BBC News inverts cause and effect in US aid story headline

Readers may recall that last month we noted the absence of any BBC coverage of a story concerning the Palestinian Authority’s refusal to accept a category of US aid.

“The Palestinian Authority has informed US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo that it will no longer accept any American security aid dollars as of the beginning of February, in a development seen as a blow to Israeli-Palestinian security ties.

PA Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah sent a letter to Pompeo on December 26, 2018, telling him that the PA would reject US financial support because of a new American law known as the Anti-Terrorism Cooperation Act.

Under the law, American courts will have the jurisdiction to rule on cases against any foreign party accused of supporting terrorism that accepts US aid. In practice, that means American victims of Palestinian terrorist attacks would be able to file lawsuits against the PA and PLO in US courts for compensation — possibly in the hundreds of millions — if the Ramallah-based body accepts even one penny of American aid.

“The Government of Palestine respectfully informs the United States Government that, as of January 31st, 2019, it fully disclaims and no longer wishes to accept any form of assistance referenced in ATCA…the Government of Palestine unambiguously makes the choice not to accept such assistance,” Hamdallah wrote in the letter, adding that the PA would reconsider its decision if ATCA were changed in a way that would protect it from lawsuits in American courts.”

On February 1st the BBC News website got round to reporting that story in an article by Jerusalem correspondent Yolande Knell which was presented to audiences with a headline that clearly leads readers to believe that the initiative to stop the aid came from the US administration: “US stops all aid to Palestinians in West Bank and Gaza”.

The first five paragraphs of Knell’s report gave readers no indication whatsoever of the fact that the US aid was stopped because the Palestinian Authority told the US Secretary of State that it refused to accept the funds.

“The US has confirmed it stopped all aid to Palestinians in the occupied West Bank and Gaza, in a step linked to new anti-terrorism legislation.

More than $60m (£46m) in annual funds for the Palestinian security services has now ended, and – while Israel has backed some previous cuts in US aid for Palestinians – officials have expressed concern about this move.

It is thought that co-operation with Israeli forces, which helps keep relative calm in the West Bank, could be affected.

The Anti-Terrorism Clarification Act (ATCA), passed by Congress and then signed into law by President Donald Trump last year, has just come into force.

This allows Americans to sue those receiving foreign aid from their country in US courts over alleged complicity in “acts of war”.”

Only in paragraphs six and seven were readers informed that:

“At a news conference on Thursday, senior official Saeb Erekat said the Palestinian Authority (PA) had sent a letter to the US state department asking them to end funding because of a fear of lawsuits.

“We do not want to receive any money if it will cause us to appear before the courts,” he said.”

Knell went on to tell readers that:

“The PA denies Israeli accusations that it incites militant attacks.”

With BBC audiences serially denied any meaningful reporting on the subject of incitement and glorification of terrorism by Palestinian officials and with serious coverage of the issue of Palestinian Authority payments to terrorists and their families very few and far between, readers are of course unlikely to be able to judge for themselves whether or not that PA denial holds water.

Related Articles:

The story about US aid to Palestinians that the BBC chose not to report

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Weekend long read

1) The ITIC has a report on the latest activities of the London-based Hamas operative Muhammad Sawalha.

“Given the absence of effective British regulations and legislation, in ITIC assessment Britain continues to serve as the European center for Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas activities, although the activists in Britain operate carefully. They operate in two main spheres, waging the battle for the hearts and minds of British Muslims (spreading the Muslim Brotherhood’s radical Islam in the local Muslim communities) and carrying out anti-Israeli activities (organizing flotillas, spreading propaganda rejecting the existence of the State of Israel, promoting the BDS campaign against Israel and waging anti-Israel lawfare).”

2) Udi Dekel analyses the current state of Palestinian politics as part of the latest INSS Strategic Survey.

“The Palestinian political system is currently mired in a deep crisis owing to a host of intertwined and mutually reinforcing factors. The focal point is the crisis pertaining to the Gaza Strip and the serious deterioration there over the past year. In the current reality, there is no magic formula on the horizon to dispel the political, security, and humanitarian problems of the Strip and counter their negative implications for Israel’s relations with the Palestinian Authority (PA). The Palestinian political system is keenly mindful of “the day after Abbas” (Abu Mazen), which has paralyzed its ability to make critical decisions. Another factor in the crisis is the unbridgeable gap between Fatah and Hamas and their inability to promote reconciliation. Also relevant is the Palestinians’ lack of confidence in the Trump administration, after it overturned a number of fundamental premises of the traditional United States approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Against this background, the chances of promoting a political initiative between the Palestinian system and the State of Israel are extremely slim and will remain so, even after the Trump administration places its “deal of the century” on the table.”

3) Writing at The Hill, Emanuele Ottolenghi of the FDD discusses sanctions against Iran’s Mahan Air.

“Since the beginning of Syria’s civil war, Iranian commercial airlines have sustained the dictatorship of Bashar Al Assad and the forces waging a scorched-earth campaign on his behalf. Mahan Air has been at the forefront of this effort, prompting the Treasury Department to impose sanctions on it in 2011. Until recently, Mahan and its business partners faced few material costs as a result of sanctions. Its aircraft continued to land not only in Damascus but also at airports across Europe, the Middle East, and Asia. Then, last year, Treasury changed tactics. Rather than just hitting the airlines with sanctions, the Department began to punish the ground services providers who facilitate the airline’s commercial operations across the globe.”

4) NGO Monitor has published a report on the NGO that is the “Foundation for the UN BDS Blacklist”.

“The allegations published by Who Profits claiming the illegality and immorality of various business activities are echoed uncritically by UN bodies and officials and international NGOs as part of their politicized agendas. UN bodies – notably the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) and the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) – are relying significantly on Who Profits in preparing a UN “blacklist” of companies allegedly doing business in settlements. The misleading claims are also regularly cited by corporate social responsibility (CSR) firms in their ratings systems of company compliance with human rights to justify biased reporting and illegitimate divestment.”

 

 

 

The story about US aid to Palestinians that the BBC chose not to report

One of the stories the BBC chose to cover widely last year was that of cuts in direct and indirect financial assistance to Palestinians by the US administration.

BBC News report on US aid cut excludes relevant context

Documenting BBC amplification of an UNRWA campaign

However BBC audiences have to date not seen any reporting on a recent story that also concerns US aid.

“The Palestinian Authority has informed US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo that it will no longer accept any American security aid dollars as of the beginning of February, in a development seen as a blow to Israeli-Palestinian security ties.

PA Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah sent a letter to Pompeo on December 26, 2018, telling him that the PA would reject US financial support because of a new American law known as the Anti-Terrorism Cooperation Act.

Under the law, American courts will have the jurisdiction to rule on cases against any foreign party accused of supporting terrorism that accepts US aid. In practice, that means American victims of Palestinian terrorist attacks would be able to file lawsuits against the PA and PLO in US courts for compensation — possibly in the hundreds of millions — if the Ramallah-based body accepts even one penny of American aid.

“The Government of Palestine respectfully informs the United States Government that, as of January 31st, 2019, it fully disclaims and no longer wishes to accept any form of assistance referenced in ATCA…the Government of Palestine unambiguously makes the choice not to accept such assistance,” Hamdallah wrote in the letter, adding that the PA would reconsider its decision if ATCA were changed in a way that would protect it from lawsuits in American courts. […]

In the past year, the Trump administration has sent $61 million to the PA in security aid, a State Department official said in an email.”

As can be seen in an interestingly worded Tweet, the BBC’s US State Department correspondent has been aware of that story for several days.

Nevertheless, BBC audiences will find no mention of the PA’s refusal to accept US aid on either the United States or Palestinian Territories pages of the BBC News website.

A year ago, in January 2018, BBC World Service radio 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.

Apparently the BBC does not see the Palestinian Authority’s refusal to accept millions of dollars of US assistance unless an American law is changed in a similar light.

 

BBC Radio 4’s ‘Today’ perpetuates framing of rioting and elections

As we have seen, a significant proportion of the January 18th edition of BBC Radio 4’s ‘Today’ programme was given over to two items relating to Israel and the Gaza Strip. The second of those items was discussed here:

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

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

We have also looked at one aspect of presenter Mishal Husain’s introductions to both those items:

BBC’s Mishal Husain fosters a narrative with airbrushed statistics

The first item began (from 37:13 here) with an opaque reference to a new political party running in the upcoming general election in Israel – but without listeners being told even the party leader’s name – and yet more euphemistic portrayal of the ‘Great Return March’ violent rioting as “protests”.

Husain: “A former Israeli military chief has launched a bid to challenge Benjamin Netanyahu in the elections scheduled for April. They’ll come a year after weekly Palestinians protests at the boundary fence between Israel and Gaza began. The UN says that last year 295 Palestinians were killed and 29,000 injured by Israeli forces in the West Bank and Gaza – the highest annual figure since 2014. Fifteen Israelis were killed in Palestinian attacks in the same period. Tom Bateman, our Middle East correspondent, is on the line from Jerusalem and in this coming election campaign, Tom, how much will relations with Palestinians and security feature?”

As BBC reporting on past Israeli elections shows, the corporation has repeatedly promoted the notion that the ‘peace process’ was the most important issue facing the Israeli electorate even when that was patently not the case.

“The most outstanding characteristic of BBC reporting on the 2015 Israeli election from day one was the insistence of its journalists on framing the story from the angle of its effect on negotiations with the Palestinians – despite the fact that other concerns were much higher up on voters’ lists of priorities. So, whilst BBC audiences heard or read occasional brief references to ‘economic issues’, ‘the cost of living’ and ‘house prices’, they were never actually provided with any in-depth background information on those topics and hence were incapable of appreciating why – for example – a previously non-existent party (Kulanu) won ten seats in the incoming Knesset.”

If this item is anything to go by, the BBC has obviously not abandoned that redundant framing. A prominent politics journalist at the Jerusalem Post notes that:

“The Palestinians, peace talks, and settlements seem to be almost entirely irrelevant to this election season.”

Bateman began by airbrushing Hamas’ violent take-over of the Gaza Strip nearly 12 years ago and whitewashing the background to “the conflict between Israel and Hamas”.

Bateman: “Well it will play a role…ah…but I think that the degree to which it’s decisive or significant will very much depend on what happens really on the ground, particularly in relation to the conflict between Israel and Hamas which runs Gaza. And also in terms of the sort of rhetorical situation that you’ll hear Mr Netanyahu talk about a lot in terms of the most strategic threat that he sees which is from Iranian entrenchment, Iranian forces inside…ah…neighbouring Syria. Now on that front there’s been, you know, a significant move in the fact that President Trump has said that US troops will be withdrawn. That is very concerning for Israel but you’re not gonna hear it publicly from Mr Netanyahu who has made a relationship with President Trump key in a priority to his…ehm…diplomatic focus. In terms of what the polls are saying, well despite the situation that we’ve had with Mr Netanyahu; people in his right-wing coalition trying to portray him as being too weak when it comes to Gaza – the more hawkish elements of his cabinet and his defence minister Avigdor Lieberman resigned late last year over this – despite all that the polls still suggest his Likud party’s on course to be again the biggest party, could even gain seats and that it is likely then that he will be able to put together another right-wing coalition.”

Husain: “And on this point about the conflict with Hamas I mean those casualty figures, a big part of them is what’s been going on in Gaza and it…you know you might say it can’t go on like that, it’s not sustainable and yet it has for many months and we reported from there last month.”

Failing to clarify that “the health ministry in Gaza” is the same terror group behind the weekly violent rioting at the border, Bateman went on to make a context-free reference to an earlier incident.

Bateman: “Yeah and I think the protests at the fence every Friday show few signs of going away. Just last Friday another 14 year-old boy was shot and died later of his wounds according to the health ministry in Gaza. However, the numbers have reduced since the peak of the protests in the spring and summer of last year.”

What Bateman and Husain describe as “protests” included the following on that day:  

“About 13,000 Palestinians participated (10,000 last week). The demonstrators gathered at a number of locations along the border. During the events there was a high level of violence, which included burning tires as well as throwing stones, IEDs and hand grenades at IDF soldiers and at the security fence. In the northern Gaza Strip there were at least three attempts to break through the fence into Israeli territory. In one instance IDF forces fired shots at suspicious Palestinians who fled back into the Gaza Strip. One IDF soldier was slightly injured by a stone.”

Downplaying of the violence that has included hundreds of incidents of rocket attacks against Israeli civilians, Bateman continued:

Bateman: “There’s been a series of military escalations between Hamas and Israel. Now whether or not that will flare up again I think could have a significant impact on the election process. It may conversely be inspired to some degree by the fact that there are elections in Israel. But what the Israeli prime minister or the tack he has chosen is to try to take a bit of political damage from his own right-wing…from the more hawkish elements and try to contain that situation. That is in the form of a very indirect arrangement brokered by the Egyptians, by the Qataris and by the UN in which the Israelis effectively asked for calm on the perimeter fence. In return Hamas – which is under significant pressure financially because of the Israeli and Egyptian blockade, because of sanctions by the internationally recognised Palestinian leadership too…eh…there are suitcases full of cash – millions of dollars – coming from Qatar into Gaza to pay civil servants’ salaries and also to prevent a collapse of the electricity supply in Gaza. Now that is being permitted by Benjamin Netanyahu. The third payment of $50 million was postponed last week which shows I think just how very fragile this sort of uneasy truce is.”

Bateman failed to inform listeners that those “civil servants” are employees of the Hamas terror organisation or that the reason for the postponement of that “third payment” was a rise in violence that included more rocket attacks that went unreported by the BBC.

While the BBC has not yet produced much reporting on the upcoming election in Israel its framing of that topic so far is just as inflexible and unhelpful to audiences as its framing of almost ten months of weekly violent rioting and border infiltrations which it persists in portraying as “protests”.

Related Articles:

Reviewing the BBC’s record of reporting on Israeli elections

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

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

BBC’s Mishal Husain fosters a narrative with airbrushed statistics

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

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.   

Related Articles:

BBC Watch prompts correction to error on Israeli elections

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

Weekend long read

1) The ITIC has published an assessment of “The impact of the withdrawal of the American troops from Syria on the campaign against ISIS“.

“From a military perspective, the end of American activity in Syria is liable to be detrimental to the campaign currently being waged by the Kurdish forces east of the Euphrates against last important ISIS-controlled area in Syria. The blow is expected to be particularly hard if America stops its aerial support to the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). However, in ITIC assessment, the most serious impact of the American pullout is expected to be its influence on morale and the political situation: the Kurds, who control extensive areas in the northeastern part of the country, feel betrayed and their cohesiveness may be harmed. Thus they can be expected to look for new strategic support, especially from the Syrian regime and Russia. The Kurds’ motivation to continue fighting ISIS may be reduced and they may retreat to the heart of their area of control in northeastern Syria and stop clearing the lower Euphrates Valley of ISIS fighters.”

2) Jonathan Spyer takes a look at the Turkish aspect of the withdrawal of US forces from Syria.

“The contradiction between the western attempt to appease Turkey, and the tentatively emergent strategy vis-a-vis Syria had been apparent for some months. It now looked set to be resolved – one way or the other.

If the US indeed now follows through with the rapid withdrawal of the American military presence in Syria in its entirety, as a number of news outlets have reported and the President appears to have confirmed, then we have an answer. It means that the US has indeed blinked first, and is set on reversing course in Syria – by embarking on a hurried exit from the country. This will be interpreted by all sides as a strategic defeat, an abandonment under pressure of allies, and a debacle.”

3) MEMRI reports on recent criticism of Hizballah in Lebanon.

“Since the parliamentary elections in May 2018, Lebanese Prime Minister and Al-Mustaqbal movement leader Sa’d Al-Hariri has been trying to form a national unity government incorporating all the major political forces in Lebanon, including Hizbullah. His efforts have so far been unsuccessful, however, partly due to steep conditions presented by Hizbullah regarding the government’s makeup, mainly its demand to appoint a Sunni minister from the March 8 Forces, the faction led by Hizbullah. […]

This political crisis, which has been ongoing for over six months, has evoked furious responses from Lebanese politicians and columnists, who accuse Hizbullah of serving Iranian interests at the expense of Lebanon’s, and also of using its weapons to take over Lebanon and of subordinating it to Iranian patronage. The bleak political climate even cast a pall over Lebanon’s 75th Independence Day, marked on November 22, with some calling not to celebrate it because Lebanon is not truly independent. Criticism was also directed at President Michel ‘Aoun and at his son-in-law, Foreign Minister Gebral Bassil, both of them Hizbullah allies, for allowing Hizbullah to effectively control the country.”

4) At the JCPA Amb. Alan Baker discusses “Electing the Palestinian Attorney-General to the ICC Nominations Committee for Judges“.

“The election of the Palestinian Attorney-General, Dr. Ahmad Barrak, to serve as a member of the “Advisory Committee on Nominations” of judges of the International Criminal Court, if it were not so serious, could be seen as comical. It cannot but invoke the ancient Latin maxim “ovem lupo commitere,” or in its literal and colloquial version “to set the wolf to guard the sheep.”

This perhaps sums up the acute absurdity to which respected international institutions in the international community, and particularly the United Nations and the International Criminal Court, have descended. Sadly, they have permitted themselves to be abused and manipulated by an irresponsible Palestinian leadership, intent on hijacking international organizations for obvious and blatant political purposes. 

However, the election of a Palestinian representative to the judges’ Nominations Committee, as unwise and ill-advised as it may be, is indicative of a far wider and more serious problem facing the International Criminal Court, with the admission of what purports to be “The State of Palestine” as a party to its Statute.”

 

Yolande Knell’s annual politicisation of Christmas on Radio 4

As usual during the festive season, BBC content on and around Christmas Eve included several politicised reports from Yolande Knell about Christmas celebrations in Palestinian Authority controlled areas.

Listeners to BBC Radio 4’s ‘Sunday’ on December 23rd heard a report (from 10:00 here) about St Nicholas Day which, according to presenter Emily Buchanan “is still widely celebrated and nowhere more so than among the Christians of the Palestinian town of Beit Jala.”

During that report listeners were told by Yolande Knell that:

Knell: “Over the centuries some town’s people claim that St Nicholas has protected them, including in 1948 during the fighting that followed the creation of the State of Israel and the violence of two Palestinian uprisings.”

Although her examples “over the centuries” were limited to events connected to Israel, Knell did not bother to inform listeners that during the Second Intifada Palestinian terrorists used Beit Jala as a position from which to repeatedly attack Israeli civilians in Jerusalem’s Gilo neighbourhood with gunfire and mortars.

In addition to Mishal Husain’s politicised report from the Gaza Strip, listeners to BBC Radio 4’s ‘Today’ programme on December 24th heard a report (from 35:41 here) from Yolande Knell in Bethlehem. [emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]

Justin Webb: “Christian pilgrims from around the world will be attending a Christmas Eve mass at Bethlehem’s Church of the Nativity today, built on the site where they believe Jesus was born. Yolande Knell is our correspondent there. What kind of numbers, Yolande?”

Having stated that “thousands of people” were expected to visit, Knell went on:

Knell: “Tourism here has recovered from a big fall that really began in late 2015 after that series of stabbings and car-ramming attacks. According to the Palestinian tourism ministry this has been the busiest year on record for Bethlehem…”

Later on Webb asked:

Webb: “How easy is it for people to get to it if they want to?”

Knell: “Well on Christmas it does become much easier but of course…ehm…for the Palestinians this is one of their great problems especially when it comes to developing tourism as they’re very reliant on Israel…”

Having reported that Bethlehem’s hotels are fully booked, Knell went on:

Knell: “Things are pretty bleak politically for Palestinians. But the message from officials and from regular people alike is that after some tough years – remember last year there was a lot of unrest that marred the Christmas celebrations, led to a lot of parties being cancelled, after President Trump decided to recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital without recognising Palestinian claims to the east of the city: the part that they want as the capital of their promised future state.”

Similar messaging from Knell was heard by listeners to BBC Radio 4’s ‘World at One’ on December 24th (from 6:04 here) in a news bulletin.

Newsreader: “Thousands of pilgrims have joined Palestinians in Bethlehem for the start of Christmas Eve celebrations. A parade was held in Manger Square with carols sung in Arabic played through speakers. Our Middle East correspondent Yolande Knell sent this report from Bethlehem.”

Having described that parade, Knell told listeners that:

Knell: “Tourism here is often hit by flare-ups in violence in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Last year many parties were cancelled after President Trump recognised Jerusalem as Israel’s capital without acknowledging Palestinian claims to the eastern part of the city which they want as the capital of their promised future state. This year the political outlook remains bleak but the message from Palestinian officials and locals alike is that this should be a joyful Christmas.”

As documented here last December – 2017’s non-religious festivities were cancelled on the orders of Palestinian officials.

“Church and political officials in Bethlehem and Gaza canceled all non-religious Christmas celebrations in protest over the recent decision by US President Donald Trump to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

“We decided to limit the Christmas celebrations to the religious rituals as an expression of rejection and anger and sympathy with the victims who fell in the recent protests,” said Bethlehem’s mayor, Anton Salman. […]

Christmas celebrations were restricted to religious rituals across the Palestinian territories in protest, the official Palestine TV reported Monday.”

As ever Yolande Knell’s annual Christmas messaging obscures Palestinian actions which affect seasonal tourism in the Bethlehem area. While listeners heard of a “series of stabbings and car-rammings” in 2015 and that tourism is “often hurt by flare-ups in violence”, they were not told who instigated those events, just as they were not informed who ordered the cancellation of Christmas parties last year or of the terrorism launched from Beit Jala in the Second Intifada.

Related Articles:

The BBC’s Christmas message: Trump ruined it – part one

The BBC’s Christmas message: Trump ruined it – part two

Documenting five years of BBC politicisation of Christmas

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

 

 

 

 

 

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 three

In two previous posts concerning the December 17th ‘Today’ programme live broadcast from the Gaza Strip (here and here) we saw how well-worn BBC themes were promoted in that programme.

In a third ten minute-long segment (from 1:16:27 here) listeners once again heard from representatives of international organisations rather than the “people on both sides of the divide” as promised by presenter Mishal Husain.

The two themes of blaming the economic and humanitarian situation in the Gaza Strip on counter-terrorism measures employed by Israel (with a cursory mention of Egypt) and providing unquestioning and context-free promotion of UNRWA were repeated in that segment too.

Husain began with misrepresentation of a press release put out by UNOCHA, claiming that its appeal for funding is intended to provide aid to the entire population of the Gaza Strip. [emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]

Husain: “As the United Nations appeals for funds to support 2 million Palestinians who live here [Gaza] saying that living conditions are deplorable, the UK has today pledged £5 million in emergency food aid.”

The UNOCHA statement actually describes the scope of its appeal thus:

“The 2019 HRP appeals for $350 million to provide basic food, protection, health care, shelter, water and sanitation to 1.4 million Palestinians, who have been identified as most in need of humanitarian interventions in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, including East Jerusalem.”

In other words, Husain once again misled BBC audiences by claiming that all 2 million residents of the Gaza Strip are in need of foreign aid. She continued with repetition of previously heard messaging.

Husain: “But the dire economic reality is taking immense toll on people’s lives. Unemployment is at 50%. Even those who have jobs often receive only half their salary. The economy has been impacted by a blockade maintained by Israel and Egypt citing security reasons. Incomes have also been affected by Palestinian Authority sanctions on Hamas which has been in full control of Gaza since 2007. In recent weeks aid from Qatar has been making a difference but it will only last till April.”

As was the case in the first hour of the programme, listeners were told 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. Once again the very relevant issue of Hamas’ prioritisation of terrorism over the well-being of Gaza’s civilian population went unmentioned. Likewise the topic of “Palestinian Authority sanctions on Hamas” was not expanded and so listeners were unable to comprehend what aspects of the situation in the Gaza Strip (e.g. electricity shortages, shortages of medicines, unpaid wages) have been brought about by internal Palestinian disputes rather than by Israeli actions.

Husain similarly failed to tell listeners why there are still Palestinian refugees in a place that has been ruled by Palestinians for over 13 years before re-introducing her next guest.

Husain: “More than half of Gaza’s population are registered refugees and Matthias Schmale – head of Gaza operations for UNRWA, the UN agency for Palestinian refugees – took me to see one of the eight camps in this small stretch of land.”

During Husain’s walkabout with Schmale listeners heard that “more than 90% of the population don’t have access to safe drinking water” and that “the desalination system in Gaza has broken down” because of “electricity”. No effort was made to clarify the full background to those statements or to explain that – as the BBC knows – the electricity crisis in the Gaza Strip (and resulting problems with water and sewage) has nothing to do with “the blockade”.

Listeners heard more repetition of this programme’s prime messaging.

Husain: “When you say that people are living in poverty, why is that?”

Schmale: “The answer to that is twelve years of blockade. We live in a place that is very small; 40 kms by 6 to 12 kms in width and there’s almost 2 million people living in this constrained space and it’s completely sealed off from the rest of the world.”

Husain: “Hamas is governing Gaza. Shouldn’t it be providing for people here rather than you?”

Schmale: “Yes, I think the responsibility of host authorities is to cater to essentials – provide essential services like electricity, like water, like proper sewage and I think the fact that much of that is non-functional is a reflection of ten years of failed government by the Hamas authorities.”

That of course would have been the ideal moment for Mishal Husain to explain to listeners how Hamas has spent millions of dollars on the construction of cross-border attack tunnels and other terror infrastructure but instead listeners heard about “warm winter sunshine”. Husain likewise avoided the highly relevant topic of Hamas terrorism in the part of her conversation with Schmale concerning fishing.

Husain: “There’s a young man I can see in a small boat just beneath us by the water’s edge. What about fishing? Can people make a living from fishing?”

Schmale: “One of the constant debates with Israel is the fishing zone because in order to fish for safe fish that are not contaminated by the water we see coming out of that pipe you need to be a distance out and they say…”

Husain: “How far are they allowed to go out?”

Schmale: “At the moment 3 miles and 3 miles is not enough.”

Husain then did another pointless tick of the impartiality box which contributed nothing to audience understanding.

Husain: “Israel says the blockade is maintained for security reasons and indeed Egypt also blockades on Gaza’s other border.”

Husain and Schmale visited an UNRWA food distribution centre in the Shati refugee camp.

Schmale: “About 60% of the million people that get food from us [are] living with abject poverty as we call it. That means on about a dollar – just a bit more than a dollar – a day. So about 600 thousand people really depend on this food. They would not survive if they didn’t have this.” […]

Husain: “Who pays for all of this food?”

Schmale: “The biggest donor until the beginning of this year was the United States. For Gaza we need roughly $110 million per year. Last year – 2017 – we got 90 million of 110 million from the United States. 80 million of that was food. As a result of their dramatic cut in the beginning of the year, we ran out of money for this at the end of June. We were only able to continue it and what you’re seeing today because the rest of the organisation [the UN] gave us an advance. We took a loan.” […]

Husain: “So what are you going to do in the long run?”

Schmale: “My hope is that appeals to the international community to prevent Gaza sliding into a Yemen-style situation of massive hunger will be heard.”

Remarkably, listeners were then told that the situation in the Gaza Strip is not connected to armed conflict.

Husain: “You’ve worked all over the world. What do you think of what you see here? How does it compare with what you see elsewhere?”

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.”

The interview closed with the repetition of a statement from Schmale that had already been heard earlier on in the programme.

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 did not hear any Israeli response to the idea that Gaza residents should and could be allowed to work in Israel “with reasonable safety” – despite the past history of dozens of terror attacks perpetrated by workers from the Gaza Strip.

With UNRWA’s politicised messaging having gone completely unchallenged and with no effort having been made to provide vital background information concerning that organisation and its mission, Hamas terrorism, Hamas’ financial prioritisation of terrorism over civilian welfare and the Hamas-Fatah split, Husain then handed over to the BBC’s economic correspondent who – as we shall see in the next post – interviewed yet another person who does not fall into the “ordinary people” category.  

Related Articles:

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

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

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

 

 

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

As we saw in part one of this post, one of the themes promoted during the first fourteen minutes of a live broadcast from the Gaza Strip in the December 17th edition of the ‘Today’ programme was the claim that the “deplorable” situation in the Gaza Strip is essentially the result of the “blockade” imposed by Israel and Egypt. 

An additional theme which is not new to BBC reporting and was again promoted in this broadcast is that of US cuts in donations to UNRWA – but, as ever, without any explanation of the issues at the root of the long-standing debate surrounding the UN agency that are vital to proper understanding of that story.

The second part of the ‘Today’ programme’s live broadcast from the Gaza Strip (from 36:07 here) was introduced by Mishal Husain with a reference to an announcement from the UK government mentioned earlier by the BBC’s economics correspondent Darshini David. [emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]

Husain: “The government has announced £5 million worth of emergency food aid for Palestinians in Gaza as the UN appeals for funds to prevent 2 million people who live here slipping deeper into poverty.”

In contrast to Husain’s claim that all two million residents of the Gaza Strip are living in poverty, the UN office for the coordination of humanitarian affairs reported in June of this year that 53% of the territory’s residents were actually defined as such. Husain then introduced her Jerusalem based colleague Yolande Knell.

Husain: “The economic position in Gaza has long been dire, Yolande, is international concern now growing?”

Knell: “It does seem to be and there is this report that’s been published by the UN humanitarian office here talking about how there are deepening needs among Palestinians. But what’s really interesting is the fact it’s launching this appeal for $350 million today for humanitarian relief for Palestinians but it says that it’s actually targeting fewer people – half a million fewer – than it targeted here just in this last year. And the report is very frank about how it is because of record low funding and of course over the past year what’s happened is the US has slashed its funding to the Palestinians including to the UN agency that provides services to 5 million refugees across the Middle East. It has promised $365 million but ended up paying just $60 million and on top of that it cut aid – 200 million – to development projects. And that really links to this other announcement that we’re seeing this morning from the UN agency for Palestinian refugees – UNRWA – where the UK’s Department for International Development saying it’s going to give this money – £5 million – to provide emergency food to over 60,000 Palestinian refugees in Gaza at risk of hunger.”

Later on in the same programme (2:06:21 here) listeners heard a news bulletin which also included a report from Knell.

Newsreader: “The United Nations is launching an appeal to raise £280 million for people living in the Palestinian territories. It says that many are in critical humanitarian need after a big drop in funding from the United States. Here’s our Middle East correspondent Yolande Knell.”

Knell: “This report describes a worsening situation in the Palestinian territories. In Gaza health services have been overwhelmed by casualties from protests along the perimeter fence with Israel. But the UN humanitarian affairs office says that next year it will target just 1.4 million people here – half a million fewer than this year. Its local head points to record low funding and what he calls attacks to delegitimise humanitarian action. This year as tensions grew with Palestinian leaders, Washington cut hundreds of millions of dollars in aid for development and for the UN agency for Palestinian refugees, UNRWA. Through an emergency appeal much of UNRWA’s deficit has been filled and today the UK says it will provide new funds for over 60,000 refugees in Gaza at risk of hunger.”

The UNOCHA press release on which this news item is based can be seen here.

As is usual in BBC content we see uncritical amplification of UN claims and campaigns with no effort made to provide audiences with background information concerning questions such as why there are “5 million [Palestinian] refugees across the Middle East”, why people living under the rule of the Palestinian Authority and Hamas are still classified as refugees or what were the reasons behind the US administration’s decision to cut donations to UNRWA.

Entirely predictably Yolande Knell’s reporting failed to inform BBC audiences that the sum cited in the appeal launched by UNOCHA and the PA’s Minister for Social Development (who Knell apparently ‘forgot’ to mention) is similar to that allocated by the Palestinian Authority in its 2018 budget to payments to convicted terrorists and terrorists’ families. As PMW points out:

“Instead of the UN asking donor countries to contribute $350 million to provide for Palestinian humanitarian needs, the UN should be joining the unequivocal call from many governments that the PA immediately stop squandering the $355 million dollars of its own funds on its “Pay for Slay” policy that incentivizes and rewards terrorism, and instead spend that money on needy Palestinians.

Were the UN to adopt this basic and elementary moral requirement, it would strengthen the international forces that are mobilizing against the PA’s terror support.  

Abolishing the “Pay for Slay” policy would re-open the door for the PA to receive the approximately $215 million dollars of US aid to the PA withheld by the Taylor Force Act. Abolishing the PA’s “Pay for Slay” policy would also avert the imminent deduction by Israel of the PA’s expenditure on the salary program from the tax revenues Israel collects and transfers to the PA. Moreover, it would ensure that the PA would not lose its Australian funding and part of its funding from The Netherlands.”

The story told to BBC Radio 4 audiences, however, excludes any mention of the Palestinian Authority and Hamas shared priority of funding and rewarding terror over meeting the needs of their people. Instead Yolande Knell and her colleagues prefer to promote a simplistic story about poor, hungry Palestinians.

Related Articles:

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

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