BBC WS history programme rekindles Arafat death conspiracy theory

The November 22nd edition of the BBC World Service radio history programme ‘Witness‘ was titled “The Last Days of Yasser Arafat” and visitors to the webpage were told that: [emphasis in bold added, emphasis in italics in original]

“The Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat died in November 2004. French doctors treating him said he had an unidentified blood disorder. But some Palestinians claim he was poisoned.”

And:

“The Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat died in November 2004. French doctors treating him at the military hospital in France where he died said Arafat had an unidentified blood disorder and gave the cause of death as a stroke. Since then there have been allegations that he was poisoned. Leila Shahid was the Palestinian ambassador to France in 2004, and was with Yasser Arafat during his final days. She’s been talking to Louise Hidalgo about that time.”

Leila Shahid is repeatedly described both by herself and by Louise Hidalgo as an ‘ambassador’ throughout the programme despite the fact that she did not represent a state.

Hidalgo introduced the programme thus:

Hidalgo: “Today we go back to November 2004 and an account of the last days of the Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat. The 75 year-old had been airlifted from his headquarters in the West Bank city of Ramallah 13 days earlier and flown to a French military hospital near Paris where he died.”

After Shahid was introduced by Hidalgo as someone who “had known Yasser Arafat since the 1960s”, listeners heard the interviewee describe the background to Arafat’s arrival in Paris.

Hidalgo: “But, Leila was told, Arafat was refusing to go [to hospital]. He was worried that with relations with the Israelis so bad, if he left the West Bank he’d not be allowed to return. Could France intervene?”

Following Shahid’s description of her approach to the then French president Chirac, “whom Arafat liked”, Hidalgo continued:

Hidalgo: “Leila Shahid had first met Yasser Arafat when she was a student in Lebanon. He was just emerging as the leader of the Palestinians’ armed struggle, already organising attacks against Israel.”

Shahid went on to extol Arafat’s feminist credentials before Hidalgo told listeners:

Hidalgo: “By the time of his death, almost 40 years later, Yasser Arafat had become an international figure who was both loved and reviled. To his supporters he was the father of Palestinian nationalism. To many Israelis he was an unreformed terrorist, responsible for decades of attacks including the suicide bombs that killed hundreds of Israeli civilians in his last years. The brief optimism of the 90s that had followed the Oslo peace accords had, by the turn of the millennium, given way to yet more violence and hatred.”

Following that sanitised portrayal of the Second Intifada terror war initiated by Yasser Arafat, Hidalgo told listeners:

Hidalgo: “For the last two years of his life Yasser Arafat was blockaded by Israel in his West Bank headquarters in a virtual prison, cut off from the rest of the world. Even in those conditions though, Leila Shahid says, the ageing Arafat tried to continue to look after his health.”

After Shahid had described Arafat’s diet and exercise regime, Hidalgo implied that Arafat’s living conditions had affected his health.

Hidalgo: “You saw for yourself of course the conditions he was living in – this tiny compound that was crammed with people. When you got that call saying that he needed hospital treatment, were you surprised?”

The next part of the programme was given over to Shahid’s subjective accounts and lay speculations concerning Arafat’s medical condition prior to his death.

Hidalgo: “Yasser Arafat died in the early hours of November the eleventh 2004.”

Shahid: “Every organ fell one after the other; stopped functioning. The reason that they wrote on the death certificate of Yasser Arafat is undetermined reason for death. So I asked them what is undetermined? They say we have not been able to locate a specific disease and of course this is what ultimately made the doctors think that there was an intrusion of something that came from the outside. Whether it is a poison, whether it is an infection – we will never know.”

BBC World Service listeners around the world were not told that the main reason for the fact that the cause of Arafat’s death was “undetermined” was that his wife, Suha Arafat, refused to allow an autopsy to be performed.

Hidalgo: “Yasser Arafat’s body was flown to Cairo where he was given a state funeral. He was then flown back to Ramallah where he was buried amid crowds of mourners. In 2013 his remains were exhumed and tests by Swiss scientists found high levels of radioactive Polonium. The scientists said however that the results were not conclusive.”

The programme closed there, with listeners not having been told that two additional teams of scientists had ruled out poisoning, determining that Arafat had died of natural causes. As previously documented on these pages:

“In March 2015 French experts officially announced that they had ruled out foul play and that “the polonium 210 and lead 210 found in Arafat’s grave and in the samples are of an environmental nature”. There was no coverage of that announcement on the BBC News website.

In July 2015 the French prosecutor “said there is no case to answer regarding the death of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat”. The BBC News website’s one report on that announcement promoted the ‘Israel killed Arafat’ conspiracy theory no fewer than three times.”

As we see, over three years on the BBC continues to amplify baseless conspiracy theory despite two teams of experts having ruled that Arafat died of natural causes.

Related Articles:

Arafat ‘poisoning’ case closed: an overview of 3 years of BBC News coverage

BBC report that breached impartiality rules still intact online 12 years on

 

BBC misleads on Gaza athletes travel

On August 15th a filmed report produced by Mike Lanchin for the BBC World Service radio history programme ‘Witness appeared in the ‘Features’ section of the BBC News website’s Middle East page under the title “Gaza’s history-making female runner“.

“In 2004, the 800m runner Sanaa Abu Bkheet became the first athlete from the Gaza Strip to represent Palestine at the Olympic Games.

She led the Palestinian delegation at the opening ceremony, the first time a woman had carried the Palestinian flag at an Olympics.

Sanaa, who still lives in the Gaza Strip, tells Witness about overcoming poverty and prejudice on her journey to the biggest sporting stage in the world.”

In that film viewers heard a voice-over translation of Abu Bkheet saying:

“I’m still training but because of the siege I cannot go outside the Gaza Strip. I cannot compete in international races.”

This of course is far from the first time that BBC audiences have seen amplification of that inaccurate Hamas-approved terminology to describe counter-terrorism measures which in no way meet the definition of the term ‘siege’:

“a military operation in which enemy forces surround a town or building, cutting off essential supplies, with the aim of compelling those inside to surrender”

Viewers also heard Abu Bkheet say:

“For the past four years no athlete from Gaza has been able to take part in any event outside. A short while ago there was an invitation to go to Jerusalem and Ramallah for events but we were all denied travel permits.”

Seeing as the date of the recording of this video is unclear, it is impossible to identify the events for which Abu Bkheet claims she was denied travel permits and fact-check that claim. However, even the foreign funded political NGO ‘Gisha‘ states in a document (p. 12) updated in September 2017 that:

“Gaza Strip residents who are members of national and local sports teams may enter Israel to travel to Judaea and Samaria and abroad, for the purpose of official team activities. Entry is also approved for members of the Olympic Committee and the Palestinian Football Association.”

While issues have arisen in the past when applications for travel permits were not submitted in time, there is certainly no blanket ban on travel for athletes (or coaches) as viewers of this report are led to believe. Notably, the BBC did not offer its audiences any context concerning the reasons behind the need for counter-terrorism measures such as permits to enter Israel for residents of an enclave run by a terrorist organisation.

According to the International Association of Athletics Federations another runner from the Gaza Strip – Mohammed Abu Khousatook part in events in France in 2014, in Qatar in 2016 and in Tunisia in 2017, among others. Abu Khousa also participated in the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio.

Even a grossly one-sided AP report from April of this year acknowledged that a delegation of athletes from the Gaza Strip attended – albeit belatedly – the 2018 Arab Junior Athletics Championships held in Jordan.

As those two small examples show, the BBC promoted claim that “no athlete from Gaza has been able to take part in any event outside” since 2014 is clearly inaccurate and misleading.

 

BBC’s serial omission hinders understanding of history programme

As has been documented on these pages on numerous occasions in the past, the BBC usually avoids informing its audience of the circumstances under which Judea and Samaria and parts of Jerusalem were occupied – and subsequently illegally annexed – by what was at the time still called Trans-Jordan.  

Time and time again BBC audiences are told of ‘occupied Palestinian territories’ without any mention of the inclusion of those areas in the territory assigned by the League of Nations to the creation of a Jewish homeland. Also lacking is explanation of the belligerent British-backed invasion and subsequent ethnic cleansing of Jews from the areas attacked by Jordan in 1948. Instead, the BBC’s portrayal of history almost inevitably begins in 1967 when, audiences are told, “Israel occupied the area” which is euphemistically described as having previously been “under the control of Jordan”.

Even the BBC’s country profile of Jordan erases its 1948 belligerent invasion of land beyond its western border from audience view.

It was against that background of serial omission that listeners to the BBC World Service radio history programme ‘Witness‘ on August 9th heard a programme about events leading up to the 1994 peace agreement between Israel and Jordan.

“In August 1994 Yitzhak Rabin became the first Israeli leader publicly to visit Jordan. But in fact talks had been going on for years. Former head of Mossad, Ephraim Halevy, was Israel’s secret peace envoy. He’s been telling Louise Hidalgo about Rabin and King Hussein of Jordan’s clandestine meetings during the often fraught road to peace.”

Listeners were not provided with any background information whatsoever concerning the context to the starting point of this otherwise interesting account. Statements such as the following from Ephraim Halevy went unexplained.

“In 1988 the king [of Jordan] came out with a statement saying that he was renouncing the interest of Jordan in Judea & Samaria, which we call the West Bank.”

Obviously the BBC’s past record of omission on the topic of how Jordan came to have an “interest” in that area and the absence of any reference to Jordan’s belligerent invasion of that territory forty years previously in the country’s online profile means that many if not most listeners would be unable to fill in the gaps for themselves.

 

 

BBC WS history programme video whitewashes British mandate record

A video posted on the BBC News website’s Middle East page on July 18th includes some interesting use of archive material.

As regular readers know, the BBC employs double standards in its use of language when reporting terrorism which go back decades and, for example, include over forty-five years of avoidance of the word ‘terrorists’ when describing the Palestinian perpetrators of the Munich Olympics massacre.

Nevertheless, a filmed report produced by Mike Lanchin for the BBC WS history programme Witness and titled ‘I survived the bombing of the King David Hotel’ opens with archive material that informs viewers “Terrorists Attack in Jerusalem”.

The film goes on to make another reference to terrorists:

“After a bomb explosion caused by terrorists on the British headquarters in Jerusalem…”

Another section using archive material – apparently intended to provide background to the 1946 bombing – presents modern-day BBC audiences with a highly distorted picture of British policy during the time of British mandate administration.

“While Arab and Jew have a cause to battle for, the British soldier is there only because it is his job to keep the peace. In a quarrel which is none of his making, he does just that and precious few thanks he gets for it.”

This is not the first time that ‘Witness’ audiences have seen Britain’s role in that particular episode of history distorted by Lanchin. It is of course hard to see how BBC audiences’ understanding of the history is enhanced by whitewashing British policies and thereby downplaying their effects.

Related Articles:

When did the BBC begin avoiding the use of the word terror in Israel reporting?

BBC’s double standards on terror get OFCOM rubber stamp

BBC World Service misleads on Jewish immigration to Mandate Palestine

 

 

BBC WS history programme claims Israel started the Lebanese civil war

The Lebanese civil war began in 1975 and lasted fifteen years. Listeners to the BBC World Service radio history programme ‘Witness’ were however recently told that it began in June 1982 – and that Israel started it.

The June 5th edition of ‘Witness’ was titled “The Assassinaton [sic] Attempt that Sparked a Middle East War“.

“In June 1982, the Israeli ambassador to the UK, Shlomo Argov, was shot and critically injured by a Palestinian gunman outside the Dorchester Hotel in London. The attack was the trigger for the start of the devastating war in Lebanon just days later. Simon Watts talks to Shlomo Argov’s son, Gideon Argov.”

Simon Watts introduced the programme as follows:

Watts: “Today I’m taking you back to the summer of 1982 and a gun attack on the Israeli ambassador to London which started a war in the Middle East.”

Listeners later heard the perpetrators of that attack described as a “Palestinian hit squad” but only six minutes and fourteen seconds into the nine-minute programme were they informed of the name of the faction responsible.

At 04:56 Watts asked Gideon Argov about the reaction in Israel to the attempted assassination of his father. Having mentioned the “outpouring of shock and sorrow and support” from the general public, Argov went on to say “and then the war broke out”.

Watts interjected:

[05:17] Watts: “That war turned out to be the Lebanese civil war.”

Listeners then heard an archive recording of a news bulletin.

“Israel has launched air attacks against Palestinian targets in Lebanon in retaliation for the shooting of her ambassador in London. The Israeli air raids were aimed around the Lebanese capital Beirut. Targets included a Palestine Liberation Organisation training school. Several other buildings including this sports stadium were damaged. The PLO said at least 30 civilians were killed. Later, Palestinian guerillas are said to have carried out rocket attacks against the Jewish settlements in north Israel.” [emphasis added]

Watts went on:

[05:49] Watts: “It’s now known that the Israeli defence minister Ariel Sharon had been planning an assault on PLO targets in Lebanon for months. He later described the assassination attempt as the spark that lit the fuse.”

Remarkably, listeners to this ‘history’ programme did not hear a single word about the additional – and highly relevant – background to those plans and Operation Peace for Galilee.

“In March 1978, PLO terrorists infiltrated Israel. After murdering an American tourist walking near an Israeli beach, they hijacked a civilian bus. The terrorists shot through the windows as the bus traveled down the highway. When Israeli troops intercepted the bus, the terrorists opened fire. A total of 34 hostages died in the attack. In response, Israeli forces crossed into Lebanon and overran terrorist bases in the southern part of that country, pushing the terrorists away from the border. The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) withdrew after two months, allowing United Nations forces to enter. But UN troops were unable to prevent terrorists from reinfiltrating the region and introducing new, more dangerous arms.

Violence escalated with a series of PLO attacks and Israeli reprisals. Finally, the United States helped broker a cease­fire agreement in July 1981. The PLO repeatedly violated the cease-fire over the ensuing 11 months. Israel charged that the PLO staged 270 terrorist actions in Israel, the West Bank and Gaza, and along the Lebanese and Jordanian borders. Twenty-­nine Israelis died and more than 300 were injured in the attacks.

Meanwhile, a force of some 15-18,000 PLO members was encamped in scores of locations in Lebanon. About 5,000-6,000 were foreign mercenaries, coming from such countries as Libya, Iraq, India, Sri Lanka, Chad and Mozambique. Israel later discovered enough light arms and other weapons in Lebanon to equip five brigades. The PLO arsenal included mortars, Katyusha rockets and an extensive anti­aircraft network. The PLO also brought hundreds of T­34 tanks into the area. Syria, which permitted Lebanon to become a haven for the PLO and other terrorist groups, brought surface-to-air missiles into that country, creating yet another danger for Israel.

Israeli strikes and commando raids were unable to stem the growth of this PLO army. The situation in the Galilee became intolerable as the frequency of attacks forced thousands of residents to flee their homes or to spend large amounts of time in bomb shelters. Israel was not prepared to wait for more deadly attacks to be launched against its civilian population before acting against the terrorists.”

Obviously the BBC World Service needs to correct its inaccurate claim concerning the Lebanese civil war immediately.

 

 

BBC WS history show yet again promotes political narrative

The subject matter of programmes in the BBC World Service radio history series ‘Witness‘ is often tied to an anniversary on or around the time of broadcast. That, however, was not the case in the programme’s October 4th edition – titled “Israel Withdraws From Gaza“.

Unusually, presenter Mike Lanchin travelled to the Gaza Strip to make a programme less than nine minutes long and also produced a filmed version which appeared on the BBC News website’s Middle East page on October 4th under the title “‘My house was occupied by Israeli soldiers’“.

In the audio version listeners heard a substantial amount of commentary from Lanchin himself, much of which was inaccurate and failed to provide them with the full story. In his opening words, Lanchin described the Gaza Strip as “Palestinian territory” without providing any explanation of the area’s history – and not least the fact that it was included in the territory designated by the League of Nations for the creation of the Jewish homeland.

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

Lanchin: “Today we’re going back to 2005 when Israel completed its withdrawal from the Gaza Strip after nearly 40 years of occupation. Around 8,000 Jewish settlers were evicted and all Israeli military personnel were withdrawn from the tiny Palestinian territory. I’ve been hearing from one young Gazan woman who was there when the Israelis left.”

Listeners then heard archive recordings from the time of the 2005 disengagement followed by the programme’s sole interviewee, Maisoon Bashir.

Bashir: “The people in the settlement they are very upset and angry because they don’t like to leave Gaza. And we hear the sound of the people in the settlement shouting ‘no; we don’t leave’.”

After a similar archive recording, Lanchin went on to present an editorialised account of the disengagement.

Lanchin: “There’d been weeks of violent confrontations between Jewish settlers and Jewish policemen and women and soldiers; a cause of anguish and shame for many Israelis. But now Israel’s 38 year occupation of Gaza was at an end. For 12 year-old Gazan Maisoon Bashir it was a moment of celebration.”

Bashir: “I was so happy because the simple thing that I am Palestinian, this is my land and you have to leave. And yes; they did.”

Following a recording of some sort of military confrontation, Lanchin purported to provide some historical background but could not even get the date of the Six Day War right – and that inaccuracy also appeared in the programme’s synopsis.   

Revealingly, Lanchin described that war as ‘Israel’s’ war and failed to clarify to listeners that the Gaza Strip had been belligerently occupied by Egypt in 1948 and that Jordan had belligerently occupied Judea and Samaria and parts of Jerusalem during the same conflict.

Absurdly describing an area which is between 30 to 55 kilometres wide as being “on the west bank of the River Jordan”, Lanchin inaccurately suggested that the people who chose to go to live there and in the Gaza Strip were ‘moved in’ by Israel. That inaccuracy also appeared in the filmed version in archive material from Jeremy Bowen and of course the accuracy of terminology is important because it is that false account of events which is used as the basis for the claim that Israeli communities in those areas are (or were) ‘illegal’.

Lanchin: “Israel had first captured the 40 kilometre long and 10 kilometre wide Gaza Strip during its Six Day War with Egypt, Jordan and Syria in October 1967. It then began moving its own people in – both to Gaza and to the newly occupied territories on the west bank of the River Jordan.  Over the next three decades, thousands of Jewish settlers set up home in heavily populated Gaza. One of the settlements – Kfar Darom – was built opposite Maisoon Bashir’s family home.”

Lanchin made no effort to inform listeners that the community of Kfar Darom was first established as a kibbutz in 1946 on land purchased in 1930 by a Jew from Rehovot called Tuvia Miller or that a Jewish community had existed in Gaza until 1929, when it was evacuated by the British mandate administration due to Arab rioting.

Bashir: “I remember just opening the windows of my room. I see the soldier in the settlement. When I ask my father who is here in this place? They are Jewish people.”

Lanchin: “It was a sight that Maisoon grew up with just across the dusty road from her home. Jewish settlers – many of them with young families – living in large, well-built compounds with schools, synagogues and shops, protected by Israeli soldiers. Maisoon’s family had lived in that part of central Gaza for several generations and had tomato and date plantations there. Her father was an English teacher and the principal at the local school.”

Bashir: “I remember that we go to the sea with my father in vacation, play in the garden, go with my grandfather to the greenhouses – the tomato greenhouses – and I remember that my aunts they visit us, my friends. So you feel like you are a normal person.”

Nowhere in his report did Lanchin make use of the words terrorists or terrorism. Instead terrorists were described as ‘militants’ and listeners heard practically nothing about the scores of fatal and debilitating attacks (including rocket and mortar fire) against Israeli civilians living in communities in the Gaza Strip.  

Lanchin: “But for Maisoon and her family such moments of normality were rare. Militant attacks on the settlements were becoming increasingly common. In 2000 there was an upsurge in the violence both in Gaza and in the occupied West Bank.”

Following an archive recording from the time of the second Intifada, Lanchin went on to repeat an inaccurate narrative frequently promoted in BBC content.

Lanchin: “The second Intifada – or uprising – against the Israeli occupation was sparked by a visit by the then Israeli opposition leader Ariel Sharon to the holy site of Haram al Sharif – or Temple Mount – in the Old City of Jerusalem.”

After another archive recording, Lanchin allowed Bashir to promote memories of unsupported speculation.

Lanchin: “Maisoon was at home when she first heard gunfire close by.”

Bashir: “The first thing that we hear that shooting from the Israelien [sic] soldiers – very heavy – and we feel like they would kill us. We were in this room. My father was in a school and my mother ask all of my brother and sister to enter this room because it’s the most safe one.”

Lanchin: “The next day more Israeli soldiers arrived and they proceeded to tell the family that they had orders to occupy their home, claiming that it had a strategic position as the tallest building in the neighbourhood.”

Bashir: They put all my family in one room and the rest of home was the things of the soldier. And they told my father that this place is like a military place. You have to understand that no-one allowed to enter your home and you cannot use the rest of your home. Soldiers live here and there so I feel like this is not my home. I ask my mother what’s that?”

Lanchin: “Friends and relatives begged Maisoon’s father to leave.”

Bashir: “My father say no. This is my place of my grandfather and I will die here.”

Lanchin: And so for the next five years Israeli soldiers occupied the top floors of the house, using it as a look-out post, while Maisoon and her brothers, sisters, mother and father were confined to the rooms down below. The family was allowed out in the day time but had a strict night-time curfew and strict controls on who could come and go. Their land round the house was destroyed.”

Lanchin failed to clarify why a plantation of trees would likely be seen as a security risk in a location in which terrorists repeatedly attacked a nearby civilian community. He then allowed Bashir to suggest that she did not have free access to school despite bringing no evidence to support that allegation.

Bashir: “I keeping all the night dreaming the day that the Israeli soldier will leave my home, my house, so I can go freely to school and do whatever I want.”

Lanchin: “But for Israel Gaza was proving a difficult occupation to maintain. Palestinian militant attacks inside Israel – many planned from within Gaza – were on the increase. Israeli military operations in response only served to strengthen the Gazans’ hatred of the occupiers. And so, by now prime minister Ariel Sharon unveiled plans to leave Gaza and to build a wall and a fence to separate the Palestinian territories from Israel as a way of defending against further militant attacks. By September 2005 the last of the 3,000 Israeli soldiers and the 8,000 Jewish settlers had left Gaza. As they pulled out, they destroyed their former homes, schools and synagogues.”

In fact the synagogue in Kfar Darom, along with several others, was not “destroyed” by Israel but was burned down by Palestinians shortly after Israel’s withdrawal from the Gaza Strip.

Listeners then heard a conversation between Lanchin and Bashir that took place in Gaza.

Bashir: “The whole thing that we see right now here is completely change.”

Lanchin: “Yeah, there’s no sign of the settlement now. There’s some rubble in the back.”

Bashir: “I trying to remember.”

Lanchin: “Trying to remember.”

Bashir: “Yeah.”

Lanchin: “More than a decade on, I’m with Maisoon on the flat rooftop of her home which once served as a military look-out for the Israeli soldiers.”

Bashir: “And here was like the road for the Israelien [sic] jeep and the bulldozer and this place for the soldiers here.”

Lanchin’s closing remarks failed to adequately clarify to listeners that the Israeli disengagement from the Gaza Strip did not bring an end to Hamas terrorism against Israeli civilians – or why. While describing the territory as “largely closed off to the outside world” he failed to explain the role of Hamas’ policies in creating that situation and refrained from explaining that under the terms of the Oslo Accords the Gaza Strip’s coastal waters and airspace remained under Israel’s control and that no changes were made to those terms in subsequent agreements between Israel and the PA signed after Israel’s withdrawal from the Gaza Strip in 2005. 

Lanchin: “On this scorching sunny morning in central Gaza it’s hard to imagine the tension and fear that dominated the lives of people like Maisoon and her family. Yet all you have to do is look around at the half-standing buildings damaged in the repeated military confrontations that have taken place since withdrawal between Hamas militants who now rule Gaza and the Israelis and you’ll understand how little has been achieved in the intervening years. Today Gaza remains largely closed off to the outside world with its borders, airspace and waters controlled by Israel and Egypt. Hamas still threatens more attacks on Israel. Maisoon – who’s now 25 – longs to go abroad to study and although she comes across as a confident young woman brimming with energy, when she speaks there’s a sadness and a resignation underlying her words.”

Bashir: “I used to be a positive – as my father told me – but you have to look to the reality and the reality right now is a very difficult. I wish that in the future it will be like Palestinian, Jewish together to speak and doing. OK but before that, give me my rights.”

Lanchin: “Maisoon Bashir was speaking to me, Mike Lanchin, in Gaza for this edition of ‘Witness’.

This report by Mike Lanchin is not, as noted above, timed to coincide with an anniversary and its featured interviewee does not have a particularly historically important story to tell. One might therefore wonder why Lanchin travelled all the way to the Gaza Strip to interview a specific person who was a child at the time of the disengagement.

Maisoon Bashir describes herself as follows:

“I have been asked to introduce myself. I am wondering how I should, as an activist or a journalist, who tries to raise the voice of Palestine? Both are true, but I prefer to introduce myself just as a Palestinian girl, because my nationality is a testament to the authenticity of my homeland and the injustices borne by my people.”

Her activism is given a platform at a site called ‘We Are Not Numbers’ that is linked to a political NGO currently called ‘Euro Med Rights’ (which has Richard Falk as chair of its board of trustees) and which was founded by a self-described “social justice activist” called Pam Bailey who is also associated with Code Pink. Bashir’s writings have also been posted at the Hamas linked outlet MEMO.

BBC audiences, however, were not informed that they were in fact listening to a political activist (in breach of BBC editorial guidelines on impartiality) and neither were they given any insight into how Mike Lanchin was introduced to her story or why he visited the Gaza Strip (where the BBC has a staffed local office) to interview her.

Once again we see that the radio show touted by the BBC World Service as a ‘history’ programme is in fact used as a vehicle for the advancement of one-sided political narrative.

Related Articles:

BBC World Service misleads on Jewish immigration to Mandate Palestine

BBC exploits Sharon’s death for more promotion of second Intifada falsehood

Resources:

Programme e-mail: witness@bbc.co.uk

Programme Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/bbcwitness

BBC World Service contact details 

 

 

BBC WS history programme fails to disclose interviewee’s anti-Israel activism

The September 15th edition of the BBC World Service radio history programme ‘Witness’ was titled “Sabra and Shatila – A Massacre in Lebanon“.

“A doctor working in Sabra and Shatila refugee camp in Lebanon recalls the massacre there in September 1982. Over the course of three days, Lebanese Christian militiamen killed and raped hundreds of the Palestinian inhabitants of Sabra and Shatila in Beirut in revenge for the assassination of their leader, Lebanese president elect, Bashir Gemayel. Dr Swee Ang treated the wounded in the basement of the only hospital in the camp; she tells Louise Hidalgo her story.”

The interviewee’s background is described to listeners by Hidalgo as follows:

“Dr Swee Ang was working in the hospital in Sabra and Shatila during those days.”

And:

“Dr Swee Ang is an orthopedic surgeon originally from Singapore who moved to Britain in 1977.”

A significant proportion of the programme relates to Israel rather than to the Lebanese Christian militia that actually carried out the massacre in Sabra and Shatila with Hidalgo referring to the findings of the Kahan Commission and providing some rather sketchy background to the first Lebanon War and her interviewee adding other statements.

“I grew up a very staunch fundamentalist Christian and I’ve always been supporting Israel. In 1982 […] I saw on television aerial bombardment of Beirut in Lebanon and I just couldn’t square it with my religious upbringing…”

“My understanding of the situation – because I was brought up with a lot of friends who are pro-Israel – was that the PLO was the cause of all the trouble.”

“Tanks were coming northwards into Beirut city and a contingent came for Sabra and Shatila. So by nightfall the shelling became so close and we knew that we were surrounded by Israeli tanks.”

At the end of the programme listeners are told that:

“After Sabra and Shatila she and her husband set up a medical charity for the people of the camp.”

That charity is called ‘Medical Aid for Palestinians’ (MAP) and – far from being a neutral “medical” charity – its politicised anti-Israel bias is notorious.  Dr Swee Ang herself is frequently seen at anti-Israel events such as ‘Israel Apartheid Week’ and in 2014 she co-authored a highly politicised open letter promoting unsubstantiated allegations and accusing Israel of ‘massacring’ Palestinians that was published in the Lancet.

None of that information was made available to listeners to this programme despite the fact that BBC editorial guidelines on impartiality state:

“We should not automatically assume that contributors from other organisations (such as academics, journalists, researchers and representatives of charities) are unbiased and we may need to make it clear to the audience when contributors are associated with a particular viewpoint, if it is not apparent from their contribution or from the context in which their contribution is made.”

Given the programme’s focus on Israel, full disclosure of its sole interviewee’s political activism in line with BBC editorial guidelines was obviously necessary.

More narrative-driven ‘history’ from the BBC World Service

The August 8th edition of the BBC World Service radio history programme ‘Witness‘ is titled “The Murder of Naji al-Ali” and it is described as follows in its synopsis:

“The acclaimed Palestinian cartoonist was gunned down in London in 1987. His attackers have never been identified. Naji al-Ali’s cartoons were famous across the Middle East. Through his images he criticized Israeli and US policy in the region, but unlike many, he also lambasted Arab despotic regimes and the leadership of the PLO. His signature character was called Handala – a poor Palestinian refugee child with spiky hair, who would always appear, facing away with his hands clasped behind his back, watching the events depicted in the cartoon. Alex Last has been speaking to his son, Khalid, about his father’s life and death.”

Despite that synopsis, listeners actually hear very little about the substance of Ali’s criticism of Arab regimes and the Palestinian leadership and even less about how that may have been connected to his murder. They do however hear promotion of the familiar context-free narrative of displaced Palestinians with no responsibility for or connection to the events that resulted in their displacement.

Erasing the essential words ‘British Mandate’ from his use of the term Palestine, presenter Alex Last introduces his guest:

Last: “Some fifty years earlier Naji al Ali was born in a village in Galilee in 1936 in what was then Palestine. Khalid al Ali is Naji’s eldest son.”

 Ali: “The village had Muslims, Christians and Jews and they’re all playing together and sharing things together, I mean, in the village square, so he had a happy life, a normal life.”

The 1931 census shows that the village concerned – al Shajara in the sub-district of Tiberias – had at the time 584 residents: 556 Muslims and 28 Christians – but no Jews. A similar demographic make-up appears in the 1945 census. In contrast to the idyllic impression created by Ali, the villagers of al Shajara frequently attacked their Jewish neighbours in the moshava Sejera (known today as Ilaniya) during the ‘Arab Revolt‘ that began in 1936.

Listeners then hear Last say:

Last: “But in 1948, following the creation of the State of Israel and in the fighting that ensued, at least three-quarters of a million Palestinian Arabs either fled or were driven from their homes. Naji, his family and the other Palestinian Arabs in their village were among them. They became refugees. Naji ended up in a refugee camp in southern Lebanon. It was an experience that would define him.”

Contrary to the impression given by Last, the fighting did not break out after and because of “the creation of the State of Israel” but had begun well before that event took place following Arab rejection of the Partition Plan in November 1947. Listeners are not informed of the all important context of the infiltration of the Arab League’s ‘Arab Liberation Army’ into the Galilee in early January of 1948 and the series of attacks it launched against Jewish communities in the region, including the moshava Sejera. The fighting in Naji al Ali’s village of al Shajara actually took place on May 6th 1948 – eight days before Israel declared independence.

The narrative of passive victims with no responsibility for the conflict that saw them displaced is then further promoted by Ali.

Ali: “Being used to your surroundings, being part of the family, the wider villages, this overnight ended completely and that was a great shock. And suddenly [they] became refugees in a tent. There’s no income. They lost their land. They’ve lost their businesses. No end of [in] sight in a way. It was imprinted on them. I mean my father, his main agenda is Palestine. For him, till the last day of his life he wanted to go back to his village, he wanted to go back to Palestine. It’s very straightforward, it’s very simple. He could not see why not.”

A similarly context-free representation comes at 05:05 when Last tells listeners:

Last: “In 1982 Naji was in Beirut during the Israeli invasion of Lebanon and the massacres at Sabra and Shatila refugee camps; events which, says Khalid, had a profound effect on his father.”

Audiences are not informed that – despite the impression they may very well have received from Last’s portrayal – the Sabra and Shatila massacres were carried out by a Lebanese Christian militia.

The programme ‘Witness’ purports to provide BBC World Service audiences with “the story of our times told by the people who were there”. All too often, however, we see that when the story relates to Israel, narrative takes priority over history.

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BBC WS ‘The History Hour’ breaches impartiality guidelines with Palestinian activist 

 

 

BBC WS history show ‘explains’ Camp David summit failure

h/t JB

The August 4th edition of the BBC World Service radio history programme ‘Witness‘ is described in its synopsis as follows:

“In 2000 the US led a major effort to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. President Bill Clinton brought the two sides together at the leafy presidential retreat in Maryland. The Israeli leader, Ehud Barak and the Palestinian leader, Yasser Arafat, failed to reach any agreement and the summit ended in failure. Farhana Haider has been speaking to the senior American diplomatic interpreter and policy adviser, Gamal Helal who attended the Camp David summit.”

Promotion of the programme on Twitter showed that it purports to inform BBC audiences why the Camp David summit failed.

So what do listeners hear on that topic and what conclusions would they reach? [emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]

After introducing the programme, presenter Farhana Haider tells audiences that:

“Israel had been pushing for this summit. Chairman Arafat for the Palestinians had argued there’s not been enough progress on earlier agreements to merit such a high level meeting but President Clinton had pressed ahead.”

Later on Haider tells listeners that the actual process of negotiation:

“…involved the negotiating teams meeting with each other and also separately with the Americans on most days. Face to face contact between Arafat and Barak was very limited. Mistrust was clearly running deep, says Gamal.”

Helal: “The main meal was dinner and all three parties were attended by the principals. So during dinner was the only time when they would sit together. […] Sort of like mingling. What did not happen was a bilateral Palestinian-Israeli talks or the trilateral talks at the principals level. That did not happen because Prime Minister Barak did not want it.”

Haider alleges:

“…both sides were clearly under pressure from some of their own supporters not to make concessions. The US and the Israelis had also overestimated Arafat’s willingness to bargain away sovereignty over Jerusalem. In fact, the city’s final status was as much of a red line for Arafat as it was for Ehud Barak.”

 Gamal Helal recounts how, in a one-on-one conversation with Arafat he tried to persuade him to seize the historic opportunity and that:

“…at the end he looked at me and he said ‘I can’t’. And I said ‘why can’t you?’ He said if I accept this they will kill me’.”

Listeners never find out who ‘they’ are and Haider asks “could you sense his frustration?” without clarifying whether she is referring to Arafat or Clinton. Helal answers:

“Yes and I think there was also a lot of frustration as a result of Prime Minister Barak’s behaviour and attitude during Camp David. For example he promised that there would be negotiations around the clock and the two sides would be meeting discussing all permanent status issues and none of that happened. He basically locked himself up in his cabin. He met only with President Clinton. There was no bilateral meetings with Chairman Arafat except a very short encounter but no actual negotiations between the two leaders. He was not engaged at all. The Palestinians, when they saw that they decided to withdraw and simply say no to everything.”

Haider sums up the story:

“After 15 days of talks, nothing was agreed. Though President Clinton came and went, leaving the parties to continue their discussions, the basic problem was that the maximum Israel offered was less than the minimum the Palestinians could accept. On July 15 2000 the parties left Camp David, blaming the other for the failure.”

The Camp David summit did not end on July 15th 2000 but actually took place between the 11th and 25th of July. Although this programme clearly steers listeners toward the view that the negotiations failed because of “Barak’s behaviour and attitude”, a report published in the New York Times the day after the summit concluded gives a different account.

“The president [Clinton] and other American mediators made clear that it was Yasir Arafat, the Palestinian leader, who balked in the end, and by all accounts the issue was Jerusalem, the Holy City both Israelis and Palestinians claim as their sacred capital.

Speaking at the White House, Mr. Clinton singled out the Israeli prime minister, Ehud Barak, for his readiness to make hard compromises. ”I would be making a mistake not to praise Barak, because I think he took a big risk,” the president said. ”The prime minister moved forward more from his initial position than Chairman Arafat, particularly surrounding the question of Jerusalem.””

In an interview he gave to Ha’aretz in 2002, Ehud Barak cast light on the circumstances behind Helal’s claim that he “locked himself up in his cabin” and the allegation that the Palestinian delegation’s negative responses were the product of Barak not being “engaged”.

“The moment of truth at Camp David occurred when Clinton brought his ideas and put them on the table. Overall, Clinton’s ideas said that in return for ending the conflict and acquiescing to some Israeli security demands and leaving 80 percent of the settlers in Israeli territory, [Palestinian leader Yasser] Arafat would get a sovereign Palestinian state, demilitarized and contiguous, in ninety-something percent of the West Bank and a hundred percent of the Gaza Strip. Including exit points to the neighboring countries, a hold in East Jerusalem and the right of return to the Palestinian state but not to Israel. Israel would agree to accept a certain amount of refugees on a humanitarian basis but not a single one on the basis of the right of return.

For us these ideas are no simple matter. They are far from a simple matter. Especially when you try to go into a bit of detail about Jerusalem. But we held lengthy discussions and in the end we decided, because of considerations of historic responsibility, that we have to accept the plan as a basis for discussion. Arafat twisted and turned with it and effectively said no. Clinton went back to him and pounded on the table and Arafat again did not answer but effectively gave an answer that was no.

At this stage Clinton has to go to Okinawa, for a meeting of the G-8. So I say to him, Look, until you extract readiness from Arafat to accept your ideas as a basis for negotiations, there is nothing to discuss. It is hard for us, too, we also have reservations, these ideas are very close to the Palestinian position, but we accept them as a basis for discussion. When you get a positive answer out of Arafat, I’m here. You know where my cabin is.

Clinton goes off to Okinawa, leaving me with the impression that he understands that there can be no discussion. But he leaves a different impression with his staff and with the Palestinians. They understand that in the meantime the discussions can proceed with [secretary of state Madeleine] Albright. When I discover this, I find myself in an impossible position. That is the origin of the story that Barak locked himself in his cabin in a state of depression. But in fact I had no choice. I couldn’t undercut Albright but I couldn’t continue with the negotiations, either. So I told everyone to leave my cabin and I did some sports and I read the book `Five Days in London’ from cover to cover.”

As for Haider’s claims that “both sides were clearly under pressure from some of their own supporters not to make concessions” and her description of Jerusalem as “a red line […] for Ehud Barak”, Israel’s top negotiator at Camp David, Shlomo Ben Ami, has some interesting recollections.

“Question: I understand that there was a stage at which Barak astonished everyone by agreeing to divide the Old City of Jerusalem into two quarters under Israeli sovereignty and two quarters under Palestinian sovereignty. Did he do that on his own or was it a joint decision made by the entire Israeli team?

Ben Ami: “As I told you, I suggested that a special regime be introduced in the Old City. In the wake of that discussion, sometime later, the president put forward a two-two proposal, meaning a clear division of sovereignty. In a conversation with the president, Ehud agreed that that would be a basis for discussion. I remember walking in the fields with Martin Indyk [of the State Department] that night and both of us saying that Ehud was nuts. We didn’t understand how he could even have thought of agreeing. Afterward I wrote in my diary that everyone thinks that Amnon [Lipkin-] Shahak and I are pushing Barak to the left, but the truth is that he was the one who pushed us leftward. At that stage – this was the start of the second week of the meeting – he was far more courageous than we were. Truly courageous. Clinton told me a few times: I have never met such a courageous person.””

And Ben Ami also comments on why the Camp David summit failed.

“Camp David collapsed over the fact that they [the Palestinians] refused to get into the game. They refused to make a counter proposal. No one demanded that they give a positive response to that particular proposal of Clinton’s. Contrary to all the nonsense spouted by the knights of the left, there was no ultimatum. What was being asked of the Palestinians was far more elementary: that they put forward, at least once, their own counter proposal. That they not just say all the time `That’s not good enough’ and wait for us to make more concessions. That’s why the president sent [CIA director George] Tenet to Arafat that night – in order to tell him that it would be worth his while to think it over one more time and not give an answer until the morning. But Arafat couldn’t take it anymore. He missed the applause of the masses in Gaza.” […]

“But when all is said and done, Camp David failed because Arafat refused to put forward proposals of his own and didn’t succeed in conveying to us the feeling that at some point his demands would have an end. One of the important things we did at Camp David was to define our vital interests in the most concise way. We didn’t expect to meet the Palestinians halfway, and not even two-thirds of the way. But we did expect to meet them at some point. The whole time we waited to see them make some sort of movement in the face of our far-reaching movement. But they didn’t. The feeling was that they were constantly trying to drag us into some sort of black hole of more and more concessions without it being at all clear where all the concessions were leading, what the finish line was.”

Obviously the explanation of why the Camp David talks failed given in this BBC World Service ‘history’ programme is heavily tipped towards a particular politicised narrative that does not accurately reflect the whole story and therefore misleads BBC audiences.

BBC WS history programme dumbs down the story of a border dispute

The June 29th edition of the BBC World Service radio history programme ‘Witness‘ was titled “The Disputed Resort of Taba” and it was presented as follows in the synopsis.

“A dispute between Israel and Egypt over a tiny strip of beach on the Red Sea soured relations between the two countries for years. Israel captured Taba on the Sinai Peninsula during the Six Day War, but refused to return it until 1989 when the Egyptians bought the luxury hotel and beach-hut village that Israeli developers had built on it. Louise Hidalgo talks to former US judge Abraham Sofaer who helped negotiate the deal.”

Somewhat bizarrely given its focus on a political/geographical dispute, presenter Louise Hidalgo introduced the programme as “part of our series looking at the history of tourism” before explaining the story.

“It was 1985 and Judge Abraham Sofaer’s first experience of trying to mediate an agreement in a part of the world known for some of the most intractable disagreements on earth. This one was over a small spit of beach 750 yards long called Taba, in the top-most corner of the Sinai Peninsula and in the southern-most tip of Israel. The Egyptians said Taba was part of Sinai and theirs. The Israelis disagreed.”

Later on listeners were told that:

“Egypt and Israel had signed their historic peace treaty in 1979 and under the Camp David Accord Egypt recognised Israel in return for Israel handing back the Sinai Peninsula which it had captured during the 1967 Six Day War. The Israelis kept their promise and three years later withdrew from all of Sinai except for Taba. And in the years that followed the tiny enclave on the Israeli border had become a running sore in the peace between these two adversaries.”

Listeners then heard an unidentified recording – presumably from the BBC’s archive.

“The Israelis built their frontier post just north of the hotel. The Egyptians put up their post just to the south. And in between sits the hotel; run by the Israelis, lusted after by the Egyptians. To the Israelis it’s a matter of simple economics: Taba is a great draw for tourists. For the Egyptians it’s a matter of principle.”

All well and good, but then the programme got to the subject of the Sinai Peninsula’s old boundary, with Hidalgo saying to Sofaer:

“And something else that you found out during those negotiations was that the formidable Israeli politician and soldier the late Ariel Sharon who’d played a big part in capturing the Sinai Peninsula in 1967, after the war Sharon had had these pillars or posts marking the border around Taba moved, hadn’t he? This was the border that had been set decades earlier by the…by the British. What happened?”

Sofaer: “It was a feeling on Sharon’s part that the British had been deliberately unfair in determining the border and the border where the pillars were was not an advantageous border for Israel. And then he essentially ordered his people after the ’67 war to knock down the border pillars […] and the Egyptians said we’re sure they knocked down the border pillars deliberately. And the Israelis would tell me ‘yes; I was there’ said this general. ‘I was there and I saw him order that the pillars be knocked down’. So there was this sense among the Egyptians that the Israelis were just being willful.”

Whether or not that story is accurate is unclear but certainly BBC audiences are not given the full background to the story. No attempt is made to explain why or on what authority the British – who at the time had occupied Egypt since 1882 without any legal basis – set that boundary in 1906. In his book “The Boundaries of Modern Palestine 1840-1947”, Professor Gideon Biger explains:

In other words, the pillars that may or may not have been “knocked down” did not necessarily reflect the boundary defined in the agreement between the British and the Ottomans.

As the New York Times reported at the time of the dispute:

“The Israeli claim is based on the fact that when the Egyptians and the Turks marked the Sinai border, they said each border pillar could be seen from the one before it.

Israel contends that the border runs either through the ”granite knob” overlooking Nelson Village or through the cluster of palm trees at the end of the public beach – both of which afford a clear view of the previous pillar, even though today there are no border pillars at either place.

The Egyptians assert that the border is a few hundreds to the east of the Sonesta Hotel, where one can find atop a hill the remains of a supposed border pillar.

The only problem is that from the Egyptian spot it is impossible to see the penultimate pillar, which means no inter-visibility as the history books said.”

Towards the end of the programme Hidalgo told listeners that:

“An international panel was set up to arbitrate on the border, eventually ruling in favour of Egypt.”

The details of that panel’s deliberations and conclusions – including a copy of the original Anglo-Ottoman agreement and Professor Ruth Lapidoth’s dissenting opinion – can be found here.

Sadly for audiences, that complex story with its British colonial roots has been dumbed down by the BBC into a tale of an Israeli moving some posts.