The role of the BBC’s Middle East editor is to provide “analysis that might make a complex story more comprehensive or comprehensible for the audience, without the constraints of acting as a daily news correspondent”.
Hence, when Jeremy Bowen appeared on two BBC radio stations on November 19th to provide answers to questions concerning “the legal status of […] settlements” following a statement made the previous day by the US Secretary of State, BBC licence fee payers no doubt expected to hear accurate, impartial and comprehensive information which would enhance their understanding of that undoubtedly “complex story”.
The November 19th edition of the BBC Radio 4 programme ‘PM’ included an item (from 22:40 here) introduced by presenter Evan Davis as follows: [emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]
Davis: “Last night the US made a dramatic shift in its position on Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the US would no longer view them as inconsistent with international law. Most of the rest of the world considers settlements on Palestinian territory as illegal. Jeremy Bowen’s our Middle East editor. Jeremy: is it illegal? Is it a fact that it’s illegal? Does it become legal if America says we don’t consider it illegal? Where are we on what the legal status of those settlements are [sic]?”
Bowen: “Israel has always argued on legal grounds that it’s not formally occupied territory because they say that the West Bank and other occupied territories were not part of any country before Israel occupied them in 1967. In fact the land had been annexed by Jordan but that wasn’t recognised by that many states. Ah…the rest of the world pretty much – including the US up to last night – said that’s the wrong interpretation and under international humanitarian law – under the Geneva Conventions – states who capture by war territory are not allowed to move their own people onto that territory and to settle them there permanently, which is what effectively is done in Jewish settlements in the occupied territories. So that’s the interpretation that Britain certainly clings to and the European Union, which put out a very strong statement along those lines today.”
Later the same day Bowen appeared on the evening edition of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour’ (from 30:07 here) and was similarly asked by presenter Tim Franks to explain the legal issues.
Franks: “…some people said that these settlements…well, international consensus seemed to be that these settlements were against international law. What was the basis for that?”
Bowen: “International humanitarian law – the Geneva Conventions – state quite clearly that if a belligerent country in a war seizes land and occupies it, it is not permitted to move its own people into that land and settle them there permanently. That is not allowed under international law. So that is why most of the world – including the US until last night – said that was their position. Now the Israelis have had a different position because the Israeli argument has been that conventions don’t apply in the same way because the West Bank till Israel captured it in 1967 was territory that had been annexed by Jordan and that annexation had not been widely internationally recognised, therefore you can’t call the land occupied.”
As we see, in both those items Jeremy Bowen claimed that the Geneva Conventions do not permit an occupying power “to move” its own people onto occupied territory. That, however, is not what Article 49 of the 4th Geneva Convention says.
None of the Israeli civilians living in Judea & Samaria were ‘deported’ or ‘transferred’ there – or for that matter ‘moved’ by the Israeli government.
Bowen’s portrayal of Israel as a “belligerent country” whitewashes the fact that it was Jordan which attacked Israel on June 5th 1967, even after Prime Minister Levi Eshkol had sent a message to King Hussein saying Israel would not attack Jordan unless he initiated hostilities.
Bowen also whitewashed the Jordanian occupation of Judea & Samaria and parts of Jerusalem, referring only to the subsequent ‘annexation’ in 1950 which he described as not being “recognised by that many states” and “not…widely internationally recognised”. That portrayal obviously does not adequately reflect the fact that Jordan’s annexation of Judea & Samaria was recognised only by the United Kingdom, Pakistan and – according to some sources – Iraq. The UK refrained however from recognising Jordan’s annexation of parts of Jerusalem.
Professor Eugene Kontorovich raises an interesting point concerning that issue which was predictably ignored by Bowen.
“During the War of Independence, Jordan and Egypt conquered territories from Israel illegally, and it was almost universally agreed that neither Jordan nor Egypt had any legitimate claim of sovereignty over Judea and Samaria or Gaza. […]
Today, the prevalent approach is that even though the land did not belong to Jordan, it was “Jordanian enough,” and therefore the laws of occupation and the Geneva Convention apply to it. This is nonsense, because even if we assumed this was correct, the Geneva Convention no longer applies when there is a peace treaty, and there has been a peace treaty with Jordan since 1994. It has to be either one or the other: Either it belonged to Israel all the time and Israel liberated its own territory in 1967, and you can’t occupy your own territory. Alternatively, it was “Jordanian enough” in 1967 for the laws of occupation to apply. In that case, the peace treaty with Jordan nullified the Geneva Convention.”
Another significant omission by the BBC Middle East editor is of course the status of that territory prior to that Jordanian invasion and occupation under the Mandate for Palestine which emerged following World War I. As Amb. Alan Baker explains:
“…the Principal Allied Powers finalized the territorial dispositions regarding the Jewish people in respect to Palestine and the Arabs in respect to Mesopotamia (Iraq), Syria, and Lebanon.
The San Remo Declaration stated inter alia that:
“The mandatory will be responsible for putting into effect the declaration originally made on the 8th [2nd] of November, 1917, by the British Government, and adopted by other Allied Powers, in favour of the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people …”
This was incorporated into Article 95 of the (unratified) Treaty of Sèvres of Aug. 10, 1920, and subsequently in the Preamble and Article 2 of the Mandate for Palestine approved by the Council of the League of Nations on July 24, 1922.”
And so as we see, the man responsible for providing the BBC’s funding public with “analysis that might make a complex story more comprehensive or comprehensible for the audience” failed to meet his remit and instead touted a superficial and simplistic portrayal which included a misrepresentation of Article 49 of the 4th Geneva Convention.