Earlier this month we saw that the BBC had sent two reporters from the offshoot of BBC News which is the manifestation of the corporation’s belief that 16 to 24 year-olds in the UK cannot consume current affairs without a middleman – ‘Newsbeat’ – to cover the Eurovision Song Contest in Tel Aviv.
In among their Eurovision coverage Steve Holden and Daniel Rosney also managed to produce “a little bit of a history lesson” for Newsbeat’s target audience which was broadcast on BBC Radio 1 and BBC Radio 1 XTRA on May 13th.
Seeing as ‘Newsbeat’ claims to produce “news tailored for a specifically younger audience”, that eight-and-a-half-minute long item gives us a good picture of what the BBC wants young people in the UK to know about the Arab-Israeli conflict – and what not.
Steve Holden introduced the report (from 06:45 here).
[emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]
Holden: “Shalom from the city of Jerusalem. All this week ‘Newsbeat’ is coming to you from Israel and the Palestinian territories. […] We’re in the Middle East, surrounded by countries including Egypt, Jordan and Syria. It’s a fascinating place but also to some a controversial one, which we’ll talk about soon. We are here because this week Israel hosts the world’s largest live music event, the Eurovision Song Contest.”
By that measure one can only hope that the war in Afghanistan and the military coalition intervention against ISIS will be over by next May, otherwise ‘Newsbeat’ will have to make sure that reporters covering the Eurovision Song Contest in the Netherlands also pop over to Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan as well as several small islands in the Caribbean Sea.
Holden: “So right now we are in the heart of Jerusalem: its Old City. It is full of market traders, food stalls, so many tourists. And I know this is radio but the smells here are incredible: think a mix of fresh strawberries, all kinds of spices and incense. It is amazing. It’s an organised chaos here; there are so many people but these motorbikes snake down these tiny alleyways and everyone shouts. Think of Jerusalem like a crossroads for religion. It is considered holy for many including Jews, Christians and Muslims. […]
This region is home to both Israelis and Palestinians so gonna give you a little bit of a history lesson now because the British used to rule here years ago when the area was called Palestine. Following the Second World War Israel established its state here. It was a homeland for Jewish people and in the war that followed, when surrounding Arab countries fought that new Jewish state, hundreds of thousands of Palestinians fled or were forced from their homes. Now, after another war in the 1960s, Israel captured places that you might have heard of like the Gaza Strip and the West Bank which it still occupies now – places that Palestinians want as their future state. Now those conflicting claims have seen unrest [sic] in this region for decades with each side blaming the other.”
As we see the BBC is not interested in explaining how Britain came to “rule…the area” or in telling audiences about the Balfour Declaration and the Mandate for Palestine. Relatedly, the word ‘the’ is missing from Holden’s portrayal of Israel – actually a homeland for the Jewish people. As is so often the case in BBC content, Holden’s portrayal leads listeners to the erroneous belief that the displacement of Palestinians took place only after Israel declared independence on May 14th 1948 and the Arab attacks which followed their rejection of the Partition Plan in November 1947 are erased from view. Having also failed to provide any context concerning the Six Day War, Holden went on to describe nearly 700 attacks with military grade projectiles against Israeli civilians in two days in early May as “violence…in the Gaza Strip”.
Holden: “Here with us this week is the BBC’s Middle East correspondent Tom Bateman who is based in Jerusalem. Ah…violence flared up very recently in the Gaza Strip which is about 90 minutes from here. Explain what happened.”
Bateman’s explanation included the BBC’s usual euphemism for terrorists and failed to clarify that the two Israeli soldiers were on the Israeli side of the border when shot by a Palestinian sniper.
Bateman: “There were militants in Gaza who really control the Gaza Strip. They shot at two Israeli soldiers, wounding them. Israel then fired back and two militants were killed in an air strike. There were then two days of very intense violence that followed. 700 rockets fired from the Gaza Strip into southern Israel that killed four people in Israel. The Israelis carried out wave after wave of air strikes against the Gaza Strip – in response, they said – and 25 Palestinians were killed. And really the context to all of it is that the Palestinians in Gaza say they want an easing of the blockade that Israel says it carries out for security reasons. The Israelis say, well look, they just want calm on the boundary.”
Bateman’s description of Israeli air strikes as being “against the Gaza Strip” is of course inaccurate – the targets were terrorist assets and installations. His claim that “25 Palestinians were killed” does not inform listeners that at least 74% of them were identified as terrorist operatives or members of the terrorist organisations. Bateman’s portrayal of what “Palestinians in Gaza say they want” of course does not help the BBC’s “younger audiences” understand that what Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad want is to eradicate Israel and that is why counter-terrorism measures including “the blockade” are in place.
Holden: “Now world governments have been trying to stop that from happening for years. What’s the latest?”
Notably Bateman’s portrayal of the two-state solution follows the usual BBC policy of ignoring the all-important part of the formula: ‘two states for two peoples’.
Bateman: “Well the formulation for peace really from the international community for many years has been something called the two-state solution and what that would really mean was you have the State of Israel living in peace and security alongside an independent Palestinian state so the Palestinians would have their own country and the right to run that. What we’re gonna get, in the next few weeks it looks like, is a new plan from the Trump White House in America. President Trump he says he wants to do the deal of the century – the ultimate deal, he’s called it – between Israelis and Palestinians. Now the Americans say it requires new thinking; all the ideas in the past have simply failed. But there are critics already of this, including the Palestinians and their leadership who say they won’t talk to the Americans over all of this. They think the plan is gonna be biased in favour of Israel.”
Holden: “And we’re starting this week in Jerusalem. It’s a city that is complicated. It’s got a very complex history.”
Bateman: “You have here two very distinct populations so in the west of the city you have Jewish Israelis. In the east of the city largely you have Palestinians, Arabs. There was a time when the city was very divided; literally there was barbed wire and concrete walls running across the centre of it. When Israel captured it in that war you mentioned in the 1960s they took the whole city and since then they’ve claimed it as what they call their eternal, undivided capital. Now Palestinians in the east don’t want that. They want the east to be the capital of their future state and so it remains a city whose future is in question and really one of the most contested places on earth.”
Holden then introduced a report from his colleague Daniel Rosney who went on walk about in Jerusalem on Independence Day to do vox pop interviews.
Rosney: “This is Damascus Gate: one of the entrances to the Old City but it’s also one of the ways that you get to the east of the city where many Palestinians live. Around here there are Border Police with big guns and they sit in booths. For Israelis this keeps the city undivided but for Palestinians this is the face of their occupation.”
Actually, for Israelis those Border Police officers are defence against the frequent terror attacks by Palestinians that ‘Newsbeat’ chose to erase from this report entirely. Rosney was apparently surprised that residents of the eastern part of the city were not celebrating Independence Day.
Rosney: “Back outside and you can see that in East Jerusalem some of the roads just aren’t as good as they are in West Jerusalem and it’s not got that same celebratory vibe today.
Referring to one of Rosney’s interviewees, Holden closed the report with another misrepresentation of when and why some Palestinians became refugees.
Holden: “As we just heard in Daniel’s report, Rajid [phonetic] wasn’t celebrating Israel’s Independence Day but later this week he will mark Nakba Day remembering the hundreds of thousands of Palestinians forced from their home after Israel declared independence. More on that tomorrow when we’re going to be in Gaza hearing from those directly affected by the conflict.”
Apparently as far as ‘Newsbeat’ is concerned “those directly affected by the conflict” do not include the residents of southern Israel targeted by thousands of missiles over the years or the many thousands of Israelis impacted by other types of Palestinian terror attacks.