One month on, BBC silence on UNRWA allegations persists

A month has passed since AFP reported on “alleged mismanagement and abuses of authority at the highest levels of the UN agency for Palestinian refugees”.

During that time three countries – Switzerland, the Netherlands and Belgium – have suspended their contributions to UNRWA pending the results of a UN investigation. The Czech government has called for the allegations to be “thoroughly investigated”.

Now a fourth country – New Zealand – says it will not make any further payments to UNRWA until that investigation is completed. The Jerusalem Post reports that New Zealand’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (MFAT):

“…said New Zealand’s next payment to UNRWA is not scheduled until March 2020. Therefore, “the ministry will review the findings of the UN Office of Internal Oversight Service report once the investigation is complete and after that point provide advice to the Minister of Foreign Affairs on future funding.”

According to the Israel Institute of New Zealand MFAT committed in May to providing NZ$ 3 million over a period of three years.

One month on, the BBC – which last year put a considerable amount of effort into amplifying UNRWA talking points concerning its funding – has still not provided its funding public with any coverage of this story.

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BBC News maintains its silence on the UNRWA ethical abuses story

A week has passed since revelations concerning alleged mismanagement and abuses of authority at the highest levels of the UN agency for Palestinian refugees emerged.

BBC ignores UNRWA ethical abuses story

The BBC continues to maintain ‘radio silence’ on that issue and – although it did take the time to inform audiences that “[l]ast year the US stopped contributing to the UN Relief and Works Agency (Unrwa), which has been supporting Palestinian refugees since 1949 [sic]” two days after that story broke – it did not apparently consider the fact that Switzerland and the Netherlands subsequently suspended their funding to the agency worth reporting.

Since then Belgium has followed suit.

BBC reporting in August 2018

“Belgium has temporarily suspended its funding to UNRWA, following reports of a UN investigation into ethical misconduct among its senior staff, according to Israel’s Embassy in Belgium.

The embassy tweeted about the suspension on Friday, quoting from Belgian Minister of Finance and Development Cooperation, Alexander De Croo, who stated, “If the accusations are true, it’s completely unacceptable.””

In short – three countries suspend their funding to a UN agency in the wake of an ethics report revealing alleged mismanagement and abuse of authority at its highest levels and yet the BBC does not consider that its audiences need to know about that story.

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More repetition of the BBC’s partial narrative on construction

On the afternoon of July 31st the BBC News website published a report headlined “Israel backs West Bank homes for settlers and Palestinians” on its ‘Middle East’ page.

Unfortunately for any reader hoping to gain a better understanding of the broader topic behind the specific story, the report offered nothing but a repeat of well-worn framing intended to advance a particular political narrative.

As usual the report employs partisan terminology to describe Israelis living in places the BBC believes they should not and the communities and region in which they reside. [emphasis added]

“Israel has approved the construction of 6,000 new homes for Jewish settlers and 700 homes for Palestinians in the occupied West Bank.

The decision about new homes in settlements further extends the Israeli presence in the West Bank.”

As usual readers are presented with a partial portrayal of ‘international law’.

“Israeli settlements in the West Bank are seen as illegal under international law, although Israel disputes this.”

Moreover, embedded into the report is a video narrated by the Jerusalem bureau’s Yolande Knell which first appeared in June and in which it is claimed that ‘international law’ not only applies to places but also to people.

 Settlers are seen as illegal under international law but Israel rejects that.” 

Later on – under the sub-heading “Why are settlements such an issue?” – the report claims that:

Israel has settled about 400,000 Jews in West Bank settlements, with another 200,000 living in East Jerusalem.”

Of course Israelis residing in Judea & Samaria and parts of Jerusalem which were illegally occupied by Jordan between 1948 and 1967 do so because that is their own personal choice and not because they were “settled” there by any Israeli government. The use of that terminology is a nod to the claim that Israeli towns and villages in those regions are ‘illegal under international law’ based on the Fourth Geneva Convention which states “[t]he Occupying Power shall not deport or transfer parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies”.

The article tells readers that:

“It is not clear whether the Palestinian homes would be new constructions or merely legal approval for 700 already existing homes in what is known as “Area C” of the West Bank – where Palestinian villages often lie close to Israeli settlements, and where Israel has full control of the territory.”

It does not however inform audiences that “Israel has full control” of Area C – including planning -because the Palestinians agreed to that nearly twenty-four years ago and the absence of that information means that readers are unable to put the predictably unquestioned and unqualified Palestinian claims promoted in the next two paragraphs into their correct context.

“The Palestinian leadership dismissed the announcement, saying it rejected any Israeli construction or controls over Palestinian construction in the West Bank.

It said it was “evidence of the dark colonial mentality of the rules [sic] in Israel and which ignores all United Nations resolutions, international law and the signed agreements”.”

Providing no evidence to support its claim concerning a plan which has not even been published, the report goes on:

“The move comes ahead of a visit by US President Donald Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner, who heads the White House’s faltering attempts to broker a peace deal.”

As has so often been the case in the past, the BBC conceals the fact that in 1995 the US Congress passed the ‘Jerusalem Embassy Act’ – a law declaring that “Jerusalem should be recognized as the capital of the State of Israel; and the United States Embassy in Israel should be established in Jerusalem no later than May 31, 1999.”

“In 2017 Mr Trump announced that the US recognised Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, overturning decades of official US policy.”

While the BBC continues to ignore allegations of corruption at the top of UNRWA management and the related suspension of funding by Switzerland and the Netherlands, readers are also told that:

“Last year the US stopped contributing to the UN Relief and Works Agency (Unrwa), which has been supporting Palestinian refugees since 1949.”

UNRWA was actually only set up in December 1949 and clause 6 of the relevant UN resolution refers to the commencement of “direct relief and works programmes” from January 1st 1950.

Readers see more unquestioning amplification of Palestinian messaging with no alternative view and no information concerning Israel’s past evacuations of communities in Sinai, the Gaza Strip and northern Samaria provided.

“What happens to the settlements is one of the most contentious issues between Israel and the Palestinians – Palestinians say the presence of settlements makes a future independent state impossible.”

The report closes with a characteristically euphemistic portrayal of past events:

“Peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians have been at a standstill since 2014, when a US-brokered attempt to reach a deal collapsed.”

Readers are not informed that those negotiations actually collapsed because, in addition to breaching an undertaking to avoid acts of accession to international institutions during the period of negotiations, the Palestinian Authority chose to opt for ‘reconciliation’ with Hamas.

As is the case in any BBC report concerning building tenders and construction in the areas occupied by Jordan for nineteen years, the corporation once again demonstrates that its professed commitment to ‘impartial’ reporting is pure fiction.

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BBC ignores UNRWA ethical abuses story

In 2017 the BBC expanded its links with the news agency AFP as part of its newsgathering process. Unlike many other media outlets – including the corporation’s preferred paper the Guardian – the BBC does not however appear to consider one recent AFP story newsworthy.

“An internal ethics report has alleged mismanagement and abuses of authority at the highest levels of the UN agency for Palestinian refugees even as the organisation faced an unprecedented crisis after US funding cuts.

The allegations included in the confidential report by the agency’s ethics department are now being scrutinised by UN investigators. […]

AFP has obtained a copy of the report which describes “credible and corroborated” allegations of serious ethical abuses, including involving UNRWA’s top official, Commissioner-General Pierre Krahenbuhl.

It says the allegations include senior management engaging in “sexual misconduct, nepotism, retaliation, discrimination and other abuses of authority, for personal gain, to suppress legitimate dissent, and to otherwise achieve their personal objectives.””

Despite the BBC having put a considerable amount of effort into amplifying UNRWA talking points throughout last year, members of its funding public have to date not seen any coverage of this latest story concerning the controversial UN agency on the BBC News website or, to the best of our knowledge, anywhere else.  

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BBC Radio 4 provides a platform for the PLO’s ‘apartheid’ smear

Three days after the Palestinian Authority representative in London, Husam Zomlot, had given a briefing to “senior BBC correspondents and journalists” at Broadcasting House, listeners to the June 20th edition of BBC Radio 4’s ‘Today’ programme heard a remarkably sympathetic and unchallenging interview with his colleague Saeb Erekat.

Presenter Mishal Husain introduced the item (from 2:33:34 here) thus: [emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]

Husain: “There will be a conference next week in Bahran initiated by the United States on proposals for the Palestinian economy. The Palestinian leadership however will not be there. Indeed the draft agenda for the event doesn’t include the word Palestinian, talking instead about investment in the West Bank and Gaza. Israel’s government will be represented as will the UAE, Qatar and Saudi Arabia. It’s all part of the ‘deal of the century’ as Donald Trump calls his Middle East peace initiative with his son-in-law Jared Kushner at the helm. Saeb Erekat is one of the most senior and long-serving Palestinian officials; a negotiator of the Oslo Accords in the 1990s and now secretary of the Palestine Liberation Organisation’s executive committee. He’s here in London and is with us in the studio. […] What do you achieve – you as the Palestinian leadership – by boycotting this event?”

In contrast to that highlighted claim from Husain, the Times of Israel reported the previous day that:

“No Israeli officials were invited to the event, the US administration announced earlier this week, noting that, given the fact that Palestinian Authority refused to attend, the hosts did not want to politicize the event.”

Erekat opened with an unsupported claim.

Erekat: “First of all we did not know about this event to begin with. We heard about it from the BBC. No-one consulted us and as for the ‘deal of the century’ you mentioned, Mishal, I think they have been implementing it, dictating it…”

Husain: “The Americans.”

Erekat: “The Americans, you know, in turning Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, moving the embassy, closing our office in Washington, closing their consulate, calling settlements legal. When was the last time…today it’s been 28 months for this Trump team in office. Did you hear the term from them two states? Did you hear the term occupation? Did you hear the term settlements illegal? So they’re inviting for a Manama workshop because they know what’s best for me. I should not think any more. They know what’s better for me. They want to link me, my Jericho home, Nablus, Hebron, Ramallah with settlements so we can co-exist because in their eyes I’m not a people.”

Making no effort to clarify to listeners why the PLO mission in Washington was closed or why the US Consulate was merged with the embassy in Jerusalem, Husain not only failed to challenge Erekat’s claims but added credence to them.

Husain: “But what are your options in the face of an administration that takes that position?”

Erekat: “I not declare war on them. They declare war on our rights. And the whole aspects they’re doing now is they trying to…they focus attention from the Palestinian rights to Palestinian needs. What I mean by this, they want to go with the settlers council’s plan – the Israeli settler council’s plan – which specifies the term one state, two system: apartheid. They want me to have the right to have an ID card; it’s gonna be green, theirs will be blue. I have the right to study but they will determine the books and the maps that my children will study or not study. They will determine how do I drive and where do I drive. My car licence will be white and green; theirs will be yellow. There’s a deeper apartheid system that exist in the West Bank and Israel today than the one that existed in the darkest hours of South Africa’s apartheid. What we’re trying to tell the world – what I’m here in Britain, in Europe, in the Arab world, Asia, Africa, Latin America – we must stand tall to defend international law. We must stand tall to defend the four Geneva Conventions. We must stand tall to solve this problem by peaceful means.”

Husain made no effort to challenge Erekat’s ‘apartheid’ smears or to clarify the basis for his bizarre claims concerning the colours of various imaginary documents. Her passive approach was rendered even more significant just seconds later when – contradicting his own claims of a “plan” – Erekat admitted that he has no idea what the US proposals include.  

Erekat: “Actually this American administration is telling us if you accept what we offer – and we don’t know what they offer; you don’t know in Britain what they offer, France doesn’t know, no Arabs know, they didn’t share…”

Husain: “The plan was supposed to be presented around now but it’s been delayed because of the Israeli election having to be…”

Erekat: “That’s exactly it. It’s because of the Israelis and because of their…they work it out and draft it with Netanyahu, they dictate it on us.”

Following two questions concerning the participation of Arab states in the conference – and some uncharacteristically muted answers from Erekat – Husain continued:

Husain: “OK. You said the focus has been put on Palestinian needs rather than Palestinian rights but in terms of those needs, you would accept – wouldn’t you? – the…the dire economic position that the Palestinian Authority is in. It’s had aid cut off by the Americans. You know, there are all sorts of programmes which are desperately under-funded, both in the West Bank and in Gaza. So economic proposals are needed, are they not?”

Erekat: “So the Americans, as you said, cut $844 million from my aid. They cut aid to the St. John’s hospital in East Jerusalem – a British institute – the only eye centre serving Palestinians. They cut aid to the only cancer centre, Augusta Victoria…”

Husain: “Which is why I ask you; don’t you welcome the economic proposals given that situation?”

Erekat: “If you believe…Mishal, the people who cut aid to hospitals, to schools…they defunded UNRWA for the refugees $350 million and they left 112 projects – roads, schools, hosp…unfinished. And you’re telling me these people do care about my prosperity? And they want to do projects for me? The Israelis are withholding my funds, my revenues and the Americans are cutting all my aid and now they have these tears on [for] me?” […]

Husain did not bother to tell listeners that it is the PA which has refused to accept transfers of tax revenues from Israel or that the PA also refused to accept a category of US aid and that in both cases the background is linked to the Palestinian Authority’s payment of salaries to terrorists.

Husain: “I want to ask you: you’ve worked on these issues all of your adult life. Do you think you will see a Palestinian state in your lifetime or are you in the process of having to face reality and perhaps giving up on it?”

Erekat: “I…I cannot give up. I will not give up. It’s not a job that I do. I have 8 grandchildren, four children. I don’t want them to be suicide bombers. I don’t want them to be desperate because desperation will lead to desperate acts. And the only option for us as Palestinians as my president specified in his proposal for the United Nations Security Council February 20th 2018 – live and let live. The State of Palestine with East Jerusalem as its capital to live side by side the State of Israel in peace and security. This is the only solution.”

Husain made no effort to ask Erekat how he intends to get Hamas and other Palestinian terror factions on board with that vision.

Erekat: “Now we have an Israeli government, an American administration that want one state two systems: apartheid. This will not fly.”

Once again failing to challenge that ‘apartheid’ smear, Husain closed the item.

Husain: “Saeb Erekat – thank you very much.”

Obviously this was much less an interview intended to provide BBC audiences with accurate and impartial information which would enhance their understanding of the topic than it was the provision of an unquestioning – if not obsequious – platform for Saeb Erakat’s propaganda.

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BBC’s Plett Usher continues to promote her Israel narratives

In December 2017 the BBC News website published an article titled “Trumplomacy: Key takeaways from Jerusalem policy shift“. In March 2019 the BBC News website published an article titled “Trumplomacy on Golan Heights: What it all means”.  

The latest article in the ‘Trumplomacy’ genre by the BBC’s US State Department correspondent Barbara Plett Usher appeared on the BBC News website’s ‘Middle East’ page on April 12th under the headline “Trumplomacy: Where are things at with the Mideast peace plan?”. [emphasis in bold added]

The main image illustrating the article is captioned “Secretary of State Mike Pompeo (R) recently became the first high-ranking US official to visit Jerusalem’s Western Wall last month”. In fact previous American visitors to the site have included the US President, Vice-President and former UN ambassador.

Although Israel’s president will only begin meeting with representatives of the lists which won seats in the Knesset in last week’s election on April 15th in order to hear their recommendations for the candidate who should be tasked with forming the next government and that person will then have 28 days in which to do so (with the possibility of a two-week extension), Plett Usher already ‘knows’ what sort of new government Israel will have:

“With a newly elected right-wing government taking shape in Israel this is a good time to check in on the status of the Trump administration’s peace plan.”

Under the sub-heading “How has the [US] policy changed?” Plett Usher instructs readers to:

“Remember that the formula for peace negotiations has been: two states based on the borders of Arab territory seized by Israel in the 1967 war, with mutually agreed land swaps; sufficient security arrangements; a just solution for Palestinian refugees; and negotiations to settle the fate of Jerusalem, the occupied eastern part of which Palestinians claim as their capital.”

While Plett Usher does not specify the source of her “the formula for peace negotiations”, her description is apparently based on non-binding UN General Assembly resolutions such as 3236 and/or the extinct 2003 Quartet road map.

Interestingly, Plett Usher does not bother to inform her readers that the Oslo Accords – the one agreement which resulted from actual negotiations between Israel and the PLO – did not specify the two-state solution as “the formula”.

Significantly, while portraying the “fate of Jerusalem” as the sole issue to be resolved in negotiations, Plett Usher fails to inform audiences that under the terms of the Oslo Accords, other topics she portrays as ‘givens’ – borders, refugees and settlements – are also to be resolved in permanent status negotiations.

Instead Plett Usher promotes the false notion of pre-1967 “borders”, failing to clarify that those were actually armistice lines which were specifically defined in the 1949 Armistice Agreement as not being borders. Equally revealing is Plett Usher’s description of land assigned by the League of Nations to the creation of a Jewish homeland which was belligerently occupied by Jordan and Egypt in 1948 as “Arab territory” and her prior reference to “the occupied Palestinian West Bank”.

In other words Barbara Plett Usher has unquestioningly adopted and promoted the PLO’s stance on that issue.  She goes on:

“But the White House has declared that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel, cut funds to the UN agency that looks after Palestinian refugees, and accepted Israel’s unilateral annexation of other occupied territory, the Golan Heights.”

A journalist with integrity would clarify that the US announcement recognising Jerusalem as Israel’s capital city specifically stated that – in contrast to the impression Plett Usher is trying to create – it had no bearing on negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians.

“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.”

And if bringing up the topic of cuts in US funding to UNRWA, a journalist devoted to informing readers would also have explained the background to that decision, the controversies surrounding that UN agency and the broader issue of Palestinian refugees.

Going on to reference the anti-Israel BDS campaign, Plett Usher likewise fails to inform readers of that campaign’s aims, thereby denying them the ability to judge the statement she paraphrases.

“The state department’s new envoy to combat anti-Semitism, Elan Carr, has reinforced this Israeli narrative in US policy.

He told us that boycotting goods made in Jewish West Bank settlements was anti-Semitic, even though the settlements are illegal under international law and have expanded to such a degree many question whether a Palestinian state is still viable.”

Plett Usher then bolsters her article’s core messaging to readers with a quote sourced from an organisation she once again signposts as “liberal”.

“The administration’s embrace of the Israeli government’s right-wing positions has alarmed liberal American Jewish organizations.

“What they’ve done so far tells you what they intend to lay out,” says Jeremy Ben-Ami of the J Street lobby group. “They have no intention to lay out what could conceivably resolve the conflict. Instead they will tie American government positions to those of the farthest right of Israel’s political spectrum.””

In her final section – sub-headed “What about the Palestinian reaction?” – Plett Usher qualifies the description of people convicted of violent attacks against Israelis.

“Mr Abbas is very unpopular. But on a recent trip to Jerusalem I was told anecdotally that Palestinians have at least given him credit for standing firm on their three core issues: Jerusalem, refugees and maintaining funds to Palestinian prisoners – whom the Israelis regard as terrorists – despite financial pressure.”

Although the US administration’s proposal has yet to be revealed, the Palestinian Authority has already made its rejection of it amply clear. Nevertheless Barbara Plett Usher’s aim in this article is to convince BBC audiences that when it does appear, that plan is destined to fail because it ‘embraces’ the positions of “the farthest right of Israel’s political spectrum” rather than because the Palestinians have made it a non-starter.

While Plett Usher’s promotion of that narrative comes as no surprise, it is unfortunate that BBC audiences continue to be fed commentary which does little to enhance their understanding of this and additional topics from a person whose impartiality on issues relating to Israel has long been in plain sight.

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BBC Radio 4’s ‘Today’ on the Gaza Strip – part one

As already noted, a significant proportion of the January 18th edition of BBC Radio 4’s ‘Today’ programme was again given over to the topic of the Gaza Strip.

The previous evening viewers of ‘News at Ten’ had seen Mishal Husain’s one-sided report on the healthcare system in the Gaza Strip – filmed a month earlier when she visited the territory – and the next morning Radio 4 listeners heard her present a total of over sixteen and a half minutes of similar content in two separate items, the second of which (from 2:09:59 here) included an interview with the Israeli ambassador to the UK and the recycling of an interview with an UNRWA official.

The first part of Husain’s introduction was previously discussed here. In line with BBC editorial policy throughout the past ten months, Husain continued to whitewash violent rioting, grenade, IED and shooting attacks as well as breaches of the border fence with her tepid portrayal of “protests”.

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

Husain: “2018 was the worst year for Palestinian deaths and injuries in the West Bank and Gaza since the Gaza conflict of 2014. The United Nations says 295 Palestinians were killed and 29,000 injured by Israeli forces over the course of the year. In the same period, says the UN, 15 Israelis were killed in Palestinian attacks and 137 injured. On the Palestinian side most of the deaths and injuries were connected to the weekly protests at the boundary fence that separates Gaza from Israel. Those protests are now in their tenth month and the number of injuries, including gunshots to the legs that often result in amputations, is causing an immense burden on Gaza’s already over-stretched medical facilities. Hospitals have been badly affected by the economic blockade maintained by Israel and on the other side by Egypt – they say for security reasons. That blockade, the lack of work, the collapsing economy of Gaza, was something we looked at when we reported from there last month. Here’s part of what Matthias Schmale, the most senior UN official in Gaza, told us.”

The counter-terrorism measures imposed by Israel on the Gaza Strip are not an “economic blockade” as claimed by Husain, who predictably avoided any explanation of the “security reasons” which brought about those measures.

Listeners then heard part of an item previously aired on BBC Radio 4’s ‘Today’ programme and on BBC World Service radio’s ‘Newshour’ on December 17th.

Schmale: “The disasters I have encountered were either natural – a tsunami, an earthquake – or man-made in terms of war. This is the first time I’m confronted with a humanitarian crisis that is entirely man-made as a result of the blockade. But if people had their own jobs and earned their own money, which they could have, we would not need to do this. Natural disasters are uncontrollable. This is controllable.”

Husain: “If there was a different security situation – Israel would say it’s not possible with the current reality, the current stance of Hamas towards it.”

Schmale: “I understand the security argument but I also think that we need to be very careful not to put the entire 2 million population into that basket. You know I would claim that the Israelis know so well what goes on in here and know who the potential people are that would hold a security threat to them. If they wanted to they could with reasonable safety let the peace-loving population go out and earn a living for themselves.”

Once again listeners heard that Gaza residents should and could be allowed to work in Israel “with reasonable [sic] safety” but with no mention made of the past history of dozens of terror attacks perpetrated by workers from the Gaza Strip or the documented cases of Hamas’ abuse of travel permits issued to Gaza residents for terrorism purposes.

Husain: “Matthias Schmale speaking to me in an aid distribution centre in Gaza last month. And I’m joined in the studio by Mark Regev, Israel’s ambassador to the UK. […] Could you first answer that point from the UN? Why put an entire population of 2 million people into this basket of being a security risk to Israel?”

Despite Regev having detailed why Hamas is a “clear security risk” for Israel, Husain posed the same question again.

Husain: “Why put the entire population into the Hamas basket?”

Regev: “Well we don’t want to. We seek to differentiate. We don’t see the people of Gaza as our enemy. In many ways, like the people of southern Israel, they are the victims of Hamas violence.”

Husain: “You may not seek to but that is the effect of what the blockade does. It’s a blockade from the air, from the land, from the sea. Again, the point that the UN is making is that you could – the Israeli authorities could very easily allow at least some people to have work permits in Israel to go and earn a living for themselves and that income would make a significant difference to living conditions in Gaza.”

Husain of course skipped over ‘boring’ details such as the taxes that would potentially be paid to Hamas by such workers and the basic issue of the right of Israel to control its borders as any other country does.

Regev: “I think last year some 200,000 people crossed the borders between Israel and Gaza. Some 70% of that was for medical purposes but we are…we are interested in seeing the population go back and forth. From our point of view we want to see the people of Gaza have as normal as possible lives. The challenges…”

Husain [interrupts] “But that is not what’s happening.”

Regev: “The challenge is…that is a goal but at the same time we have to protect our people. And what does one do when you have a Hamas terrorist organisation that is committed to violence and terrorism. In this same last year – yes? – we had twelve hundred – one thousand two hundred – rockets, missiles, fired from Gaza into Israel. We had repeated attempts – as you reported* – to storm the border, to attack our people, to break into Israel, to enter our communities. You yourself interviewed Israelis on the border with Gaza who live in fear.”

Husain next made a thinly veiled reference to the notion of ‘collective punishment’.

Husain: “Indeed but overall you have been pretty successful – haven’t you? – in keeping people safe, in keeping Israeli civilians safe. What is happening in effect though through that is what arguably is the punishment of an entire people.”

Ambassador Regev then spoke about Hamas’ priorities, noting that “if they invested in schools and in hospitals, in the betterment of the life of the people in Gaza, it would be a totally different situation.”

Husain: “There is a considerable impact through the blockade on health facilities and that was shown…for example I did a report that ran last night on the ten o’clock news and you could see how medical facilities are suffering. Now I’m looking at an Israeli government list of the kinds of things that are prohibited in Gaza and they include significant things that would be incredibly important for the health care services. Scanning machines including X-ray machines are not allowed in Gaza. Instruments for physical and chemical analysis are not allowed in Gaza. Pumps intended for dirty water are not allowed in Gaza. Why are they not allowed?”

While we are not able to determine which list Husain was “looking at”, her claim that the items she cited are “prohibited” and “not allowed” does not hold water. The items mentioned by Husain appear on COGAT’s “List of “Dual Use” Items Requiring a Transfer License” which opens by stating that:

“The items delineated in this Decree are prohibited from transfer into the regions of Judea and Samaria, or the Gaza Strip, unless the relevant party has acquired a license.” [emphasis added]

In other words, those dual-use items and others can and do enter the Gaza Strip if the relevant permit is secured.

Given Husain’s claims, listeners could well have understood that there are no medical scanners or X-ray machines in the Gaza Strip. That of course is not the case.

“The spokesperson for the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT) announced today, 19 July 2010, that the equipment for the USAID greenhouse project as well as medical equipment for Shifa Hospital in Gaza City were delivered to the Gaza Strip.

The medical equipment to Shifa Hospital includes a CT scanner and an X-ray machine donated by the World Health Organization (WHO). The transfer was coordinated by the Coordination & Liaison Administration in Gaza.”

A Reuters report from 2016 about the opening of a new hospital in the Gaza Strip includes the following:

“Umm Hashem, a mother bringing her 17-year-old daughter to the hospital to have a stomach problem examined, praised the new facility, saying it was long overdue.

“The best thing here is the X-ray machine,” she said, referring to the CT-scanner. “We used to go to Shifa hospital to get checked, but now we can do it here.””

In January 2018 the Journal of Radiation Research and Applied Sciences published a paper titled “Evaluation of advanced medical imaging services at Governmental Hospitals-Gaza Governorates, Palestine”.

“Medical imaging services are the key tool to diagnose many diseases and have an important role in monitoring treatment and predicting outcome. The current study [was] conducted to evaluate advanced medical imaging services (CT and MRI) at Governmental Hospitals-Gaza Governorates, Palestine.” 

So, while the situation of medical services in the Gaza Strip may be far from ideal, Mishal Husain’s promotion of the notion that scanners and X-rays are “prohibited” and “not allowed” is clearly inaccurate and materially misleading to listeners.

Regev then spoke about Hamas’ use of metal pipes for making rockets and the fact that dual-purpose items such as fertiliser and some types of medical equipment can be used for military purposes, stating:

“…as long as Hamas controls the hospitals – and they do – we have a problem with that sort of equipment going in. We have to protect our people.”

Husain: “Well some people who work in the hospitals are paid for by Hamas, some are paid for by the Palestinian Authority.”

Regev: “But they all live under the rule of Hamas.”

Husain: “The question is the impact of what you’re doing on the civilian population of Gaza. I mean for example there was a doctor who said to me that among the items that are considered dual use are the stains that are used for medical diagnosis. For example radiotherapy is barely available in Gaza. Chemotherapy is barely available in Gaza. The chances of a woman surviving breast cancer in Gaza after 5 years is half of the chance of an Israeli woman just across the boundary fence. This is the reality of the policies that you are pursuing and their impact.”

A relevant paper published in October 2018 states that:

“Five-year survival rates for breast cancer in Gaza are about 50%, compared with about 85% in the United States and Israel (including women referred to East Jerusalem). Part of this disparity is explained by a later stage at diagnosis, but limited therapeutic options also contribute.” 

That is not “half the chance of an Israeli woman” as claimed by Husain.

Regev: “I think you’d find that a large part of the shortages in Gaza hospitals are because the Hamas regime refuses to invest in its own medical facilities for its own people and prefers to invest in violence: digging tunnels, building missiles and so forth. That is the fundamental problem. I agree that on some issues because of our concerns – and I think they’re legitimate – on dual-use items we do place restrictions but the overwhelming problems facing the Gaza medical system is because of Hamas’ own policies.”

Husain then changed the topic of conversation – as will be seen in part two of this post.

Related Articles:

BBC’s Mishal Husain fosters a narrative with airbrushed statistics

‘News at Ten’ continues the BBC’s ‘blockade’ campaign

BBC Radio 4’s selective framing of the “hardships” of Gaza Christians

BBC Radio 4 ‘Today’ Gaza Strip special – part one

BBC Radio 4 ‘Today’ Gaza Strip special – part two

BBC Radio 4 ‘Today’ Gaza Strip special – part three

BBC Radio 4 ‘Today’ Gaza Strip special – part four

BBC Radio 4 ‘Today’ Gaza Strip special – part five

Mishal Husain does ‘life in Gaza’ for BBC One TV

The BBC’s monochrome framing of Gaza’s chronic utilities crisis

The common denominators in the BBC News website’s Gaza reporting

 

No surprises in BBC Radio 4’s leading stories of 2019 forecast

On December 28th BBC Radio 4 aired a programme that was titled “Correspondents Look Ahead” and sub-headed “BBC correspondents forecast the leading news stories for the year ahead”.

“How do you look ahead in a world which constantly takes us by surprise, sometimes shocks us and often makes us ask ‘what happens next?’

Who would have predicted that President Trump would, to use his words, fall in love with the North Korean leader Kim Jung Un, whose country he had threatened to totally destroy? Who could have imagined that a prominent Saudi journalist, Jamal Khashoggi, would be murdered and dismembered in a Saudi Consulate? And, on a happier note, we’re relieved that, as the year ends a climate change conference in Poland did manage to save the Paris pact, and maybe our world.

The BBC’s chief international correspondent, Lyse Doucet talks to correspondents from around the globe about what might happen in the world in 2019.

Guests:

Katya Adler, Europe editor
Yolande Knell, Middle East correspondent
James Robbins, Diplomatic correspondent
Steve Rosenberg, Moscow correspondent
Jon Sopel, North America editor”

The programme’s first thirteen minutes focused mostly on the United States and Russia. The guests were then asked to name a person who may be in the news in 2019 and Yolande Knell (from 14:24) chose Jared Kushner as someone who according to her will be “caught up still in several of the really big news stories that we’re going to carry on talking about”. [emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]

Knell: “…and then most importantly, this historic task that was given to Mr Kushner – an Orthodox Jew, somebody who’s been a family friend of the Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu – nothing less than crafting a peace plan to relaunch negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians.”

After a discussion about Saudi Arabia that included a description of an end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as “Middle East peace”, presenter Lyse Doucet (from 20:53) returned to that topic.

Doucet: “This so-called deal of the century; President Trump’s lawyer Jason Greenblatt is in charge of this new Israeli-Palestinian deal. We expected it to be announced in 2018. Will they announce it in 2019?”

Sopel: “I think they’ve got to announce something otherwise it will look like this has been a lot of huffing and puffing with nothing to show for it. But I mean I think that the difficulties – and particularly the lack of trust that there is on the Palestinian side, that the US are not honest brokers following the move of the American embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem – is profound and therefore I think the scope…everybody knows what the issues are around a Middle East peace. Donald Trump has said vague things like, you know, I don’t care whether it’s a one-state or a two-state solution as long as all sides are happy with it I’ll go with anything. Then he’s kind of talked more about it; well let’s go for a two-state solution. I think the issues have been pretty well ventilated about the kind of sticking points there are. Does Donald Trump have the power to unpick this in a way previous people haven’t? I think it’s a huge question and I, you know, I don’t…nothing I’ve seen so far leads me to think oh yeah well they’ve got this in the bag. But there again Donald Trump is surprising. You know a year ago we didn’t imagine that there would be talks taking place in Singapore with Kim Jong-un.”

Doucet: “Yolande? Will it be announced in 2019?”

Knell: “I’m going to say so. I think there has to be some kind of peace plan after it’s been talked up so much. The latest we’re hearing is it will be in the coming months. It might not be quite on a scale that lines up to the idea of it being a deal of the century but already people here argue that the key steps have been taken by the US that makes some of its intentions clear. There was the US embassy move to Jerusalem, there was aid cut to Palestinian refugees – to UNRWA the agency that deals with them. There have been those warming ties between Israel and the Arab Gulf countries and there’s been lots and lots of diplomatic and financial pressure on the Palestinian Authority and the PLO.”

Interestingly, none of the BBC’s crystal ball gazing correspondents brought up the highly relevant topic of Hamas’ opposition to a negotiated peace deal with Israel or the question of whether or not the Palestinian Authority will survive the coming year in its present format.

While we have no indication as to when this programme was recorded, we can conclude that it was before December 24rd because Lyse Doucet’s next question was:

Doucet: “What if there’s Israeli elections? That will be the priority.”

Of course elections had been announced four days before this broadcast went on air but apparently nobody thought it necessary to edit the programme accordingly.

Knell: “Indeed I mean that is the big complicating factor I think when it comes to the timings because certainly I think Mr Netanyahu is seen as the partner – the Israeli partner – for any kind of a peace deal and he has to have Israeli elections this year. There’s another complicating factor as well where he is facing the possibility of charges in three public corruption cases so something else to look out for in the months to come is a decision by the Attorney General whether he should take the police recommendations to charge Mr Netanyahu and yes, I think this is something that’s all being carefully calibrated behind the scenes in terms of the timing of any announcement.”

With elections set for April 9th it is of course very unlikely that anything will happen on the diplomatic front until at least May, making Knell’s prediction that details of a peace plan will be announced “in the coming months” highly questionable.

Listeners then heard brief references to Yemen and Iran – though solely in relation to what Doucet termed the “landmark nuclear deal” as well as a one-word mention of Syria before attentions turned to Brexit.

Later on in the programme (from 28:09) Doucet asked her guests to name “unsung heroes” – people “who are having an impact in whatever world they inhabit” and Yolande Knell again brought the topic of conversation back to Israel.

Knell: “In terms of new names I mean I’m going to say the Attorney General here in Israel. Avichai Mandelblit. I mean he’s very well-known here but I really think he’s going to be internationally sort of known in the months ahead because he has to make this big decision about whether to charge the prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu in these public corruption cases. And there’s real drama here because Mr Mandelblit was Mr Netanyahu’s cabinet secretary. When he was appointed originally he was accused of being too close to the prime minister and now he could become the man who takes down the prime minister after a decade in power. And if Mr Netanyahu can stay in office until the middle of next year he would actually be the longest-serving prime minister in Israeli history, taking over from the founding father David Ben Gurion so there’s a real legacy issue here. Ahm…the BBC did get to ask Mr Netanyahu about all of this at an end of year journalists’ event and we just got his usual mantra which is nothing will come out of this because there’s nothing in it and I think this is going to be a fascinating year for Israeli politics. I mean certainly that is something that his party supporters believe that this has been some kind of witch hunt and just to go back to Mr Mandelblit, I mean this man many journalists remarked how he’s gone from having red hair to turning grey in the few years he’s been in his job, having to make lots of tough decisions. He already, I think, lost his invitations to go to the prime minister’s luxury private residence in the north of Israel because he charged his wife Sarah in a case about misusing state funds for catering when she has a cook paid for by the state. So I’m foreseeing lots more political drama here in the months ahead.”

Notably the BBC’s Middle East correspondent had no predictions to make concerning the complex situation in Syria, the demonstrations in Iran, the embattled Kurds or Lebanon – which has not had a functioning government for over six months.

All those stories and more lost out to the colour of the Israeli Attorney General’s hair and Mrs Netanyahu’s take-aways.

Our prediction is that the BBC’s disproportionate focus on Israel – often at the expense of audience understanding of the wider Middle East – will continue in 2019.   

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Mystic Atwan’s crystal ball at the service of the BBC

The BBC’s Gaza framing evolves with Jon Donnison

The December 17th afternoon edition of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour‘ included a thirteen-minute item which made use of part of Mishal Husain’s broadcast from the Gaza Strip that listeners to BBC Radio 4 had heard earlier in the day.

Presenter Jon Donnison introduced that item (from 30:06 here) using framing identical to that previously heard in the Radio 4 ‘Today’ programme. [emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]

Donnison: “Gaza’s economic statistics make for grim reading. According to the World Bank 54% of the labour force in the tiny Palestinian territory is unemployed. The figure goes up to 70% for youth unemployment. Around eight out of every ten Gazans are dependent on food aid and around half of Gaza’s population of around 2 million people are registered refugees. Well today the UN is launching an appeal to raise $350 million for Palestinian refugees who it says are in dire humanitarian need. It comes after the United States cut hundreds of millions of dollars of UN funding destined for Palestinians. The economy’s been impacted by a blockade maintained by Israel and Egypt – they say for their security – and incomes have also been affected by Palestinian Authority sanctions on Hamas, the movement which has been in power in Gaza since 2007. Well the BBC’s Mishal Husain visited one of the refugee camps with Matthias Schmale, head of Gaza operations for the UN agency for Palestinian refugees.”

Contrary to Donnison’s claim, the UN appeal for $350 million does not specify “Palestinian refugees” as the beneficiaries.

Listeners then heard Mishal Husain’s ‘Shati walkabout’ interview with Matthias Schmale which did not include any challenge whatsoever to UNRWA’s politicised messaging or any background information concerning that organisation and its mission, Hamas’ financial prioritisation of terrorism over civilian welfare and the effects of the Hamas-Fatah dispute on the Gaza Strip’s economy.

At 36:57 Jon Donnison then introduced an interviewee whose participation was obviously intended to reinforce the BBC’s highly selective framing of the ‘Gaza economic crisis’ story.

Donnison: “Well Sharren Haskel is a member of the Knesset – Israel’s parliament. She’s with the governing Likud party and also sits on the foreign affairs and defence committee. […] Ehm, first of all, how has Israel and Israeli citizen benefited from this blockade?”

Haskel: “Well you know your report actually brings out something that’s quite concerning because it’s very easy – and this is something that’s being repeated time after time – to sort of blame Israel for all the problems. But it’s really sort of letting Hamas off the hook…”

Donnison [interrupts]: “Well we heard…we heard the UN chap there being quite critical of Hamas. I’m asking you how has Israel…how has this blockade helped Israel’s citizens over the past 12 years?”

As Haskel spoke about Hamas’ investment of funding in cross-border tunnels and weapons rather than infrastructure and social services for the citizens of the Gaza Strip, Donnison interrupted her again.

Donnison: “No but you’ve…you’ve made…you’ve made that point several times so I’ll ask you a third time – how has the blockade helped Israelis, particularly those living on the border? Because it hasn’t worked, has it? It hasn’t made them safer. We’ve had three wars in the past 12 years. Thousands and thousands of rockets coming out of Gaza – they’re still coming out. You’d acknowledge that. It’s not worked, has it?”

Haskel: “Well to be honest this is not a blockade. You have Gaza and you have an independent entity. So they really have an autonomy to dictate their own future. They could have turned Gaza into a Singapore. They…”

Donnison [interrupts]: “Yeah, yeah, you’ve made that…you’ve made that point. My point is that as…as you know Israel probably needs to be looking at alternatives to the blockade which isn’t working, is it?”

As is all too frequently documented here, the BBC serially avoids stories which would provide its audiences with understanding of why Israel’s counter-terrorism measures are necessary – for example:

BBC News again ignores abuse of Israeli humanitarian aid to Gaza

BBC ignores another story explaining the need for Gaza border restrictions

Documenting the BBC’s continuing silence on Gaza smuggling

BBC waives another chance to explain why Gaza’s naval blockade exists

BBC News passes up chance to explain why Israeli counter-terrorism measures exist

Had the BBC reported those stories and countless others, Donnison would of course not have been able to promote his facile and obviously politically motivated ‘blockade isn’t working’ theme quite so easily.  

After Haskel had noted the entry of goods into the Gaza Strip, the exit of people, the electricity supplied to Gaza by Israel and other humanitarian efforts, she observed that Egypt’s counter-terrorism measures do not garner the same criticism as Israel’s measures. Donnison interrupted with the following snide remark:

Donnison: “Well I’m speaking to you, aren’t I?”

As Haskel explained the background to Egypt’s policy and the efforts made by Israel to balance humanitarian aid with security, Donnison interrupted her yet again.

Donnison: “There are…there are many Palestinians in Gaza…there are many Palestinians in Gaza – possibly the majority – who are sick and tired of Hamas. But some would say that you are doing little to help ordinary Palestinians. The UN says you are in effect collectively punishing them.”

Listeners were not provided with any evidence to support Donnison’s claim that “many” Gazans and even “possibly a majority” are dissatisfied with Hamas. Haskel pointed out that if that is the case, then it is the residents of the Gaza Strip who have to do something about it.

Donnison: “Did you welcome the US cutting of funding to the UN refugee agency? Did you think that was helpful?”

Haskel replied that she did think it was helpful and began talking about another topic which the BBC serially avoids: Hamas’ manipulation of UNRWA. Donnison promptly interrupted her yet again.

Donnison: “Well can I just…can I just quote you the former IDF spokesperson Peter Lerner saying ‘Less American aid to Palestinians means more violence against Israelis. It isn’t in Israel’s interest.'”

Donnison of course did not bother to inform listeners that in that same Ha’aretz opinion piece, Lerner also highlighted UNRWA’s “many problems, including its politics, determined since 1949 by their one-sided mandate” and the fact that “Palestinian refugee camps have been hotbeds for terrorist activities”: additional topics studiously avoided by the BBC.

Indeed, when Sharren Haskel began talking about the glorification of terrorism in UNRWA school books and the fact that international funding “is going into perpetuating violence and hatred”, Donnison interrupted her twice and closed the interview.

While Jon Donnison’s Middle East politics have never been much of a secret, it is worth noting that the BBC’s framing of its much promoted ‘Gaza economic crisis’ story has now evolved from the notion that the “deplorable” situation in the Gaza Strip is essentially the result of the “blockade” imposed by Israel and Egypt to the notion that the “deplorable” situation in the Gaza Strip is essentially the result of a “blockade” imposed by Israel that “hasn’t worked” and is hence – by implication – unjustified.

Related Articles:

BBC Radio 4 ‘Today’ Gaza Strip special – part three

Revisiting a 2014 BBC report by Jon Donnison

Revisiting a five year-old BBC story

Jon Donnison’s breach of BBC editorial standards unravels

BBC’s Jon Donnison breaches editorial guidelines in straw-clutching Tweet

 

BBC Radio 4 ‘Today’ Gaza Strip special – part four

As we saw earlier, promotion of the notion that the economic and humanitarian situation in the Gaza Strip is attributable to counter-terrorism measures imposed by Israel was a major theme in the first half of the December 17th ‘Today’ programme live broadcast from the Gaza Strip. 

Listeners had already heard that theme repeatedly promoted by presenter Mishal Husain and the BBC’s economics correspondent Darshini David as well as by a World Bank official and an UNRWA official.

Audiences had however heard nothing of the Hamas terrorism which has made counter-terrorism measures in the form of restrictions on the movement of people and dual-use goods necessary and the very relevant issue of Hamas’ prioritisation of terrorism over the well-being of Gaza’s civilian population had gone unmentioned. Likewise the topic of “Palestinian Authority sanctions on Hamas” was not explained and so listeners were unable to comprehend what aspects of the situation in the Gaza Strip (e.g. electricity shortagesshortages of medicinesunpaid wages) have been brought about by internal Palestinian disputes rather than by Israeli actions.

Following an interview with UNRWA’s representative in the Gaza Strip, Mishal Husain handed the broadcast back to Darshini David (from 1:23:24 here). [emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]

Husain: “Meanwhile Darshini’s been looking at the wider state of the economy here [Gaza].”

David: […] “Just to underline how painful the situation is, the average inhabitant in Gaza has seen their income shrink by about 25% over the last decade. Now earlier this year the International Monetary Fund said that deepening rifts and surging violence in Gaza threatened prospects for peace while the economic outlook is increasingly untenable.”

David did not bother to clarify what sort of “prospects for peace” there can be with a terrorist organisation committed to the destruction of Israel. She then brought in a third expert opinion to shore up the BBC’s homogeneous messaging.

David: “Well Robert Tchaidze is the IMF representative for West Bank and Gaza. I asked him for his latest assessment of the situation.”

Tchaidze: “It’s very hard to understand how difficult the situation is. There’s humanitarian crisis unfolding that has been happening for quite some time and we do see it in the economic numbers. GDP declined in the first half of the year by 6% compared to the same period in 2017 and it is difficult to imagine that things will get much different in the rest of the year. The Q3 unemployment was 55% and youth unemployment remains very high at 70%. There may be some marginal improvement at the end of the year when fuel started to come in but it’s difficult to expect some major turn around.”

David then made an opaque reference to “budget cuts” without clarifying that she is in fact referring to pressure put on Hamas by the rival Palestinian Authority.

David: “Of course underpinning the latest crisis has been a reduction in money from aid and indeed budget cuts as well. What does the IMF see as being crucial here to turn the situation around?”

Having stated that “there are no quick fixes”,Tchaidze stated that “any lasting economic solution requires a political solution and only then you can put in place policies that would work effectively.”

Ignoring the eleven year-long Hamas-Fatah rift which has had very prominent effects on the Gaza Strip economy, David steered her interviewee towards the required messaging.

David: “Indeed…ehm…many others have suggested opening up access to Israel both for goods and for some workers as well but that creates all sorts of security concerns – it’s not viable at the moment, is it?”

Interestingly, none of the interviewers or interviewees in this programme raised the possibility of opening up access to Egypt for goods and workers. Equally remarkable is the fact that at no point in the entire programme were listeners given any information concerning the amounts of goods which do enter – and exit – the Gaza Strip.

Tchaidze: “We too…it is our view that the economic situation can be…cannot be turned around if it remains to be so restrictive in terms of movement of goods and labour and capital. But that requires some sort of political solution that would guarantee security.”

David then went on to promote the notion that terrorism and violence are the inevitable result of unemployment.

David: “And going forward, how concerned are you by the situation ahead because – as you say – we have a crisis here in humanitarian terms and it is affecting in particular the young and that means rising tensions.”

After Tchaidze had outlined the difficulties of “coming up with a precise forecast” David closed the interview.

As we see, by the time listeners were half-way into this programme they had heard three remarkably uniform opinions from officials from UNRWA, the World Bank and the IMF. They had not however heard any differing views of the notion that the solution to Gaza’s economic troubles is “opening up access to Israel both for goods and for some workers” and they were told absolutely nothing about relevant factors other than Israeli counter-terrorism measures.

In other words, the BBC took a complicated topic and reduced it to a simplistic politically motivated narrative by airbrushing a plethora of relevant factors from audience view.

Related Articles:

BBC Radio 4 ‘Today’ Gaza Strip special – part one

BBC Radio 4 ‘Today’ Gaza Strip special – part two

BBC Radio 4 ‘Today’ Gaza Strip special – part three

One to listen out for tomorrow on BBC Radio 4

Mishal Husain does ‘life in Gaza’ for BBC One TV

Documenting BBC amplification of an UNRWA campaign