BBC WS Newsday coverage of UNRWA aid story – part one

The top story in the various editions of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newsday‘ aired on January 17th was described as follows:

“The US is withholding more than half of a $125m (£90m) instalment destined for the UN relief agency for the Palestinians, American officials say. It will provide $60m in aid to the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) but will hold back a further $65m.”

In the early edition of that programme, listeners around the world heard from two contributors voicing similar opinions. The item was introduced (at 00:48 here) by presenter Paul Hawkins as follows: [emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]

Hawkins: “But first to the news that the US is withholding millions of dollars in aid for the UN relief agency for Palestinians known as UNRWA. The White House has sent $60 million in its kind of first installment of 2018 but it’s withholding the remaining $65 million and has urged other countries to pay more. The US is UNRWA’s largest donor and supplies nearly 30% of its total budget of over a billion dollars. Here’s the reaction of Jan Egeland, a former UN undersecretary general and current head of the Norwegian Refugee Council.”

Despite the BBC’s editorial guidelines on impartiality, as is all too often the case listeners were not given any information regarding that NGO’s political agenda and activities before they heard its representative speak.

Egeland: “This is horrible news for us who are actively trying to provide humanitarian relief in the Middle East to all parties including to Palestinian refugee children. UNRWA is the number one provider of education, health care, even food and shelter for Palestinian refugees and their children: people who in Gaza, in Lebanon, in Syria have nowhere else to go, no job opportunities, no hope. It is a dangerous politicisation of humanitarian aid that grown, well-fed politicians and diplomats say we will now cut relief to the most vulnerable people because we disagree politically on, for example, the future of Jerusalem. Cannot do like that.”

Later on in the same programme (at 18:30) Hawkins returned to the same topic and after a short introduction, brought in UNRWA spokesperson Chris Gunness.

Hawkins: “First of all the US State Department says that this decision is not aimed at punishing anyone, it’s not punitive and they just simply want your agency to reform itself. Do you believe them?”

Gunness: “Well first of all let me say that this reduction of US funding is regrettable, it is abrupt and it is harmful. The decision threatens one of the longest standing, most successful and innovative human development endeavours in the Middle East and at stake is the access of over half a million boys and girls to over 700 UNRWA schools. At stake is the dignity and the human security of millions of Palestine refugees. We tend to the sick, the elderly, the dying, the vulnerable children and women. So that is what is at stake: nothing less than the security and stability of the Middle East

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. We remain committed to reforms but we have to say that this decision is extremely worrying because at stake is, as I say, the dignity, the human security of millions of Palestine refugees.”

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

Hawkins: “Well you say you remain committed to the reforms – it seems like the current White House administration is fed up with the agency being committed to reforms but not actually following them through. We’ve spoken to one expert who’s heard from the White House that UNRWA…when the US provides around $200 million a year to UNRWA, the agency burns through the budget within its first eight to ten months and then it has to go round asking for more money and this is the kind of thing that the US is a bit fed up with.”

Gunness: “Well as I said the US has consistently commended our high impact, our transparency and our accountability and as I’ve just said this was reiterated once again during the visit to Washington last November. The reason why, as you say, we burn through our budget is that the number of refugees continues to grow. The vulnerabilities they face in places like Gaza – because of the blockade – in Syria – because of the war that is now in its 7th year – and in the West Bank where the occupation is 50 years old. The reason why the budget of UNRWA goes up is because the numbers are going up and what we say to all stakeholders of the political echelon is what will stop this and what will put UNRWA out of business is a just and durable solution for the refugees in accordance with international law and based on UN resolutions. That is what is going to obviate the need for UNRWA to – as you put it – burn through the budget. So let’s get some political action to resolve the refugee issue because year on year the numbers are going up and there is increasing demand therefore our budget goes up.”

Hawkins made no effort to help listeners understand what part UNRWA’s unique policy of automatically awarding hereditary refugee status plays in causing the number of Palestinian refugees to rise, why refugee camps still exist in areas under the control of the Palestinian Authority and Hamas or why Palestinians with Jordanian citizenship are still classified as refugees. 

Hawkins: “Just very quickly because we’re running out of time, Chris – apologies for that – but there’s also been a few questions raised about UNRWA’s…about the money that UNRWA provides – a lot of it going to political activity and what some may think is a questionable use of funds.”

Gunness: “Well we are one of the most audited of UN organisations on the planet. We maintain the highest standards of neutrality. The aid pipeline which we have is…it guarantees…I don’t understand where you say…I don’t understand where these accusations are coming from. Our funds are used for the purposes they’re intended for and that is a matter of public record and it’s something which we achieve to the satisfaction of all our major donors.”

The interview ended there, with no further questioning of Gunness’ (frequently touted) claims of “neutrality” despite his own well-documented activities and the agency’s record of political advocacy.

Once again, BBC audiences heard nothing of the UNRWA employees who were elected to the Hamas political bureau, of the Hamas tunnels dug underneath UNRWA schools  or of the antisemitic incitement posted on social media by UNRWA employees.  

That, however, was not Gunness’ only interview on ‘Newsday’ on that particular day and his second appearance will be discussed in part two of this post.

Related Articles:

BBC News report on UNRWA funding story omits relevant background

BBC World Service amplifies UNRWA’s political campaigning yet again

Lyse Doucet’s blatant political propaganda on BBC WS WHYS – part two

BBC WS ‘Newshour’ provides a platform for UNRWA’s political campaigning

 

 

 

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BBC News report on UNRWA funding story omits relevant background

On January 16th the BBC News website published a report headlined “US holds back $65m aid to Palestinians” on its ‘US & Canada’ and ‘Middle East’ pages. Readers were told that:

“The US is withholding more than half of a $125m (£90m) instalment destined for the UN relief agency for the Palestinians, American officials say.

It will provide $60m in aid to the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) but will hold back a further $65m. […]

The US funds almost 30% of the UN agency’s work overall and gave $370m to UNRWA last year. The money withheld is part of this year’s first instalment.”

Later on in the report more details on funding were provided under the sub-heading “How much aid does the US send to Palestinians?” – with the BBC finding it necessary to inform readers that:

“By contrast, Israel receives more than $3bn in military aid per year from the US.”

The BBC did not bother to clarify that the vast majority of that different kind of aid is conditioned on it being spent on American defence contractors.

Readers also found the following:

“”This is not aimed at punishing” anyone, state department spokeswoman Heather Nauert told reporters, adding that it was due to a US desire to see reforms at the agency.

The $65m is being withheld “for future consideration”, a US official told Reuters news agency, speaking on condition of anonymity.

“It is time other countries, some of them quite wealthy, step in and do their part to advance regional security and stability,” the official added.”

BBC Audiences were not told what such “reforms” might entail although, according to a report in Ha’aretz, Ms Nauert did clarify that point in her remarks.

‘”This is not aimed at punishing anyone,” Nauert said during her daily press briefing. “The United States Government and the Trump administration believe that there should be more so-called burden sharing to go around,” she added. 

According to Nauert’s explanation, “the United States has been, in the past, the largest single donor to UNRWA. We would like other countries – in fact, other countries that criticize the United States for what they believe to be our position vis-a-vis the Palestinians, other countries that have criticized us – to step forward and actually help with UNRWA, to do more.” Nauert compared the decision regarding UNRWA to the Trump administration’s push for members of NATO to increase their defense spending: “Just as we have with NATO, asking other countries to provide that 2 percent GDP into its defense, we are asking countries to do more as it pertains to UNRWA.”‘

Under the sub-heading “What is Israel’s position?” readers were told that:

“Its ambassador to the UN, Danny Danon, called for aid to UNRWA to be scrapped completely.

He accused the agency of misusing humanitarian aid and supporting “anti-Israel propaganda”.

“It is time for this absurdity to end and for humanitarian funds to be directed towards their intended purpose – the welfare of refugees,” he said.”

According to a report in the Jerusalem Post, Mr Danon’s statement included additional points which the BBC apparently chose to edit out.

‘“UNRWA has proven time and again to be an agency that misuses the humanitarian aid of the international community and instead supports anti-Israel propaganda, perpetuates the plight of Palestinian refugees and encourages hate,” he said.  

“Just over the last year alone, UNRWA officials were elected to the leadership of Hamas in the Gaza Strip, UNRWA schools denied the existence of Israel, and terror tunnels were dug under UNRWA facilities.  It is time for this absurdity to end and for humanitarian funds to be directed toward their intended purpose – the welfare of refugees,” Danon added.’

As readers may recall, the BBC did not report on the UNRWA employees who were elected to the Hamas political bureau. Stories about Hamas tunnels dug underneath UNRWA schools have also been ignored – as have those concerning antisemitic incitement posted on social media by UNRWA employees and political campaigning by a senior official at UNRWA.

The BBC does not have an online profile for UNRWA but a profile of the United Nations published in 2011 gives descriptions of the two UN agencies dealing with refugees:

“UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) – safeguards rights and well-being of refugees; based in Geneva

UN Works and Relief Agency (UNWRA) [sic] – dedicated agency providing assistance solely to Palestinian refugees and their descendants”

Readers of this article (and many previous BBC reports) were not provided with relevant background information such as the fact 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. Audiences were not informed that the number of Palestinians classified as refugees by UNRWA rose from 750 thousand in 1950 to five million in 2013 due to that organisation’s unique policy of automatically awarding hereditary refugee status.  

Readers were not told why refugee camps still exist in areas under the control of the Palestinian Authority or Hamas or why Palestinians with Jordanian citizenship are still classified as refugees. Neither were they informed of the fact that while the UNHCR is “mandated by its Statute and the UN General Assembly Resolutions to undertake resettlement” of refugees, no such mandate currently applies to UNRWA.

While that relevant background was withheld, the BBC’s article did amplify reactions from former UN official Jan Egeland and the PLO.

“The withdrawal of funds would, he [Egeland] said, have “devastating consequences for vulnerable Palestinian refugees across the Middle East, including hundreds of thousands of refugee children in the West Bank and Gaza, Lebanon, Jordan and Syria who depend on the agency for their education”.

It would also “deny their parents a social safety net that helps them to survive, and undermine the UN agency’s ability to respond in the event of another flare up in the conflict”.

The Palestine Liberation Organization, an umbrella group for Palestinian factions, tweeted that the Trump administration seemed to be following an Israeli policy of dismantling “the one agency that was established by the international community to protect the rights of the Palestinian refugees”.”

Obviously BBC audiences cannot reach informed opinions on this particular story so long as the BBC continues to refrain from providing them with the relevant background concerning the long-standing debate surrounding UNRWA that they have been denied for so many years.

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

Unravelling years of BBC statistics on Palestinian refugees in Lebanon

BBC self-conscripts to UNRWA PR campaign

BBC World Service amplifies UNRWA’s political campaigning yet again

 

 

 

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

As we saw in part one of this post, an item (from 30:05 here) aired in the January 3rd edition of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour‘ that purported to examine the question of “who would lose out the most if President Trump followed through on his threat to cut funding to the Palestinians?” opened with promotion of the views of the PLO’s Hanan Ashrawi and then went on to feature a fellow at a think-tank who has advocated for sanctions against Israel.

The third and final interviewee in the item did nothing to counter its homogeneous portrayal of the topic. Presenter Julian Marshall introduced him as follows:

Marshall: “And Ziad Khalil Abu Zayyad is international spokesman for President Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah party. So could the Palestinians really do without this American money?”

Abu Zayyad: “Well the thing is that when the Palestinian Authority was established it was the result of the Oslo Agreement and it came as a solution – a temporary solution – while the Israeli occupation continued. Now according to the international law the occupation power takes all the responsibility – all the services needed for the people and of course also security matters.”

Marshall: “So…so you are suggesting that if the United States cut off funding to the Palestinian Authority, the Palestinian Authority might find it very difficult to administer the Palestinian territories and that the onus should be on Israel to take over that administration or funding?”

Referring to a scheduled PLO meeting (reportedly themed “Jerusalem is the exclusive capital of Palestine”) Abu Zayyad replied:

Abu Zayyad: “Absolutely. The PA would collapse immediately and if the PA collapse then this would also affect our Central Council meeting that will be happening at the middle of this month and with the decision that it would take. The PA is a temporary authority and it functions according to the funding that is coming from the mediators. Now since the US is not a mediator anymore and now they’re trying to blackmail the Palestinian leadership by saying that they won’t give funding anymore, then absolutely the result would be the collapse of the PA and according to the international law – not our law – Israel would be responsible of all the matters and all the services that are needed.”

Abu Zayyad of course refrains from reminding listeners that when the Oslo Accords were signed and the Palestinian Authority created, foreign donor countries expected to see the PA engage in serious negotiations with Israel in order to bring an end to the conflict. He also appears to be able to ignore the dissonance in the fact that while the PA has chosen to loudly proclaim that the US no longer has a role as a mediator, he claims that mediators are committed to providing the PA with funding and objects to any cut in US aid.

Marshall: “But setting aside the instability that you say the collapse of the Palestinian Authority might create as a result of a loss of US funding, a recent poll has found that half of the Palestinians surveyed views the Palestinian Authority as a burden on the Palestinian people – that they would be quite happy to see it go.”

Abu Zayyad: “Well they won’t be happy. I mean listen, we have been…since 1965 we have been in a revolution calling for the freedom of the Palestinian people. Now if Israel is ready to come and take responsibility then let them come and take the keys and face the new situation they will face, which is that the will be ruling two million and a half Palestinians that will be calling for equality and human rights. Which means that Israel will have two choices – either to create an apartheid system by not giving the basic rights for the Palestinians that would be under their control or to include them as citizens in one state on all the historical land of Palestine which would by all means end the Zionist dream of having a Jewish state for the Jewish people.”

Refraining from clarifying to listeners that Abu Zayyad’s reference to 1965 – the year of Fatah’s founding – means that their “revolution” is against Israel itself rather than “the occupation”, Marshall went on:

Marshall: “You…you seem to be saying that this threat by President Trump could backfire on him.”

Abu Zayyad: “Absolutely. The biggest loser is Israel and I’m quoting from here the Shabak – which is the Israeli intelligence service – and the IDF – which is the Israeli defence army – saying that any miss with the money being paid for the budgets of the PA would explode the situation in the face of Israel and therefore they recommended several times for the Israeli prime minister Netanyahu not to do such a thing. The Palestinian leaders have made it clear – the president made it clear – that they are not here to sit and rule on nothing but they want a democratic and independent Palestinian state and if we can’t achieve it, so the institutions that came out as a result of Oslo, then we will be looking into other options. And all the options are on the table for us for this.”

Marshall: “Ziad Khalil Abu Zayyad, international spokesman for the Palestinian Fatah party.”

As we see, listeners to this item heard three views in all – two from Palestinians and one from a think-tank fellow with a record of being less than neutral. No American or Israeli views were sought by the programme’s producers. Audiences were told that any cut in US aid to Palestinians would cause the Palestinian Authority to collapse with detrimental results for Israel, European and American interests and the Middle East peace process. They were twice told that the US president is ‘blackmailing’ the Palestinians.

Listeners did not however hear anything at all about Palestinian Authority corruption and misuse of donor funding – including for salaries for people who do not work and for the purpose of providing financial rewards for terrorists and their families. Neither did they hear even a word about the problematic aspects of UNRWA or the arguments (which have been discussed long before the US remarks concerning aid were made) for and against cutting its funding.

Clearly this item’s framing of the issue was narrow, superficial and monochrome and failed to provide audiences any views and information that would contradict the homogeneous chosen narrative on the story. 

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 one

The December 6th US proclamation recognising Jerusalem as Israel’s capital city made it very clear that nothing in that announcement was intended to define the boundaries of the city.

“Today’s actions—recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and announcing the relocation of our embassy—do not reflect a departure from the strong commitment of the United States to facilitating a lasting peace agreement. The United States continues to take no position on any final status issues. The specific boundaries of Israeli sovereignty in Jerusalem are subject to final status negotiations between the parties. The United States is not taking a position on boundaries or borders. Above all, our greatest hope is for peace, including through a two-state solution, if agreed to by both sides.”

That key part of the announcement has not been featured widely in BBC coverage of the story’s various chapters and indeed audiences have been led to believe that the US announcement somehow compromises or negates final status talks on Jerusalem.  

Despite the US statement having specifically clarified that it does not define boundaries or borders, presenter Julian Marshall introduced an item (from 30:05 here and billed as examining the question of “who would lose out the most if President Trump followed through on his threat to cut funding to the Palestinians?”) aired in the January 3rd edition of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour‘ as follows:

[emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]

Marshall: “And now, Jerusalem – or rather the way in which President Trump’s recognition of the entire city as Israel’s capital has poisoned Washington’s relations with the Palestinians. The December the 6th declaration led Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas to say that the United States could no longer play any role in the Middle East peace process. This week President Trump threatened to cut off the more than $300 million in aid that the United States gives to the Palestinians because of what he said was their lack of gratitude and unwillingness to talk to Israel. But the Palestinians say they won’t be blackmailed and have reiterated their position that East Jerusalem should be the capital of a future Palestinian state. Hanan Ashrawi is a senior Palestinian politician.”

Listeners were not told of the relevant fact that Hanan Ashrawi is also a member of the PLO executive committee and heads its department of culture and information.

Ashrawi: “They’re buying us in the same way as they threatened the rest of the world: if you vote against us we will stop assistance to you. Yes, the US has been paying hundreds of millions here and there, mainly spent on American [unintelligible] companies. But still, we can survive without American aid and there is no way in which we can accept or allow Trump to be…not just to be complicit in Israel’s illegal annexation of Jerusalem but to sabotage the basic requirements of an agreement that will have any claim to legitimacy and permanence.”

Marshall: “So if Mr Trump was to carry out his threat, how reliant are the Palestinians on US aid? Hugh Lovatt is a policy fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations – a think tank – specialising on Israel and the Palestinian territories.”

That introduction obviously gives listeners the impression that they are about to hear from a neutral commentator but Hugh Lovatt has advocated for FIFA sanctions against Israeli football teams, has recommended that the EU support the compilation of a blacklist of “unlawful business activity related to settlements” and recognise “the State of Palestine in the West Bank and Gaza based on the 1967 border” [sic] and believes that there are “moderates” within Hamas.

Lovatt: “So the US provides the Palestinians with about $700 million per year. That sum is split between UNRWA, which is the UN agency that provides relief and services to Palestinian refugees and about just under $400 million goes to that. And then the rest is actually sent to the Palestinian Authority based in Ramallah and then that…the majority of that goes to USAID projects which provide humanitarian and development works and activities and then a rather small amount of that, which is I think $36 million, is provided to train PA security forces.”

Marshall: “And what percentage of the overall international aid that the Palestinians receive is the American funding?”

Lovatt: “So it depends how you count it but it’s…I would say it’s probably just under about 30, 40%. But what I think is important to say is actually, the EU and its member states are equally large if not a slightly larger donor of aid to the Palestinian Authority and to UNRWA.”

Marshall: “And do you think that the European Union would make up any shortfall were the Americans to withdraw aid?”

Lovatt: “I think if you look at the short-term there would certainly be an effort within the EU to look at how the unit’s member states can buttress the PA budget which is currently running at a bit of a deficit. But, you know, given the vast amounts of US aid that we’re talking about, you know, over the mid to long-term it’s not imaginable that the EU could fully replace that sum of money.”

Marshall: “So the Palestinian Authority should be rather worried at the moment?”

Lovatt: “They should be but I think we should also be worried. I mean after all, there is a reason that we provide such vast amounts of aid to the Palestinians and it’s not just benevolence. It’s because it also suits our geo-political interests. So, you know, Europeans, Americans, it helps stabilise to a certain extent the Palestinian territories and it has been accused by Palestinians of fragmenting Palestinian civil society and mobilisation aimed at the occupation. It has also, you know, been credited rightly or wrongly with actually having laid the foundation for a Palestinian state. So I think if you take away this aid then it’s not just a Palestinian issue. It actually calls into question the whole basis for international engagement in the Middle East peace process.”

Marshall: “Hugh Lovatt from the European Council on Foreign Relations.”

If listeners were expecting to hear a view reflecting a different angle on the story at that point, they would have been disappointed – as we shall see in part two of this post.

 

Unravelling years of BBC statistics on Palestinian refugees in Lebanon

Among the BBC News website’s profuse coverage of the December 6th US announcement of its recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel were reports concerning violent rioting in Beirut:

Beirut protests: ‘Jerusalem remains a rallying cry’Martin Patience, 10/12/17

Trump Jerusalem move: Tear gas at Lebanon US embassy protest” 10/12/17

In the second of those reports, readers were told that:

“Lebanon is home to hundreds of thousands of Palestinian refugees, including those who fled Israel after it was founded, and their descendants.”

But exactly how many are “hundreds of thousands”?

An online search of BBC reports on that topic shows that in 1999 the BBC told its audiences that there were 350,000 Palestinian refugees in Lebanon but did not give a source for that number. In 2003 the BBC quoted a figure of 376,472 citing UNRWA and the same UN agency was cited as the source of a figure of 391,679 the following year.

A backgrounder produced in 2008 also quoted UNRWA, informing BBC audiences that as of December 2006 there were 408,438 registered Palestinian refugees in Lebanon. In August 2010 BBC audiences were told of “an estimated 400,000 Palestinians living in Lebanon” and an article published the following month – September 2010 – cited a figure of 405,425 without clarifying its source.

However, a recent development makes the sourcing of those numbers cited by the BBC over the years especially interesting. 

In February of this year the first ever census of Palestinian refugees in Lebanon was begun and its results were made public last week, as reported by AP:

“The first official census of Palestinian refugees in Lebanon has revealed that there are 174,422 Palestinians now living in Lebanon, a figure almost two thirds less than previously estimated.

The Palestinians — both original refugees and their descendants — were believed to number about 450,000 but tens of thousands emigrated from Lebanon in over the past decades, seeking better opportunities.

The census released Thursday was conducted by the Lebanese Central Administration of Statistics and the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics.”

Reporting the same story, the Lebanese newspaper The Daily Star provides some interesting insight into the UNRWA supplied figures quoted by the BBC over the years.

“The findings came as a surprise to some, as the standard estimate of the Palestinian refugee population in Lebanon cited by local and international media as well as aid groups has long stood around 450,000. This figure was based upon the number of refugees registered with the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA).

As no census in Lebanon had ever taken place, UNRWA’s registration records served as the most reliable go-to source for an estimate.

However, UNRWA has never claimed that the number of registered refugees in Lebanon should have served as a de-facto head-count for the population.

“We have 469,331 refugees officially registered with UNRWA in Lebanon,” Huda Samra, spokesperson for the U.N. agency, told The Daily Star. “This reflects the number of Palestinian refugees in Lebanon who come to us to register for benefits, which include educational, vocational and health services.”

Deaths or relocation outside the camps and perhaps to other countries are not necessarily reported to UNRWA.” [emphasis added]

In other words, for nearly two decades (at least) the BBC has been promoting statistics which did not – and according to the UNRWA spokesperson quoted by The Daily Star, were never intended to – reflect the actual number of Palestinian refugees living in Lebanon.

Related Articles:

BBC’s ‘Obstacles to Peace’: wrong on right of return – Part 1

BBC’s ‘Obstacles to Peace’: wrong on right of return – Part 2

The BBC’s reporting of statistics and Gaza casualty ratios

 

Weekend long read

1) Back in April the BBC News website told audiences that the Israeli prime minister had ‘snubbed’ the German foreign minister over the latter’s insistence on meeting what the BBC described as “human rights activists”. At the Fathom Journal, Gadi Taub takes a closer look at that story.

“Gabriel, on the occasion of an official visit for Holocaust Memorial Day, announced that he would meet the representatives of two radical left-wing civil society organisations – Breaking the Silence and B’Tselem. When Netanyahu said that if those meetings went ahead he would boycott the visit and refuse to meet Gabriel, many thought he was overreacting. Few, however, expected Gabriel to choose those two organisations over Israel’s prime minster (and acting foreign minister). And when he did, things began to appear in a new light. It no longer seemed that the German foreign minister made an honest mistake, not knowing how controversial these organisations were among Israelis. It appeared, instead, that he knew exactly what he was doing and that it was us, the Israeli public, who had made a mistake in our assumptions about German-Israeli relations.”

2) At the JCPA, Ambassador Alan Baker examines the issue of Palestinian refugees and UNRWA.  

“Unlike its sister organization, the UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), mandated since 1950 to coordinate the handling of all refugee communities worldwide, UNRWA was established in that same year to deal exclusively with Palestinian refugees, thereby excluding them from the protection of the UNHCR.

While the aims and operations of the UNHCR are based on international instruments – mainly the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees – UNRWA was never provided with a specific statute or charter. It has operated since its inception under a general mandate, renewed every three years by the General Assembly.

The major distinction and main reason for the establishment of a separate agency to deal with Palestinian refugees, was to crystallize their sole aim – not rehabilitation and resettlement, as was the aim of UNHCR – but solely “return.” Inclusion of Palestinian refugees under the general UNHCR definition of “refugees” would have been interpreted as a waiver of their claim that “return” was the sole solution.”

3) The Meir Amit Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center has a new report on a topic habitually absent from BBC coverage of the Middle East: Hamas’ indoctrination of children in summer camps.

“This year, as in previous years, summer camps were held throughout the Gaza Strip, attended by tens of thousands of Gazan children and adolescents. Most of the camps were organized by Hamas, some by other terrorist organizations and institutions. The camps provide a wide range of activities, from ordinary summer pastimes (sports, arts and crafts, computers, day trips, etc.) to military training and ideological indoctrination. Hamas attributes great importance to the summer camps, considering them an effective means for influencing the younger generation and training a cadre of operatives and supporters for its military wing and movement institutions.

An examination of some of the closing ceremonies of the 2017 summer camps shows they emphasized military topics coordinated to the age of the participants. The older the campers were, the more and varied military training they received. The adolescents, some of them who would join Hamas military wing in the near future, wore uniforms and learned how to dismantle and reassemble weapons. They also practiced simulating infiltrating Israel through tunnels, attacking IDF posts, taking control of tank positions, and capturing IDF soldiers and abducting them to the Gaza Strip. They trained with real weapons, mostly light arms and RPG launchers.”

4) At the FDD, Grant Rumley takes a look at Mahmoud Abbas’ handling of last month’s violence in Jerusalem and elsewhere following the murder of two Israeli policemen in a terror attack on July 14th.

“The closest the Israeli-Palestinian conflict got to an actual third intifada, or uprising, happened late this past month when Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas mobilized the shadowy militia elements of his party for widespread Friday protests. What the lone-wolf stabbing attacks that have plagued Israel for the past several years lacked—and what both the first and second intifadas had—was political leadership and support. In activating the Tanzim, a faction of his own party that Abbas has struggled to control, the Palestinian President was sanctioning his people’s unrest.”

BBC ignores another Gaza tunnels story

Hamas’ efforts to rebuild the network of cross-border attack tunnels destroyed in 2014 and the terrorist organisation’s related misappropriation of construction materials intended for the rebuilding and repair of civilian dwellings are topics which have been serially under-reported throughout the three years since that conflict took place and over a year has passed since the BBC last produced any coverage of that subject.

Another such story recently emerged when a tunnel was discovered in the Maghazi district of the Gaza Strip.

“The tunnel was discovered by workers of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) on June 1 under two schools in the Maghazi refugee camp in the Gaza Strip near the city of Deir al-Balah. […]

The tunnel, between two and three meters underground, passes under the Maghazi Elementary Boys A&B School and the Maghazi Preparatory Boys School, and was built both westward into the Palestinian enclave and eastward toward the security fence with Israel, according to UNRWA.

UNRWA spokesman Christopher Gunness said Friday that the tunnel “has no entry or exit points on the premises nor is it connected to the schools or other buildings in any way.”

“UNRWA condemns the existence of such tunnels in the strongest possible terms. It is unacceptable that students and staff are placed at risk in such a way,” he said.

Gunness said the agency had “robustly intervened and protested to Hamas in Gaza”.

He said UNRWA will seal the tunnel, which was discovered while the schools were empty during the summer holiday.

Hamas, for its part, denied that it or any other terror group built a tunnel under the two UN schools. The organization on Friday “strongly condemned” the UNRWA revelation, saying it would be exploited by Israel to “justify its crimes.”

The terror group denied it built the tunnel and said it had clarified the issue “with all factions and resistance forces, who clearly stated they had no actions related to the resistance in the said location,” the movement said, adding that it respected UNRWA’s work.”

Despite the discovery of weapons in UNRWA schools and the firing of missiles from such locations during the 2014 conflict as well as the recent scandals (unreported by the BBC) concerning Hamas and UNRWA staff, the BBC’s Gaza bureau has to date shown no interest in reporting this story (of which its staff are obviously aware), let alone in investigating how a tunnel beneath two schools could have been constructed apparently under the noses – and ears – of UNRWA employees. 

 

Follow up on a Gaza story ignored by the BBC

Back in February we noted that – despite its practice of extensively amplifying UNRWA messaging – the BBC had chosen not to cover the story of an employee of that UN agency who was suspended after he was allegedly elected to the Hamas political bureau.

“On February 23rd the ITIC published a report concerning the election of the chairman of the Hamas-controlled UNRWA staff union to the Hamas political bureau in the Gaza Strip.

“One of the newly-elected members is Dr. Suhail Ahmed Hassan al-Hindi, who holds a PhD from Cairo University (his thesis dealt with improving the conditions of Palestinians teachers under the Israeli “occupation”). Since 2012 he has been the chairman of the UNRWA staff union in the Gaza Strip, controlled by Hamas. […] In addition to his role as union chairman, he is also the principal of the Palestine Boys’ Elementary School, an UNRWA school for refugee children.”

Both Hamas and al Hindi denied that he had been elected to the Hamas political bureau despite reports in the Palestinian media and UNRWA’s Chris Gunness issued a statement saying that the organisation “has neither uncovered nor received evidence to contradict the staff member’s denial that he was elected to political office”.

On February 26th the head of COGAT commented on the issue and on the same day, al Hindi was suspended by UNRWA.”

A similar story that emerged the following month was likewise ignored by the BBC.

On April 22nd it emerged that al Hindi is no longer employed by UNRWA.

“The United Nations agency for Palestinian refugees said Saturday a Gaza staffer suspected of having been elected to Hamas’s leadership no longer works for the agency.

Agency spokesman Chris Gunness said that Suhail al-Hindi was no longer employed by the UN Relief and Works Agency. He declined to say whether al-Hindi had quit or was fired, saying the agency doesn’t “discuss the terms of departure of individual staff members.””

However, the ITIC – quoting Hamas linked sources – reported that al Hindi was presented by UNRWA with the choice of resignation (together with preservation of his social benefits) or dismissal. The ITIC also noted that it is unclear whether al Hindi’s resignation applies both to his position as chairman of the UNRWA staff union and his concurrent post as the principal of an UNRWA school.

Given that, according to UNRWA figures, the UK was the agency’s third most generous donor in 2015, members of the British public would no doubt have been interested to see some serious investigative reporting from their national broadcaster on the issue of alleged links between the UN agency they help fund and the terror organisation that is proscribed by the British government.

Weekend long read

1) It is not rare for BBC audiences to be told that the Arab-Israeli conflict is the central issue behind jihadist violence in the Middle East and beyond. At the JCPA, Dr Dore Gold examines that claim.

“There is one area in which many European diplomats connect the terror against Israel and the activities of the jihadist movements like ISIS. For decades it has been broadly assumed that if Israel would only solve the Palestinian problem, then one of the grievances driving the jihadi movements would be removed and the West would be more secure. This thesis has been proven to be false time and time again.

Looking back at the 1990s, the first major breakthrough between Israel and the Palestinians was reached with the signing of the 1993 Declaration of Principles, also known as the Oslo Accords. In the years that followed, a series of implementation agreements were signed like the 1994 Gaza-Jericho Agreement, the 1995 Interim Agreement, the 1997 Hebron Agreement, and the 1998 Wye River Memorandum.

But looking in the same parallel period, there was no correlation between Israeli-Palestinian diplomacy and the reduction of the hostility from the jihadist threat. For in those very years, al-Qaeda’s threats on the West seemed to only worsen: in 1993, the first World Trade Center attack took place; in 1995 was the first al-Qaeda attack in Saudi Arabia; followed in 1998 with the attacks against the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania; in 2000, the USS Cole was attacked in Yemen; and finally in 2001, the United States was struck in the 9/11 attacks.”

2) At the INSS, Dr Raz Zimmt provides a view of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards’ post JCPOA involvement in the country’s economy.

“The Revolutionary Guards’ expanded involvement in infrastructure and development projects throughout Iran is highly evident. However, the lifting of the economic sanctions following the implementation of the JCPOA provides an opportunity to reduce Revolutionary Guards involvement in the economy by means of encouraging foreign companies to invest in Iran once again. Indeed, the corps is well aware of the challenges it faces following the nuclear agreement that endanger the organization’s economic interests. However, it feels the need to control the state economy not only to finance its own activities in Iran and beyond, but also to solidify its political status, and hence the group’s increased efforts to entrench its involvement in development and infrastructure projects.”

3) In late February and early March we noted that the BBC had not covered two stories relating to the suspensions of UNRWA employees following allegations of their election to the Hamas political bureau in the Gaza Strip. The ITIC has now produced a report concerning Hamas opposition to proposed changes to the curriculum in UNRWA-run elementary schools.

“Hamas recently attacked UNRWA for its intention to introduce changes in the curriculum of the lower grades of elementary schools in the Gaza Strip operated by the agency. Hamas claimed the proposed changes served Israel and were intended to have a negative effect on the national identity of young Palestinians. In several refugee camps, “popular” protests were held against UNRWA. One was also held near UNRWA headquarters in the Gaza Strip during events marking Land Day (March 30, 2017).

During the protest near UNRWA headquarters calls were heard to reinstate Dr. Suhail al-Hindi, suspended by UNRWA after he was elected to Hamas’ new political bureau in the Gaza Strip. Sabri Sidam, Palestinian minister of education, and the Palestinian ministry of education in Ramallah stated their objection to any change UNRWA might make in its curriculum.”

4) Writing at the New York Times, Benjamin Pogrund explains why the ‘apartheid’ smear so frequently amplified in BBC content is invalid.

“The idea that Israel is an apartheid state is a staple of the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement, which has made the South African comparison practically the lingua franca of anti-Israel activism. It’s a grave charge: If the accusation is valid, Israel deserves the censure, boycotts and isolation that the B.D.S. movement demands. But announcing it loudly and ceaselessly, as the movement does, doesn’t make it true.

Here’s why the apartheid comparison does not stack up.

Apartheid in South Africa maintained privilege for the white minority and doomed people of color to subservience; it determined every aspect of life — the school you attended, the work you did, where you lived, which hospital and ambulance you used, whom you could marry, right down to which park bench you could sit on without facing arrest.

I know this because I lived it.”

BBC News ignores another UNRWA – Hamas story

At the end of last month we noted that the BBC had chosen not to report the story of an employee of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) who was suspended following allegations of his election to the Hamas political bureau in the Gaza Strip.

Now another similar story has come to light.

“A senior Palestinian employee of a Gaza-based United Nations humanitarian agency was reportedly elected to Hamas’s political bureau, the top governing body of the terrorist organization the rules the Strip.

One the 15 members elected to the bureau in February’s internal elections was Muhammad al-Jamassi, a senior engineer employed by UNRWA, the UN agency in charge of Palestinian refugees, according to the Meir Amit Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center.

Jamassi has held various positions within Hamas since 2007, including in the group’s public relations department and its affiliated charities, the center said.

He currently serves as board chairman for the UNRWA engineering department in central Gaza, and oversees all off the agency’s infrastructure projects in the area.”

According to UNRWA figures, the UK was its third most generous donor in 2015, contributing nearly a hundred million US dollars to its budget. Hence, members of the British public may well be interested in seeing some serious investigative reporting from their national broadcaster on the issue of alleged links between the UN agency they help fund and the terror organisation that is proscribed by the British government.

Despite being one of the few international media organisations to have an office in the Gaza Strip and therefore being well-placed to cover this story, the BBC continues to date to refrain from doing so.