The top story in the various editions of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newsday‘ aired on January 17th was described as follows:
“The US is withholding more than half of a $125m (£90m) instalment destined for the UN relief agency for the Palestinians, American officials say. It will provide $60m in aid to the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) but will hold back a further $65m.”
In the early edition of that programme, listeners around the world heard from two contributors voicing similar opinions. The item was introduced (at 00:48 here) by presenter Paul Hawkins as follows: [emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]
Hawkins: “But first to the news that the US is withholding millions of dollars in aid for the UN relief agency for Palestinians known as UNRWA. The White House has sent $60 million in its kind of first installment of 2018 but it’s withholding the remaining $65 million and has urged other countries to pay more. The US is UNRWA’s largest donor and supplies nearly 30% of its total budget of over a billion dollars. Here’s the reaction of Jan Egeland, a former UN undersecretary general and current head of the Norwegian Refugee Council.”
Despite the BBC’s editorial guidelines on impartiality, as is all too often the case listeners were not given any information regarding that NGO’s political agenda and activities before they heard its representative speak.
Egeland: “This is horrible news for us who are actively trying to provide humanitarian relief in the Middle East to all parties including to Palestinian refugee children. UNRWA is the number one provider of education, health care, even food and shelter for Palestinian refugees and their children: people who in Gaza, in Lebanon, in Syria have nowhere else to go, no job opportunities, no hope. It is a dangerous politicisation of humanitarian aid that grown, well-fed politicians and diplomats say we will now cut relief to the most vulnerable people because we disagree politically on, for example, the future of Jerusalem. Cannot do like that.”
Hawkins: “First of all the US State Department says that this decision is not aimed at punishing anyone, it’s not punitive and they just simply want your agency to reform itself. Do you believe them?”
Gunness: “Well first of all let me say that this reduction of US funding is regrettable, it is abrupt and it is harmful. The decision threatens one of the longest standing, most successful and innovative human development endeavours in the Middle East and at stake is the access of over half a million boys and girls to over 700 UNRWA schools. At stake is the dignity and the human security of millions of Palestine refugees. We tend to the sick, the elderly, the dying, the vulnerable children and women. So that is what is at stake:nothing less than the security and stability of the Middle East.
As far as reform is concerned, UNRWA has always been open to reform and the United States, most recently to our commissioner-general on a visit to Washington in November, was fulsome in its praise of UNRWA and its reforms. We remain committed to reforms but we have to say that this decision is extremely worrying because at stake is, as I say, the dignity, the human security of millions of Palestine refugees.”
Hawkins: “Well you say you remain committed to the reforms – it seems like the current White House administration is fed up with the agency being committed to reforms but not actually following them through. We’ve spoken to one expert who’s heard from the White House that UNRWA…when the US provides around $200 million a year to UNRWA, the agency burns through the budget within its first eight to ten months and then it has to go round asking for more money and this is the kind of thing that the US is a bit fed up with.”
Gunness: “Well as I said the US has consistently commended our high impact, our transparency and our accountability and as I’ve just said this was reiterated once again during the visit to Washington last November. The reason why, as you say, we burn through our budget is that the number of refugees continues to grow. The vulnerabilities they face in places like Gaza – because of the blockade – in Syria – because of the war that is now in its 7th year – and in the West Bank where the occupation is 50 years old. The reason why the budget of UNRWA goes up is because the numbers are going up and what we say to all stakeholders of the political echelon is what will stop this and what will put UNRWA out of business is a just and durable solution for the refugees in accordance with international law and based on UN resolutions. That is what is going to obviate the need for UNRWA to – as you put it – burn through the budget. So let’s get some political action to resolve the refugee issue because year on year the numbers are going up and there is increasing demand therefore our budget goes up.”
Hawkins made no effort to help listeners understand what part UNRWA’s unique policy of automatically awarding hereditary refugee status plays in causing the number of Palestinian refugees to rise, why refugee camps still exist in areas under the control of the Palestinian Authority and Hamas or why Palestinians with Jordanian citizenship are still classified as refugees.
Hawkins: “Just very quickly because we’re running out of time, Chris – apologies for that – but there’s also been a few questions raised about UNRWA’s…about the money that UNRWA provides – a lot of it going to political activity and what some may think is a questionable use of funds.”
Gunness: “Well we are one of the most audited of UN organisations on the planet. We maintain the highest standards of neutrality. The aid pipeline which we have is…it guarantees…I don’t understand where you say…I don’t understand where these accusations are coming from. Our funds are used for the purposes they’re intended for and that is a matter of public record and it’s something which we achieve to the satisfaction of all our major donors.”
Once again, BBC audiences heard nothing of the UNRWA employees who were elected to the Hamas political bureau, of the Hamas tunnels dug underneath UNRWA schools or of the antisemitic incitement posted on social media by UNRWA employees.
That, however, was not Gunness’ only interview on ‘Newsday’ on that particular day and his second appearance will be discussed in part two of this post.
On January 17th the BBC News website published yet another report about Ahed Tamimi – its fourth item in less than a month.
Written by Yolande Knell, the article is titled “Ahed Tamimi: Spotlight turns on Palestinian viral slap video teen” and much of its content is recycled from an audio report by Knell that was aired on BBC Radio 4’s ‘Today’ programme the previous week.
As was the case in that radio report, Knell’s written article does not inform BBC audiences that the video she describes in her opening paragraphs was filmed by Ahed Tamimi’s mother, Nariman, or that the latter has collaborated (along with additional members of the family) with B’tselem’s ‘armed with cameras’ project. Knell does however provide readers with a link (the only one in the article) to Nariman Tamimi’s Facebook account.
Throughout the article Knell describes Ahed Tamimi in the following terms:
“To some she’s a modern-day Joan of Arc.”
“…Ahed Tamimi is now a famous Palestinian prisoner…”
“For many Palestinians, Ahed is a hero of their nationalist struggle for the digital age. They see her standing up to the reality of Israeli occupation, defending her home with her bare hands.”
Knell tells readers that:
“Aged 11, Ahed was filmed threatening to punch a soldier after her older brother was arrested. Two years ago, she bit a soldier trying to detain her younger brother.”
As was the case in the audio report, she did not bother to inform readers that Tamimi’s then 12 year-old brother was throwing rocks at the time.
The four interviewees who appeared in Knell’s audio report – Ahed Tamimi’s lawyer Gabi Lasky, her father Bassem Tamimi, Israeli MK Anat Berko and former IDF chief prosecutor Lt-Col (res) Maurice Hirsch – are also quoted in this written report.
“Regarding the incitement charge, the MAG [Military Attorney General] cited a statement given by Ahed to her mother, who was filming the December 15 incident on Facebook Live. Immediately following the squabble, Nariman asked her daughter what kind of message she wanted to convey to viewers.
“I hope that everyone will take part in the demonstrations as this is the only means to achieve the result,” she said. “Our strength is in our stones, and I hope that the world will unite to liberate Palestine, because [Donald] Trump made his declaration and [the Americans] need to take responsibility for any response that comes from us,” Ahed added, apparently referring to the US president’s decision last month to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.
“Whether it is stabbings or suicide bombings or throwing stones, everyone must do his part and we must unite in order for our message to be heard that we want to liberate Palestine,” she concluded.”
However, in one of her final paragraphs Knell presents BBC audiences with a very different interpretation of Tamimi’s call for violence.
“At the end of the online video, Ahed calls for large demonstrations as “the only way to reach results”, but says US President Donald Trump must bear responsibility for any Palestinian violence, including stabbings and suicide attacks.”
Interestingly, a report in the Jerusalem Post shows that Tamimi’s lawyer Gabi Lasky used a remarkably similar claimin court.
“Gaby Lasky, a high-profile human rights lawyer and Meretz activist who is defending Tamimi, told the court Monday that the Palestinian teen mostly was protesting US President Donald Trump’s declaration recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.
She said Tamimi’s message was “Trump needs to take responsibility” for a negative decision which led to an outcry of Palestinian protests.”
On January 16th the BBC News website published a report headlined “US holds back $65m aid to Palestinians” on its ‘US & Canada’ and ‘Middle East’ pages. Readers were told that:
“The US is withholding more than half of a $125m (£90m) instalment destined for the UN relief agency for the Palestinians, American officials say.
It will provide $60m in aid to the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) but will hold back a further $65m. […]
The US funds almost 30% of the UN agency’s work overall and gave $370m to UNRWA last year. The money withheld is part of this year’s first instalment.”
Later on in the report more details on funding were provided under the sub-heading “How much aid does the US send to Palestinians?” – with the BBC finding it necessary to inform readers that:
“By contrast, Israel receives more than $3bn in military aid per year from the US.”
The BBC did not bother to clarify that the vast majority of that different kind of aid is conditioned on it being spent on American defence contractors.
Readers also found the following:
“”This is not aimed at punishing” anyone, state department spokeswoman Heather Nauert told reporters, adding that it was due to a US desire to see reforms at the agency.
The $65m is being withheld “for future consideration”, a US official told Reuters news agency, speaking on condition of anonymity.
“It is time other countries, some of them quite wealthy, step in and do their part to advance regional security and stability,” the official added.”
BBC Audiences were not told what such “reforms” might entail although, according to a report in Ha’aretz, Ms Nauert did clarify that point in her remarks.
‘”This is not aimed at punishing anyone,” Nauert said during her daily press briefing. “The United States Government and the Trump administration believe that there should be more so-called burden sharing to go around,” she added.
According to Nauert’s explanation, “the United States has been, in the past, the largest single donor to UNRWA. We would like other countries – in fact, other countries that criticize the United States for what they believe to be our position vis-a-vis the Palestinians, other countries that have criticized us – to step forward and actually help with UNRWA, to do more.” Nauert compared the decision regarding UNRWA to the Trump administration’s push for members of NATO to increase their defense spending: “Just as we have with NATO, asking other countries to provide that 2 percent GDP into its defense, we are asking countries to do more as it pertains to UNRWA.”‘
Under the sub-heading “What is Israel’s position?” readers were told that:
“Its ambassador to the UN, Danny Danon, called for aid to UNRWA to be scrapped completely.
He accused the agency of misusing humanitarian aid and supporting “anti-Israel propaganda”.
“It is time for this absurdity to end and for humanitarian funds to be directed towards their intended purpose – the welfare of refugees,” he said.”
According to a report in the Jerusalem Post, Mr Danon’s statement included additional points which the BBC apparently chose to edit out.
‘“UNRWA has proven time and again to be an agency that misuses the humanitarian aid of the international community and instead supports anti-Israel propaganda, perpetuates the plight of Palestinian refugees and encourages hate,” he said.
“Just over the last year alone, UNRWA officials were elected to the leadership of Hamas in the Gaza Strip, UNRWA schools denied the existence of Israel, and terror tunnels were dug under UNRWA facilities. It is time for this absurdity to end and for humanitarian funds to be directed toward their intended purpose – the welfare of refugees,” Danon added.’
As readers may recall, the BBC did not report on the UNRWA employees who were elected to the Hamas political bureau. Stories about Hamas tunnels dug underneath UNRWA schools have also been ignored – as have those concerning antisemitic incitement posted on social media by UNRWA employees and political campaigning by a senior official at UNRWA.
“UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) – safeguards rights and well-being of refugees; based in Geneva
UN Works and Relief Agency (UNWRA) [sic] – dedicated agency providing assistance solely to Palestinian refugees and their descendants”
Readers of this article (and many previous BBC reports) were not provided with relevant background information such as the fact that UNRWA employs 30,000 members of staff to take care of 5.3 million registered clients while the UNHCR has fewer than 11,000 staff dealing with 17.2 million refugees in 130 countries. Audiences were not informed that the number of Palestinians classified as refugees by UNRWA rose from 750 thousand in 1950 to five million in 2013 due to that organisation’s unique policy of automatically awarding hereditary refugee status.
Readers were not told why refugee camps still exist in areas under the control of the Palestinian Authority or Hamas or why Palestinians with Jordanian citizenship are still classified as refugees. Neither were they informed of the fact that while the UNHCR is “mandated by its Statute and the UN General Assembly Resolutions to undertake resettlement” of refugees, no such mandate currently applies to UNRWA.
While that relevant background was withheld, the BBC’s article did amplify reactions from former UN official Jan Egeland and the PLO.
“The withdrawal of funds would, he [Egeland] said, have “devastating consequences for vulnerable Palestinian refugees across the Middle East, including hundreds of thousands of refugee children in the West Bank and Gaza, Lebanon, Jordan and Syria who depend on the agency for their education”.
It would also “deny their parents a social safety net that helps them to survive, and undermine the UN agency’s ability to respond in the event of another flare up in the conflict”.
The Palestine Liberation Organization, an umbrella group for Palestinian factions, tweeted that the Trump administration seemed to be following an Israeli policy of dismantling “the one agency that was established by the international community to protect the rights of the Palestinian refugees”.”
Obviously BBC audiences cannot reach informed opinions on this particular story so long as the BBC continues to refrain from providing them with the relevant background concerning the long-standing debate surrounding UNRWA that they have been denied for so many years.
On January 11th an article titled “Two Palestinian teens killed in clashes with Israeli troops” appeared on the BBC News website’s Middle East page.
“Two Palestinian youths have been killed in clashes with Israeli troops in the Gaza Strip and occupied West Bank, the Palestinian health ministry says.”
Whether that refers to the PA health ministry or the Hamas-controlled health ministry in the Gaza Strip is unclear. The article continued:
“Amir Abu Musaid, 16, was shot near Gaza’s border fence, reportedly during a protest at the recent US recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.
The Israeli military said it fired at rioters who “put our forces in danger”.
Another 16-year-old, Omar Qadous, was shot between the villages of Iraq Burin and Til, in the northern West Bank.
The Israeli military said troops had come under attack from a “massive barrage of rocks” and that they had fired at the main instigator.”
However, the article then went on to promote the following claim:
“But Palestinian Authority official Ghassan Daghlas told the Wafa news agency that Israeli soldiers manning a checkpoint there opened fire “without any reason”.”
As was the case when the BBC last quoted Daghlas in one of its reports, the relevant issue of his job description (mentioned in the quoted Wafa report) and his dubious record of unsupported allegations was not clarified to readers. The BBC’s report continued:
“The Maan news agency cited local sources as saying that shots were fired by a sniper during a protest against restrictions put in place in the area as Israeli troops searched for the gunmen who killed an Israeli settler on Tuesday night.”
In fact the Ma’an report refers to those efforts to disturb the security forces’ search for terrorists at large as “clashes” rather than “a protest” as claimed by the BBC.
The link in that paragraph leads to a January 10th BBC report on a terror attack that was published some seventeen hours after the incident took place. BBC Watch has since learned that the corporation was provided with information and photographs authorised for publication immediately following the incident. As was the case in that report, this one too erased Fatah’s praise for the attack from audience view.
“Raziel Shevach, a 35-year-old rabbi and father-of-six, was shot several times as he drove along a highway near the settlement outpost of Havat Gilad.
No group has said it was behind the attack, but the Palestinian militant groups Hamas and Islamic Jihad praised the attackers.”
“At least 16 Palestinians and one Israeli have now been killed since 6 December, when President Donald Trump reversed decades of US policy by recognising Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and starting preparations to move the US embassy.
Fourteen of the Palestinians have been killed in clashes with Israeli troops, while two have died as a result of Israeli air strikes in response to rocket fire from Gaza.”
“In one of the IAF strikes late Friday on a Hamas base in Nusseirat, located in the central Gaza Strip, two Palestinians were killed. The Hamas-run health ministry in Gaza named the men as Mahmud al-Atal, 28 and Mohammed al-Safdi, 30. […]
The terror group later confirmed the dead men were members of its military wing.”
As we see the BBC continues to frame the recent rise in Palestinian violence as having been caused exclusively by the US Administration’s announcement recognising Jerusalem as the capital of Israel – rather than by the choices made by those throwing rocks and firebombs, launching missiles, stabbing a security guard at a bus station or shooting a volunteer first-aider on his way home.
At the same time, the corporation continues to refrain from producing any serious reporting on the long-standing efforts made by terror organisations to increase attacks (particularly in Judea & Samaria) and the incitement appearing in official PA media and on the social media of Palestinian factions.
On January 14th the IDF announced the destruction of yet another cross-border tunnel running from the Gaza Strip into Israel. Unusually however, this latest tunnel – originating in the southern Gaza Strip – also reached Egyptian territory.
“The Israel Defense Forces on Sunday said it had destroyed a border-crossing Hamas attack tunnel, the third in recent months, that penetrated hundreds of meters into both Israeli and Egyptian territory from the Gaza Strip, in an airstrike in southern Gaza on Saturday night. […]
According to [IDF spokesperson Lt-Col] Conricus, the tunnel was dug in the southern Gaza city of Rafah, some 900 meters from Israel, and extended 180 meters into Israeli territory.
On the other end, it also extended hundreds of meters into Egypt, which could have allowed fighters in Gaza to attack Israeli positions from the Sinai Peninsula, he said.
Asked if the tunnel could have functioned as both a smuggling and attack tunnel, the army spokesperson responded, “It could have, but we deal with the infrastructure.””
Significantly, the tunnel ran under the Kerem Shalom crossing.
“The tunnel, which the army said belonged to the Hamas terror group that controls the Gaza Strip, ran underneath the Kerem Shalom Gaza crossing, as well as below major gas and diesel pipelines, spokesperson Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus told reporters Sunday. […]
The Kerem Shalom Crossing routinely sees hundreds of trucks transporting medicine, food and drink into the Gaza Strip each day and acts as a major source of humanitarian aid to the beleaguered coastal enclave, which is subject to a blockade by both Israel and Egypt. Israel maintains the blockade to prevent terror group Hamas from importing weaponry. […]
“We know it’s a terror tunnel because it passes under different strategic assets,” Conricus said, referring to its proximity to the fuel pipelines into Gaza, the Kerem Shalom Crossing and a military installation nearby.
According to IDF figures, in 2017, over half a million tons of food entered the Strip through Kerem Shalom, along with 3.3 million tons of construction equipment and 12,000 tons of agricultural equipment.”
Despite both the threat to humanitarian supplies and fuel for civilians in the Gaza Strip and the significance of the fact that the tunnel reached Egyptian territory, the BBC chose not to report the story at all.
This is the third cross-border tunnel that the IDF has destroyed in the past two and a half months. On October 30th 2017 a tunnel belonging to the Palestinian Islamic Jihad was destroyed and while the BBC reported that story, its portrayal of the structure’s purpose was ambiguous. On December 10th 2017 the IDF destroyed a tunnel belonging to Hamas. The BBC did not produce any dedicated reporting on that story and the only mention of itcame in half a sentence in an article on a different topic.
Now we see that the BBC – which has longunder-reported and downplayed the subject of tunnels constructed by Hamas and other terror organisations – has chosen to completely ignore the story of Hamas’ construction of a structure breaching the sovereign territory of two neighbouring countries.
As we saw in part one of this post, the January 8th edition of ‘Hardtalk‘ (aired on the BBC World News channel, the BBC News channel and on BBC World Service radio) was devoted to an interview with Hamas’ Mahmoud Zahar in which some of the messaging audiences have previously received from the BBC was contradicted.
Throughout the interview Zahar also promoted numerous falsehoods, smears and inaccuracies which went unchallenged by presenter Stephen Sackur – thereby leaving audiences with misleading impressions and false information.
[emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]
1) Despite Hamas’ known misappropriation of thousands of tons of building materials intended for the repair and reconstruction of civilian homes damaged during the 2014 conflict and its spending of millions of dollars on tunnel construction and missile production rather than on public services for the impoverished residents of the Gaza Strip, Sackur failed to challenge Zahar’s claim that the poor quality of life in Gaza has nothing to do with Hamas “management”.
Zahar: “Yes, our life is very miserable – not because of bad management on our side but because of the crime committed by the Israeli occupation and by the cooperation of the Palestinian Authority with them and lastly by the impact of the international community, represented mainly by Mr Trump, against our human rights in the most important third shrine in Islam, al Aqsa Mosque.”
2) Sackur also refrained from questioning that claim from Zahar that the “human rights” of Muslims at al Aqsa mosque are being abused and failed to clarify to BBC audiences that in fact Muslims alone are allowed to pray there.
3) Zahar’s inaccurate claim that the Gaza Strip is under “siege” went unchallenged, as did the false allegation that the problems plaguing medical services in the Gaza Strip are the result of Israel’s counter-terrorism measures.
Zahar: “The siege for a long time destroyed our medical, our social, our economic life and nobody is interested about human rights where 2 million Palestinian people are living in this area.”
4) The issue of discrimination against Palestinians in some Arab countries was not raised by Sackur when Zahar mentioned refugee camps and neither was the subject of the deliberate perpetuation of their refugee status.
Zahar: “Add to that our miserable life in the West Bank in addition to the very distress life in the refugee camps outside Palestine, whether in Jordan, especially in Lebanon and Syria. For this reason I think it’s a big crime. It’s a big crime against the Palestinian human rights.”
5) Zahar’s repeated claims of “occupation” since 1948 were not challenged by Sackur even once and neither was his inaccurate characterisation of the British mandate administration.
Zahar [04:00]: “…we are living under occupation since many, many years. Since 1948 they occupied what is now called Israel and after that at ’67.”
Zahar [14:36]: “We are here speaking about national interest. Our interest is our land. Our land well-known occupied at ’48.”
Zahar [19:50]: “Listen, listen: this [Israel] is Palestine. This is Palestine occupied ’48. Occupied by ’48 by the support and by a built by the British occupation.”
6) Zahar’s repeated portrayal of Palestinian terrorism as “self-defence” went unquestioned.
Zahar [04:00]: “But lastly, lastly by our method of self-resistance, self-defence against the occupation in Gaza we succeed[ed] to eliminate the occupation in Gaza.”
Zahar [05:36]: “The people in the West Bank have their right to defend themselves by all means. […] We have to defend ourselves by all means in the West Bank in order to avoid the expansion of the settlement not only on Jerusalem but also on the rest of the West Bank.”
Zahar [12:19]: “We are not a terrorist and we are not launching rockets against Israel randomly. But we are defending ourself against the fifth…the Phantom fifty-five. […] You [are] speaking [about] us as we are launching rockets against Israel as terrorist. We are not terrorist. We are freedom fighter.”
Zahar [16:51]: “We practiced as a Palestinian people all the peaceful methods in order to achieve our right as a homeland and now we see no square meter for the Palestinians except Gaza – liberated by armed resistance. […] We are insisting to defend ourself by all means including the armed resistance […] people are admiring to sacrifice [i.e. suicide bombings] in order to achieve their homeland.”
Zahar [14:36]: “Humanitarian aid [from foreign donors] is our right whether we are fighting as a freedom fighter or living in prison.”
Zahar: [21:43] “Why you describe it as violence? This is not a violence. This is one of the methods to have a self-defence.”
7) When Sackur raised the issue of missiles launched from the Gaza Strip at Israeli civilians, Zahar’s claim that they “are not citizens” [from 05:36] went unchallenged by Sackur, as did his repeated inaccurate and bigoted portrayal of all Israelis as ‘foreigners’ and his portrayal of Israel as a colonial implant for which Europeans are to blame.
Zahar: “First of all these are citizens…are not citizens. These are settler. These people left their homeland from America, from Russia and come. For this reason we are against foreign people took our land, violated our rights.
Zahar [14:36]: “I’m asking just simple question: what moral principle justify Netanyahu to come from America and while his father is still there and to occupy our land? What justified for Lieberman coming from Russia to be in our land?”
Zahar [12:19]: “We are occupied by foreigner, dismissed all through your history. You as European people and Americans are particularly the people responsible about the disaster of the Jews when you destroyed […] the existence of the Jews in your country and dismissed these people to our people as part of the occupation.”
Zahar [14:36]: “Do you believe that your capital [Jerusalem] can be occupied by a foreigner and the price will be material aids [aid]?”
Zahar [19:37]: “It is not a matter of destroying Israel. It is a matter of liberation of our land occupied by a foreigner, by people from America…”
8) Zahar’s repeated airbrushing of the long history of suicide bombings by Hamas and other terror groups went without comment from Sackur.
Zahar [05:36]: “We started by throwing stones, using knife and lastly at a time used guns against the Israeli.”
Zahar [21:43]: “We practice…we practiced all, all methods. Since the occupation we practiced several different self-defence and in the first Intifada we threw stones, we distributed leaflets and we [unintelligible] and the result was more Israeli aggression […] and the people were enforce [forced] at that time to use violence – throwing the stone and after that using knives and after that when they succeed to have guns, they use guns and by these guns the Israelis came from Gaza.”
9) Even Zahar’s dog-whistle remarks concerning Temple Mount produced no reaction from Sackur and at no point was the significance of Jerusalem to Jews and Christians clarified to audiences.
Zahar [14:36] “Our interest is our holy place al Aqsa mosque which is the most important third shrine in Islam, not only for Hamas but for every Muslim – even the British Muslim.”
While there may of course be those who argue that it is useful for BBC audiences to hear the type of extremist views espoused by Hamas straight from their source, the fact that Zahar’s lies, omissions, distortions of history and blatantly bigoted messaging falls on ears which for the most part have a poor understanding of the history of the region and the Palestinian-Israeli conflict should have been reason enough for Stephen Sackur to challenge his remarks and at least set the historical record straight for viewers and listeners.
As we see, that did not happen and so BBC audiences around the world went away having been fed an unhealthy dose of standard Palestinian propaganda that erases Jewish history and portrays Jews as a foreign colonial implant in the region.
An article that appeared on the BBC News website on January 14th under the headline “Jerusalem embassy: Abbas says Trump plan ‘slap of the century’” purports to inform audiences about a speech made by the Palestinian president and PLO chairman at a meeting of the PLO central council.
The BBC reported the content of Abbas’ speech as follows:
“Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has described US President Donald Trump’s Middle East peace efforts as the “slap of the century”.
At a meeting of Palestinian leaders, he stressed he would not accept any peace plan from the US after it recognised Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.
He also accused Israel itself of putting an end to the 1994 Oslo Accords, which began the peace process. […]
Speaking to Palestinian faction leaders in Ramallah on Sunday, he said: “The deal of the century is the slap of the century and we will not accept it.”
“I am saying that Oslo, there is no Oslo,” he added. “Israel ended Oslo.””
Under the sub-heading “Did he say anything new?” readers were also told that:
“On Sunday, Mr Abbas suggested Palestinians were being offered the village of Abu Dis, outside Jerusalem, as the capital of a future Palestinian state.
“What would you want, if Jerusalem were to be lost?” he asked rhetorically, according to the Jerusalem Post. “Would you want to make a state with Abu Dis as its capital?””
However, that 162 word portrayal of the speech made by Abbas – which went on for more than two hours – omits parts of its content.
Ha’aretz reportedthat Abbas personally attacked US officials, saying:
“U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman is a settler who is opposed to the term occupation. He is an offensive human being, and I will not agree to meet with him anywhere. They requested that I meet him and I refused, not in Jerusalem, not in Amman, not in Washington. U.S. Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley too, she threatens to hit people who hurt Israel with the heel of her shoe, and we’ll respond in the same way.”
Abbas also promoted the following unoriginal smear:
“Israel has imported frightening amounts of drugs in order to destroy our younger generation.”
The Palestinian president expressed the intention to continue providing payments to convicted terrorists and their families.
“Prisoners and their family members are our sons, and we will continue to give them stipends.”
He also made false claims regarding Theodor Herzl:
“Abbas then turned to the United Kingdom, saying that “we continue to demand an apology from the British for the Balfour Declaration, and we will continue to demand their recognition of a Palestinian state.” He noted that “Herzl’s phrase ‘a land without a people for a people without a land’ was made up. He arrived here and saw a people, and for that reason, spoke of the need to get rid of the Palestinians.”” [emphasis added]
Abbas’ historical distortions continued:
“Abbas spoke for about two and half hours about how Jews were brought to Israel. He noted that England and the United States participated in the process of bringing Jews to Palestine after the Holocaust, seeking to solve the problem of having Jews without suffering the consequences.”
The New York Times adds:
“Testing his audience’s attention, Mr. Abbas also gave a lengthy history lecture reaching back to the 17th century, saying that Oliver Cromwell had first proposed shipping European Jews to the Holy Land, before tracing the beginning of Zionism to what he called the 19th-century journalist and activist Theodor Herzl’s efforts to “wipe out Palestinians from Palestine.”
“This is a colonial enterprise that has nothing to do with Jewishness,” Mr. Abbas said. “The Jews were used as a tool under the concept of the promised land — call it whatever you want. Everything has been made up.”” [emphasis added]
There is of course nothing new about Abbas’ denial of Jewish history and his attempts to portray Israel as a European colonialist implant: such propaganda has been spread by the Palestinian Authority for years.
Unfortunately, there is also nothing novel about a BBC report on a speech made by the Palestinian president in which the parts of his remarks that do not fit the corporation’s chosen narrative are erased from audience view: only last month the BBC News website did the exact same when reporting on an address delivered by Abbas in Turkey.
Just as BBC audiences are never told about the ‘moderate’ Palestinian president’s personal role in the PA’s incitement to violence and glorification of terrorism or his refusal to recognise the Jewish state, they likewise do not hear anything about his longstanding denial of Jewish history and distortion of the origins of modern Israel.
The BBC’s avoidance of any serious, in-depth reporting on the subject of relations between Hamas and the ISIS franchise based in the Sinai Peninsula has been previously documented on these pages:
When winds began to change on that front last year, the BBC likewise failed to produce any English language coverage.
“The Islamic State branch in the Sinai Peninsula on Wednesday called on its supporters to attack Hamas in a gruesome execution video as long-simmering tensions between the rival Islamic terror groups erupted into the open.
The 22-minute long video culminated with the execution of one of its members, shot in the back of the head for allegedly smuggling weapons to Hamas.
“[Hamas] uses its smuggled weapons to empower that which was not revealed by God. It also fights supporters of the Islamic State in Gaza and the Sinai and prevents the migration of these supporters from Gaza to the Sinai,” said a speaker in the video, who is referred to as Abu Kazem al-Maqdisi, an Islamic State preacher in the Sinai, originally from Gaza.
Maqdisi calls on viewers to attack the security headquarters and courthouses of Hamas in Gaza, as these are “the pillars of tyranny.” […]
In recent months, Hamas has beefed up security along Gaza’s southern border with Egypt seeking to assure Cairo that it is fighting IS sympathizers. The Hamas crackdown on the Egyptian militants was a key part of restoring ties between Hamas and Cairo, which has since played a key role in Palestinian reconciliation agreements.”
Hamas, however, publicised its own ‘explanation’ of the video.
“On Thursday, Hamas spokesperson Salah Bardawil dismissed the Islamic State video as a “Zionist production.”
The video is “a Zionist production in which Arab tools participate to distort the resistance…This is what the Zionist intelligence agency and its lackeys have been striving for,” he wrote in a statement on Twitter.
Bardawil argued Hamas’s conflict with Salafis is not ideological, but rather an issue of security.”
On January 8th the BBC programme ‘Hardtalk‘ aired (not for the first time) a televised interview with Hamas’ Mahmoud Zahar on the BBC World News channel and on the BBC News channel. An audio version of the same interview was also broadcast on BBC World Service radio and a clip from the interview was promoted separately.
“Stephen Sackur speaks to Mahmoud al-Zahar, co-founder of the Islamist movement Hamas. Donald Trump broke with long established diplomatic convention by recognising Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. His recent tweets on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict have been music to the ears of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. So what do the Palestinians do now? Hamas controls Gaza and has been at loggerheads with the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank for more than a decade. Are the Palestinians staring defeat in the face?”
One noteworthy aspect of that programme was Stephen Sackur’s presentation of terrorism as a matter of conflicting narratives.
[emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]
Sackur: “My guest today was one of the co-founders of the Palestinian Islamist movement Hamas. Mahmoud Zahar became used to the rigours of violent conflict with Israel. He was imprisoned, deported, his home was targeted, family members – including his son killed. But he and his Hamas colleagues remained committed to an armed struggle whose ultimate objective they characterise as the liberation of all the territory between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River. To Israel, Hamas is a terrorist organisation and Mr Zahar is a terrorist with blood on his hands. To Palestinians he is one player in a prolonged internecine struggle between Fatah – the organisation led for so long by Yasser Arafat – and Hamas.”
And [from 04:56 in the audio version]:
Sackur: “The truth is, since that decision taken by Trump in December on Jerusalem we’ve seen – what? – a dozen or so rockets fired from Gaza toward Israel. The Israelis have responded by targeting weapons dumps. The truth is everything that you talk about in terms of violent military resistance plays into Israel’s hands. It allows them to characterise you yet again as terrorists out to kill Israeli citizens.”
Sackur’s presentation of course would not have surprised anyone familiar with the BBC’s long history of promoting the ‘one man’s terrorist’ narrative that fails to distinguish between means and ends and results in inconsistent BBC reporting on terrorism in differing locations.
Another notable point was Sackur’s adoption of Hamas’ own terminology and his breach [from 20:09] of the BBC Academy’s “journalists’ guide to facts and terminology” which, as noted here recently on twooccasions, instructs the corporation’s staff not to use the term Palestine except in very specific circumstances.
Sackur: “Is the resistance in Palestine now in the hands of ordinary people – young people particularly – not with veteran leaders like you?”
Viewers and listeners may have noticed that during this interview some of the messaging they have previously received from the BBC was contradicted.
Zahar: “But lastly, lastly by our method of self-resistance, self-defence against the occupation in Gaza we succeed[ed] to eliminate the occupation in Gaza.”
In September of last year the BBC began reporting on Hamas-Fatah ‘reconciliation’ and produced a considerable amount of content promoting that topic. However, Zahar dismissed the claim of ‘reconciliation’ proposed by Sackur [from 09:02].
Sackur: “I mean you in Hamas, as of October 2017 – just a few months ago – are committed to a reconciliation agreement with Fatah which is supposed to lead to a reunification of the administration in Gaza and supposed to see Fatah and PA – Palestinian Authority – forces take security control in Gaza. Are you suggesting to me that that deal is now completely off?”
Zahar: “First of all I’d like to address that it’s not a reconciliation. This is a misleading name actually. We in Cairo on 2011 agreed to have a deal and agreement in Cairo. This agreement includes the most important point is to run election for the ministerial level, for the legislative council and for the national council level. And we are dead sure that we are going to win this election. At that time we are going to change the attitude of this authority from cooperating with Israel to the degree as we did with the Israeli in 2005. For this reason we are…”
Sackur [interrupts] “We don’t have time for a long history lesson but the bottom line is just a few months ago you were prepared to talk about a deal with Fatah and Fatah insisted part of that deal would be that you would accept Palestinian Authority security control in Gaza and Hamas would ultimately have to give up its weapons. Are you prepared, in Hamas, as part of a national deal, to give up your weapons?”
Zahar: “It’s not a national deal. It’s between Fatah and other national factions but the Palestinian people in the refugee camps, more than six million people outside, they’ve not shared it. I’m speaking about what is the substantial core of this deal you describe in the last few months. It was implementation of the agreement in Cairo 2011. It’s not a reconciliation.”
Another interesting point arising from this interviewee is the discovery that the BBC does know the purpose of the cross-border tunnels dug by Hamas and other terror organisations – despite its ambiguous description of their purpose in the past.
Sackur: [11:43] “…you’re not prepared – are you? – to give up your weapons based control of the Gaza Strip and your continued determination to fire rockets into Israel and dig tunnels under your territory into Israeli territory in order to conduct terrorist operations inside Israel.”
Last year the BBC amply covered the story of the Hamas policy document published in May with some reports inaccurately describing it as a ‘new’ charter signalling a different approach from the terror group and Yolande Knell, for example, telling BBC audiences that “it really drops its long-standing call for an outright destruction of Israel”. However, when Sackur brought up that topic, Zahar put paid to that claim from Knell.
Sackur [from 18:27] “…in May of 2017 your movement came out with a new policy document. For the first time they…you in Hamas said that you would accept a solution which gave the Palestinians a state on the ’67 lines and it looked as though – with a new leader Mr Haniyah in place – it looked as though Hamas was beginning to search for a way to play a role in the peace process; to become – if I may say so – more moderate. Have you walked away from that now? Are you not interested in being more moderate anymore?”
Zahar: “I’m sorry to understand from you because we are speaking about establishment of an independent state in the area for occupied ’67 but this is the continuation of our argument. But we are not going to denounce a square meter of our land which is Palestine.”
Throughout the interview Zahar was permitted to promote inaccurate claims unchallenged by Sackur, as we will see in part two of this post.
For the past five years the BBC has been reporting on a proposed housing project in the south Jerusalem district of Givat HaMatos.
In December 2012 BBC audiences were told that:
“…on Wednesday, Jerusalem’s planning committee granted approval for 2,610 homes in a new settlement in East Jerusalem called Givat Hamatos – the first to be built in the area since 1997.”
And, quoting the EU:
“If implemented, these plans would jeopardise the possibility of a contiguous, sovereign, independent and viable Palestinian State and of Jerusalem as the future capital of both Israel and Palestine”.
In October 2014 the BBC told audiences that:
“Israel has been criticised this month for approving new settlement construction in Givat Hamatos neighbourhood in East Jerusalem”
Two months later, in December 2014, the BBC’sTim Franks revisitedthe same story.
“When I was posted here a few years ago as Middle East correspondent, one of the dominant stories was over the expansion of Jewish settlements on territory which Israel had occupied in the aftermath of the 1967 war. Undesirable if not downright illegal, said the rest of the world. Israel, for its part, said that the status of the territory was a matter of dispute and in the meantime it needed a place for its burgeoning population to live. So much might be familiar but in the last couple of months the announcement of a big new building development in occupied East Jerusalem has been described as a game-changer and brought furious international criticism. Why?”
Audiences heard just one view on the topic from a representative of the political NGO ‘Ir Amim’ which has received funding from foreign sources – including from the EU.
In late January 2017 Tim Franks returned to the same location and BBC audiences again heard one view of the story; this time from the inadequately introduced founder of that same political NGO.
Franks: “This is Givat HaMatos – an area of scrubland really – on the outskirts of Jerusalem. Just a couple of kilometres behind me to the south is the Palestinian city of Bethlehem. And I’m here with a man called Danny Seidemann – he’s an Israeli attorney and specialist on the mapping of Jerusalem.”
Seidemann: “Givat HaMatos is pretty unique. It’s one of two or three schemes that we call a Doomsday settlement. These settlements are in and of themselves capable of making the two-state solution impossible.”
To date, not one brick has been laid in the proposed project on which the BBC has already produced four reports and the JCPA recently published a backgrounder that explains why that is the case.
“The plan to build a Jewish residential neighborhood in Givat Hamatos in southern Jerusalem was already approved by the Jerusalem District Planning and Building Committee in 2014. However, it has been frozen for four years.
Under pressure from the United States, Germany, and other European Union countries, the issuing of the construction tenders has been suspended time after time. […]
Germany is playing a central role in pressuring Israel not to build Givat Hamatos; other European countries oppose it as well. In October 2014 French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said the decision to build homes in Givat Hamatos threatened the two-state solution: “One cannot claim to support a solution and at the same time do things against without consequences being drawn.” In October 2017, the European Union requested clarifications from Israel about plans for housing units in Hamatos, saying that such building “is likely to harm severely the continuity and the existence of a future Palestinian state.””
While the views of representatives of an EU funded political NGO have been amplified in half of the BBC’s four reports on the story and the EU itself quoted in one other, audiences have not heard any alternative views whatsoever.
BBC editorial guidelines on impartiality state:
“We must apply due impartiality to all our subject matter. However, there are particular requirements for ‘controversial subjects’, whenever they occur in any output, including drama, entertainment and sport. […]
When dealing with ‘controversial subjects’, we must ensure a wide range of significant views and perspectives are given due weight and prominence, particularly when the controversy is active. Opinion should be clearly distinguished from fact.” [emphasis added]
Obviously BBC reporting on the proposed housing project in Givat HaMatos throughout the past five years has not complied with those guidelines. Rather, it has exclusively promoted monochrome framing of the story that has denied audiences access to information and perspectives that contradict the BBC’s chosen narrative.