BBC Radio 4’s peace process tango for one – part one

According to the old adage it takes two to tango but an edition of the BBC Radio 4 programme ‘Analysis’ – which self describes as a “programme examining the ideas and forces which shape public policy in Britain and abroad, presented by distinguished writers, journalists and academics” – managed to disregard that maxim throughout the overwhelming majority of its 27 and a half minutes.

Titled “The Middle East Conundrum” and presented by Edward Stourton, the programme – aired on July 2nd and repeated on July 8th – was described in the synopsis as follows:

“Edward Stourton asks if there any chance of a long-term solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Tensions have been rising following the move of the US Embassy to Jerusalem and the deadly clashes at the border between Israel and Gaza. The peace process – if it exists at all – seems to be in deep freeze. The idea of a two-state solution does not appear to be getting any closer, while a one-state solution would effectively mark the end of a Jewish state. Does Israel have a long-term strategy?” [emphasis added]

The programme began with a recording of a report by the BBC’s Middle East editor Jeremy Bowen. [emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]

Bowen: “Palestinians call these protests the Great March of Return. For many of the young people who rushed the borer wire with Israel, it was a one-way journey.”

Stourton: “In mid-May, as Israel marked its 70th anniversary and the United States moved its embassy to Jerusalem, some 60 Palestinians were killed during protests along the Gaza border. The story’s dropped out of the headlines but the protests and the dying have continued in a steady attrition. 16 people have been killed since then and the casualty figures over the past two and a half months are now estimated at over 120 dead and more than 14,600 wounded.”

Stourton made absolutely no effort to provide listeners with essential context on the topic of why those ‘protests’ took place and who organised and funded them. He likewise refrained from informing audiences that over 80% of those killed have been shown to have links to various Gaza based terror factions

Stourton: “For this programme we’ve been asking a question that used to make headlines and was once prominent in foreign ministerial in trays: is there a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict? Here’s a Palestinian perspective.”

Although unnamed, listeners then heard from Sari Nusseibeh.

Nusseibeh: “Each side has become more uncertain of the other. Each side has become less interested, less hopeful of a final or permanent solution with the other. So we have been left in some kind of limbo.”

Stourton: “Here’s the view of a veteran negotiator.”

Also unnamed, that negotiator is Martin Indyk.

Indyk: “Yeah, I think that it is a depressing situation and it didn’t have to be this way. And I do feel a sense of responsibility. Having been involved in the effort over 35 years the sense of failure weighs heavily and especially because in the process of trying to resolve it, a lot of people have died on both sides.”

With no Israeli view presented, Stourton then went on to mislead listeners by referring to “Israel’s frontiers before the Six-Day War”. Those “frontiers” were of course armistice lines which were specifically defined in the 1949 Armistice Agreement as not being borders.

Stourton: “A two-state solution to the conflict with a border drawn roughly along the lines of Israel’s frontiers before the Six-Day War in 1967 is still the starting point for most Middle East diplomacy and polls suggest it’s still the most widely supported solution among Israelis and Palestinians. But it now seems so remote that people on both sides have begun to talk as if it’s a goal that will never be reached.”

Stourton then went on to reveal why Radio 4 was broadcasting an overtly one-sided programme on what – given the state of the region as a whole – it ridiculously insists on describing as “the Middle East conundrum” and “Middle East diplomacy”.

Stourton: “And because Israel is – unlike the Palestinian Authority – a fully functioning state with military superiority, we’ll be focusing on whether its government has a long-term vision of what the future might look like.”

He continued:

Stourton: “I should say at the outset that we’ve had great difficulty in persuading those members of the coalition now in power who have a reputation for bold thinking on this subject to talk to us.”

The programme’s framing – which can be boiled down to ‘how a succession of Israeli prime ministers rejected the two-state solution and so failed to make peace’ – then came into view:   

Stourton: “One way to approach the subject is through the life and career of the current prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu and our story begins before Israel even existed, in the debates of early Zionists and the split between pragmatists like Israel’s founder David Ben Gurion and the so-called revisionist movement which counted Mr Netanyahu’s father among its supporters.”

Another unidentified voice – belonging to journalist Anshel Pfeffer – was then heard.

Pfeffer: “Well Professor Ben Zion Netanyahu believed in that very forceful, almost militaristic, way of bringing the Zionist programme to fruition; that the Jews shouldn’t compromise on any of their rights to the land of Israel, that there should be no weakness in any way shown towards the Arabs or towards international powers. Much less pragmatic approach than was being shown by the…by Ben Gurion’s Workers Party.”

Stourton: “Is it fair to say those ideas had a very profound impact on his son?”

Pfeffer: “No doubt about it.”

Stourton: “Anshel Pfeffer who’s just published a biography called ‘Bibi – The Turbulent Life and Times of Benjamin Netanyahu’. Mr Netanyahu first really claimed international attention at the event which raised the curtain on what became known as the peace process: the Madrid Conference in 1991. He was the prime minister’s spokesman and a real master of the sound-bite.”

Listeners then heard an archive recording:

Netanyahu: “We now have Israel that is ringed with a circle of talks. And we hope that it will replace the circle of guns that surrounds us: that this will bring peace.”

Stourton: “His boss, the prime minister Yitzhak Shamir, had – like Netanyahu senior – been a hard-liner in the days before Israel’s founding and the Americans, who sponsored the conference, had a tense time persuading him to come. Dennis Ross was a member of the American team and he doesn’t think Mr Shamir had accepted the idea of a two-state solution.”

Ross: “I think in Shamir’s case it was not so much he thought it was leading to a two-state solution. It’s just said it was leading to the unknown.”

Stourton: “Do you think he had a vision of where he wanted to end up?”

Ross: “He said that a couple of times to us that you know this is a process that’s beginning now and the issues – the real final status issues – will be dealt with after he was no longer there. I think his real approach was not driven by an objective of what he wanted as much as it was driven by a process that he hoped could be stretched out to the point where any risk that Israel might be running could be managed.”

Stourton: “The Madrid Conference did not in itself produce much movement but it was followed by the so-called Oslo Accords, negotiated in great secrecy in the Norwegian capital, which created a Palestinian Authority and gave the Palestinians a measure of autonomy. The Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and a new Israeli prime minister, Yitzhak Rabin, shook hands on the deal on the White House lawn in 1993.”

After a recording of the former US president Bill Clinton speaking at that event, Stourton introduced his next contributor.

Stourton: “But even then many Israeli leaders were reluctant to accept the idea of full statehood for the Palestinians. Yossi Beilin – now a prominent opposition figure in Israeli politics – was a key player in the Oslo negotiations.”

Yossi Beilin in fact retired from political life a decade ago, in 2008.

Beilin: “Only after the agreement with the PLO it became quite apparent that the two-state solution would be the solution but even then, until Rabin’s murder he never spoke about the full two-state solution. He spoke about a Palestinian entity which will be less of a state or something like that.”

Six minutes into the programme, listeners had by now heard three Israeli prime ministers described as opponents of the two-state solution. So would they hear portrayals of the views of Palestinian leaders of the same era on that topic?

Stourton: “In the Oslo Accords the PLO recognised the State of Israel and Israel recognised the PLO as the representative of the Palestinian people. Movement on the Israeli side was matched by movement among moderate Palestinians. Sari Nusseibeh is a leading Palestinian intellectual and was a prominent champion of the two-state solution.”

While there are those who would disagree with Stourton’s portrayal of Nusseibeh, notably Stourton did not ask him for the PLO leader’s views of the two-state solution at the time.

Nusseibeh: “Well it seemed to me at the time on the Israeli side there were enough Israelis who seemed to also be saying they wanted to end the occupation, return to the ’67 borders, be content with the state they have within those borders and they were basically beginning to force a recognition of the Palestinian right of self-determination. And it seemed at the time to me that this would do as a kind of fair solution. It’s not the best solution, but as a fair solution. And on the Palestinian side, especially in the occupied territories, people also seemed to be struggling for primarily for a life of freedom, of independence, of dignity, of self-rule. So on both counts it seemed to me that this would be a good settlement.”

Stourton: “Bibi [sic] Netanyahu however did not change his thinking. In 1993 – the year of that arresting handshake between Messrs Arafat and Rabin on the White House lawn – he published a book called ‘A Place Among the Nations: Israel and the World’ in which he argued for firm limits on the amount of autonomy the Palestinians should be given.”

Listeners then heard what is presumably a quote from that book (which was actually published five months before that White House lawn ceremony) which was – for some reason – read in an American accent.

“Under any conception of autonomy Israel should retain the powers and prerogatives of the sovereign including such matters as military defence, foreign affairs and control of the currency and foreign trade while the Arab population could manage many areas of daily life.”

Anshel Pfeffer then told listeners that the book “basically remains Netanyahu’s blueprint” and that in it “Netanyahu presents his version of Jewish history, his version of Jewish nationalism” and that he “pushes away any kind of Palestinian claim” and “denies the fact that there is such a thing as Palestinian nationalism in any historical sense. He treats it as being very much a manufactured notion of the mid-20th century”. Pfeffer went on to claim that the book presents  “Netanyahu’s plan for the future, for what kind of a peace solution can seriously bring peace to the Middle East and ensure Israel’s prosperity and success in the future”.

Stourton: And what does that look like in his book?”

Pfeffer: “Well it doesn’t look like the two-state solution if we have to be very honest. His solution is that Israel does not have to make any kind of concessions towards the Palestinians because Israel is in a much larger battle  for survival, not with the Palestinians but with the wider Arab world and with radical Islam and with Iran.”

By this time listeners were a third of way in to the programme and yet had not heard a single word about the terrorism that followed that White House lawn handshake in 1993 and the fact that the number of Israelis murdered by Palestinian terrorists in the five years after the Oslo Accords was higher than in the fifteen years before they were signed.

Describing Arafat as “the PLO leader” while failing to clarify that he was by that time also the president of the Palestinian Authority, Stourton then went on to present a debatable picture of the Camp David summit and to portray the second Intifada as something that just “began” rather than the pre-planned terror war that it actually was.

Stourton: “The high point of hopes for a two-state solution came in the summer of 2000 when Bill Clinton brought another Israeli prime minister, Ehud Barak, and the PLO leader Yasser Arafat together for 2 weeks of talks at Camp David [….]. They came tantalisingly close to a deal but they failed to get there. Two months later the second Intifada – or Palestinian uprising began. It was the beginning of the slide to today’s stalemate. Martin Indyk served two terms as the American ambassador to Israel.”

Indyk: “If we look for the tipping point it really goes back to trying to identify when the population on both sides decided that the other side had evil intent rather than benign intent. The outbreak of the Intifada convinced Israelis that giving up territory or promising to give up territory was only going to lead to more violence – and it was horrendous violence. On the other side I think the Palestinians became convinced that Oslo just brought them more settlements and more occupation. It didn’t actually lead to ending the occupation.”

Of course Indyk’s claim that Oslo “brought…more settlements” is inaccurate – as the BBC has itself reported in the past. Stourton then moved on to another Israeli prime minister.

Stourton: “In the aftermath of the Intifada Israel elected a prime minister with a reputation as the hardest of hard-liners: Ariel Sharon. He surprised everyone by deciding to withdraw from the Gaza Strip.”

Listeners heard an archive report from Orla Guerin which included the following:

Guerin “The night sky over Gaza suggests victory but on this historic night, remember this: there is no peace deal and no Palestinian state and Israel still controls the borders here.”

Stourton: “The logic behind his withdrawal plan – and there was talk of it being extended to the West Bank – was to create separate homes for Palestinians and Israelis not by negotiation but by unilateral Israeli action and on Israel’s terms. But that ran counter to the principle at the heart of all previous peace talks: the idea that Israel would give up land in exchange for peace.”

Indyk “Mahmoud Abbas…begged Sharon to negotiate an agreement for Israel’s withdrawal so that he would have commitments that he could impose – or at least try to impose – on the Palestinians, including on Hamas.”

Listeners were not informed that relevant agreements had already been signed – including the 1995 Israeli-Palestinian Interim Agreement on the West Bank and the Gaza Strip which laid out exactly the kinds of “commitments” Indyk claimed were lacking.  

Stourton: “Hamas, the radical Palestinian group formally dedicated to the destruction of Israel, won elections not long after the Israeli withdrawal and later secured its power in Gaza by force.”

Indyk: “But Sharon, you know, was insistent on doing a deal with George W Bush rather than with the Palestinian leadership so the withdrawal was without any understanding, any commitment on the Palestinian side, any arrangements. It was effectively pulling out and throwing the keys over the fence.”

Stourton: “So we see the impact of that still today, do we?”

Indyk: “Profoundly, profoundly because Israel withdrew, went through the incredible pain of uprooting the…the settlers there and what it got in return was rockets. Hamas’ rockets. And so that sent a message to Israelis that, you know, giving up territory doesn’t get you peace.”

In other words, BBC audiences heard Hamas terrorism – and conclusions subsequently drawn by the Israeli public – framed as having been caused by Israel’s unilateral disengagement from the Gaza Strip.  Notably they did not hear any mention of foreign funding of Hamas.

By this time the programme was almost at its half-way point and BBC audiences had first and foremost heard how a succession of Israeli prime ministers failed to make peace. In the second part of this post we shall see whether or not any balance was introduced into the latter half of the discussion.

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BBC’s Jerusalem backgrounder for young people breaches style guide

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

BBC report on latest Gaza violence follows established pattern

On April 13th the BBC News website published a report about the third consecutive Friday of rioting along the Israel-Gaza Strip border. Titled “Fierce clashes continue at Gaza-Israel border fence“, the article was promoted on the website’s main homepage and ‘World’ page as well as on its ‘Middle East’ page and it included the same themes – and omissions – seen in previous BBC reporting (see ‘related articles’ below) on the same story.

Although readers once again saw use of the term ‘ancestral land’, the report made no effort was made to clarify that the vast majority of the people described as refugees are in fact descendants of refugees or that the aim of the Palestinian demand for ‘right of return’ is in fact to eradicate the Jewish state:  a goal that it is incompatible with the internationally accepted ‘two-state solution’ to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

“Protesters want refugees to be allowed to return to ancestral land now in Israel. […]

Organisers call the rolling protests the Great March of Return.

They will culminate on 15 May, the 70th annual commemoration of what Palestinians call the Nakba, or Catastrophe, of the displacement of hundreds of thousands of their people in the war which followed Israel’s creation in 1948.”

Yet again BBC audiences saw unquestioning repetition of casualty figures provided by the “Palestinian health ministry” – but without clarification that the ministry concerned is controlled by the terror group Hamas – which is one of the organisers of the ‘Great Return March’ publicity stunt.

“Fierce clashes have erupted again on the Gaza-Israel border, with Palestinian officials reporting hundreds of people injured. […]

Another man died this Friday, the Palestinian health ministry says.”

BBC audiences were not informed that the majority of those killed (mostly males between the ages of 19 and 45) have been identified as being linked to terror groups such as Hamas, the PIJ and the DFLP.

Once again the BBC refrained from telling its audiences in its own words exactly what the ‘protesters’ were doing.

“Islam Herzallah, 28, reportedly died in hospital after he was shot by Israeli troops east of Gaza City.

Israel’s army estimated there were 10,000 people “rioting” on Friday, with some attempting to breach the fence with firebombs and explosive devices.”

In contrast the New York Times, for example, was able to give its readers a more informative account:

“At the Shejaiya protest site east of Gaza City, where Mr. Herzallah was shot, demonstrators again used thick smoke from burning tires as cover, successfully dismantling an Israeli barrier of coiled barbed wire before retreating when Israeli soldiers shot at them.”

Additional information absent from the BBC’s account of events was reported by Ynet, among others:

“The military said that demonstrators hurled an explosive device and several fire bombs near the fence in what it said was an apparent attempt to damage it. One such explosive device planted in the vicinity of the Karni crossing ended up injuring several demonstrators by mistake after detonating prematurely. […]

The protests included a new method aimed at harming Israel beyond the fence in the form of kites being set alight and flown over the fence onto Israeli territory. A video demonstrating this method was published on Wednesday in a bid to encourage the residents to fly the burning kites into Israel.”

The BBC’s report inaccurately claimed that the weekly agitprop is dubbed ‘Flag Friday’: 

“More than 30 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli gunfire since the start of “Flag Friday” demonstrations two weeks ago.”

In fact – as the NYT noted – that name was specifically given to the April 13th episode.

“The theme of the day for the protests was “Flag Friday” — burning the Israeli blue and white, and raising giant standards with the Palestinian red, white, green and black. Gaza printers had been busy all week with an unusual assignment: preparing thousands of Israeli flags to ignite.

Less than a week before Israel will celebrate its Independence Day, Palestinian children held posters showing Israel’s flag crossed out in red, with a slogan calling for the country’s demise.

Protesters arriving at one encampment, in Khan Younis, trod on or rode motorcycles and even a camel over an elongated Israeli flag, with its Star of David, before heading toward the fence.

As on the previous two Fridays, the protests showed something of a split personality, with some participants vowing to be peaceful as others a few feet away prepared gasoline bombs to hurl at the Israeli side.”

As we see, the BBC continues to avoid providing its audiences with the background which would facilitate their understanding of why Israel (and the pro two-state solution international community) ‘rejects’ the Palestinian demand for ‘right of return’ that is the professed rationale for these weekly publicity stunts. In light of that continued failure, one can only conclude that the BBC’s intention is not to meet its remit as a supplier of “impartial news and information” but to provide amplification for that anti-Israel political campaign.  

Related Articles:

Hamas agitprop requires BBC journalists to brush up on UN resolution

British connections to upcoming Gaza agitprop ignored by BBC News

BBC News claims Gaza stone throwers engaged in ‘peaceful demonstrations’

BBC again fails to adequately clarify Hamas’ role in Gaza border agitprop

BBC radio portrayal of the ‘right of return’ – part one

BBC radio portrayal of the ‘right of return’ – part two

BBC Radio 4 dusts off the ‘expert’ hats and ‘disproportionate’ meme

No BBC reporting on preparations for upcoming Gaza border stunt

BBC reporting on Gaza border rioting continues to avoid core issue

BBC continues to promote anti-Israel campaign with ‘ancestral lands’ theme

 

 

BBC reporting on Gaza border rioting continues to avoid core issue

On April 6th the BBC News website published a report originally titled “Gaza-Israel border clashes erupt as protests begin” which was subsequently updated several times and now appears under the headline “Deadly unrest on Gaza-Israel border as Palestinians resume protests“.

The background to the story as presented to readers included a description of Israel as “ancestral lands” of Palestinian refugees:

“The protesters are demanding that refugees be allowed to return to ancestral lands that are now in Israel. […]

“Israel took everything from us, the homeland, freedom, our future,” 27-year-old protester Samer told Reuters news agency. “I have two kids – a boy and a girl – and if I die, God will take care of them.” […]

Hamas and other groups organising the six-week protest campaign, dubbed the Great March of Return, say they are peacefully calling for the right of Palestinian refugees to return to land they fled from or were forced to leave in 1948, when Israel was created.”

As has been the case in previous BBC reporting on the same ongoing story, no effort was made to clarify to readers that the vast majority of the people described as refugees are in fact descendants of refugees or that the aim of the Palestinian demand for ‘right of return’ is in fact to eradicate the Jewish state:  a goal that it is incompatible with the internationally accepted ‘two-state solution’ to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Instead the BBC settled for the following opaque statement:

“The Israeli government has long ruled out any right of return…”

Readers were told that ‘Israel says’ that some participants in the publicity stunt were trying to breach the border.

“But Israel says the militant group Hamas, which dominates Gaza, is staging the rallies in order to launch attacks. […]

The Israeli government…says terrorists are using the cover of the protests to try to cross illegally into its territory.”

However, the BBC failed to inform its audiences that Hamas’ leader in the Gaza Strip made it clear that breaching the border is indeed the aim of the agitprop.

“He [Yahya Sinwar] said the world should “wait for our great move, when we breach the borders and pray at Al-Aqsa,” referring to the major Muslim shrine in Jerusalem.

Arriving at one of the demonstration sites, Sinwar received a hero’s welcome. He was surrounded by hundreds of supporters who chanted, “We are going to Jerusalem, millions of martyrs.”

As has also been the case in all BBC reporting on this story to date, the article quoted and promoted casualty figures provided by the “health ministry” without clarifying that it is run by Hamas – the terror group co-organising the ‘Great Return March’ – and with nothing to suggest that the information had been independently verified by the BBC.

“Ten Palestinians have been killed by Israeli forces during fresh protests on Gaza’s border with Israel, Palestinian health ministry officials say. […]

One of those killed in the latest unrest was Yasser Murtaja, a journalist with the Gaza-based Ain Media agency, the health ministry in Gaza said. […]

Gaza’s health ministry said a 16-year-old boy was among those killed by Israeli gunfire, and that more than 1,300 other people were wounded.”

Notably, the BBC had nothing to say on the topic of the environmental pollution caused by the burning of thousands of vehicle tyres as part of Friday’s agitprop.

“Piles of tyres were set on fire in an attempt to create a smokescreen to block the view of Israeli snipers, as thousands of protesters gathered at five sites along the 65km-long (40-mile) Israel-Gaza border for fresh protests on Friday.”

It did however promote a dubious interpretation of ‘international law’ put out by the spokesperson of a severely compromised UN agency.

“A spokeswoman for the UN high commissioner for human rights warned that, under international law, firearms could be used only in cases of extreme necessity, as a last resort and in response to an imminent threat of death or risk of serious injury.”

The BBC also found it appropriate to provide readers with a link to a campaign statement on the website of the political NGO it most quoted and promoted during 2017.

The Israeli human rights group B’Tselem called on Israeli soldiers to refuse to open fire on unarmed demonstrators.”

Readers were not informed of criticisms of that controversial call to disobey orders.

As we see the BBC’s coverage of this story continues to fail to provide audiences with the background information on the Palestinian maximalist demand for the ‘right of return’ that is essential for full understanding of this latest bout of Hamas agitprop.

Related Articles:

Hamas agitprop requires BBC journalists to brush up on UN resolution

British connections to upcoming Gaza agitprop ignored by BBC News

BBC News claims Gaza stone throwers engaged in ‘peaceful demonstrations’

BBC again fails to adequately clarify Hamas’ role in Gaza border agitprop

BBC radio portrayal of the ‘right of return’ – part one

BBC radio portrayal of the ‘right of return’ – part two

BBC Radio 4 dusts off the ‘expert’ hats and ‘disproportionate’ meme

No BBC reporting on preparations for upcoming Gaza border stunt

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

BBC Radio 4 dusts off the ‘expert’ hats and ‘disproportionate’ meme

When, in July 2014, a BBC presenter chided an Israeli spokesman for carrying out a military operation in the Gaza Strip rather than trying to arrest members of Hamas using what she termed “surgical strikes of the arresting kind” we noted on these pages that:

“One of the recurrent phenomena associated with media coverage of outbreaks of conflict in this region is the proliferation of journalists who suddenly transform into self-appointed ‘experts’ in military strategy and ‘international law’…”

That practice was evident once again in the March 31st edition of the BBC Radio 4 news and current affairs programme ‘Today which included two items relating to the previous day’s events on the border between Israel and the Gaza Strip when mass rioting took place under the guise of a ‘protest’ dubbed the ‘Great Return March’.

In the introduction to the first of those items (from 09:04 here) listeners heard presenter Justin Webb unquestioningly quote information supplied by Hamas – one of the co-organisers of the propaganda stunt. [emphasis in bold added, emphasis in italics in the original]

Webb: “First to events on the border between Gaza and Israel. According to Palestinian officials there are 16 dead, hundreds injured on that border – the worst violence since the war of 2014.”

Webb then brought in the BBC Jerusalem bureau’s Yolande Knell who accurately stated that not only is Hamas involved in the organisation of this six-week ‘protest’ but is financing it. Knell also accurately pointed out that the camps set up at five locations by “the Hamas authorities” are “a few hundred meters from the border fence” and that the violent incidents of March 30th began when crowds “started to approach the border fence with Israel” with “people throwing stones and firebombs” and “tampering with the fence”.

However Knell then also went on to unquestioningly promote information supplied by Hamas which there is no evidence of the BBC having independently verified.

Knell: “And there were really hundreds of people who were injured…ahm…along this 40 mile-long Israel-Gaza border. Many of them had bullet wounds.”

Justin Webb then chipped in with his commentary on a filmed incident:

Webb: “Yeah because the IDF have issued a statement saying that there was an infiltration attempt by three terrorists but what we see – what people who were there will have seen – is not a targeted attack on people who are making a concerted effort to get through but just sort of firing through the…through the fence.”

Later on in the conversation Knell stated that “we have to expect further flare-ups” because:

Knell: In the coming weeks we’re going to have Israel celebrating what it sees as its independence day […] but then you have that very controversial move of the US embassy expected on the 14th of May, just ahead of that day that the Palestinians call their Nakba day: the catastrophe day.”

Later on in the same programme (from 01:09:59 here) Justin Webb introduced the second item on the same topic which began with a barely audible telephone interview with PA official Sabri Saydam.

Webb: “Dr Saydam; what is your version of what happened at the border and led to the deaths of 16 people and the wounding of hundreds more?”

Saydam: “As you know, yesterday marked the anniversary – the 42nd anniversary – since the Land Day where 13 Palestinians [sic- actually 6 Arab-Israelis] were shot dead in 1976, which is an annual demonstration arranged by Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza and this was arranged again yesterday. As you know this year marks 70 years since the Palestinian Nakba – the catastrophe – and almost 51 years since the 1967 war so this was an expression of discontent, a display total despair that exists in the West Bank and Gaza for the prevailance [sic] of the Israeli occupation – the longest occupation [sic] in modern times. So people who are marching in peace, protesting against occupation, Israel [inaudible] with force.”

Webb: “Are you saying that people who were peacefully protesting were fired on? There is evidence of that, is there?”

Saydam: “Absolutely and you can look at the footage that you broadcasted and other networks and you can see that they were peacefully marching. There was no confrontation using armed guns, machine guns. There was no application of violence. If anything, they were carrying just flags and marching towards the fence. This is Gaza where 2 million people are deprived of basic needs and this is Gaza that lives under occupation same as West Bank and East Jerusalem and the continuation of the occupation will yield the results of [inaudible] saw yesterday.”

Webb could at this point have clarified to listeners that the Gaza Strip has not been ‘occupied’ for nearly thirteen years. He could have asked the PA minister about his government’s cutting of electricity and medical care and supplies for the deprived people of Gaza as ways to put pressure on Hamas. He could also – given the fact that this publicity stunt organised by Hamas and other Gaza terror factions rests on the so-called ‘right of return’ – have asked Sabri Saydam if he agrees with that demand aimed at destroying the Jewish state – especially seeing as just over a year ago the BBC provided a platform for Saydam’s repeated insistence that all Palestinians support the two-state solution.

Webb however did none of that. Instead he twice asked whether or not the people taking part in the propaganda stunt should “go home…for their own safety” and listeners heard Saydam promote the falsehood that “this is not a Hamas orchestrated kind of demonstration”.

After Webb had asked a question concerning “the charge…that you are cynically using the lives of civilians, including children, to create the kind of tensions and violence that focuses the attention of the world on this area”, Saydam suddenly disappeared from the broadcast.

Webb then introduced the Israeli ambassador to the UK, Mark Regev, and that interview – in which listeners witnessed the return of the well-worn BBC favourite ‘disproportionate’ – can also be heard here.

Webb: “Your troops have fired on civilians, on children. They’ve fired through a fence. That is – is it not? – indefensible.”

After Regev noted that “we can’t allow the Hamas activists to tear down the border fence and enter Israel”, Webb donned his ‘military expert’ hat while misleading listeners about the border fence.

Webb: “You say ‘Hamas activists to tear down the border’: what – and Dr Saydam referred to this – what you’ve seen online in the footage is quite young children, some of whom have been shot, who are not capable of tearing down…this is an electric fence, isn’t it?”

Regev: “You saw attempts to physically destroy the fence. You saw attempts…”

Webb [interrupts]: “But attempts that would not have been successful.”

After Regev had disagreed, pointing out that the ‘protests’ were not spontaneous, Webb interrupted him again.

Webb: “Yeah but whoever it was who sent them, whether they were there voluntarily these youngsters…”

Regev: “They weren’t. It was orchestrated.”

Webb: “Well alright. Even if it was orchestrated, to shoot them, to kill 16 of them, to injure hundreds according to the United Nations with live ammunition – that is not proportionate, is it?”

The United Nations got its information on the casualties from the Hamas-run ministry of health in Gaza but listeners were not given that relevant information.

Regev explained methods of crowd control and again referred to attempted infiltrations but Webb interrupted him once again and yet again misrepresented the border fence.

Webb: “But you have troops – sorry to interrupt you on that – but just thinking about this border, we’re talking about an electrified fence. We’re then talking about a lot of troops behind it – way before there are any Israeli civilians. The idea that there’s someone coming through and about to kill Israeli civilians is just fantasy, isn’t it?”

Some of the Israeli communities in the area are of course located less that a mile from the border that Webb ignorantly described as “way before there are any Israeli civilians”.

Regev: “That’s exactly what they want to do.”

Webb then put on his ‘laws of armed combat expert’ hat:

Webb: “Yes it might be what they want to do but I’m saying to you that actually they would not have been capable of doing it and therefore killing them – particularly killing kids, people running around next to the fence – is disproportionate and probably illegal.”

After Regev had pointed out that if the demonstration had remained in the camps set up – as Yolande Knell previously noted – several hundred meters away from the border nothing would have happened, clarified that Israel withdrew from Gaza over a decade ago and pointed out that Hamas denies Israel’s right to exist, Webb went on to downplay Hamas’ role in the agitprop but made no effort to inform listeners of the involvement of additional terror factions such as the PIJ and DFLP.

Webb: “Dr Saydam was saying it’s not just Hamas – it’s much wider than that and he was pointing out that he’s not a member of Hamas but actually it is a widely felt feeling among the Palestinians that this is the right demonstration at the right time and that they have a right to make it. It’s not just Hamas.”

Following a ‘question’ about a potential UN investigation Webb continued:

Webb: “You have…I mean this is not the first time that Israel has found itself in this situation where you are accused of using hugely disproportionate force and I think what some people – including some friends of Israel – would say is why do you not learn from what happens in these situations? Why is there an inability actually in a sense in practical terms to defend yourself, to defend that border fence, without using live rounds?”

Regev again explained that non-lethal crowd control measures had initially been used before Webb went on:

Webb: “You see you keep saying armed members of Hamas. The people who were killed – almost all of them – and the people who were injured were not armed members of Hamas – were they? – and I don’t think you’re claiming they were. They were civilians.”

That of course is not the case – ten of the sixteen dead on that first day belonged to terror factions – but when Regev tried to reply, Webb once again interrupted him and once again uncritically parroted claims put out by the terror group that co-organised the propaganda stunt.

Webb: “But there are hundreds of people in hospital with gunshot wounds – they weren’t armed members of Hamas, were they?”

The impression of events that Justin Webb was trying to communicate to BBC Radio 4 listeners is blatantly obvious. Webb’s portrayal includes only ‘peaceful protesters’ and “kids… running around next to the fence” and his quoted – but unverified – casualty figures are sourced (as has been the case all too often in the past) from a terror organisation that is party to the violence.

Equally unsurprising is the opportunistic dusting off of the ‘disproportionate’ charge and the miraculous but entirely predictable transformation of a breakfast news show presenter into a self-appointed expert on military strategy and the laws of armed combat.

That, after all, is a pattern that has regularly been seen at the BBC in the past when the terror faction that rules the Gaza Strip has initiated violence. 

 

BBC again fails to adequately clarify Hamas’ role in Gaza border agitprop

On the morning of March 31st the BBC News website report published a report that was originally titled “Gaza-Israel border: UN seeks investigation over protest deaths”. Some seven hours afterwards that headline was changed to “Gaza-Israel border: Palestinians mourn border dead” and, like many versions of an article on the same topic that preceded it, the report refrained from informing BBC audiences that the mass protest on the Gaza border, which on March 30th included numerous violent incidents, was initiated and organised by Hamas and additional terror factions in the Gaza Strip.

Rather, BBC audiences were steered towards the view that this was some kind of spontaneous protest:

“Protesters are returning to a tent city put up near the border in preparation for the demonstration to resume, said AFP news agency. Palestinians have also called a general strike.

Thousands of Palestinians marched to the border at the start of a six-week protest, dubbed the Great March of Return. […]

Palestinians have pitched five camps near the border for the protest, from Beit Hanoun in the north to Rafah near the Egyptian border.”

The BBC’s explanation of the purpose of the six-week stunt was as follows:

“Hundreds were wounded at the start of protests demanding a right for Palestinians to return to former family homes in what is now Israel. […]

The aim of the protest is to assert what Palestinians regard as their right to return to towns and villages from which their families fled, or were driven out, when the state of Israel was created in 1948.”

As in the previous report, no effort was made to inform readers that the Palestinian demand for ‘right of return’ is at odds with the two-state solution or that – as noted by David Horovitz – its aim is to threaten the existence of Israel as the Jewish state.

“Organizing and encouraging mass demonstrations at the border in the so-called “March of Return” to face off against Israeli troops, while sanctimoniously and disingenuously branding the campaign non-violent, is merely the latest iteration of Hamas’s cynical use of Gazans as the human shields for its aggression.

Just in case anybody forgot, demanding a “right of return” to Israel for tens of thousands of Palestinian refugees and their millions of descendants is nothing less than a call for the destruction of Israel by demographic means. No Israeli government could accept this demand, since it would spell the end of Israel as a Jewish-majority state. Israel’s position is that Palestinian refugees and their descendants would become citizens of a Palestinian state at the culmination of the peace process, just as Jews who fled or were forced out of Middle Eastern countries by hostile governments became citizens of Israel.”

Neither did the BBC bother to inform its audiences that the basis for that demand is a non-binding UN GA resolution dating from December 1948 that was opposed at the time by Arab states and which (despite long-standing BBC claims to that effect) does not specifically relate to Palestinian refugees and – contrary to often heard assertions – does not grant any unconditional ‘right of return’. Rather, it recommends that refugees be allowed to return to their homeland if they wish to “live at peace with their neighbours”.

The BBC’s report also told readers that:

“The UN Security Council condemned the violence after an emergency session.

UN deputy political affairs chief Taye-Brook Zerihoun told the council: “Israel must uphold its responsibilities under international human rights and humanitarian law,” he said.”

Readers were not informed that the UNSC “emergency session” was called by Kuwait (which expelled most of its Palestinian residents in 1991) or that:

“The Security Council meeting was initially held behind closed doors, but it was later moved to an open hearing after it became clear the 15-member body could not agree on a statement condemning the clashes.”

In fact, contrary to the impression given by the BBC, no resolution was issued by the UNSC.

The article closed by telling BBC audiences that:

Riyad Mansour is of course not “[t]he UN envoy for Palestine”: he is a Palestinian envoy to the UN who holds the title “Permanent Observer of Palestine”. BBC Watch has requested a correction to that inaccuracy.

Over twelve hours after its original appearance the article’s headline was amended yet again. The two later versions of the article titled “Gaza-Israel violence: Israel warns of action inside Gaza” included information about the identity of some of the people killed during the previous day’s rioting.

The BBC, however, was apparently unable to find the Hamas statement concerning five members of its Izz a-Din al-Qassam Brigades for itself and instead resorted to citing second-hand news. Despite having reported the previous day that Omar Samour was described by the IDF as having been engaged in “suspicious activity” near the border fence, the BBC failed to provide that information in this report.

The BBC did not bother to inform its audiences that at least ten of the sixteen people killed during the violent incidents on March 30th were identified as members of terror groups and later on in the article readers were told that:

“Although most protesters stayed in the encampments, some groups of youths ignored organisers’ calls to stay away from the fence and headed closer to Israeli positions.” [emphasis added]

The BBC also continued to avoid telling audiences in its own words that Hamas and additional terror factions initiated and organised the ‘protests’.

“Brig Gen Ronen Manelis told journalists that Hamas – the militant group that controls Gaza – was using Palestinian protests as a cover for launching attacks on Israel. […]

Later Gen Manelis said Friday’s events were “not a protest demonstration” but “organised terrorist activity” by Hamas.

“If it continues, we shall have no choice but to respond inside the Gaza Strip against terrorist targets which we understand to be behind these events,” he said according to AFP news agency.”

Obviously BBC audiences will not be able to understand this story fully if they are not informed by the BBC in its own words that this stunt was initiated organised by Hamas and additional terror factions in the Gaza Strip and if they are not given the full picture regarding the motivation behind Palestinian demands for the so-called ‘right of return’. To date, after three days of reporting on this story, the BBC has failed to provide that essential information. 

Related Articles:

BBC News claims Gaza stone throwers engaged in ‘peaceful demonstrations’

Hamas agitprop requires BBC journalists to brush up on UN resolution

British connections to upcoming Gaza agitprop ignored by BBC News

BACKGROUNDER: The Palestinian Claim to a “Right of Return”  (CAMERA) 

 

BBC News claims Gaza stone throwers engaged in ‘peaceful demonstrations’

After having ignored weeks of preparation for the media-orientated publicity stunt dubbed the ‘Great Return March’ organised by Hamas and other terror factions in the Gaza Strip, early on the morning of March 30th the BBC News website published a report originally titled “Shelling ‘kills Palestinian’ in Gaza” on its main homepage, its ‘World’ page and its Middle East page.

Version 2

The second version of that report described the headlined incident – which took place before dawn – as follows:

“A Palestinian farmer has been killed and a second person wounded by Israeli artillery fire, Palestinian health officials and residents say. […]

Witnesses say the dead and injured men were hit by tank shells while collecting parsley in a field, BBC Gaza producer Rushdi Abualouf reports.”

The claim that the man had been “collecting parsley” was seen in a further fifteen versions of the report. In version three the BBC added the statement “The Israeli military said a tank had fired at two suspects after suspicious activity near a security fence” but failed to clarify that the location was actually the border fence between the Gaza Strip and Israel.

Several earlier versions of the report included comment from the BBC World Service Middle East editor Sebastian Usher who, while clarifying that Hamas is among the organisers of the publicity stunt, failed to adequately explain its aims and background to readers.

Under the sub-heading “What is the protest about?” later versions of the report erased any mention of Hamas’ role in the organisation of the stunt.

No effort was made to clarify to BBC audiences that the Palestinian demand for ‘right of return’ is at odds with the two-state solution proposal which the BBC has repeatedly told its audiences in the past is the “declared goal” of “the international community”. Neither was it clarified that the aim of that demand is to threaten the existence of Israel as the Jewish state.

Version 22

The last four versions of the report – now titled “Gaza-Israel border: Clashes ‘leave 16 Palestinians dead and hundreds injured’” – included an insert that was originally dubbed “analysis” from the BBC Gaza office’s Rushdi Abu Alouf.

BBC audiences were told that the violent rioting seen along the border between Israel and the Gaza Strip on March 30th is linked to “difficult economic conditions and the Israeli blockade” rather than agitprop initiated and organised by terror factions.

Notably, while erasing the numerous border infiltrations that have recently taken place (and went unreported by the BBC) from audience view, Abu Alouf breached BBC editorial guidelines on impartiality by opining that “this time Israel’s response was exaggerated”. Readers were also told that Palestinians who “throw stones at the soldiers” are engaged in “peaceful demonstrations”.

That, apparently, is the level of ‘analysis’ the BBC had to offer its audiences while failing to adequately explain to them that this pre-planned publicity stunt was conceived and organised by assorted terror factions, that Hamas is reportedly financing it to the tune of $10 million and that its aim is to create photo-ops which – in the words of the organisers – “the whole world and media outlets would watch”.

Related Articles:

Hamas agitprop requires BBC journalists to brush up on UN resolution

British connections to upcoming Gaza agitprop ignored by BBC News

BACKGROUNDER: The Palestinian Claim to a “Right of Return”  (CAMERA)

 

BBC’s ‘Hardtalk’ hosts Ahmad Tibi – part two

In part one of this post we discussed the first half of a ‘Hardtalk’ interview with Israeli MK Ahmad Tibi which was aired on a variety of BBC platforms on March 7th.

Tibi next brought up the subject of the October 2000 incidents. [emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]

AT “Thirteen of us, Stephen, were shot by snipers and killed in 2000 – citizens of the State of Israel – because we just demonstrated against Ariel Sharon getting into Al Aqsa Mosque. Thirteen of us. From that point, until today, 55 Arab citizens were killed by the Israeli security authorities without being prosecuted. We are in danger because of the way Israeli police is dealing with us as enemies – not as citizens. But I am not in a position to preach Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank how to resist. It is the natural way people, nation, under occupation are resisting…” 

Sackur failed to inform audiences that Ariel Sharon did not ‘get into’ Al Aqsa Mosque at all but made a visit to Temple Mount that had been pre-coordinated with Palestinian security forces. Neither did he bother to tell BBC audiences that Tibi’s claim that those killed in October 2000 were “just” demonstrating is not supported by the findings of the official investigation into those incidents:

“The events of October 2000 shook the earth. The riots in the Arab sector inside the State of Israel in early October were unprecedented. The events were extremely unusual from several perspectives. Thousands participated, at many locations, at the same time. The intensity of the violence and aggression expressed in the events was extremely powerful. Against security forces, and even against civilians, use was made of a variety of means of attack, including a small number of live fire incidents, Molotov cocktails, ball bearings in slingshots, various methods of stone throwing and the rolling of burning tires. Jews were attacked on the roads for being Jewish and their property was destroyed. In a number of incidences, they were just inches from death at the hands of an unrestrained mob.” 

Sackur also refrained from asking Tibi how many of the Arab-Israelis he claims were “killed by the Israeli security authorities without being prosecuted” were at the time involved in acts of terrorism.

SS: “It’s not…it’s not your fight, really it’s not your fight, is it?”

AT: “It’s my nation fight. I am a Palestinian also and I… “

SS: “Well but you’re also an Israeli. You happen to have the vote. You happen to have a seat in the Knesset. You know this…there is a distinction between you and those Palestinians who live on the West Bank, who live under military occupation and of course we can talk about the subset – the other Palestinians living in exile beyond the borders…”

AT: “They are suffering much more…”

SS: “Yes but I’m interested in the position of the Arab Israelis and it seems to me amongst Arab Israelis, the overwhelming feeling is one of weary acceptance. If you look at opinion polls – and there have been several in the last year which show that actually a clear majority of Arab Israelis have a positive feeling about their lives in Israel. A positive feeling.”

AT: I am smiling because I am living there. Arabs – Arab citizens of the State of Israel – are discriminated in all field of life and in polls – scientific polls; not polls of Israeli rightist newspapers – they are saying that they feel second or third degree. Not only they are feeling the discrimination in land allocation but budget, employment, agriculture, no industrial zones. We are discriminated in all fields of life.”

All Israeli citizens are of course entitled to equal rights by law. To take Tibi’s claim that Arab citizens of Israel have “no industrial zones” because of discrimination as an example – the Ministry of Economy and Industry lists at least eighteen industrial zones in Arab, Bedouin and Druze communities – from Rahat in the south to Sakhnin in the north. Once again, however, Tibi’s falsehoods went unchallenged by Sackur.

SS: “Well the Israel Democracy Institute ran a major poll last year. Most Arab-Israelis – 60.5% – describe their personal situation as good or very good. It doesn’t seem to match what you’re saying at all.”

AT: “I don’t agree with these results. We are living there but there are other points that you are not bringing here saying that at least 75% of the Arab citizens are saying that they do believe the state is dealing with them as enemies not as equal citizens.”

Sackur then promoted a partisan view of ‘international law’ as fact.

SS:” Why do you think thousands of Arabs living in Jerusalem – and they have a very difficult grey area status because of course under international law East Jerusalem is occupied territory – but they are regarded, since the annexation by Israel of East Jerusalem, as people with rights to residency and, indeed, the right to apply for citizenship in Israel and thousands have indeed applied for citizenship. What does that tell you?”

AT: “Only thousands. We are talking about almost 300,000 Palestinians in East Jerusalem; you are talking about thousands. And it says a lot. Those Palestinians in East Jerusalem are facing strangulation policy, deportation, revoking their identity card, sending them out of Jerusalem – thousands of them. It is to say that the education system in East Jerusalem is one of the worst education system conditions led by the Israeli authorities. It is to say that those in East Jerusalem – Palestinians – not all of them are free to get into Al Aqsa Mosque. Demolition orders in East Jerusalem, but more also in other villages, in Arab villages inside Israel, because of lack of planning and housing. Do you know, Stephen, that there is a law called community villages law forbidding, preventing me, Ahmad Tibi, as an Israeli citizen, Arab citizen, from living in 800 community villages. I can live here in London or in Manhattan but not in these areas.”

Sackur failed to note the context of security considerations which sometimes limit access to the Al Aqsa Mosque to males under a certain age. He refrained from asking Tibi whether his claim that residents of East Jerusalem are being ‘deported’ or having their ID cards ‘revoked’ in fact relates to a small number of terrorists, their accomplices and family members of terrorists. Curiously – considering that between 1967 and 2014, the percentage of Arabs making up Jerusalem’s population rose from 26% to 37% – Sackur did not ask Tibi to provide evidence to support his claim that “thousands” have been ‘sent out’ of Jerusalem.

The law Tibi describes as “community villages law” is the Cooperative Associations Law and it relates to fewer than five hundred – not “800” – small communities of up to four hundred families that are situated in the Negev or the Galilee. Such communities are entitled to have an admissions committee which can screen potential residents. In contrast to the impression given by Tibi, all applicants of any creed or ethnicity meet with the admissions committee and the law expressly states that communities cannot reject applicants for reasons of race, religion, gender or nationality. Stephen Sackur, however, made no effort to relieve audiences of the false impression deliberately propagated by Ahmad Tibi.

Making no effort to explain to audiences what Zionism actually is, Sackur went on:

SS: “Are you saying – and using the words of that resolution from the United Nations in 1975 – are you saying that you still regard Zionism as racism?”

AT: “The practice of Zionism daily is to say that Jews are superior to non- Jews in Israel.”

SS: “Well answer this because it is a very famous UN resolution and it was repealed…repealed…one of the only UN that has ever been repealed 16 years later because consensus across the world that that language was unacceptable and wrong. I’m just asking you whether you actually still use that phrase.”

AT: “We Palestinians – mainly Palestinians inside Israel or outside the Green Line, [are] victims of Zionism because of racism of many aspects of Zionism against non- Jews, mainly original or indigenous Palestinians.”

Sackur then turned the conversation to the topic of elimination of the Jewish state.

SS: “You see I think this debate is important because right now there is a discussion both inside Israel, amongst Arabs outside of the territories but also amongst Palestinians and Arab Israelis, about what is going to happen if the two-state solution is dead. And we’ve discussed Donald Trump and we’ve discussed the current political situation and nobody would pretend that the two-state solution looks alive right now. So there is a unitary state solution and if there is to be a unitary state, do you believe it would be acceptable for the Jewish Israeli population to be in a minority?”

AT: “The speech of Mr Trump adopted the Israeli narrative and it was a bullet in the head of the two-state solution, of the two-state vision. Instead of two-state solution it became two-state illusion. That’s why there are more and more talk about one state solution.”

SS: “You’ve talked about it.”

AT: “I’ve talked about it.”

SS: “You even posited the notion that you might run for Prime Minister of a unitary state from the Mediterranean to the Jordan River and you said ‘if it was a run-off between me and Mr Netanyahu, I would win, no doubt about it’.”

AT: “If this will be the case, and equal right will be there between Jews and Arabs from the sea to the river, a Palestinian will win the post of the Prime Minister.”

SS: “I very advisedly asked you, can you countenance…do you think it is in any way realistic to think that the Jewish population of Israel will ever accept a situation in which they are in a minority? This is the country that was set up under a UN resolution as the homeland for the Jews after the Second World War. You understand that, I believe, better than most Arabs because you made a very famous speech understanding the impact of the Holocaust on the Jewish people and on the creation of the state of Israel. So I put it to you again; can you imagine a unitary state where the Jewish population is in a minority?”

AT: “”We, I, as a victim of the victim in that speech, can tell you that I know, I realise that for the Israelis, it’s a nightmare to talk about equal one democratic state. That’s why, when you are giving two choices for them, two-state solution or one-state solution, they are immediately choosing the third choice, which is not there, the status quo. That is why I am saying two-state solution is the optimal solution that the international community is supporting. But the condition is immediate ending of the occupation and Israel is rearranging the occupation.”

SS: “Yeah, but you don’t just say that. You say very inflammatory things. In an interview not so long ago, you allowed your imagination to run. You said ‘we will, if there is to be a unitary state, we will annul the declaration of independence from 1948. In its place, we will write a civil declaration that represents all citizens – Jewish, Muslim, Christian and Druze’. You said ‘it is untenable for a democratic state to have a declaration of independence that is fundamentally Jewish’. You were asked what would the country’s name be? You said ‘I don’t know: its Parliament will decide’. What about the flag? You were asked and you said ‘yes, that will have to change’. Now when you say these things, how do you think Israelis – Jewish Israelis – respond?”

Sackur could also have raised the no less relevant point that in the same interview, Tibi declared that the Law of Return “would automatically be annulled, because the country would no longer be a Jewish state as it is today”.

AT: “When Israelis are killing Palestinians, how we would react? It is a democratic vision. I think that any democratic in Europe, in the international community, should respect my vision of democracy if there will not be a two-state solution. Yes, I want to be equal with Israeli Jews. I want to be equal with anybody in Tel Aviv and Tayibe, Nazareth and Hadera. But I will never accept to be inferior to any Israeli Jew just because the state is defining itself as a Jewish state. Because defining yourself as Jewish and democratic, it’s an oxymoron, Stephen and this is an oxymoron that we are fighting against day by day.”

SS: “If I may say so, it seems to me your speech was based on empathy and a genuine effort to understand the Israeli mindset. One aspect of the Israeli mindset is that they see more than a decade ago when the Palestinians had a free election, that a majority, at least in Gaza, voted quite clearly for Hamas – a movement that is dedicated in its original constitution to the destruction of the State of Israel.”

AT: “Stephen, do you want new rules for democracy? It’s election. It’s democracy. Palestinian people, like in England, like in Germany, like in France, like even in the United States – who just elected very bizarre president – we Palestinians are free to elect exactly what the Palestinians want. Once it is Fatah, once it’s Hamas.”

SS: “And you think the Israelis are going to listen to this and your belief that, oh, the Palestinians can choose Hamas if they want to and still believe that there is any possible reason why they should listen to you talking about unitary state?”

AT: “They can listen to me talking about two-state solution. They are not listening. Neither for that, nor for that. And what is Netanyahu proposing for Israelis and Palestinians? More and more war, more and more confrontation, more and more friction, more and more bloodshed. I am proposing peace. I am proposing freedom for Palestinians and peace for Israelis and Palestinians. It is challenging.”

Sackur then brought up a topic which audiences would no doubt have had difficulty understanding seeing as the BBC has studiously avoided reporting it.

SS: “It is. If you wanted to build some bridges and build some confidence, there are certain things you could do. I mean for a start, you could denounce your fellow Arab-Israeli member of Knesset who is now in prison because he was smuggling telephones to Palestinian prisoners – Mr Ghattas. What did you make of what he did and how disappointed were you in him?”

AT: “The 13 MKs of the Joint List, all of us, are not using this way of struggle in order to act as parliamentarians. It is not the way. He said so. His colleagues in Balad said so. We, myself and others said so, and he is paying the price in the jail.” 

Sackur failed to inform audiences that, despite Tibi’s claims to the contrary, neither Ghattas nor some of his Joint List former colleagues have shown any sign of having reached the conclusion that “it is not the way”.

SS: “And why did you boycott Shimon Peres’ funeral?”

AT: “Because…I carried my condolences to his daughter…”

SS: No, you didn’t go to the funeral. Even Mahmoud Abbas went to the funeral. I’m just wondering again what kind of signal you are sending to the Israelis.”

AT: “Am I obliged to act exactly as the consensus – the Israeli consensus – is demanding from me? There is historical problem. I can understand Israelis when they cannot do something that hurt their feelings. Please understand our feeling as national leaders.”

SS: “I just wonder whether you pay heed to the words of the first Arab-Israeli to be a Supreme Court justice – and that in itself tells you something about the Israeli system. Salim Joubran, you know, he served in the Supreme Court, he was proud to do so, and toward the time he was leaving, he said, ‘yes, I complain a lot about the State of Israel’s treatment of Arab Israelis, but I am also complaining about us – leaders of the Arab community. We must take responsibility and handle problems’. Hasn’t got a point there? That you spend so much time grandstanding about the long-term prospects for a peaceful solution between Arab… between Palestinian and Israeli, you don’t spend much time trying to deliver a better life for your constituents.”

AT: “You are mistaken, Stephen, because according to the statistics and numbers of the Knesset activity, 85% of our activity is focused on social and economical issues of our community. And there is misleading coverage of our activity. Yes, we are responsible for the well-being of our community. We should be much more interested, focusing, acting in the issue, for example, of violence in our community, which is almost devastating.”

SS: “It’s a scourge – particularly violence against women inside Arab-Israeli communities.”

AT: “And who is taking part in every demonstration against that? Who issued a motion against that? Who issued a motion against using weapons in community events? Myself.”

SS: “And I guess that what the Israelis – I can hear the voices in my head – the Israelis watching this will say yes, and you are much freer to make those sorts of protests and to demand better from the community inside Israel that you would be if you were living in a village in the West Bank or indeed a different Arab country.”

AT: “Say it; in Syria or in Libya. Say it.”

SS: “Well, you can say it.”

AT: “It is a racist notice. You know why? Because to tell me, Ahmad, that because I am Arab that I should move to Syria, as they are demanding day by day in the Knesset, or I should compare myself to Third World countries, non-democratic, totalitarian regimes, when Israel is claiming it is democracy. The control group and the control states, Stephen, should be Sweden, France, England – not Libya, not Syria, not third states…Third World states in Africa or south America. I want to be equal, exactly like citizens in Kochav Yair, in Tel Aviv and I do not want to be compared with totalitarian regimes, but with democratic states. It is the test. Can you accept the idea that an Israeli citizen who is Arab is willing to be equal? “

SS: “It’s a good way to end this interview. Ahmad Tibi, thank you very much for being on Hardtalk.”

The people referred to by Sackur as “Israelis watching this” are of course not in need of a BBC programme to enlighten them on the topic of Ahmad Tibi’s record, views and agenda: they have after all spent nearly two decades watching him function as an anti-Zionist MK in their own parliament – perhaps the best refutation of his claims of ‘discrimination’ that there could be.

While it can be said that Stephen Sackur did question Ahmad Tibi on some of the positions he holds, the fact remains that BBC audiences around the world watching or listening to this programme went away with a plethora of inaccurate impressions about Israel due to the fact that Sackur refrained from challenging any of the multiple smears, falsehoods and distortions promoted by Tibi in this interview.

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BBC’s ‘Hardtalk’ hosts Ahmad Tibi – part one

 

 

 

BBC’s ‘Hardtalk’ hosts Ahmad Tibi – part one

Israeli MK Ahmad Tibi from the Joint List travelled to London earlier this month to speak at a conference organised by the pro-Hamas organisation ‘Middle East Monitor’ (MEMO).

While in the British capital, Tibi also gave an interview (available here to UK audiences and also here) to the BBC programme ‘Hardtalk‘ which was aired on March 7th on the BBC News Channel and the BBC World News Channel. A clip from the interview was promoted on the BBC News website under the title “Ahmad Tibi: Trump ‘promoting anarchy’ in Middle East” and an audio version was broadcast on BBC World Service radio (and also made available as a podcast) where it was presented with the following synopsis: 

“Stephen Sackur speaks to Ahmad Tibi. He is a veteran Arab Israeli MP and one time adviser to Yasser Arafat. President Donald Trump claimed he could broker the deal of the century between Israel and the Palestinian. Instead he seems to have entrenched the hostility after recognising Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. Is the Arab-Israeli experience a sign that the status quo is the only viable response to the conflict between Jews and Arabs?”

Stephen Sackur gave a very similar introduction to the filmed version of the interview but the audio version had a different introduction: [emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]

Sackur: “My guest today is an elected politician who insists that his is a life stripped of genuine freedom and democracy. Ahmad Tibi is a member of the Israeli Knesset – one of its deputy speakers in fact. He leads the Arab Movement for Change party and is a familiar figure to Israelis making impassioned speeches on the floor of the chamber in fluent Hebrew. Roughly a fifth of Israel’s population is Arab. They have citizenship, they can vote, but according to Tibi they remain second-class citizens in a state that he likens to apartheid South Africa. His parents were originally from Jaffa but fled during the war of 1948 and made a new home in the area of Israel known as the Arab Triangle. He is a trained gynecologist. But he became a prominent political figure who was a close advisor to Yasser Arafat during the Oslo peace process. Now of course that process is lifeless. President Trump has recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and suggested he isn’t committed to that old trope the two-state solution. So where does that leave the Arabs – both inside Israel and those Palestinians outside? Well Ahmad Tibi joins me now.”

Predictably, given the BBC’s intense focus on that topic in recent months, Sackur began with the subject of the US recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital – also the topic of the MEMO conference attended by Tibi.

SS: “I think we have to start with the impact of the Donald Trump presidency on relations between Palestinians and Israelis. Would you agree that it has fundamentally changed the dynamic in the region?”

AT: “Yes, for the negative. I think that Trump and his administration promoted and promoting anarchy in the region and anarchy in the world by supporting, enhancing, encouraging, violation of international law and adopting one side on behalf of another. President Trump via his speech about Jerusalem, he totally adopted the Israeli narrative and the occupation narrative. To say that he and his Three Musketeers – advisors who are great supporters of the settlements – adopted the talking points of Benjamin Netanyahu…”

Far from challenging Tibi’s specious claim concerning ‘international law’, Sackur endorsed it.

SS: “Well, you can…you can make your point about international law but surely what Donald Trump has actually done is recognise reality in perhaps a more honest way than previous US presidents because the truth is it’s obvious to everyone that the Israeli capital is in Jerusalem.  That’s where the prime minister’s office is, it’s where the cabinet meets, it’s where the government buildings are and Donald Trump has said enough with this nonsense; let’s just recognise reality.”

AT: “That’s nonsense. Because 1967 – East Jerusalem was occupied in 1967, this is the reality. And if there is a thief in the area and he stole your house, it is a reality but you’re not supposed to accept reality as it is legitimate fact.”

Sackur refrained from reminding audiences that parts of Jerusalem were occupied before 1967 – by Jordan.

SS: “Sure but Trump did say in the course last December of announcing that he would move the embassy to Jerusalem – and we understand it may happen quicker than we thought this year – he did say look I’m not prejudging what the two parties finally agree on Jerusalem; they can do what they want, they can divide it in the future as they wish. We are simply recognising what we now see to be Israel’s capital.”

AT: He said more than that. In 1980, there was a motion, a law in the Knesset, saying exactly what he is saying in his speech. He adopted that law of unified capital of Israel, containing Supreme Court, government, parliament. He adopted that phrasing, even. He did not say that East Jerusalem is an occupied area. He did not say that East Jerusalem can be the capital, or should be the capital, of the Palestinians. He – and this is the most dangerous thing – he is dealing with the issue of Jerusalem as it is internal of the Israelis – and it is not.”

SS: “The fact is, he remains the most powerful man in the world – you could perhaps argue about that, China is the rising power – but none the less, Donald Trump when it comes to the Middle East is the most important man in the world. He has made a decision which reflects the fact that, frankly, many Palestinians would now acknowledge; you’ve lost. You have lost in the sense that your interests are never going to be achievable.”

AT: “I do not agree with you totally.”

SS: “You do…in part you do?”

AT: “It is one of the most toughest and difficult areas for the Palestinian people, I agree with that. But we had much more difficult phases in our history…of the Palestinian history. This nation, the Palestinian people, is very much insisting in implementing and achieving his national rights and it is rights of the people under occupation seeking to be free, to be independent, to be sovereign, alongside the state of Israel. And Mr Trump is saying to Palestinians…and to Israelis, you will take it all and to Israelis, you will take nothing. That’s why he has disqualified himself as a broker.”

SS: “But I suppose what I’m wondering is what you as an Arab – and let’s not forget, you’re an Israeli citizen, you serve in the Israeli Knesset, the Israeli parliament, you represent the interests of the Arab Israeli population in Israel. I wonder what you make of the reaction from Hamas leaders like Ismail Haniyeh saying things like, you know, ‘we would not allow Trump’s declaration to pass even if we lose our heads in the process’. All the talk of a new intifada, all the talk of Palestinians putting their lives on the line to protest, we have been here so many times before. Is there not now a weary resignation that says to you, in the privacy of your own mind, there is no point anymore to this sort of talk of laying down our lives, new Intifadas. It’s gone.”

AT: “I am representing the Arab Palestinian minority in Israel. We are part of the Palestinian people. There are three parts: Palestinians inside Israel, Palestinians in ’67 areas and Palestinians in the diaspora. But we are also citizens of the State of Israel.”

SS: “That’s right.”

AT: “We are supporting Palestinians self-determination and this right is not negotiable. And we are, as citizens also, saying in the Knesset, from the podium, I am saying in Arabic, in English, in Hebrew that we are promoting Israeli-Palestinian peace. We are not supporting violence – we said it in the past always – I am supporting nonviolent popular resistance. It succeeded in the last year when the magnometers [metal detectors] were put in the Al Aqsa Mosque and it succeeded when the church closed…the church because the government official tried to impose taxes on the Christian church in Jerusalem.”

Sackur provided no context to either of Tibi’s examples, meaning that audiences remained unaware that metal detectors were not “put in the Al Aqsa Mosque” at all but at the entrance to Temple Mount following a terror attack at the site by three Arab-Israelis. Neither were they told that the “taxes” are not “on the Christian church” but on church-owned properties that are not used for worship – just as in the UK.

Neither did he question Tibi as to how his claim that “we are not supporting violence” squares with the fact that members of his Knesset list paid a condolence visit to the families of terrorists in 2016.

Sackur then brought up the Ahed Tamimi case – but failed to inform BBC audiences that the charges against her include incitement to violence: again a relevant topic given Tibi’s claim to support exclusively non-violent protest.

SS: “Yeah, one could say it is easy for you to talk about protests; the usual words in the Knesset. But if you live in the occupied West Bank, the reality of protest is much more dangerous. I mean we have in our minds perhaps right now the case of Ahed Tamimi – the young girl, teenage girl, in the West Bank village who struck out at an Israeli officer because she was so angry at what the Israeli troops were doing in and around her village. She is now in a court facing serious charges and may well end up in prison. You know, it is easy for you as an Arab-Israeli to say this but much more difficult for protesters in the West Bank not to jeopardise their own security in this call for civil disobedience.”

AT: “First of all I am accompanying Ahed Tamimi in her military court. She’s courageous…”

SS: “You can walk away at the end of the day. She can’t.”

The second half of the interview will be discussed in part two of this post. 

 

 

The BBC’s narrative on ‘East Jerusalem’ omits relevant context

Although the BBC has been telling its audiences that “the Palestinians want East Jerusalem to be the capital of a future Palestinian state” for many years, since the US president’s announcement of recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital on December 6th 2017 that messaging has been promoted on a variety of BBC platforms on an almost daily basis.

BBC portrayals of the topic usually include the narrative seen in a frequently reused backgrounder on Jerusalem produced by Yolande Knell in which audiences were led to believe that a Palestinian capital in “east Jerusalem” is an already agreed component of the two-state solution rather than a topic to be discussed in final status negotiations.

“Of course, Palestinians see things starkly differently. They want east Jerusalem as their capital.

And that’s part of the long-standing international formula for peace here, known as the “two-state solution”.

Knell also portrayed the two-state solution in terms that dovetail with the PLO’s interpretation of that term.

“Basically the idea that an independent Palestinian state would be created alongside Israel, along the boundaries that existed before 1967, it’s written up in UN resolutions.” [emphasis added]

Of course the prime motivation behind Palestinian claims to a capital in the parts of Jerusalem occupied by Jordan between 1948 and 1967 is control over Temple Mount but the BBC repeatedly fails to adequately clarify that important point to its audiences.

Neither does it bother to inform them of the Palestinian Authority’s record on upholding agreements it has already signed with Israel regarding other holy places.

Under the terms of the Oslo Accords, freedom of access to and worship at holy sites was guaranteed.

“The agreement guarantees freedom of access to and freedom of worship at the holy sites, and defines access arrangements for the holy places located in Areas “A” and “B”. With regard to Rachel’s Tomb in Bethlehem and Joseph’s Tomb in Nablus, special arrangements are set out in the agreement which will also guarantee freedom of access and freedom of worship.”

“ARTICLE 32
Religious Sites

  1. Responsibility over sites of religious significance in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip (hereinafter – “Holy Sites”) will be transferred to the Palestinian side. In Area C, this responsibility will be transferred gradually to Palestinian jurisdiction that will cover West Bank and Gaza Strip territory except for the issues that will be negotiated in the permanent status negotiations, during the further redeployment phases, to be completed within 18 months from the date of the inauguration of the Council.
  2. Both sides shall respect and protect the listed below religious rights of Jews, Christians, Moslems and Samaritans:
  3. protection of the Holy Sites;
  4. free access to the Holy Sites; and
  5. freedom of worship and practice.
  6. a. The Palestinian side shall ensure free access to, respect the ways of worship in and not make any changes to, the Jewish Holy Sites listed in List No. 1 of Schedule 4.
  7. The Palestinian side shall ensure free access to, and respect the ways of worship in, the Jewish Holy Sites listed in List No. 2 of Schedule 4 .
  8. Schedule 4 shall be updated commensurate with the gradual transfer of responsibility in accordance with paragraph 1.
  9. The holy site of Nebi Musa shall be under the auspices of the Palestinian side for religious purposes.
  10. During religious events that take place three times a year and other special occasions that shall be coordinated with the Israeli authorities, Palestinians shall have the right to religious pilgrimage to the Al-Maghtas [in Jordan – ed] under the Palestinian flag. Safe passage will be provided from the Jericho Area to Al-Maghtas for this purpose.”

Obviously Israeli Jews are not able to visit the synagogue in Gaza City today and visits to additional sites on that list are either virtually impossible or severely restricted. Some of those holy and historically important sites have been vandalised, including Joseph’s Tomb which – as the BBC reported at the time – was set ablaze by Palestinian rioters in October 2015. 

Holy places to which access is supposedly guaranteed by the Oslo Accords have also been the scene of numerous terror attacks and planned attacks – most recently on January 15th when an explosive device planted at the entrance to Joseph’s Tomb was discovered just before a visit by worshippers. That incident did not receive any BBC coverage whatsoever.

Some of the religious sites included in the Oslo Accords – Rachel’s Tomb and the Cave of Machpelah – have been the subject of motions instigated by the Palestinian Authority and passed by UNESCO that are designed to negate their Jewish heritage. Holy sites in Jerusalem have also been the subject of deliberately politicised UNESCO resolutions denying Jewish history.

Despite its public purpose obligation to provide audiences with “impartial news and information to help people understand and engage with the world around them” the BBC has not produced any content relating to the failure of the agreement that the Palestinians signed over two decades ago to guarantee freedom of access for Jews to religious sites under the control of the Palestinian Authority and to safeguard those sites.

However, the BBC’s copious multi-platform amplification of the simplistic narrative according to which a Palestinian capital in ‘East Jerusalem’ is the “formula for peace” continues apace.  

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Inaccuracy and omission in BBC backgrounder on Jerusalem