Weekend long read

1) At the Gatestone Institute, Douglas Murray discusses “The Great British Foreign Office Fantasy“.

“According to the British Foreign Office, the Golan Heights are ‘occupied’. They have been ‘occupied’ – according to the logic of the UK Foreign Office – since 1967, when Israel took the land from the invading forces of Syria. Ever since then, the Israelis have had the benefit of this strategic position and the Syrian regime has not. This fact, half a century on, still strikes the British Foreign Office as regrettable, and a wrong to be righted in due course. […]

The ongoing madness of the British Foreign Office’s position has been highlighted in recent days thanks to a request which came from the British government, as well as the governments in other European capitals and in Washington. A request which also involved the Golan.”

2) The ITIC has updated its report on a study of Palestinian Authority school textbooks.

“An examination of the new textbooks issued by the PA shows they continue expressing, and in some instances by radicalizing, the same basic principles that appeared in previous textbooks: the delegitimizing of the State of Israel, demonizing the State of Israel, encouraging violence against it and an absence of education for peace. The books, which are strongly hostile to Israel and the Jewish people, are also used by UNRWA-run school, half of whose budget is devoted to education.”

3) The ITIC has also published a report on a ‘flotilla’ bound for the Gaza Strip and expected to arrive in the area next week.

“Three small boats of the flotilla to the Gaza Strip set sail on July 21 and 22, 2018, and are expected to arrive around the end of July. Before they left for the Gaza Strip they conducted a series of propaganda visits to various European ports. The flotilla’s objective is to help the Palestinian propaganda campaign that accompanies the “return marches” by raising awareness to the demand to lift the “siege” on the Gaza Strip. That is supposed lead to international solidarity with the Gazans while defaming Israel.

On July 16, 2018, four boats anchored in the port of Palermo, Sicily, and from there three of them set sail together for the Gaza Strip on July 21, 2018. The most prominent figure in organizing the flotilla is Zaher Birawi, a Palestinian anti-Israeli activist living in Britain, affiliated with Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood. Birawi has many years of experience in organizing flotillas and convoys to the Gaza Strip. His official title is “coordinator of the international committee for breaking the siege on the Gaza Strip.””

Readers may recall that Birawi is also linked to ‘Great Return March’ agitprop which has been staged along the border between the Gaza Strip and Israel since late March. The ITIC has also published an update to that report with details of the identities of the flotilla’s participants, one of whom is the founder of ‘Medical Aid for Palestinians’ (MAP) who has in the past been interviewed by the BBC.

4) At Tablet magazine, Tony Badran discusses “Putin’s New Rules for the Golan Heights“.

“Since the start of the offensive in southern Syria last month, there have been all kinds of optimistic takes on how Russia will agree to rein in the Iranians in Syria. But what Putin actually wants to do, his language suggests, is to establish Russia as the central interlocutor for everyone in the region. To that end, what could be better than the tried and true path of hosting talks between Israel and its adversaries in Syria?

Of course, the notion that Israel would restart talks about the Golan when the Iranians are entrenching themselves in Syria is laughable in the extreme—and the Russians clearly know this. Instead, they might start with technical talks, say, about how best to implement the Separation of Forces agreement, or about the modalities of the return of the Assad regime to the area. That, as Putin said, would be the first step.”

 

 

 

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A context-free ‘Today’ report from the BBC’s Paul Adams in Gaza

Many thanks to all those who wrote in to alert us to an item aired in the July 25th edition of the BBC Radio 4 programme Today. That report by Paul Adams – currently a BBC diplomatic correspondent and formerly twice based in Jerusalem – was introduced by presenter Mishal Husain (from 0:47:15 here) with multiple inaccuracies.

Husain: “Israel has partially reopened the Kerem Shalom crossing point into the Gaza Strip allowing fuel to enter the territory for the first time in two weeks. The crossing was closed earlier this month after incendiary kites were flown across the border setting fire to agricultural land inside Israel.”

Firstly, the Kerem Shalom crossing was not “closed” – and therefore also not “reopened”. As the BBC News website reported on July 17th, restrictions were placed on the types of goods allowed through:

“No fuel will enter through Kerem Shalom until Sunday, but food and medicine deliveries will still be permitted.” [emphasis added]

The restriction on fuel and gas imports was lifted at noon on July 24th after having been in force since July 17th: in other words for seven and a half days. Husain’s claim that fuel had entered the territory “for the first time in two weeks” is hence inaccurate. Listeners were not told that the restrictions were introduced not only after “incendiary kites were flown across the border” by parties Husain refrains from identifying but also after terror factions in the Gaza Strip had launched over 200 rockets and mortars at Israeli civilians two days beforehand.

Husain continued with an equally context-free portrayal of the violent rioting – pre-planned, financed and facilitated by Gaza terror factions – that has been taking place since the end of March:

Husain: “The UN says the lack of fuel has affected Gaza’s only power plant and hospitals, where hundreds of Palestinians are still being treated after being shot by Israeli soldiers during the protests of recent weeks.

Mishal Husain of course did not bother to inform listeners of the fact that Hamas has been exploiting diesel fuel imported via Egypt and intended for “Gaza’s only power plant” to boost its own coffers and for terror purposes. She went on:

Husain: “But as our diplomatic correspondent Paul Adams reports, health workers are worried about something much more long-term: the deteriorating mental condition of nearly 2 million Gazans.”

With the background to the report having thus been framed as related to Israel’s counter-terrorism measures, Adams commenced by telling a two month-old story.

Adams: “On the busy streets of Gaza a man sets fire to himself. The crowd gathers and the flames are doused. The man is bundled into a taxi. He makes it to hospital but dies two days later. What drove musical newly married Fathi Harb to take his own life? The man in the online videos dressed as a clown or singing to promote a coffee brand. His grandfather Said tries to make sense of Fathi’s death. Like everyone in Gaza he struggled to make a living but his wife Doha was about to give birth to their first child. The baby, Wattan, was born two days after Fathi died.”

Voiceover Grandfather: “No-one knows why he did it but the boy asked himself what kind of life are we living So I think of the same question. Every Palestinian asks himself the same question.”

Adams did not inform listeners that – as reported by some journalists at the time – Fathi Harb was “heard cursing the government” as he set himself on fire. Other media outlets noted that his family had been affected by the Palestinian Authority’s cutting of salaries to employees in the Gaza Strip.

In Paul Adams’ account, however, there is no room for any mention whatsoever of Hamas or the Fatah dominated Palestinian Authority.

Adams: “Suicide is a terrible sin in Islam and yet Fathi Harb chose to do it out in the street in front of dozens of people. He was clearly desperate and so it seems are more and more people here. Gaza’s boiling border has been in and out of the news since March but UN staff have been worried about Gaza’s young men for months.”

Following Adams’ promotion of that false linkage between the economic situation and the ‘Great Return March’ agitprop, listeners heard from “a UN health worker who claimed “more cases” since the beginning of the year. Adams commented that:

Adams: “It seems as though particularly educated young people are especially vulnerable to this kind of suicidal thought.”

The UN health worker gave a reply which conveniently fits in with Adams’ framing of the story, claiming that such people are “open to the world and the same time they cannot see the world.”

Adams continued:

Adams: “And it’s not just suicide. Domestic abuse is another alarming trend. At a UN clinic local women are discussing stress management. With unemployed, depressed husbands and angry, restive children Gaza’s women are under strain.”

After listeners had heard from one of those women, Adams went on, again studiously avoiding any mention of uncomfortable subjects such as Hamas’ use of water and sewage pipes to make rockets or Mahmoud Abbas’ deliberate exacerbation of the Gaza power crisis last year.

Adams: “Gaza has been crumbling for decades. War and economic isolation have taken their toll. There’s no proper drinking water. Electricity comes on for just 3 hours a day – sometimes in the middle of the night.”

Adams then introduced another interviewee:

Adams: “David Hutton runs the UN community mental health programme in Gaza.”

Hutton – who told listeners that “anybody who lives under these conditions” would “have an erosion of coping skills” – actually works for UNRWA and unsurprisingly had nothing to say about Hamas’ responsibility for what he described as “the chronic stress that people live with”. Adams went on:

Adams: “The youngest need help too. ‘Save the Children’ runs a youth centre at Beit Hanoun at the northern end of the Gaza Strip, close to the Israeli border. Encouraged by an instructor, girls in their early teen years play games, sing and forget themselves. But there are haunted faces here too, hanging back, uncertain, troubled.”

Adams did not bother to ask whether those “haunted faces” might be linked to the fact that four years ago, children living in Beit Hanoun and Beit Lahia were witness to the firing of 69.4% of the 3,356 missiles fired at civilian targets in Israel by terrorists in the Gaza Strip between July 8th and August 5th 2014.

Adams closed his report with a quote from the NGO which typically avoids mentioning the effects of Palestinian terrorists’ rocket and mortar attacks on Israeli children:

Adams: “‘Save the Children’ say 95% of Gaza’s children experience psychological distress: yet another Palestinian generation growing up with the corrosive effects of a conflict apparently without end.”

As we see, Paul Adams managed to get through his entire report without mentioning the words Hamas and terrorism even once. Obviously such blatantly context-free reporting – along with Mishal Husain’s inaccurate claims -not only contributes nothing at all to the BBC’s public purpose of helping its audiences “engage fully with issues” but actively hinders that process.

 

UNRWA spokesman’s biased polemic goes unchallenged on BBC R4 ‘Today’ – part two

As we saw in part one of this post, the first five minutes of an item relating to the weekend’s events in southern Israel and the Gaza Strip that was aired in the July 16th edition of the BBC Radio 4 Today programme was given over to an unchallenged polemic from UNRWA spokesman Chris Gunness.

Up until this point in the item listeners had not been told that some 200 projectiles had been launched by terror factions in the Gaza Strip at Israeli communities over the weekend. They had not heard an accurate description of the building – a Hamas training facility – in which the two teenagers had been located when they were accidentally killed. Neither had they been informed that this latest round of violence began when an IDF officer was wounded in a grenade attack at the border on July 13th. They had however heard a severely whitewashed account of terror attacks perpetrated along the border fence between Israel and the Gaza Strip during the past three and a half months.

Presenter John Humphrys next brought in the BBC Jerusalem Bureau’s Tom Bateman (from 01:39:29 here). [emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]

Humphrys: “Chris Gunness; thank you very much for that and let’s turn to, as I say, Tom Bateman our correspondent. Tom, I was trying to suggest to Mr Gunness what the Israelis would say. What are they in fact saying this morning, if anything?”

Bateman: “Well, you know, it was a significant flare-up over the weekend and I think, you know, eh..on a similar scale we saw a couple of months ago.”

In fact, 25% fewer attacks took place on May 29-30 than on July 13-14. Bateman than went on to tell listeners that Israel had been “bombing the Gaza Strip” rather than carefully selected terrorist infrastructure as is actually the case.

Bateman: “Whereby, you know, you had Israel bombing the Gaza Strip – it said more than 40 militant sites – and at the same time the Israelis say up to 200 rockets and mortars fired from Gaza. Now one of those rockets hit a house in the town of Sderot: people were wounded.”

While Bateman did inform listeners of the scale of attacks launched from the Gaza Strip, he failed to clarify who fired the missiles and presented the numbers with unnecessary ‘Israel says’ qualification. As was the case in BBC World Service news bulletins, while listeners had heard plenty about two teenagers – or “children” – killed in Gaza, they were not told that the wounded in Sderot also included people in that age group.  Bateman continued:

Bateman: “So the Israeli perspective is very much about that point of provocation. They’ve said – the Israeli Defence Forces said over the weekend that it is increasing the number of Iron Dome anti-missile systems in central and southern Israel. But I think, you know, the real decision maker here is the Israeli security cabinet and there are even more hawkish elements in the right-wing coalition to Benjamin Netanyahu that have been saying that – for example – the ceasefire was allowing Hamas to dictate the conditions. Naftali Bennett, a member of the security cabinet, was Tweeting over the weekend in effect suggesting that this was Israel caving into Hamas who was dictating the terms to this Egyptian mediation.”

As documented here previously, BBC coverage of the three months of Palestinian arson attacks that have destroyed some 7,400 acres of farmland, woodland and nature reserves and caused millions of dollars-worth of damage has been very poor indeed. It is therefore highly unlikely that listeners would be able to fill in the gaps for themselves as they heard Bateman’s tepid description of that terrorism, together with his introduction of the theme of “asymmetric warfare”.

Bateman: “But I think the tensions are going to continue to simmer, John, because what Israel has now been concerned about is this…what’s been happening on a near daily basis, which has been Palestinians at the fence flying kites and filling condoms with helium and sending them over the fence with flammable objects tied to them and burning fields. And you now have this sort of spectre that I think will be seen from the outside – and this is tension on Mr Netanyahu – as a sort of asymmetric warfare because the Israelis were using airstrikes against people over the weekend who were sending these kites over the fence.”

While failing to clarify that Egypt and Israel enforce closures of their borders with the Gaza Strip precisely because of Hamas terrorism, Bateman closed with a reference to an incident on July 13th but refrained from informing listeners that the “15 year-old boy” was climbing the border fence when shot.

Bateman: “The Palestinians say that this is simply protest against the blockade that continues by Israel and by Egypt. It is made worse by the internationally recognised Palestinian Authority imposing sanctions on Hamas in Gaza – on some of the public sector payments. But, you know, those tensions at the border are going to continue. There was a 15 year-old boy shot dead by the Israelis again at the fence on Friday and I think, you know, that issue over how Israel responds to what’s happening at the fence will increase the political pressure on Mr Netanyahu.”

Later on in the same edition of ‘Today’ listeners heard another item (from 02:50:20 here) relating to the same topic which was introduced by presenter Justin Webb as follows:

Webb: “We heard earlier in the programme about the worst exchange of hostilities between Gaza [sic] and…err…Israel since the war in 2014. There is now a fragile ceasefire but Chris Gunness, the spokesman for UNRWA the United Nations relief agency that operates in Gaza, said he condemned what had happened.”

Radio 4 listeners then heard part of Gunness’ previously aired unchallenged polemic recycled:

Gunness: “These deaths illustrate tragically the dangers of using overwhelming air strikes in a heavily populated area. Imagine a foreign army using massive air power on a building in central London and two British children are killed and ten wounded. That would rightly…there would rightly be international outrage. Imagine if that attack by a foreign army had already killed 146 people since the end of March of which 21 have been children. Imagine if 15,000 Brits had been wounded by that foreign army of which over 8,000 had been hospitalised, over 4,000 of them wounded by live fire. That’s what’s happened in Gaza since the end of March: make no mistake. And there rightly should be international outrage and condemnation.”

Now a quarter of the way into the four-minute item, Webb introduced former IDF spokesman Peter Lerner, whom he proceeded to interrupt repeatedly.

After Lerner had clarified the number of missiles fired from Gaza on July 14th, the number of acres of land in Israel destroyed by Palestinian arson attacks and the fact that Iran had funded the ‘Great Return March’ to the tune of $45 million which could have been used to improve Gaza’s infrastructure, Webb interrupted him with the false suggestion that the two teenagers accidentally killed because they were in a building that listeners had still not been told was a Hamas training facility were deliberately targeted.

Webb: “But the point Chris Gunness was making was that even if you accept all of that, attacking a place where there are children, killing two children, is not a proper proportionate response.”

When Lerner pointed out that Hamas “basically wrote the book on the use of human shields”, Webb interrupted him again.

Webb: “But even if that is the case, is it right to kill the shields?”

When Lerner raised the topic of Hamas’ accountability for the events, Webb interrupted once more.

Webb: “Well what about an investigation then that looks at both sides?”

As we see listeners to BBC Radio 4’s ‘Today’ programme on July 16th heard a total of eleven minutes and forty seconds of content relating to a story based around the deaths of two teenagers. However, not once in all that time were they told that the building in which the two were located was a Hamas training facility with access to the terror group’s underground tunnel network. Rather, even at the end of both items, listeners were still under the mistaken impression that this was just some random “building in a popular gathering place in Gaza City, a park where many families go” as Chris Gunness falsely claimed and – significantly – as Hamas tried to spin the story.

So much for the BBC’s supposed obligation to provide its funding public with “accurate and impartial news, current affairs and factual programming of the highest editorial standards so that all audiences can engage fully with issues across the UK and the world”.

Related Articles:

UNRWA spokesman’s biased polemic goes unchallenged on BBC R4 ‘Today’ – part one

Gaza missile attacks get 44 words on the BBC News website

An overview of BBC WS July 14 news bulletins

 

 

 

UNRWA spokesman’s biased polemic goes unchallenged on BBC R4 ‘Today’ – part one

The July 16th edition of the BBC Radio 4 news and current affairs programme Today included an item (from 01:3:24 here) in which UNRWA spokesman (and former BBC employee) Chris Gunness was given free rein to preach five minutes’ worth of completely unchallenged propaganda and distortions.

Gunness’ tenuous link to the subject supposedly under discussion was portrayed by presenter John Humphrys as follows:  

Humphrys: “Two Palestinian teenagers were killed in an attack by Israel at the weekend in Gaza. They were pupils at a school run by the United Nations relief agency. It’s been described as the worst exchange of hostilities between the two sides since the war in 2014. A ceasefire was called yesterday but the peace [sic] is fragile. I’m joined on the line by our Middle East correspondent Tom Bateman and Christopher Gunness of the United Nations relief agency. Chris Gunness; what happened on Saturday?”

Why the BBC – with its offices in Jerusalem and Gaza – should need Gunness to tell audiences “what happened on Saturday” is unclear but listeners then heard a distorted version of the story which, not surprisingly given Gunness’ record, dovetails with the version put out by Hamas and its supporters.

Gunness: “There was an Israeli airstrike on a building in a popular gathering place in Gaza City, a park where many families go, adjacent to the building. [It] Struck two children, Amir and Louay, as you say UNRWA students, they were killed. At least ten people were wounded.”

As shown in a video produced by Hamas, that “park” is in fact an open space next to an unfinished building intended to be a library but instead long used by Hamas as an urban warfare training facility that includes access to Hamas’ tunnel network. John Humphrys made no effort whatsoever to challenge Gunness’ echoing of Hamas propaganda or to clarify that the people he described as “children” were youths aged 15 and 16 who – despite the fact that missile fire by terror groups into Israel and retaliatory strikes had been ongoing for hours at the time of the incident – were reportedly playing in the Hamas facility. Instead, Humphrys allowed Gunness’ polemic to proceed unhindered.

Gunness: “The killings of children, John, in any context must be condemned in the strongest possible terms. These deaths illustrate tragically the dangers of using overwhelming air strikes in a heavily populated area. Imagine a foreign army using massive air power on a building in central London and two British children are killed and ten wounded. That would rightly…there would rightly be international outrage. Imagine if that attack by a foreign army had already killed 146 people since the end of March of which 21 have been children. Imagine if 15,000 Brits had been wounded by that foreign army of which over 8,000 had been hospitalised, over 4,000 of them wounded by live fire. That’s what’s happened in Gaza since the end of March: make no mistake. And there rightly should be international outrage and condemnation.”

Humphrys did not bother to clarify to listeners that Gunness’ imaginary scenario would only be relevant if the ruling British authorities had been firing hundreds of mortars and rockets at the civilians that “foreign army” was charged with protecting and “Brits” had repeatedly tried to breach the border with that foreign country while carrying out scores of terror attacks. Instead – apparently quite at ease with Gunness’ whitewashing of Palestinian terror – he went on to presume to speak for Israel.

Humphrys: “Well we were hoping to speak to an Israeli minister. He had – or we understood that he’d agreed to talk to us earlier this morning but he has since pulled out of that interview. But what they would say – and I can say this [laughs] because we’ve heard them say it many times before – they are under massive provocation. Their very existence is threatened – or would be if Hamas had its way – and they have to defend themselves.”

Gunness: “Look, we’ve all seen the pictures of the fence and we are very clear in the United Nations…the UN High Commissioner of Human Rights has called on Israel to ensure that its security forces do not resort to the use of excessive force, particularly at that fence. Under international law Palestinians first of all have the right to peaceful assembly and expression.”

Humphrys failed to clarify to listeners that no-one on the Israeli side has suggested that Palestinians in Gaza or elsewhere do not have the right to peaceful assembly or that “peaceful assembly” is not an accurate description of what has been going on along the border fence between Israel and the Gaza Strip for three and a half months.

Gunness: “Israeli security forces, according to our top human rights official, in policing the Gaza fence must use only necessary and proportionate means to discharge their duties. Exceptionally, they may resort to lethal force in cases of extreme necessity as a last resort and in response to an imminent threat of death or risk of serious injury. But – and, you know, I say but – it is difficult to see how tyre burning, stone throwing or even Molotov cocktails thrown from a significant distance at heavily protected security forces in defensive positions can be seen to constitute such a threat.”

Humphrys made no effort to inform listeners that in April, May and June Palestinians engaged in Hamas facilitated violence at that border carried out, inter alia, 294 attacks with petrol bombs, 20 shooting attacks, 35 IED attacks and 5 grenade attacks. He also failed to challenge Gunness’ subsequent inaccurate description of the Gaza Strip as being under “occupation”.

Gunness: “In the context of an occupation such as Gaza, killings resulting from the unlawful use of force may also constitute wilful killings which are a grave breach of the 4th Geneva Convention and I think that is why the Secretary General has called for an independent and transparent investigation into the killings in Gaza from the end of March. Will there be one? Well what a shame we didn’t have an Israeli official on this programme to ask that question. Will there be a transparent an independent investigation? Because that is what the world’s top diplomat has called for.”

Once again Humphrys presumed to respond on behalf of Israel:

Humphrys: “Yeah but you know how Israel will respond to that, don’t you? Because Israel would say the world community – put the word in quotation marks if you like – is weighted against us. People hate us for…because we are Israel and we lose the propaganda battle all the time.”

Gunness: “John, I’m sorry – I’m not on this programme to answer for Israel. As I say it’s…”

Humphrys: “No I understand but I mean you’re making the case for sanctions, at least for an investigation to be undertaken into Israel’s actions. I’m trying to put to you what they would say if they were here.”

Gunness: “John, it was you that used the word sanctions. I’m not making the case for sanctions. Can we please be very clear. I have not come on…”

Humphrys: “OK; you want an investigation.”

Listeners then heard that UNRWA condemned Hamas rocket fire – four years ago. They did not however hear that some 200 projectiles had been fired at Israeli communities in just over 24 hours.

Gunness: “The UN Secretary General has called for a transparent and an independent investigation into the killings that have taken place in Gaza since the end of March. I don’t think that is an unreasonable thing for the United Nations to call for. We have condemned the rockets coming out of Gaza. We have condemned Hamas rockets. We didn’t do it from the comfort of our offices in London or Tel Aviv or New York or Washington. Our Commissioner General did it from inside Gaza while the war raged in 2014. So let’s bat that old canard…”

Humphrys: “Alright.”

Gunness: “UNRWA condemns these rockets in the strongest possible terms but at the same time we condemn the killing of teenagers – UNRWA teenagers. They have a dignity and a destiny that must be protected and nurtured and that is why we condemn those killings.”

After that five-minute long unchallenged tirade from Gunness, Humphrys moved on to a report from the BBC’s Tom Bateman. Whether or not listeners to BBC Radio 4 then got to hear the crucial information and context entirely missing from the first five minutes of this item – and how Chris Gunness’ propaganda was later recycled – will be discussed in part two of this post.   

 

Weekend long read

1) NGO Monitor has published a study of The Latin American BDS Network.

“Anti-Israel campaigns in Latin America, specifically in Argentina, Brazil, Chile, and Mexico, have grown in recent years. For decades Latin American governments generally had strong ties with Israel, but this shifted during the 2000s when many governments demonstrated solidarity with Palestinians by recognizing a Palestinian state and condemning Israeli actions in Gaza. Still, countries such as Mexico and Argentina have substantial trade with Israel and have called for greater economic cooperation with the State. Furthermore, several of the Latin American countries that unilaterally recognized a Palestinian state chose to abstain in the UN vote on the US decision to move its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem – demonstrating ties to Israel.

In contrast to the strong economic and diplomatic ties with Israel, many local non-governmental organizations (NGOs) are active in promoting BDS (boycott, divestment, and sanctions), lawfare, and various other delegitimization campaigns against the State of Israel. These campaigns are often accompanied by demonizing and antisemitic rhetoric. These organizations appear to receive no government support and therefore rely on international BDS groups, as well as American, European, Israeli, and Palestinian NGOs for assistance in their campaigns.”

2) At the Fathom Journal Dr Simon Waldman discusses “the urgent need to rethink UNRWA”.

“Bureaucratic, badly managed, constantly overspending, UNRWA is almost always in a state of crisis and in the need of a bail out. And not only does it get one every year, but it receives its yearly lifeline without being obligated to restructure or reform. This is not to say that UNRWA does not do good work. It does plenty. Shelter, healthcare and education benefit millions not only in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, but also in Syria, Lebanon and Jordan. There’s also emergency relief, sanitation and psychological support for the 1948 Palestinian refugees (and to some extent 1967 refugees), and their descendants.

But here lies the problem. Instead of weaning refugees from dependency as was originally intended, over the course of decades Palestinians became reliant on UNRWA, whose operational definition of a ‘refugee’ includes the children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren of the original refugees. In doing so, instead of encouraging the resettlement and rehabilitation of descendants of the original refugees, UNRWA, with the support of western nations, has perpetuated their misery.”

3) At the New York Times James Loeffler writes about “The Zionist Founders of the Human Rights Movement“.

“Starting in the early 1960s, even before the Six-Day War of 1967, the international human rights community began to parrot the Soviet and Arab propaganda lines about Israeli racism and Zionist fascism. When Jewish leaders raised the subject of anti-Semitism at the United Nations in the 1970s, they were answered with a horrible meme that went viral: “Zionism is Racism.” That same decade, Amnesty International broke with its longstanding policy of not sponsoring prisoners who use or endorse violence and took up the cause of Palestinian Fatah members.

Furthermore, a deeper, insidious logic is also at work for many human-rights organizations. They readily point to the Holocaust as history’s wake-up call that sparked the human rights movement. But they selectively ignore a key fact of that history: it was Zionist activists who gave us so many of the ideals and instruments of modern human rights. They fought for human rights out of their particular experience as Jews — which is the very thing that drove them to embrace Zionism.”

4) At the JCPA, Dr Dore Gold takes a look at relations between Russia and Iran against the Syria backdrop.

“Russia is not cutting its ties with Iran. But it is clearly cutting back Iran’s freedom of action in Syria. The idea that Russia would back Iran’s use of Syria as a platform for operations against Israel or Jordan is not tenable. Still, Russia would remain the primary supplier of Bashar Assad’s army in Syria as well as his strategic partner. Unquestionably, Iran would need to reassess its Middle Eastern strategy after Moscow’s pronouncements calling for it to leave Syria and not continue to be perceived as the force that put at risk all that Russia had achieved as a result of the Syrian civil war.” 

Unbalanced promotion of UNRWA PR on BBC World Service radio

Both before and after the US administration announced on January 16th that it would be withholding part of its donation to the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) the BBC produced numerous reports on that story (see some in ‘related articles’ below), many of which included promotion of the UN agency’s PR messaging.

However, none of those reports provided the BBC’s funding public with background information concerning the multiple issues that have made UNRWA so controversial or any in-depth examination of the agency’s purpose, its agenda, its record or its efficiency.

On June 13th the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour‘ returned to that topic with a report by BBC North America’s New York and UN reporter Nada Tawfik that made absolutely no effort to provide listeners with a balanced view of the story and was in fact little more than an exercise in free PR for UNRWA and its spin-off non-profit organisation.

Presenter James Menendez began (from 38:10 here) with context-free presentation of a biased UN GA resolution – proposed by Algeria and Turkey – that made no mention of Hamas terrorism. He continued with an equally partisan portrayal of the violent rioting and attacks on the Gaza border since March 30th, failing to inform listeners that over 80% of those killed have been linked to terror groups.

Menendez then promoted the inaccurate claim that Gaza’s chronic electricity problems are the result of “years of conflict” when in fact – as the BBC well knows – they are entirely rooted in inter-factional Palestinian rivalries. [emphasis in italics in the original]

Menedez: “Now the UN General Assembly is expected to hold an emergency meeting on the situation in Gaza later today and vote on a resolution calling for better protection for the 2 million Palestinians who live there. That’s after last month’s clashes with Israeli forces which left a hundred people dead and many more injured. Years of conflict have left Gaza in ruins. Infrastructure’s crumbling, the economy’s paralysed and basic supplies such as electricity are in crisis. Despite this the United States has cut off vital funding to the UN’s agency for Palestinian refugees: UNRWA. But as Nada Tawfik reports, across the US American citizens are now filling the void.”

Listeners then heard a recording from an event that took place on June 5th in New York – which Tawfik apparently attended – in which once again the topic of electricity was raised without BBC audiences being given any factual background information on that issue.  

Woman’s voice: “The lights go out like this all the time. Electricity is scarce here. Many times we eat in complete darkness just like we’re doing right now.”

Tawfik: “To imagine the life of Palestinian refugees in Gaza the lights are turned down and just one lantern shines at Casa la Femme restaurant in New York. In the dim room those picked out from the crowd of 200 read out powerful accounts from refugees.”

Woman’s voice: “My husband, our two small children and I live in one room together. The bathroom serves as the toilet, the shower, the sink for bathing, cleaning and even cooking.”

Tawfik: “This iftar, or meal, is just one of 50 dinners being held across the country by the charity UNRWA-USA during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan to feed refugee families in Gaza. And it comes at a critical time; just as a key life-line for these refugees is under threat.”

Man’s voice: “We could run out of money for that food in Gaza in one month.”

Tawfik: “Peter Mulrean is the New York director of UNRWA – the UN’s relief and works agency for Palestinian refugees. It provides critical services such as food, health care and education. He says the agency now faces an existential crisis after the United States – its top donor – suddenly withheld $300 million in funds. I asked if he was concerned that this decision by the Trump administration was politically motivated.”

Notably, Tawfik’s presentation of the figure $300 million is based on what the UN claimed it was expecting the US contribution to be rather than the sum actually withheld.

Listeners then heard Peter Mulrean – a representative of a blatantly politicised campaigning UN agency – opine on “neutrality”.

Mulrean: “We’re very concerned about the fact that that appears to be the case. One of the clear humanitarian principles is the question of neutrality: that you base your decisions on humanitarian assistance solely on the need of those who are out there. And if that’s not the case, then this is a terrible precedent that the US is setting. A country that used to be one of the leaders of humanitarian policy turning in a different direction.”

Tawfik: “That was also a worry of many others in attendance such as Abigail Metzger and Megan Burn [phonetic] who do not agree with their government’s decision.”

Tawfik did not clarify whether or not the Abigail Metzger whose opinions she chose to promote is the Pax Christi member of the same name.

Woman 1: “It is just unbelievable that our government would…would even think to renege on a commitment. I feel like we have been, you know, told that we have to make a choice and we don’t have to make a choice. We can support the Palestinian struggle without abandoning our alliance and full support of Israel.”

Woman 2: “Especially in the current political climate people get very ensconced in their own biases and sort of forget to think about the day-to-day lives of human beings.”

Woman’s voice: “Just $150 can feed a refugee family of six for an entire summer.”

Tawfik: “This one iftar will raise $50,000 for UNRWA’s food assistance programme and a global fundraising campaign has brought in new funding. Still, it’s unlikely that the agency will be able to overcome its current deficit without the United States. In the long term though, UNRWA hopes these events and crowdfunding will help field financial and public support and that’s something Abby Smardon who is the executive director of the charity UNRWA-USA says she’s already seeing.”

Listeners heard nothing of that UNRWA spin-off charity’s political agenda (and record) before Smardon was given the unchallenged stage.

Smardon: “Now with things like social media and having the ability to actually see the situation in real time with a more unfiltered view, people are starting across the United States to see this issue very differently than they once did and they’re starting to understand that Palestine and support of Palestinian refugees is a social justice issue and so I can tell you that, you know, countless new supporters that we have that have no personal connection to the issue of Palestine or Palestinian refugees but they care about social justice and they care about human rights.”

Having carefully avoided inconvenient topics such as Hamas and its terrorism all the way through her report, Tawfik closed the item by erasing the Gaza blockade imposed by Egypt because of that terrorism from audience view. 

Tawfik: “The people of Gaza have endured multiple conflicts and an eleven-year blockade by Israel. The risk is that the US decision will only add to their misery.”

To be honest, it is difficult to imagine how this report could be more unhelpful to BBC audiences trying to understand either the situation in the Gaza Strip, the reasons behind the US decision to withhold part of its voluntary funding of UNRWA or the role and record of UNRWA itself.

Obviously though, this blatantly one-sided and context-free item (which was repeated in the evening edition of ‘Newshour’ on the same day – from 39:44 here) was not intended to meet the BBC’s public purpose remit of enhancing audience understanding. Rather, it was just yet another blatantly transparent exercise in the provision of free PR to UNRWA.

Related Articles:

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

BBC’s Yolande Knell amplifies UNRWA’s PR campaign

BBC WS facilitates UNRWA PR yet again – part one

BBC WS facilitates UNRWA PR again – part two

 

 

BBC WS radio’s ‘Newshour’ and the split screen – part four

In previous posts we looked at how the opening of the US embassy in Jerusalem and the rioting along the Gaza Strip-Israel border were portrayed as they happened in the May 14th afternoon edition of the BBC World Service radio flagship news and current affairs programme ‘Newshour‘ (available here).

BBC WS radio’s ‘Newshour’ and the split screen – part one

BBC WS radio’s ‘Newshour’ and the split screen – part two

BBC WS radio’s ‘Newshour’ and the split screen – part three

In this post we will look at what BBC audiences worldwide were told in real-time about the context to the poorly portrayed violence along that border.

The long introduction given by presenter Razia Iqbal included misrepresentation of the locations of previous ‘Great Return March’ events – which actually were confined to the Gaza Strip border. Iqbal also promoted the blatant falsehood that the displacement of all Palestinians in 1948 was “forced”.

01:28 Iqbal: “Dates are significant here. It is the 70th anniversary of the foundation of Israel and there has been a six-week protest by Palestinians in Jerusalem, the West Bank and – the most deadly – in Gaza. Scores have been shot dead by Israeli soldiers on the Gaza-Israel border. The protests are to culminate on May the 15th, tomorrow, called the Nakba or catastrophe by Palestinians as the day when they were forced from their land and homes as Israel was established.”

In contrast to the very clear – but inaccurate – impression given by Razia Iqbal, the facts are of course much more nuanced:

“Historians agree that there was no single cause of the Arab flight from Palestine. In large part, the masses fled because they saw the Palestinian elite doing the same thing. In part, it was in response to exhortations by Arab military and political leaders that Palestinian civilians evacuate their homes until the end of the fighting. Vast numbers were simply fleeing the heavy fighting that surrounded them, or that they expected to soon disrupt their lives. In some instances, Palestinians were forced from their homes by the Jewish military.”

The vast majority of the context to what was, as we saw earlier, overwhelmingly portrayed as “peaceful marches” and “protests” came in Yolande Knell’s report near the beginning of the programme.

05:15 Iqbal: “Yolande, just remind listeners that this has been going on for several weeks now and it’s very specifically to mark a day tomorrow for the Palestinians.”

Knell: “That’s right. This has been called the Great March of Return by the Palestinians. It was organised in Gaza over the past 6 weeks. The 15th of May is always a date of protest for Palestinians when they remember how, back in 1948, more than 700,000 people lost their homes on land that became part of Israel. [….] The people [Knell spoke to in Gaza] were saying that they really felt that the historic injustice as they saw it was at the heart of all the modern-day problems that they have in Gaza, where they have chronic electricity shortages, this long-time blockade that’s been enforced by Israel and Egypt which now means that the Gaza Strip is an extremely poor place – it suffers from extremely high unemployment.”

Obviously the fact that there are chronic electricity shortages in the Gaza Strip has nothing whatsoever to do with the refugee issue (it is, as Knell well knows, in fact due to infighting between Hamas and Fatah) and neither do the counter-terrorism measures imposed by Israel and Egypt in response to the surge in terrorism since Hamas’ violent coup in the Gaza Strip in 2007. Knell went on:

Knell: “One woman told me ‘I wouldn’t have come down here if Gaza wasn’t in the state it was but people need to see what the issues are for us’. They felt that this was putting back the suffering of people in Gaza back into the spotlight. Also a lot of concern…they think that the issue of Palestinian refugees – which is a key issue in the Israel-Palestinian conflict – they feel that there have been attempts – particularly by Washington – to try to push this off the table of any future negotiations. They say that because of course earlier this year the US did announce big cuts to the UN agency for Palestinian refugees, UNRWA.”

Yolande Knell (nor anyone else in this programme) made no effort to inform listeners why Palestinians – even when living under PA or Hamas control – are still kept in refugee status by UNRWA, their own leaders and the leaders of Arab countries seventy years on.

Listeners were also told that:

Knell: “Now on top of that, another key issue – the future status of Jerusalem. That is also at stake and of course that’s just added fuel to the flames, brought more people out for these demonstrations. “

As we see, listeners to this broadcast were wrongly led to believe that Palestinians were ‘protesting’ on the border because of a bad electricity supply, high unemployment and poverty – even as the BBC serially ignored the repeated attacks by ‘protesters’ on the Kerem Shalom crossing.

Additional factors cited included “the future status of Jerusalem” and the anniversary of a “historic injustice” which Knell failed to put into its correct context. Interestingly, while BBC reports on previous bouts of ‘Great Return March’ violence had touted the ‘right of return’ that is supposedly the publicity stunt’s raison d’être (see for example here and here), in this report that topic was largely avoided and listeners were not informed of the basic fact that the Palestinian demand for ‘right of return’ means rejection of the two-state solution and that its real intention is to threaten the existence of Israel as the Jewish state. 

Listeners also heard nothing of the fact that the ‘Great Return March’ events were organised by factions including Gaza-based terror groups. They were not told of the payments made by Hamas to participators or of the organisers’ calls for breaching of the border fence and martyrdom. Even Yahya Sinwar’s March 31st statement of intent – “We will take down the border and we will tear out their hearts from their bodies” – did not receive any BBC coverage either in this programme or elsewhere.

Sadly it is all too obvious that both of the topics covered in this May 14th ‘split screen’ edition of Newshour – the opening of the US embassy in Jerusalem and the rioting on the Gaza border on the same day – were presented in a manner intended to amplify a specific political narrative rather than to provide BBC audiences with “accurate and impartial news […] of the highest editorial standards so that all audiences can engage fully with issues” as required by the corporation’s public purposes.

In the context of the question of whose interests this edition of ‘Newshour’ served, it is worth noting what Hamas’ leader Yahya Sinwar had to say about the Western media’s ‘split screen’ reporting two days after this BBC programme was broadcast:

“Our people have imposed their agenda upon the whole world. There was supposed to be a romantic picture of the opening of the U.S. embassy in Jerusalem on the world’s television screens, but our people, in their collective consciousness, forced the whole world to split the television screens between the footage of fraud, deception, falsehood, and oppression, manifest in the attempt to impose Jerusalem as the capital of the occupation state, and between the image of injustice, oppression, heroism, and determination painted by our own people in their sacrifices – the sacrifice of their children as an offering for Jerusalem and the Right of Return.”

Related Articles:

BBC WS radio’s ‘Newshour’ and the split screen – part one

BBC WS radio’s ‘Newshour’ and the split screen – part two

BBC WS radio’s ‘Newshour’ and the split screen – part three

BACKGROUNDER: PALESTINIAN ARAB AND JEWISH REFUGEES (CAMERA)

 

 

 

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

Ever since the BBC began covering the media-orientated ‘Great Return March’ at the end of March it has avoided providing its audiences with a clear picture of the bodies behind its conception and organisation.

BBC audiences have however heard repeated promotion of the theme of Palestinian ‘ancestral lands’ and that was again the case in the introduction given by presenter James Coomarasamy to a report by the BBC Jerusalem bureau’s Yolande Knell which was aired in the May 9th edition of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour‘ (from 14:08 here). [emphasis in italics in the original]

Coomarasamy: “Protests along Gaza’s border with Israel are expected to reach their peak in the coming week as Palestinians mark the 70th anniversary of what they call the catastrophe – the displacement of more than 700 thousand people following the creation of the State of Israel. At least 40 Palestinians have been killed and thousand [sic] injured during five weeks of demonstrations. Israel says that many of the dead were members of armed groups. Palestinians want the right to return to their ancestral homes which are now in Israeli territory. Israel rejects that demand, saying that it is a threat to its Jewish majority. Well, in the first of three reports about the key issues in the Israel-Palestinian conflict, our Middle East correspondent Yolande Knell considers the future of Palestinian refugees.”

Coomarasamy’s use of the euphemism “armed groups” obviously did not adequately clarify to listeners that some 80% of those killed during the six weeks of violent rioting to date have been shown to be linked to terror organisations.

Knell’s opening description of the ‘Great Return March’ agitprop severely downplayed its violent nature.

Knell: “A young Gazan man is shot by an Israeli sniper and raced to hospital. Palestinians have been hurling stones at soldiers across the border here and launching kites carrying fire bombs. Israel’s army says its troops open fire to stop anyone trying to cross the perimeter fence illegally and to protect Israelis living nearby from possible attacks. I’ve come to find out what’s driving these deadly demonstrations.”

Obviously after making that latter statement any serious journalist would have clarified the involvement of various Gaza Strip based terror factions in the organisation of the weekly rioting but Yolande Knell instead uncritically painted precisely the picture that the agitprop’s organisers wish to promote.

Woman: “We want to go back to our land. Those are our lands that the Jews took and this is our right.”

Knell: “In the protest camp I meet Najla. Like most of Gaza’s 2 million residents, she’s a refugee.”

Woman: “We have to return to al Aqsa Mosque and all our lands. All of the land is Palestine.”

Failing to explain which party initiated the “Arab-Israeli war” or why, so many decades later, Palestinian refugees are deliberately kept in that status and in refugee camps, Knell went on:

Knell: “In 1948 hundreds of thousands of Palestinians fled or were expelled from their homes as the Arab-Israeli war began. Today many of their descendants still live in refugee camps. Past peace deals promised a fair solution but there are questions about what President Trump will now put forward in his promised peace plan. Another protester, Mohamed Rantissi, says this Gaza action sends a message.”

Rantissi: “It came in the critical time when the world neglected our rights of return back. They are trying their best to dissolve this Palestinian issue by what is called the Trump [unintelligible].”

Listeners then heard a relatively rare mention of the topic of Jewish refugees from Arab lands

Knell: “Well I’ve moved now to Jerusalem’s bustling Mahane Yehuda market to get an Israeli perspective. Long before the country was founded this was a popular spot for Jewish stall holders who’d come from other parts of the Middle East but many more arrived in 1948 and the years that followed. They were Jewish refugees escaping persecution.”

Man: “We have the Kubeh soup which is sort of dumplings stuffed with meat in a vegetable soup. This is the most popular food because you have many Jewish Israelis that come from Iraq, Syria, Turkey, the Kurds Jewish; this is the traditional food.”

Knell: “Moshe Shrefler works in his father’s restaurant Azura.”

Man: “My father was born in Turkey and was having a problem with the Turkish people because they didn’t like their Jewish neighbours and my mother she came from Iran with all the family. They left everything over there and they came here just to save their lives.”

Knell: “Jewish refugees left behind land and property in Arab countries and were absorbed into the new Israeli state along with Holocaust survivors from Europe. Like many Israeli politicians former deputy foreign minister Danny Ayalon argues that Arab states must now assimilate Palestinian refugees, making them citizens – as most aren’t at present – and he questions the way the refugees have inherited their status.”

Ayalon: “If really there is an earnest and honest will to bring about peace in the Middle East, I think there is only one humane, fair and logical solution for the Palestinian refugees and this is either to absorb them where they are – remember, we are talking about second, third, fourth generation, you know, so they should be Lebanese, Syrians or whatever – or, if there is a Palestinian state, these refugees, if they want to leave their host countries, should go into this Palestinian entity.”

Knell then revisited a subject that was covered very generously by the BBC back in January and February but yet again BBC audiences heard no in-depth reporting on the issue of UNRWA’s purpose, its agenda, its record or its efficiency.

Knell: “Here in Amman there’s a rally in solidarity with the protesters in Gaza. Across the Middle East there are 5 million Palestinian refugees supported by the UN agency UNRWA. This year UNRWA’s biggest donor, the US, cut the donations it planned to give, saying it needed to make reforms and now in Jordan there’s concern about what that could mean financially and symbolically. Muhammad Momeni is the information minister.”

Momeni: “We have more than 2 million Palestinian refugees living in Jordan and hundreds of thousands of students in UNRWA schools.”

Knell: “So how worried is Jordan about this big hole in UNRWA’s finances?”

Momeni: “We’re very worried. Not only because it will immediately reflect on the type of services but also because it’s a political commitment by the international community to resolve the issue of the Palestinian refugees. If you stop financing UNRWA, basically you are telling the world that you are not committed to this issue any more and according to international resolutions, this is a final status issue and it must be dealt with through negotiation and in a way that will bring justice to them.”

Knell refrained from making any effort to clarify to listeners to which so-called “international resolutions” Momeni was referring – and whether or not they actually exist.

Knell: “Back at the Gaza protest camp there’s traditional Palestinian dancing. Here the case for right of return is uncompromising but Israel rejects that demand, pointing out it would destroy its Jewish majority. Leaks on previous peace talks suggest they focused on compensation for Palestinian refugees and return for just a token number. It remains to be seen what Washington will propose on one of the most painful issues in this long-running conflict.”

As we see, notwithstanding that rare mention of Jewish refugees, Knell’s report was essentially superficial. She failed to clarify that the whole point of the demand for ‘right of return’ is the destruction of the Jewish state and that Palestinian refugees have for decades been used by their leaders as pawns to further that aim. UNRWA’s role in keeping millions of Palestinians in refugee status was not explained to listeners and neither was that of the Arab League.  

While giving the impression of balance with her visit to Mahane Yehuda and interview with Danny Ayalon, Knell nevertheless managed to both avoid the real issues behind the topic she ostensibly set out to ‘consider’ and promote a portrayal of the topic that amplifies the messaging of the ‘Great Return March’ organisers.

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 WS facilitates UNRWA PR again – part two

As we saw in part one of this post, the February 19th edition of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour‘ included an interview (from 30:06 here) with UNRWA’s commissioner-general Pierre Krahenbul.

Having failed to challenge Krahenbuhl’s unevidenced claim that an UNRWA education is “an investment in regional security”, presenter Tim Franks next provided him with the cue for dismissal of one of the prime criticisms of the UN agency.

Franks: “What do you say to the other criticism that is often levelled at UNRWA – particularly of your work inside Gaza where there’s a huge proportion of the refugees – and that is that – maybe inevitably, maybe willingly, you have allowed yourself to become too close to the authority that runs Gaza which is Hamas which is proscribed by an awful lot of countries – most of the West sees it as a terrorist organisation – and that the split between what UNRWA does and what Hamas does has become blurred?”

Krahenbuhl: “Working in conflict zones means that you operate in proximity to groups that are either governmental armed forces, that are non-state armed groups so that’s by definition the work. One of the things that you do also is to ensure the neutrality of your work by every means possible. And so just to take the example of Gaza, last year during repair works to two of our schools we discovered tunnels that had been built below those schools. Now we publicly condemned Hamas for those actions and that is a measure of the robustness with which we pursue our policies of neutrality. Now if anybody however can describe to me who would be the alternative provider of education to 270 thousand students in the Gaza Strip who go to UNRWA schools and who among other things are taught a human rights curriculum with focus on tolerance and co-existence, then I’m happy to be told what that alternative is, because there is none.”

As readers may recall, the BBC failed to report the story of those tunnels beneath UNRWA schools at the time. BBC audiences are also unaware of the case last year in which an UNRWA employee was elected to the Hamas political bureau in the Gaza Strip because the BBC chose to ignore that story too. Listeners would therefore not be able to put Krahenbuhl’s flimsy claim that the statement his organisation issued on the topic of those tunnels is evidence of a ‘robust’ approach to ‘neutrality’ into its correct context and Franks made no effort whatsoever to question him further on the long-standing issue of UNRWA employees with links to terror organisations or support for terrorism and promotion of antisemitism on social media by UNRWA staff.

Franks closed the interview by encouraging Krahenbuhl to give “a message for those listening in Washington”.

Franks: “You say that you’re turning to other donors to try and make up what might be a pretty big shortfall in funding as a result of this change in US policy. If you had a message for those listening in Washington about what this dramatic cut in funding would mean, what would it be?”

Krahenbuhl: “The idea that people have to have in mind is to think about what would it be for one’s own family if we faced a situation of conflict where we’re worried about our future and suddenly the key provider of education, services, is no longer able to deliver that and, you know, yet another avenue or horizon is shut. People have to think about in these terms. When you are in the Middle East today, one of the worst things for the Palestinians – but that affects everybody in the region – is that there is no political horizon, there is no personal horizon. There is no freedom of movement, no jobs to be found. We have some of the most, you know, extraordinarily courageous students probably on the planet. I handed over a certificate to a 15 year-old student in Gaza two years ago who had survived an air strike on her home, had spent seven months in a coma. When she woke up she was told by the doctor that her mother and one of her brothers was killed in the strike and yet she was one of the highest performing students in our school. And she has an outlook on life. She wants to be recognised for her skills, for her abilities. She doesn’t want to be seen by the world as only a refugee or a victim. And I think what we need in this region is to rediscover the humanity in people. You know I can…if I believed that polarisation would lead to a solution or to an improvement, I would embrace polarisation but I don’t see that. I see humanity being rediscovered in everybody as being the way forward.”

Franks: “Pierre Krahenbuhl: the boss of UNRWA, the UN agency which supports millions of Palestinian refugees.”

Obviously this interview was not intended to provide BBC audiences with information which would enhance their understanding of the criticism of UNRWA’s mission and performance. Rather, the BBC chose – not for the first time – to provide the UN agency’s head with a friendly platform from which to promote his PR campaign in a near monologue that went unchallenged in any serious manner.  

Related Articles:

BBC WS facilitates UNRWA PR yet again – part one

BBC WS facilitates UNRWA PR yet again – part one

As regular readers will be aware, the BBC’s coverage of the US administration’s announcement on January 16th that it would be withholding part of its donation to the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) has been extensive.

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

However, the BBC’s reports have consistently failed to provide its funding public with information concerning the multiple issues that have made UNRWA so controversial or conduct any in-depth examination of the agency’s purpose, its agenda, its record or its efficiency.

UNRWA’s commissioner-general, Pierre Krahenbuhl, recently visited London – according to the Guardian, in order “to brief Foreign Office minister Alistair Burt”. As the Guardian’s report shows, one of the main talking points in Krahenbuhl’s efforts to solicit donations to his organisation is the claim that cuts to UNRWA’s services are liable to increase radicalisation.

“Pierre Krähenbühl, commissioner general of the UN Relief and Works Agency, added that cuts in support to the already impoverished and demoralised population his organisation supports – many of them victims of recent conflict – risked radicalising a new generation of young Palestinians. […]

“I have just come from the Munich security conference. At every seminar, people were asking the same question: about security and how we combat radicalisation. If you want to ask us how to avoid radicalising Palestinian youth, then it is not by cutting $300m in our funding.””

Another port of call on Krahenbuhl’s London trip was the studios of the BBC World Service – which is of course partly funded by the UK government. The February 19th evening edition of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour‘ included an item described in the synopsis as follows:

“How will UN’s Palestinian refugee agency make up for loss in funding from the US?”

Presenter Tim Franks introduced the nearly seven-minute-long item (from 30:06 here) thus: [emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]

Franks: “Donald Trump, you may have noticed, Tweets a lot. One of his more consequential came right at the start of the year – January the 2nd to be precise. ‘We pay the Palestinians hundreds of millions of dollars a year and get no appreciation or respect’ he Tweeted. It was a sentiment he gave voice to at the Davos Economic Forum later that month.”

Recording of 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.”

Franks: “Well the practical result of that frustration is that now the vast bulk of US funding is to be withheld from UNRWA – the UN agency set up to look after what are now 5 million Palestinian refugees in the West Bank, Gaza and across the Middle East. Pierre Krahenbuhl is the boss of UNRWA. He’s currently in London.”

Predictably Franks refrained from informing listeners that the reason there are “now 5 million Palestinian refugees” is that, unlike the UN agency which takes care of all other refugees, UNRWA does not have an active program for “local integration” of refugees where they now reside – even if they live in Palestinian controlled areas – nor “resettlement” in third countries.

Listeners then heard the following conversation:

Krahenbuhl: “The United States has been the single largest and also very predictable and generous donor over decades and in 2017 contributed 364 million [$] to UNRWA and for 2018 has announced a contribution of 60 million so it’s a difference of 300 million. And that has become effective. This 60 million were transferred to UNRWA and that is the indication that we have for this year.”

Franks: “So what are you going to have to cut as a result of that?”

Krahenbuhl: “Well first of all I’m going to mobilise other donors and we’re looking for new funding lines and so we did two things: of course on the one hand with member states and the other, we launched a global public campaign called ‘Dignity is Priceless’ to tap into a lot of sympathy and solidarity that we have witnessed following the announcement by the US and a lot of people who are prepared to come and support.”

Franks: “But are you doing what is partly behind this move by the US – or at least how President Trump has explained it – which is that it is time for other countries, other donors to play a bigger role?”

Krahenbul then raised his ‘radicalisation’ talking point.

Krahenbuhl: “I take your point about the issue of redistribution but you know I don’t have, as commissioner-general, the luxury of having reserves. The only thing that I have is to go back to the member states of the [UN] General Assembly that gave UNRWA the mandate in 1949 to say ‘this is the situation I’m faced with – we need to find solutions’. Because what is at stake is not UNRWA as an organisation. What’s at stake is access to education for 525 thousand students. You know I was just at the Munich Security Conference. You cannot go to a single corridor in the hotel that hosted that without somebody asking ‘are you concerned about further radicalisation in the Middle East?’. So having 525 thousand Palestinian students, boys and girls, who are hoping for a better future no longer having access to education is certainly not an investment in regional security.”

That talking point was not however subjected to any critical examination by Tim Franks even though it would obviously have been helpful to the BBC’s funding public – who also of course fund the UK government Foreign Office which Krahenbuhl came to “brief” – to know what evidence there is to back the idea that nearly seventy years of UNRWA activity has countered radicalisation among the people it registers as refugees.

The current head of Hamas, Ismail Haniyeh, grew up – as the BBC knows – in an UNRWA administered refugee camp and attended an UNRWA run school. Hamas’ current leader in the Gaza Strip – convicted murderer Yahya Sinwar – likewise grew up in an UNRWA refugee camp. One of Hamas’ founders – Ibrahim al-Makadmeh – spent his childhood in UNRWA’s Jabaliya camp and attended an UNRWA school, as did former Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades leader Saleh Shehadeh.

Nevertheless, Tim Franks made no effort to inform ‘Newshour’ listeners of those and many other examples of members of Palestinian terror organisations who contradict Krahenbuhl’s claim that an UNRWA education is “an investment in regional security”.

The rest of Franks’ interview with UNRWA’s commissioner-general will be discussed in part two of this post.