BBC perpetuates the narrative of perpetual Palestinian refugees

On Oct. 8th, the BBC published video segment by Paul Adams titled “After 70 years, who are the Palestinian refugees?”, filmed at the Burg Al-Barajneh “refugee” camp in Beirut, which focused on Palestinian fears that, under the new US peace plan, they’ll never be allowed to return “home”.

Here’s the six-minute segment:

Though the official UNRWA figure counts over 5 million Palestinian refugees, the overwhelming majority of these “refugees” – as we’ve noted repeatedly – are merely Palestinians descendants (children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, etc.) of the original 711,000 actual refugees from 1948 who, unlike every other refugee population, are automatically granted refugee status, even those who have citizenship in other countries.

As Einat Wilf, co-author of the book ‘The War of Return’ observed about the fiction that there are millions of Palestinian refugees.

almost all [Palestinian refugees] (upward of 80 per cent) are either citizens of a third country, such as Jordan, or they live in [Palestinian territories] where they were born and expect to have a future…

….The remaining 20 per cent of the descendantsare inhabitants of Syria and Lebanon who are by law denied the right to citizenship granted to all other Syrians and Lebanese.

The number of actual refugees from 1948 is believed to be closer to 20,000.

As you saw in the clip, a Palestinian professor in Lebanon was interviewed who explained that Palestinian “refugees” in Lebanon – many of whom have lived in the country for generations – are truly second class citizens and are denied basic employment and property rights.  Yet, note how Adams failed to draw the most intuitive conclusion from this fact: that the refugee issue – and the fact that so many Arabs of Palestinian descent identify as “refugees” – is perpetuated by Arab states (and UNRWA) who refuse to encourage the full integration of Palestinians into their countries.  Nor, did Adams ask why such “refugee camps”, run by UNRWA, in Lebanon, Jordan, and within the Palestinian Authority have never been converted to ordinary cities. 

Adams’ other Palestinian interviewee – a young woman also several generations removed from the actual refugees of ’48 – insisted on her inalienable “right of return” to Israel.  But, BBC viewers were not reminded that such descendants of refugees don’t in fact have such a legal right to “return”, and that Israel would of course never engage in an act of national self-immolation by allowing millions of Palestinians to become citizens of the state.

Adams, in his final thoughts on the problem, opines that for such Palestinians, living in camps in Lebanon and Jordan, their refugee status is the only thing they possess.  However, hope based on a right (of return) they don’t have, and on a future vision of life (in Israel) that will never be brought to fruition, is not a possession. It’s a handicap, and a cynical formula for perpetuating Palestinian victimhood that continues to be amplified and legitimized by media outlets like the BBC.

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The UNRWA story the BBC chose not to tell

Since the beginning of this year BBC audiences have seen extensive coverage of the topic of US aid donations to the Palestinians and since the end of August items relating to the US administration’s decision to cease funding UNRWA have frequently featured on BBC platforms.

BBC News reporting on US aid cut to UNRWA – part one

BBC News reporting on US aid cut to UNRWA – part two

An eleven minute BBC WS report on UNRWA funding – part one

An eleven minute BBC WS report on UNRWA funding – part two

BBC WS listeners get more unchallenged UNRWA narrative

More to a BBC Radio 4 item on ‘morality’ of aid to Palestinians than meets the eye

In contrast, visitors to the BBC News website have not seen any coverage whatsoever of a story which broke on October 1st and was covered by many local and international media outlets.

“The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) had evacuated 10 of its international senior employees from Gaza to Israel on Monday, after they were threatened and harassed by UNRWA’s disgruntled local Palestinian staff following the agency’s announcement to cut more than 250 jobs.

The agency’s senior officials were rescued and transferred to Israeli territory via the Erez crossing—which remained closed throughout the Jewish holidays but was re-opened by the Israeli security officials following an official request from UNRWA.

The Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories issued an official statement, confirming the incident.

 “A number of foreign UNRWA employees have been evacuated from the Gaza Strip to Israel. This is due to the tensions as a result of the financial crisis UNRWA is facing and subsequent concern for the safety of its foreign staff,” stressed the statement.

 “The Hamas terrorist organization did not protect the agency’s staff from the violence directed against them,” the statement concluded.”

UNRWA put out a statement of its own (which it is difficult to believe the BBC did not receive) that interestingly does not mention Hamas by name but “calls upon the local authorities” to protect its staff.

Despite its record of covering stories about UNRWA operations in the Gaza Strip very generously, remarkably the BBC did not find a story about the agency’s foreign employees being threatened by local residents remotely newsworthy.

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More to a BBC Radio 4 item on ‘morality’ of aid to Palestinians than meets the eye

The September 23rd edition of the BBC Radio 4 “ethical and religious” programme ‘Sunday‘ included an item (from 19:23 here) described in its synopsis as follows:

“And where politics and morality clash – Edward discusses the cut in funding for Palestinian projects by the US Administration with Nigel Varnell [sic] of Embrace the Middle East and Sarah Elliott from Republicans Overseas.”

The charity representative is actually called Nigel Varndell.  Listeners were not provided with any information concerning the “particular viewpoint” of the charity ‘Embrace the Middle East’ as required under BBC editorial guidelines on impartiality.

Right at the beginning of the programme presenter Edward Stourton told listeners:

Stourton: “Charities are trying to plug the gap left by the Trump administration’s decision to withdraw funding for Palestinian refugees. We’ll debate the morality of that decision with one of the charities involved and a Trump supporter.”

The long item itself was introduced by Stourton as follows: [emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]

Stourton: “A group of charities have declared they’re trying to plug the funding gap left by the Trump administration’s decision to withdraw American support for the UN agency that looks after Palestinian refugees. Nigel Varndell is head of marketing and fundraising for the charity ‘Embrace the Middle East’ and Sarah Elliott chairs the London-based group ‘Republicans Overseas’. Nigel Varndell told me how his charity is trying to help.”

After Varndell had told listeners about his own charity’s £25,000 contribution to a “Catholic health development” project run in “some of the poorest areas of Gaza” by the Vatican-run NGO ‘Caritas‘, Stourton asked:

Stourton: “What do you think the overall impact of the Trump administration’s policy is going to be?”

Varndell: “Well if you look at the overall impact, we’re talking about $200 million potentially of US aid cuts. Also cuts into UNRWA – the United Nations agency – that could be hundreds of millions of dollars. We’re already hearing of cuts to hospitals in East Jerusalem that deal with Palestinians and also money for co-existence projects. Now if you begin to look at the impact of that purely in somewhere like Gaza, that might mean something like 500 to 600 schools closing. That could be 22 health centres in Gaza that might be forced to close. That might be cuts to employment for people who work for UNRWA – maybe another 10 to 12 thousand jobs in an area that already suffers from huge unemployment. It’s going to be very significant.”

Stourton then asked his second contributor:

Stourton: “Sarah Elliott; given what we’ve just heard how do you possibly justify this policy?”

Sarah Elliott mentioned the possibility of other donors stepping up before going on to bring up a topic usually avoided by the BBC – Palestinian Authority funding for terrorists and their families.

After Stourton stated that “the vast majority – all this money – goes to legitimate aid projects, doesn’t it?”, Elliott brought up the topic of UNRWA textbooks, to which Stourton retorted “can you give me evidence for that?”. Elliot’s subsequent mention of weapons discovered in UNRWA schools produced no reaction from Stourton, who went on to ask Varndell for his input.

Stourton: “Well I want to hear from Nigel Varndell now. Well what is your response to the suggestion that this money doesn’t always go to legitimate purposes and is – I suppose contaminated seems to be the accusation – by the political nature of the region?”

Varndell told Radio 4 listeners “that money’s not going astray” and that “we’re talking about education for children, health care for sick people”.

Notably, neither he nor Stourton brought up the fact that aid provided to what Varndell termed “development organisations” frees up the Palestinian Authority’s budget for rewarding terror and Hamas’ budget for expansion of its terror capabilities such as cross border tunnels.

After Sarah Elliott had spoken about transparency and American priorities, Stourton brought up the topic of ‘morality’.

Stourton: “Do you think it’s moral to take money back from various projects that have been…people have got used to, providing them with health, education and so forth?”

He went on to interrupt Elliott’s answer to that question:

Stourton: “Can I…can I just…ahm…point out to you one area where people are suspicious about this, which is the fact that a lot of the money that’s being withdrawn is going to the refugee agency and there is a view that actually this is political; this is about trying to remove the issue of Palestinian refugees and their right of return from the political process.”

Listeners heard nothing on the relevant topic of unique automatic hereditary status for Palestinian refugees or that the so-called ‘right of return’ actually means eradication of the Jewish state and scuppers any chance of a two-state solution to the conflict.

They did however hear Nigel Varndell opining that “it’s deeply immoral to try and use the poorest and the most vulnerable people in Gaza as pawns in a political game” before he went on to make a problematic claim.

Varndell: “This is an area – one of the few areas in the world where under-5 child mortality is not going down in spite of the millennium development goals and everyone’s commitment to those.”

Listeners were not told that Varndell’s claim concerning child mortality rates is sourced from UNRWA itself or that since 2015 UNRWA has been making spurious claims of a connection between child mortality and Israeli counter-terrorism measures which do not stand up to scrutiny. He continued:

Varndell: “What we’re talking about is punishing those people and I was in Gaza in May. I was talking to children, women who have no access to healthcare other than that provided by aid agencies. And to try and say to them that they need to be political pawns in this is completely immoral and I would say wrong.”

Stourton: “And that is what you’re doing, Sarah Elliott, isn’t it?”

Elliott: “No, no, no. It’s what their political leaders are doing. There’s no reason why that region should have 80% of their people on aid. And I think that their political leaders are keeping them down in order to push their own agenda.”

Rather than relating to the issue of why people who live under the rule of fellow Palestinians should be classified as refugees and why the Palestinian Authority and Hamas do not provide education and healthcare for those people, Stourton steered the focus back to the micro:

Stourton: “But the impact of what’s happening at the moment is indeed about people on the ground. […] Let me put this to you please: the people who Nigel Varndell has been talking about are the ones who are going to suffer as a result of this policy, aren’t they?”

Following Elliott’s response, Stourton gave the last word to Varndell who praised the “moral leadership” of British government departments in relation to a pledge of increased funding to UNRWA before closing with threatening speculation:

Varndell: “…it must be moral to keep funding these kind of aid development projects. We need to keep doing that or people like those I met in Gaza in May will lose their lives, their healthcare, their education and their hope. And arguably that will drive them into the hands of extremists and make this worse and more unstable for Israel, for Palestinians, for everyone.”

Given that the BBC’s coverage of the topic of the US decision to cut donations to UNRWA and other projects has been uniformly superficial, it would be easy to dismiss this item as more of the same.

Yet again BBC audiences were denied information concerning UNRWA’s problematic record and were given no insight into the background to its politically motivated perpetuation of the refugee issue. Yet again BBC audiences heard no discussion of why citizens of the Gaza Strip and PA controlled areas are classified as refugees and deliberately kept dependent on foreign aid.

However, in this item Radio 4 listeners heard more than an academic discussion. They heard a significant contribution from the “head of marketing and fundraising” at an NGO that is raising money for this particular cause – a cause that was repeatedly portrayed to the Sunday morning audience as the right “moral” choice.

Obviously it would therefore have been appropriate for Edward Stourton to have explained to BBC Radio 4 audiences listening to this item why a PR firm that describes ‘Embrace the Middle East’ as one of its clients claims to have been involved in the item’s production – and what that entailed.

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Omission and imbalance in BBC report on ‘Bedouin village’

On September 5th the BBC News website published a 609 word report headlined “Khan al-Ahmar: Israel court approves demolition of Bedouin village” which opened by telling readers that:

“Israel’s Supreme Court has rejected appeals against the demolition of a Bedouin village in the occupied West Bank whose fate has been a subject of international concern.

Judges upheld an order to raze Khan al-Ahmar, where about 180 people live in shacks between two Jewish settlements. […]

An injunction against the demolition will expire within seven days.”

The caption to the main photograph illustrating the article, together with a later paragraph, suggests that the BBC’s journalists did not read the court’s decision in which it is stated that the settlement was built during the last twenty years.

“Khan al-Ahmar was established in the 1950s by members of a tribe from the Negev desert”

“Khan al-Ahmar, which is 8km (5 miles) east of Jerusalem, was established in the early 1950s by members of a semi-nomadic tribe the UN says was displaced from the Negev desert in southern Israel.”

Readers are told that:

“Israel’s government says the structures were built illegally, but Palestinians say permits are impossible to obtain.”

And:

“Palestinians complain that the Israeli military refuses the vast majority of Palestinian building requests and say they are left with little option except to build without permission.”

They are not however informed that the court’s decision notes that the residents make no claim of ownership of the said land and that the site – and in particular the illegally built school – is too close to a major highway for construction to be permitted there under planning laws. Neither were they informed that the court stressed the importance of an equal approach to illegal construction, regardless of the ethnicity of the petitioner.

The article states:

“Since 2009, residents have been fighting demolition orders issued for the wooden and corrugated iron shacks in which they live, as well as a clinic, mosque and an Italian-funded primary school.”

Readers are not informed of the relevant fact that the residents were represented by lawyers hired by the Palestinian Authority.

The article states:

“In May, the Supreme Court rejected petitions to prevent the demolitions at Khan al-Ahmar and the relocation of its residents to a site designated by the Israeli government near the Palestinian town of Abu Dis.”

Readers were not told that the offer of relocation includes a free plot of land already connected to utilities at a site with existing services including a school.

The BBC’s report includes the following:

“Israeli Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman congratulated the court on Wednesday’s ruling upholding the demolition order, which he said had come despite “the orchestrated hypocrisy of Abu Mazen [Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas], the Left and European states”.

“Nobody is above the law, nobody will keep us from acting on our sovereignty and responsibility as a state,” he added.”

Readers found no explanation of that reference to “European states” and so remain unaware of the fact that some of the illegal construction at that site and others was carried out by the EU.

In addition, readers found forty words of comment from what is described as the PLO’s “human rights body” along with a link to the B’tselem website. The only other link in the article leads readers to the UNRWA website and readers are provided with 145 words of highly questionable legal interpretation attributed to “the UN”.

In other words, in addition to the serious omissions in the BBC’s representation of this story, audiences saw four times more comment (and two links) from outside sources opposing the evacuation of the illegally constructed settlement than they did opinions in favour. 

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Weekend long read

1) Dr Denis MacEoin chronicles the UK Labour Party antisemitism story at the Gatestone Institute.

“Mainstream, moderate political parties are normally sensitive to accusations in the media or from the public that threaten to put citizens off voting for them. Labour’s anti-Semitic reputation has been on the front pages of newspapers, has led to a plethora of articles in leading magazines, and has been a deep cause of concern for some two years now. The current British government is in a state of crisis – a crisis that could result before long in a fresh general election in which Labour might hope to win or further increase its vote, as it did in 2017. One might have thought that they might do anything to win voters back by abandoning any policies that might make the public think them too extreme to take on the responsibilities of government in a country facing confusion over its plan to exit the European Union. But this July, they did the opposite by turning their backs on moderation, presumably in the hope that this is where the voters are.”

2) At Tablet Magazine Tony Badran discusses “The Myth of an Independent Lebanon“.

“The reason Hezbollah continues to be able to fly in Iranian planes loaded with weapons straight into Beirut airport has nothing to do with absence of state authority, or lack of LAF capacity. Rather, the theory undergirding U.S. policy, which posits a dichotomy between the Lebanese government and Hezbollah, simply has no relation to the reality of Lebanon. The LAF will never take action to prevent Hezbollah’s arms smuggling, because it will never be asked to by the Lebanese government, regardless of how much we “professionalize” it or build up its capacity.”

3) Dr Jonathan Spyer takes a look at Turkish interests in Syria.

“Idlib is set to form the final chapter in a Russian-led strategy that commenced nearly three years ago.   According to this approach, rebel-controlled areas were first bombed and shelled into submission and then offered the chance to ‘reconcile’, ie surrender to the regime. As part of this process, those fighters who did not wish to surrender were given the option of being transported with their weapons to rebel-held Idlib.

This approach was useful for the regime side.  It allowed the avoidance of costly last-stand battles by the rebels.  It also contained within it the expectation that a final battle against the most determined elements of the insurgency would need to take place, once there was nowhere for these fighters to be redirected. That time is now near.  There are around 70,000 rebel fighters inside Idlib.  The dominant factions among them are Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, (the renamed Jabhat al-Nusra, ie the al-Qaeda franchise in Syria), and the newly formed, Turkish-supported Jaish al-Watani (National Army), which brings together a number of smaller rebel groups.”

4) At the INSS Michal Hatuel-Radoshitzky and Kobi Michael discuss “The End to US Funding to UNRWA: Opportunity or Threat?

“The US decision to cease funding UNRWA is no less than historic. Although the Palestinians view such a step as a serious blow, if it is presented as a necessary step on the path to Palestinian statehood, it has the potential to harbor long term, positive implications. While Israel should certainly prepare for negative scenarios that such a policy move may generate in the near term, it is unwise to cling to the current paradigm that distances the Palestinian leadership’s pragmatic and ethical responsibility for rehabilitating and resettling Palestinian refugees within the Palestinian territories. With staunch Israeli, American, and international incentives and policy initiatives, the US decision to cease funding UNRWA can serve as a wake-up call to the Palestinian leadership and potentially inject new life into the Israeli-Palestinian process.”

 

 

 

BBC WS listeners get more unchallenged UNRWA narrative

The September 1st afternoon edition of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour‘ included an item nearly thirteen minutes long on the topic of the previous day’s US State Department announcement concerning its intention to cease contributions to UNRWA.

Presenter Lyse Doucet introduced the item (from 30:06 here): [emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]

Doucet: “The UN’s agency for Palestinian refugees – known by its acronym UNRWA – has lurched for many years from one financial crisis to the next. But now the agency supporting some 5 million Palestinians faces its greatest test. Palestinian officials as well as the UN are criticising a decision by its biggest donor the US to withdraw all funding. Israel welcomes the move saying UNRWA keeps Palestinian hopes alive of returning to their homes which now lie in Israel proper.”

Obviously uninformed listeners would not understand from that portrayal by Doucet that at most only a tiny proportion of those 5 million people could actually claim to have had “homes” over seventy years ago in what is now Israel.

Doucet first brought in the BBC Jerusalem bureau’s Yolande Knell who noted that pupils in UNRWA schools had begun the school year, citing “526,000 pupils across the Middle East”, “711 schools” and “270,000 students” in the Gaza Strip.

Listeners then heard a reference to an aspect of the story rarely discussed by the BBC: that of UNRWA as an employer of Palestinians.

Doucet: “So and it’s not just schools; it’s also health facilities. I mean in effect entire families they depend on this for their sole source of income?”

Knell: “That’s right; of course UNRWA is also a major employer. 22,000 teachers in those schools that I’ve just mentioned. If you go to Palestinian refugee camps you will find that there are also clinics run by UNRWA that is providing many of the services such as rubbish collection.”

Knell went on to mention a story from July not previously covered by the BBC.

Knell: “…already we’ve seen protests, particularly in Gaza in recent weeks – a sit-in at the UNRWA headquarters there – as the first rafts of cuts have hit and about a thousand people were told that they were going to have their contracts ended.”

Doucet then introduced her second contributor.

Doucet: “But we do know that there are urgent meetings going on in the region including the Arab capitals…where millions of Palestinian refugees rely on UN support. And we reached UNRWA’s spokesperson Chris Gunness just as he was boarding a plane in the Jordanian capital Amman.”

BBC World Service audiences then heard Chris Gunness repeat talking points he used back in January when the US administration announced a cut to its UNRWA contribution. They also heard Gunness claim that his clients – rather than Yazidi, Syrian or Yemeni refugees living in temporary shelters – are “some of the most marginalized and fragile and vulnerable communities in the Middle East” with no challenge from Lyse Doucet.

[33:25] Gunness: “The impact will be absolutely devastating. It’s likely to be widespread, profound, dramatic and unpredictable because – let’s make no mistake – some of the most marginalized and fragile and vulnerable communities in the Middle East are going to likely suffer because of this. 562,000 schoolchildren receiving an UNRWA education every day. 1.7 million food insecure people. 3.5 [sic] patients coming to our clinics every day. We do assistance to disabled refugees, to women, to vulnerable children. The list goes on and as I say, the impact on them is likely to be utterly devastating.”

Doucet then asked Gunness “but what is your reply to the critics?” before playing part of an interview with Dr Jonathan Schanzer of the FDD heard in another BBC radio programme.

Schanzer: “This was a decision that was long time coming. For several years now we’ve been hearing about calls for reform within UNRWA. UNRWA has been slow to respond to the allegations that, for example, it has allowed Hamas to exploit some of its operations, that it has inflated the number of refugees making it virtually impossible for the Israelis and Palestinians to reach peace and that their budget has been over-inflated. Amidst these calls, UNRWA has dragged its feet and now the Trump administration, which is looking for really any excuse to cut budget, has found a new target.”

[34:52] Gunness: “Well it’s very interesting that just a few months ago the US administration was praising the high performance of UNRWA. They expressed praise for our reforms; we’ve been doing root and branch efficiency reforms – that was just a few months ago.”

If that sounds familiar it is because BBC audiences heard Gunness say the exact same thing in January:

“As far as reform is concerned, UNRWA has always been open to reform and the United States, most recently to our commissioner-general on a visit to Washington in November, was fulsome in its praise of UNRWA and its reforms.”

As noted here at the time:

“Despite the rosy picture painted by Gunness, past US donations to UNRWA have not come without conditions and criticism.”

Gunness went on:

Gunness: “On the specific allegations, whenever there’ve been accusations for example about militants leaving weapons in our schools or weapons components in our schools in Gaza, we were the first to come out and condemn and call for an investigation, which we did. When Hamas built tunnels under our schools we discovered them. We condemned it. So that allegation I reject absolutely.”

Having seen no BBC coverage of that latter story and others, listeners would of course be unaware of additional UNRWA related issues.

Gunness then repeated another previously made claim:

Gunness: “On the question of refugee numbers, the General Assembly have endorsed our methodology that we…err…confer refugee status through the generations exactly as the UN’s other refugee agency UNHCR does and the General Assembly has, as I say, approved this. If any single member state wants to try and bring that case, that accusation, to the General Assembly they’re very welcome to do that but our mandate remains. It cannot be changed unilaterally by a member state and, you know, as I say we’ve got the mandate. What happens now is we have less money to implement it but the mandate remains the same despite this decision by the Trump administration and we will do everything we can to implement it.”

Speaking to the BBC World Service in January, Gunness claimed that:

Gunness: “The reason why UNRWA’s budget runs out when it does is because the number of refugees we serve goes up and up and up because without a political resolution of their plight, their children remain refugees and that is the case with UNHCR refugees and other refugee populations around the world.”

As was pointed out here at the time:

“Unlike its sister agency, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), which is responsible for millions of non-Palestinian refugees worldwide, it [UNRWA] does not have an active program for “local integration” of refugees where they now reside nor “resettlement” in third countries.”

And:

“UNHCR confers derivative refugee status on the basis of family unity where there is a relationship of dependency. “As a matter of general practice, UNHCR does not promote the reunification of … grandchildren… unless they can be determined to be eligible under the principle of dependency.” This can mean financial dependency, “but also taking emotional dependency into consideration.” […]

It is true that, UNHCR’s basic standard is the nuclear family and that subsequent generations are given derivative refugee status only on an exceptional basis while UNRWA automatically grants grandchildren and great-grandchildren refugee status. But UNRWA defenders such as Gunness can argue that the two agencies are guided by the same basic principles.”

Once again a BBC WS presenter failed to challenge Gunness’ intentionally misleading presentation of that issue or to raise the relevant issue of ‘refugees’ that hold Jordanian or Palestinian citizenship. Doucet also refrained from questioning Gunness about the discrepancy between the number of registered refugees and actual refugees in Lebanon which came to light last year and an UNRWA official’s related claim that UNRWA’s figures do not necessarily reflect “deaths or relocation”.

Doucet next asked Gunness about alternative sources of funding and then went on to put a political slant on the story while ignoring the fact that when the US made its previous announcement concerning UNRWA donations in January, it specifically urged other nations to “step in and do their part“. 

[36:58] Doucet: “It’s clear that Israel and also the new US administration wants to take the issue of refugees off the negotiating table. They want to look at the so-called peace process in a different way. Do you believe that you’re a victim of that?”

Gunness took that cue to deflect criticism of UNRWA and proceeded to provide an example of why many consider UNRWA to be a political lobbying body.

Gunness: “Certainly it feels as if, given the praise for our reforms, that there are other forces at work. But let’s be very clear: you cannot airbrush out of the equation 5.4 million people. These are individuals with rights, including the right to self-determination, to a just and durable solution and whatever else must happen, if there is to be a peace dispensation it must be based on international law, it must be based on UN resolutions and of course the refugees themselves must be consulted. As I say, they cannot simply be airbrushed out of history. These are people who’ve been a UN protected population for 70 years and we have a continuing obligation towards them.”

Doucet went on to ask Gunness about “the mood” in Amman where, she pointed out, there are “so many refugees…dependent on UNRWA funding” but without clarifying that the vast majority of them are Jordanian citizens. After Gunness had spoken of “real alarm”, “panic and alarm” and “dramatic and unpredictable consequences”, Doucet further pursued her point.

Doucet: “Jordanian officials are even warning that this could be explosive. There could be security consequences.”

After Gunness had spoken of “the consequences of having 2 million angry, ill-educated, hungry people in Gaza on the doorstep of Israel”, Doucet closed that conversation and re-introduced Yolande Knell and the theme of a link between the US decision to stop contributions to UNRWA and “what’s happening in the peace process”. Knell took up the baton, promoting Palestinian messaging on that topic.

At 41:36 Doucet brought up a topic rarely discussed in BBC content.

Doucet: “What about the criticism that neighbouring Arab states, you know, keep the Palestinians generation after generation as refugees, denying them rights, as a political bargaining chip with Israel?”

Failing to mention the Arab League decision of 1959 designed to do exactly that, Knell responded:

Knell: “Well it depends on the different countries. There has been the different response to the Palestinian refugee issue. Certainly Jordan would point out that it has given citizenship to many of those Palestinian refugees but those in Syria and in Lebanon, it’s important to remember, they are still considered to be stateless. They are kept as refugees and the governments of those countries have said that it would be against the Palestinian interests, against the interests of their nationalist struggle if they were to be absorbed as citizens in those countries. This is an extremely sensitive issue for Palestinians and there are lots of Palestinian people that have lived their life in limbo from one generation to the next. They have very much kept alive this hope of returning back to land which now is inside Israel – something which both Israel and the United States say is unrealistic but which the different parties including the Palestinians say can only be solved through negotiations; not by just taking an issue off the table.”

With no mention made of the real motivation behind promotion of the ‘right of return’ issue, Doucet brought what she described as “a very sensitive, a very crucial story” to a close.

As we see BBC World Service audiences heard unchallenged UNRWA messaging together with promotion of Palestinian talking points in a long item which once again did little to contribute to their understanding of the background to this story.

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BBC silent on Gaza crossing closure

Back in May the BBC failed to adequately report on three separate incidents of severe vandalism at the Kerem Shalom crossing carried out by Palestinian rioters – on the instruction of Hamas – on May 4th, May 11th and May 14th.

BBC WS audiences get distorted account of Kerem Shalom closure

On September 4th a large number of Palestinians rioted at the Erez Crossing.

“According to the IDF Spokesperson Unit, hundreds of people participated in the riots, reportedly hurling rocks at the crossing which resulted in severe damage to the infrastructure. The IDF said they responded with tear gas and live fire.”

According to AFP:

“The Palestinians were protesting against an announcement by Washington on Friday that it would cease all funding to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine refugees (UNRWA) which helps some three million needy refugees.”

The following day it was announced that the Erez Crossing – the only transit route for pedestrians and patients seeking medical care outside the Gaza Strip – would have to be closed for repairs.

“Israel announced the temporary closure of its sole pedestrian crossing with the Gaza Strip on Wednesday after the border terminal was damaged during clashes between Israeli troops and Palestinians. […]

“As a result, the crossing has been closed until the repairing of the damage caused as a result of the riot is completed,” the army said in a statement.

It did not indicate when the repairs would be completed.

The army added that the closure does not include humanitarian cases, which it said would be approved on a case-by-case basis.”

The BBC, however, did not find the fact that violent Palestinian rioters deliberately trashed facilities serving Gaza Strip residents in the least bit newsworthy.

With BBC audiences being repeatedly steered towards the inaccurate belief that all the economic and humanitarian problems in the Gaza Strip are attributable to Israeli counter-terrorism measures, it is significant that once again the corporation has shown no interest in reporting a story which conflicts its chosen narrative

Related Articles:

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More ‘Great Return March’ arson and ambitions ignored by BBC News

BBC News website coverage of May 14 Gaza rioting

 

 

 

 

An eleven minute BBC WS report on UNRWA funding – part two

As we saw in part one of this post the August 30th afternoon edition of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour‘ led with a very long item described in the synopsis as follows:

“Jordan’s foreign minister has warned that cuts to the funding of the UN agency for Palestinian refugees, UNRWA, could be “extremely destabilising”. Ayman Safadi reacted to reports that the United States had decided to cut all funding it gives to UNRWA. The US had already announced a big reduction of contributions earlier this year.”

Following an introduction by presenter Julian Marshall and a report from the BBC Jerusalem bureau’s Yolande Knell, Marshall introduced his interviewee (from 04:13 here).

Marshall: “And the head of UNRWA has today been visiting Jordan – home to 2 million Palestinian refugees – where he’s been having talks with the Jordanian foreign minister Ayman Safadi and after that meeting we spoke to Mr Safadi. I asked him first what are his thoughts on UNRWA’s funding crisis.”

Readers may recall that back in May Yolande Knell also interviewed a Jordanian minister on the same topic. Then as now, no effort was made to explain to BBC audiences how that country’s decision to attack the nascent Jewish state in 1948 contributed to the creation of the Palestinian refugee situation.

From 04:31 listeners heard (on a bad phone line) Ayman Safadi claim that UNRWA’s budget deficit “is threatening its ability to continue to offer vital services to over 5 million Palestinian refugees in its 5 areas of operation” and that “failing UNRWA would ultimately translate into depriving 560 million [sic] Palestinian kids from their right to education, millions other from very, very important services that UNRWA provides in terms of health services and other emergency services”.

[05:28] Marshall: “And would you hope that other states will come forward to make up the shortfall?”

Safadi mentioned his country’s role in “putting together the Rome conference” and resulting and subsequent contributions from other countries before claiming that:

Safadi: “It’s not only in terms of financial responsiveness […] but also the political message is that UNRWA is linked to the refugees issue and I think this support we’re seeing translates [into] political support that UNRWA should continue to fulfil its mandate and that the refugees [issue] is a final status issue that should be addressed on the basis of UN resolution.”

Choosing not to expand on the issue of the exploitation of refugees for political leverage, Marshall changed the subject:

Marshall: “Why do you think the United States is doing this?”

Having stated that “we have recognised the logic of the argument the US has made about burden sharing”, Safadi went on to say:

Safadi: “In Jordan we have 122,000 kids that go to UNRWA schools. The pressure therefore is enormous.”

Marshall could at that point have enlightened listeners by asking Safadi why UNRWA is providing services to nearly 2 million people who hold Jordanian citizenship but instead he continued to pursue his previous line of questioning.

[08:44] Marshall: “Ahm…you said that you accepted the US logic about the need for more burden sharing and yet President Trump has made it quite clear in public statements and Tweets that he thinks that the Palestinians are ungrateful and he’s hoping that this might push them back towards the negotiating table.”

Safadi’s response to that question included:

[09:07] Safadi: “There is a humanitarian dimension to UNRWA that cannot be ignored and there’s also a political dimension that also must be emphasised because given the stalemate of the peace process, given the loss of hope, given the despair that has developed as a result of failure to get any traction [on] peace efforts, I think we need to be careful what message we send to the people. To make sure that we send a message of hope, that their livelihoods, their rights, are not forgotten and [unintelligible] to receive due attention by the international community.”

Once again Marshall chose to sidestep the issue of refugees deliberately kept in that status for political reasons. Apparently referring to reports from earlier in the month, he went on to ask:

[10:04] Marshall: “Has the United States discussed with Jordan at all the possibility of giving the money directly, that it might otherwise given [sic] to UNRWA, to you the Jordanian government to help with your 2 million Palestinian refugees?”

Safadi: “That’s a non-starter for us. That’s an issue that we will never accept again because…”

Marshall: “But has…has the United States proposed it?”

Safadi: “Some ideas have been floated and our answer was – it was probably the shortest conversation – such discussions the answer is no. We cannot do that. That will be a destabilizing factor because that will give the message that the right of refugees are being compromised so that’s something that we will not accept. It is not the right thing to do because it can only destabilise people. It will only send the wrong message about where we’re going. Palestinian refugees are under a UN mandate. That mandate has to continue until the refugees issues is dealt with as a final status issue – again, in accordance with the resolution. Jordan will never step in to shoulder the responsibilities UNRWA is shouldering. That said, I need to just state that over and above the services that UNRWA delivers in Jordan, Jordan is the largest contributor to Palestinian refugees. Our budget, our government budget, includes about $1.7 million that we spend on supporting services to Palestinian refugees in Jordan.”

Safadi repeated his “not the right thing to do” and “destabilising” themes yet again before Marshall closed the interview there – choosing once again to sidestep the important question of why UNRWA – financed as it is by donations sourced from tax-payers in other countries – should have to provide services for some 2 million people who – remarkably – audiences were not informed throughout this whole 11 minute long item are actually Jordanian citizens.

This interview with a senior minister from a country where some 40% of UNRWA clients live could obviously have been employed to provide BBC audiences with much-needed enhancement of understanding of the background to the ‘UNRWA in financial crisis’ story that the BBC has been reporting since January. Unsurprisingly given the corporation’s record on this story, once again that opportunity was passed up.

Related Articles:

An eleven minute BBC WS report on UNRWA funding – part one

BBC News reporting on US aid cut to UNRWA – part one

BBC News reporting on US aid cut to UNRWA – part two

BBC News report on US aid cut excludes relevant context

BBC’s special report on Palestinian refugees avoids the real issues

 

 

 

 

An eleven minute BBC WS report on UNRWA funding – part one

The day before the US State Department announced its intention to cease contributions to UNRWA, the August 30th afternoon edition of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour‘ led with a very long item described in the synopsis as follows:

“Jordan’s foreign minister has warned that cuts to the funding of the UN agency for Palestinian refugees, UNRWA, could be “extremely destabilising”. Ayman Safadi reacted to reports that the United States had decided to cut all funding it gives to UNRWA. The US had already announced a big reduction of contributions earlier this year.”

The item began with an introduction (from 00:54 here) from presenter Julian Marshall. [emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]

Marshall: “But we begin in the Middle East where the UN agency known as UNRWA which provides services to about 5 million Palestinian refugees now faces a funding crisis as a result of American cuts. In January this year the United States, which provides around a quarter of UNRWA’s budget, announced that it would be cutting its contribution to 60 million from 350 million. This is what President Trump said at the time at the Davos Economic Forum.”

Recording Trump: “When they disrespected us a week ago by not allowing our great vice-president to see them and we give them hundreds of millions of dollars in aid and support; tremendous numbers – numbers that nobody understands. That money’s on the table. That money’s not going to them unless they sit down and negotiate peace.”

Marshall: “And this week it was being reported that the United States had decided to cut funding to UNRWA altogether as the Trump administration announced it would also be ending the $200 million a year it gives to the Palestinian Authority. Well this squeeze on the Palestinians seems to be part of a broader strategy by the United States to try to shape any future peace settlement between Israel and the Palestinians. Washington has already relocated its embassy in Israel to Jerusalem while America’s UN ambassador Nikki Haley told a conference in the US this week that the right of Palestinians to return to Israel should be reviewed. Let’s speak first to the BBC’s Yolande Knell in Jerusalem. And Yolande; how is the money dispersed by UNRWA spent?”

[02:41] Knell: “Well it provides a lot of services to the 5 million people who are registered as refugees – Palestinian refugees – all around the Middle East. It provides to them schooling; there are 711 UNRWA schools, 526,000 pupils, just to give you a sense of the scale. It also provides healthcare, clinics in many of the refugee camps…ahm…places like Gaza, people really rely on those. There are 8 refugee camps in Gaza. Many of the 1.3 million refugees there also receive food aid from UNRWA.”

Marshall: “And the money that the United States gives bilaterally to the Palestinian Authority – do we know how that’s spent?”

Knell apparently does not know “how that’s spent” because she failed to answer that question and quickly changed the subject back to UNRWA.

Knell: “We’re not given a complete breakdown on how the funds are spent but we know that really since the beginning of the year there’s been this huge budget deficit for UNRWA and the announcement that came through just a couple of weeks ago is that it had received about $238 million in additional contributions. It’s been running a campaign called ‘Dignity is Priceless’. It’s had a lot of pledges from Arab states in particular. At the moment the agency is still short of 200 million it says but it was in doubt about whether the UNRWA schools which operate around the Middle East would be able to open for the start of the new term but yesterday and in the coming days we’re seeing those schools opening again. But UNRWA’s saying that it would be forced to close them again in a month if it doesn’t find additional new funding.”

Marshall: “Yolande, many thanks. The BBC’s Yolande Knell in Jerusalem.

As has been documented here, the BBC has lent its weight to that UNRWA funding campaign in recent months – for example:

BBC’s Yolande Knell amplifies UNRWA’s PR campaign

BBC WS facilitates UNRWA PR yet again – part one

BBC WS facilitates UNRWA PR yet again – part two

Unbalanced promotion of UNRWA PR on BBC World Service radio

As has also been documented here, since the story concerning US donations to UNRWA broke in January, none of the BBC’s related reports have provided its audience with any in-depth examination of the agency’s purpose, its agenda, its record or its efficiency.

BBC audiences have been told countless times that there are over 5 million Palestinian refugees – but not why their number has increased rather than fallen during the last 70 years or why in all that time they have not been integrated in host Arab countries.  

BBC audiences have likewise been repeatedly informed that UNRWA provides education and health services to Palestinian refugees but they have not been told why people who live under the rule of fellow Palestinians in the Gaza Strip or the PA controlled areas do not get those services from the governments to which they pay taxes or why, 70 years on, there are still ‘refugee camps’ in those locations.

As we see above, neither Julian Marshall nor Yolande Knell made any attempt in this item to enhance their listeners’ understanding of this story beyond UNRWA’s talking points.

In part two of this post we will see whether or not Julian Marshall posed the Jordanian foreign minister any questions which would help enhance audience understanding of the fact that the majority of just over 2 million people registered as Palestinian refugees who live in Jordan hold Jordanian citizenship and yet still get services from the UN agency.

Related Articles:

BBC News reporting on US aid cut to UNRWA – part one

BBC News reporting on US aid cut to UNRWA – part two

BBC News report on US aid cut excludes relevant context

BBC’s special report on Palestinian refugees avoids the real issues

BBC News reporting on US aid cut to UNRWA – part two

On September 1st the BBC News website replaced its original report on the topic of the US administration’s decision to cut funding to UNRWA (discussed here) with an article titled “Palestinians brand US aid cut to UN group ‘a flagrant assault’“.

As may be expected given that choice of headline, 16.3% of the report’s word count was given over to criticism of the US decision from various Palestinian factions, including the PLO (together with a link) and the Hamas terror group. An additional 48 words were used to describe Palestinian denunciation of previous unrelated US Administration decisions. A further 13.7% of the report’s word count was devoted to amplification of statements from UNRWA’s spokesman Chris Gunness, meaning that in all, 30% of the article was devoted to informing BBC audiences of condemnations of the US move.

Readers were told that:

“The US has been the largest single donor to Unrwa, providing $368m (£284m) in 2016 and funding almost 30% of its operations in the region.

But in January, the administration of President Donald Trump withheld more than half of its planned funding to Unrwa, saying it would keep back $65m unless the body carried out “reforms”.”

The BBC chose not to explore the question of why, given that warning, no reforms were made to UNRWA during the last eight months or whether other countries stepped forward with increased contributions as the US suggested in January.

Portrayal of the US announcement itself included a link to the US State Department’s statement.

The state department said the US had shouldered a “very disproportionate share of the burden of Unrwa’s costs”, and that the international community should contribute more.

It has also said it is unhappy that Unrwa has kept expanding the number of people eligible for assistance, and says its business model is “simply unsustainable and has been in crisis mode for many years”.

This links to a wider disagreement over which Palestinians are refugees with a right to return to the homes they fled following the 1948 Arab-Israeli war.

The UN says there are about five million Palestinian refugees, including the descendants of people who fled the 1948 war.

However, the US and Israel disagree with how this number is calculated, and say the number of Palestinian refugees should be much smaller.”

Once again the BBC failed to provide its audiences with a factual view of the background to this story that includes UNRWA’s gradual expansion of the term ‘refugee’ to include people who do not meet that description under its original mandate – as well as millions of people with Jordanian or Palestinian citizenship – and its failure to promote resettlement of refugees.  

Readers were not told that UNRWA employs 30,000 members of staff to take care of 5.3 million registered clients while the UNHCR has fewer than 11,000 staff dealing with 17.2 million refugees in 130 countries and they were not given an explanation as to why refugee camps still exist in areas long under the control of either the Palestinian Authority or Hamas. 

Perhaps most importantly, BBC audiences were not told that UNRWA’s seventy-year perpetuation and exacerbation of the Palestinian refugee issue does nothing to contribute to the prospects of the peaceful solution to the conflict supposedly backed by most Western nations – including the UK – as Einat Wilf explains:

“Why does this matter for peace? Because if millions of Arabs who are citizens of Jordan and the Palestinian Authority, or inhabitants of Syria and Lebanon, claim to be refugees from what is today Israel, even though they were never born there and never lived there, and demand that as a result of this refugee status they be given the right to relocate to Israel (‘the right of return’), then the whole basis for peace by means of two states for two people crumbles. If Israel with its 6 million Jews and more than 1.5 million Arabs has to absorb between 5 and 8 million Palestinians then the Jews will be relegated again to living as a minority among those who do not view them as equals; the only country in which the Jews are a majority and can exercise their right to self-determination would be no more.”

Since this story first emerged in January the BBC has had ample time in which to provide its audiences with the full range of information essential for its understanding. Instead, BBC audiences have seen repeated promotion of UNRWA campaigning and have been given a portrayal of the issue which overall is unbalanced and severely lacking in essential information.

Related Articles:

BBC News reporting on US aid cut to UNRWA – part one

BBC WS listeners get a homogeneous view of US aid to Palestinians – part one

BBC WS listeners get a homogeneous view of US aid to Palestinians – part two

BBC News report on UNRWA funding story omits relevant background

BBC WS Newsday coverage of UNRWA aid story – part one

BBC WS Newsday coverage of UNRWA aid story – part two

Falsehoods go uncontested on BBC World Service – part one

Falsehoods go uncontested on BBC World Service – part two

Three BBC articles on US aid promote an irrelevant false comparison

BBC’s Yolande Knell amplifies UNRWA’s PR campaign

BBC WS facilitates UNRWA PR yet again – part one

BBC WS facilitates UNRWA PR yet again – part two

Unbalanced promotion of UNRWA PR on BBC World Service radio