to protect Israel. We shall exercise patience no more. We shall not complain any more to the UN about Israel. The sole method we shall apply against Israel is total war, which will result in the extermination of Zionist existence.”

A Syrian tank in its fortified position at “Tawfik”, Golan Heights, dominating Kibbutz Tel Katzir and the Jordan Valley.

Likewise Snow fails to mention the massing of Syrian troops in the Golan Heights on May 18th 1967 and the bellicose statement made by Hafez al Assad two days later: 

“Our forces are now entirely ready not only to repulse the aggression, but to initiate the act of liberation itself, and to explode the Zionist presence in the Arab homeland. The Syrian army, with its finger on the trigger, is united….I, as a military man, believe that the time has come to enter into a battle of annihilation.”

The closure of the Straits of Tiran on May 22nd 1967 – a clear casus belli, as noted by President Lyndon Johnson at the time – is also ignored by Snow, as are the subsequent almost daily statements put out by Nasser.

“Our basic objective will be the destruction of Israel. The Arab people want to fight,” (May 27th 1967)

“We will not accept any…coexistence with Israel…Today the issue is not the establishment of peace between the Arab states and Israel….The war with Israel is in effect since 1948.” (May 28th 1967)

Kibbutz Daphna (foreground) and Kibbutz Dan as seen from the “Tel Azaziat” fortifications, Golan Heights.

“The armies of Egypt, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon are poised on the borders of Israel…to face the challenge, while standing behind us are the armies of Iraq, Algeria, Kuwait, Sudan and the whole Arab nation. This act will astound the world. Today they will know that the Arabs are arranged for battle, the critical hour has arrived. We have reached the stage of serious action and not declarations.” (May 30th, 1967 – following the signing of the defence pact with Jordan.) 

While Israel did indeed launch pre-emptive strikes on the Egyptian air-force on June 5th 1967, that was of course far from either the beginning or the end of the Six Day War as Snow so erroneously implies. 

This is far from the first time that the BBC has broadcast or published politically motivated historically revisionist versions of events surrounding the Six Day War. This blog post from CMEW regarding a complaint already made to the BBC about Snow’s above statement suggests, however, that the BBC chooses to remain bunkered in its ahistorical view of those events. 

It is high time for the BBC to ensure adherence to its own Editorial Guidelines on accuracy and impartiality with regard to this subject and to cease the advancement of political narratives under the guise of “history”. It is the BBC’s self-declared role to contribute to audiences’ knowledge of the world – not to seek to manipulate viewers’ political opinions regarding the Middle East or any other region.