BBC’s Knell yet again politicises Christmas in Bethlehem report

The Christmas season inevitably brings with it opportunistic, politicised messaging from the BBC’s Jerusalem Bureau and this year was no different. Apparently short on fresh ideas, Yolande Knell casts local residents in the role of nativity story figures in her report titled “Christmas in Bethlehem: Hopes and fears for the future” (December 24th, BBC News website Middle East page) – a device she previously used in her 2011 seasonal report.Knell Bethlehem main

Including both text and video clips, the report promotes the themes of a low-key Christmas and economic hardship for Bethlehem residents. No mention is made of the Palestinian Authority’s instructions to municipalities to dampen this year’s celebrations or the Council of Churches’ similar dictate.

The surge in Palestinian terrorism that began in mid-September and which has obviously had an effect on the tourist industry in the region receives minimal coverage in Knell’s account, although when it is mentioned she portrays it as equivalent “Israeli-Palestinian violence” and – in line with PLO messaging – downplays the incitement fueling that violence. Instead, Knell focuses more on what she terms “protests” and “clashes” whilst erasing the agency of Palestinian rioters and terrorists sabotaging their own community’s all-important tourism industry.

“Young Palestinians regularly join protests that result in confrontations with Israeli soldiers. There are flashpoints across the West Bank including on the edge of Ramallah and in Bethlehem.”

“Nowadays clashes regularly take place by one of these gates. Typically, young Palestinians throw stones, marbles and petrol bombs at Israeli soldiers who respond with tear gas, rubber bullets, skunk water and live rounds.

Israel blames the violence on incitement by Palestinian leaders and social media. Father Jamal says that on the Palestinian side there are feelings of hopelessness and despair.”

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The predominant messaging in this report relates to the anti-terrorist fence. In line with the corporation’s usual portrayal of that subject, Knell fails to provide BBC audiences with an objective and transparent account of the reasons behind the fence’s construction and its proven record of reducing the number of terror attacks against Israelis.

“Israel has also built part of its separation barrier here. It says this is needed for security, but Palestinians see it as a land grab.”

“In 2003, an 8m (26ft)-high concrete wall was erected in Bethlehem – part of Israel’s barrier built in and around the West Bank. A series of gates were constructed in the wall so that church leaders could continue to pass.”

“About 40% of the Bethlehem economy relies directly on tourism. However since the town was separated from Jerusalem by Israel’s barrier, most tourists now enter through an Israeli checkpoint.”

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The fence is also the hook for promotion of the theme of restricted access resulting in reduced business.

“Local souvenir sellers say that restricted access to the city has greatly affected their trade.” 

Video clip 5: “…Bethlehem is now surrounded with a wall; not easily accessed in and out like before between Jerusalem and Bethlehem. This limited the number of tourists who come to Bethlehem to doing shopping for Christmas. “

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In fact, the crossing used by tourists going from Israel to Palestinian-Authority controlled Bethlehem is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week and foreign tourists do not need permits. As usual, this year too arrangements have been put in place to enable Palestinian Christians to celebrate the holiday with their relatives.

An additional theme in this report relates to ‘settlements’ – alleged to be “expanding” – with the standard BBC mantra concerning ‘international law’ appearing together with a recycled map.

“Recently shepherding has become much more difficult because of a lack of open land. Jewish settlements are expanding nearby. They are seen as illegal under international law, but Israel disagrees.”

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Absent from Knell’s reporting is any mention of non-Israel related factors which might have an influence on Christmas celebrations and tourism in Bethlehem such as crime or violence related to internal Palestinian politics.

“The car taking Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem Fouad Twal, head of the Catholic Church in the Holy Land, was struck Friday, Christmas Day, in Bethlehem by rocks thrown by Palestinian rioters. […]

Meanwhile, Palestinian security forces said Friday that they arrested two suspected Islamic radicals for burning a Christmas tree in the northern West Bank.

A Palestinian security officer said Friday the suspects set fire Wednesday to the tree in Zababdeh, a village near Jenin populated mainly by Christians. The officer spoke on condition of anonymity because he wasn’t authorized to speak to reporters.

He said both suspects were under investigation for possible ties to extremist Islamist groups.

He also said Palestinian security forces arrested Wednesday about a dozen suspected radical Islamists in Bethlehem.

A report in the Palestinian Ma’an news agency put the number of detainees at 16. According to the report, the group are Salafi radicals who were preparing to carry out a terror attack against Western tourists arriving in Bethlehem to celebrate Christmas there.”

Yolande Knell’s selective portrayal of Christmas in Bethlehem is clearly designed to promote a political agenda and there is no reason to be surprised about that given her past record and her openly displayed identification with such political causes. Amazingly for a media organization supposedly committed to accurate and impartial reporting, the BBC continues to countenance her annual exploitation of Christmas for the opportunistic force-feeding of its audiences with trite anti-Israel delegitimisation.

Related Articles:

BBC’s Yolande Knell ditches any semblance of impartiality

‘Tis the season for the BBC to avoid adopting other people’s anti-Israel memes

More narrative-inspired reporting from Bethlehem by BBC’s Yolande Knell

BBC report on Christmas in Bethlehem amplifies PA political messaging yet again

BBC’s Knell exploits Christmas report to lie about anti-terrorist fence

 

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Reader secures correction to inaccurate claim in BBC website report

h/t Funzarian

On February 10th we pointed out here that in an article from the same date titled “Palestinian refugees’ suffering in Syria’s Yarmouk camp” by Yolande Knell and Yousef Shomali it was claimed that: 

“The unofficial camp was set up as a home for refugees who left or were forced from their original homes because of the 1948 war that led to the creation of Israel.”

As was noted at the time:

“Obviously, the average reader would take that sentence to mean that Israel was created after – and as a result of – the 1948 war. Clearly, that claim is inaccurate and actively misleads audiences with regard to the fact that the 1948 war began on May 15th 1948 – the day after Israel declared independence – when the nascent state was attacked by five Arab countries and an assortment of irregulars and foreign volunteers.”

BBC Watch reader Funzarian also noticed that historical inaccuracy and contacted the BBC News website’s Middle East desk. The reply received stated:

“As you correctly point out, the war followed the creation of Israel, and we have changed the wording accordingly.”

The relevant passage of the BBC report now reads as follows:

Amended Yarmouk art

Although the correction is obviously welcome and necessary, no footnote informing readers that it has been made is appended to the article and of course audience members who had already read the article before the amendment was made will remain unaware that they were misled with regard to historical facts. This latest example once again underlines the need for a dedicated webpage informing readers of corrections and amendments made to articles appearing on the BBC News website.

BBC’s Knell and Shomali mislead audiences on basic Middle East history

On February 10th a report by the BBC Jerusalem Bureau’s Yolande Knell and BBC Middle East producer Yousef Shomali titled “Palestinian refugees’ suffering in Syria’s Yarmouk camp” appeared in the ‘Features & Analysis’ section of the BBC News website’s Middle East page. 

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In that article, readers are told:

“The unofficial camp [Yarmouk] was set up as a home for refugees who left or were forced from their original homes because of the 1948 war that led to the creation of Israel.”

Obviously, the average reader would take that sentence to mean that Israel was created after – and as a result of – the 1948 war. Clearly, that claim is inaccurate and actively misleads audiences with regard to the fact that the 1948 war began on May 15th 1948 – the day after Israel declared independence – when the nascent state was attacked by five Arab countries and an assortment of irregulars and foreign volunteers. 

Notably, Knell and Shomali’s version of events has that war appearing from nowhere, with no mention of the fact that it was initiated by Arab states and of course no reference to the League of Nations decision to establish a Jewish homeland in mandate Palestine twenty-six years earlier. The article goes on:

“Over time, it [Yarmouk] grew into a busy residential and commercial district of the Syrian capital where about 150,000 Palestinians lived alongside Syrians.

Although the Syrian authorities did not give citizenship to refugees, they had full access to employment and social services. Many say they had relatively good lives compared to their counterparts in other Arab countries.”

Knell and Shomali make no attempt to inform readers why Syria did not give citizenship to Palestinian refugees. They fail to mention the deliberate tactical stance which prompted the Arab League to adopt resolution 1457 in 1959 according to which:

“Arab states will reject the giving of citizenship to applicants of Palestinian origin in order to prevent their integration into the host countries”

That politically motivated refusal to absorb Palestinian refugees and their descendants as full members of society continued in Syria – as it did in other Arab countries with the exception of Jordan.

“The 1965 Casablanca Protocol, which Syria ratified, stipulates that Arab countries should guarantee Palestinian refugees rights to employment, residency, and freedom of movement, whilst maintaining their Palestinian identity and not granting them citizenship. This is echoed in the Syrian legislation (Citizenship Law no. 276, 1969), which stipulates that the granting of Syrian citizenship to a person of Arab origin normally depends on habitual residence in Syria and demonstration of financial support or livelihood, but that Palestinians, in spite of fulfilling this condition, are not granted citizenship in order to ‘preserve their original nationality’.”

Until 1968, Palestinian refugees and their descendants in Syria were not allowed to own property.

“After 1968, this law was changed so that Palestinians were allowed to own one house per person, but they are still not allowed to own farm land.”

While this article is about current events in the Yarmouk camp rather than Middle East history in general, that is no excuse for misleading BBC audiences with regard to the circumstances of the creation of Israel.

Equally, there is no justification for the whitewashing of the fact that Arab countries elected to go to war in 1948 with the aim of wiping out the new Jewish state, or for concealment of the fact that the decision to go to war resulted in the creation of a refugee population which has for the last 65 years deliberately been kept in limbo by those same attacking states for tactical reasons which are identical to those which prompted the war which created the refugees in the first place.