BBC WS radio amplifies claim that a country called Palestine “existed”

The November 2nd edition of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Boston Calling’ – titled “Power and diplomacy” – included an item (from 14:21 here) which was introduced by presenter Carol Hills (of PRI) using some very obvious sign-posting.

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

Hills: “…let’s duck into a museum in Washington DC that’s trying to do its own kind of diplomacy without a diplomat in sight. It’s a museum dedicated to Palestinian history with a mission to spark conversations about Palestinian culture, focused on its people not its politics. Mikaela Lefrak went to check out the Museum of the Palestinian People.”

In fact this is a recycled and slightly edited version of a report produced by Lefrak for PRI’s ‘The World’ in early July which begins with the same sign-posting.

Lefrak: “When visitors walk into the one-room museum the first object they see is a leafy-green water jug. It’s made of glass from Hebron; a city in the West Bank known for its glass-blowing traditions. What visitors won’t see is overtly political content, even in a museum about an area that’s at the centre of a decades-long geo-political conflict.”

Despite the claims from Hills and Lefrak, as we noted when BBC World Service radio previously promoted the museum and its founder back in June, it is essentially the continuation of a project that is very much political – even if Lefrak fails to identify it as such.

Lefrak: “Museum founder Bshara Nassar says his goal is to create a space that’s more personal than political.”

Nassar: “We want to really transform the story and put Palestinians in the light that we’re human beings, right? We’re artists, we’re entrepreneurs, we’re in politics and we contributing a lot to the US as immigrants as well.”

Lefrak: “Nassar immigrated to the US from the West Bank in 2011. When he came to Washington he saw a city full of museums but he didn’t see one that reflected him.”

Nassar: “Really I could not see a place where the Palestinian story can be told.”

Lefrak: “So he decided to open a travelling exhibition that would eventually become the museum. One of the objects in the collection is a 1946 passport for the Palestine Mandate. It was rendered useless the following year after the United Nations voted to establish the State of Israel. Curator Nada Odeh wants visitors to understand that history.”

That passport was of course in fact “rendered useless” in May 1948 when the British terminated their administration of the League of Nations Mandate for Palestine – the purpose of which was to create a Jewish national home. In 1947 the UNGA passed a resolution (181) recommending that the area then still under British administration should be partitioned between Jewish and Arab states – a recommendation accepted by the Jews but rejected out of hand by the Arabs and hence never implemented. BBC world Service listeners heard nothing of that history – or the Arab attacks which followed that UN vote – but they did hear the ‘non-political’ museum’s Syrian-born head curator promote the falsehood that a country “called Palestine” used to exist.

Odeh: “We want them to learn that there is a country was called Palestine. It existed.”

Lefrak: “Odeh maintains that the museum is not political and there isn’t any mention of political leaders, protesters or human rights abuses on either side of the conflict. But there are certain phrases that some people will inevitably take issue with like signage about the Nakba or catastrophe – that’s the word Palestinians use to describe the time surrounding the creation of Israel. As Odeh puts it:”

Odeh: “There is a true story. There is people who were displaced because of…ah…someone came and took the land.”

That politically motivated, dumbed-down caricature of history went completely unchallenged by Lefrak – and unedited by the producers of this BBC World Service programme.

Lefrak: “The museum is just a mile away from the White House. President Trump has been a staunch supporter of the Israeli government but Nassar says he started dreaming up the museum before Trump was elected. He wants it to be a place of conversation, not protest.”

Nassar: “We welcome people with open hearts, you know, with open hearts – right? – to come and have a conversation with us. And it doesn’t matter if they agree or not; it’s the most important the conversation.”

Lefrak then came up with a debatable description of the J Street campaigning group.

Lefrak: “In the museum’s first few weeks a group of monks visited and a group from the liberal pro-Israel organisation J Street. But most of the visitors have been Palestinian Americans like one young man named Yussef Hamid. He showed off his Palestinian flag necklace.”

Having interviewed that visitor, Lefrak closed her report.

Lefrak: “Hamid said that seeing a museum like this about people like him gave him hope that the long-standing conflict might one day end.”

Carol Hills also had closing comments to make:

Hills: “Mikaela Lefrak at the Museum of the Palestinian People. It opened in Washington DC this past summer. As we heard, Ahmed [sic] wants his museum to provide hope: hope that the Palestinian people will finally find peace. That has long defied diplomatic efforts.”

A fitting end indeed to a ‘report’ in which Palestinians were portrayed as passive victims with no responsibility for their situation, history was distorted to the point that BBC audiences were led to believe that a country called Palestine “existed” and the political motivations behind a ‘museum’ were repeatedly whitewashed.

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Context-free political slogans go unchallenged on BBC WS ‘Newshour’

The June 15th evening edition of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour’ included an item (from 18:38 here) introduced by presenter Julian Marshall as follows: [emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]

Marshall: “There are reckoned to be just under 73,000 Americans of Palestinian descent living in the United States. They’re one of the smaller groups of Arab Americans but their profile – along with that of the millions of other Palestinians elsewhere in the world – could be raised with the opening today in Washington DC of the Museum of the Palestinian People. Its founder and director is Bshara Nassar.”

After listeners had heard Nassar explain why he decided to found the museum, Marshall continued with a question apparently inspired by the museum’s press release:

Marshall: “You’re wanting to counter what might be described as…ehm…negative stereotypes of Palestinians as…as either victims or…or terrorists so what will visitors to the museum see to reflect a more positive image of Palestinians?”

Nassar: “Well the museum will show the Palestinian culture, Palestinian arts, will celebrate everything that’s related to Palestine like culture, food, poetry so, you know, showing the story, the culture, the arts of the Palestinian people. Our first exhibit is about reimagining the future. The question is, you know, we get all the time like why are you starting with the future? Why not the past? Our answer is that as oppressed people, right, like any other oppressed people around the world, it’s really hard for us to imagine a future that’s different from what we’re living right now and that said is that reimagining a positive future, imagining Palestinians with rights, Palestinians with freedom.”

Marshall: “I mean you say that you want to counter this view of Palestinians as victims and yet you have described them to me as an oppressed people.”

Nassar: “Right, right. Well it’s what’s happening. I mean it’s…this is what’s the reality on the ground. Palestinians are living under the occupation, under Israeli occupation, lands being confiscated, there is no water. That’s what’s happening. What we want to say that we have a rich culture. We have a beautiful dance, beautiful traditions. If you go to the West Bank right now, which is where I’m from, from Bethlehem, people not necessarily sitting around talking about the occupation all day, right. There is weddings, there is celebrations, there is life. There is so much positive contributions that as Palestinians we’re bringing to the whole world.”

Making no effort to inform listeners that, like the rest of the areas in which the majority of Palestinians live, Bethlehem has been under Palestinian Authority rule for twenty-four years and failing to provide any information at all which would put Nassar’s trite political slogans into context, Marshall asked a final question about the museum’s take-away messaging.

Hence in this item promoting what is essentially the continuation of a political project, BBC World Service listeners found no trace of the impartiality which is supposedly a required component in BBC reporting.

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