In previous posts we looked at how the opening of the US embassy in Jerusalem and the rioting along the Gaza Strip-Israel border were portrayed as they happened in the May 14th afternoon edition of the BBC World Service radio flagship news and current affairs programme ‘Newshour‘ (available #playt=11s" rel="noopener" target="_blank">here).
In this post we will look at what BBC audiences worldwide were told in real-time about the context to the poorly portrayed violence along that border.
The long introduction given by presenter Razia Iqbal included misrepresentation of the locations of previous ‘Great Return March’ events – which actually were confined to the Gaza Strip border. Iqbal also promoted the blatant falsehood that the displacement of all Palestinians in 1948 was “forced”.
01:28 Iqbal: “Dates are significant here. It is the 70th anniversary of the foundation of Israel and there has been a six-week protest by Palestinians in Jerusalem, the West Bank and – the most deadly – in Gaza. Scores have been shot dead by Israeli soldiers on the Gaza-Israel border. The protests are to culminate on May the 15th, tomorrow, called the Nakba or catastrophe by Palestinians as the day when they were forced from their land and homes as Israel was established.”
In contrast to the very clear – but inaccurate – impression given by Razia Iqbal, the facts are of course much more nuanced:
“Historians agree that there was no single cause of the Arab flight from Palestine. In large part, the masses fled because they saw the Palestinian elite doing the same thing. In part, it was in response to exhortations by Arab military and political leaders that Palestinian civilians evacuate their homes until the end of the fighting. Vast numbers were simply fleeing the heavy fighting that surrounded them, or that they expected to soon disrupt their lives. In some instances, Palestinians were forced from their homes by the Jewish military.”
The vast majority of the context to what was, as we saw earlier, overwhelmingly portrayed as “peaceful marches” and “protests” came in Yolande Knell’s report near the beginning of the programme.
05:15 Iqbal: “Yolande, just remind listeners that this has been going on for several weeks now and it’s very specifically to mark a day tomorrow for the Palestinians.”
Knell: “That’s right. This has been called the Great March of Return by the Palestinians. It was organised in Gaza over the past 6 weeks. The 15th of May is always a date of protest for Palestinians when they remember how, back in 1948, more than 700,000 people lost their homes on land that became part of Israel. [….] The people [Knell spoke to in Gaza] were saying that they really felt that the historic injustice as they saw it was at the heart of all the modern-day problems that they have in Gaza, where they have chronic electricity shortages, this long-time blockade that’s been enforced by Israel and Egypt which now means that the Gaza Strip is an extremely poor place – it suffers from extremely high unemployment.”
Obviously the fact that there are chronic electricity shortages in the Gaza Strip has nothing whatsoever to do with the refugee issue (it is, as Knell well knows, in fact due to infighting between Hamas and Fatah) and neither do the counter-terrorism measures imposed by Israel and Egypt in response to the surge in terrorism since Hamas’ violent coup in the Gaza Strip in 2007. Knell went on:
Knell: “One woman told me ‘I wouldn’t have come down here if Gaza wasn’t in the state it was but people need to see what the issues are for us’. They felt that this was putting back the suffering of people in Gaza back into the spotlight. Also a lot of concern…they think that the issue of Palestinian refugees – which is a key issue in the Israel-Palestinian conflict – they feel that there have been attempts – particularly by Washington – to try to push this off the table of any future negotiations. They say that because of course earlier this year the US did announce big cuts to the UN agency for Palestinian refugees, UNRWA.”
Yolande Knell (nor anyone else in this programme) made no effort to inform listeners why Palestinians – even when living under PA or Hamas control – are still kept in refugee status by UNRWA, their own leaders and the leaders of Arab countries seventy years on.
Listeners were also told that:
Knell: “Now on top of that, another key issue – the future status of Jerusalem. That is also at stake and of course that’s just added fuel to the flames, brought more people out for these demonstrations. “
As we see, listeners to this broadcast were wrongly led to believe that Palestinians were ‘protesting’ on the border because of a bad electricity supply, high unemployment and poverty – even as the BBC serially ignored the repeated attacks by ‘protesters’ on the Kerem Shalom crossing.
Additional factors cited included “the future status of Jerusalem” and the anniversary of a “historic injustice” which Knell failed to put into its correct context. Interestingly, while BBC reports on previous bouts of ‘Great Return March’ violence had touted the ‘right of return’ that is supposedly the publicity stunt’s raison d’être (see for example here and here), in this report that topic was largely avoided and listeners were not informed of the basic fact that the Palestinian demand for ‘right of return’ means rejection of the two-state solution and that its real intention is to threaten the existence of Israel as the Jewish state.
Listeners also heard nothing of the fact that the ‘Great Return March’ events were organised by factions includingGaza-based terror groups. They were not told of the payments made by Hamas to participators or of the organisers’ calls for breaching of the border fence and ‘martyrdom‘. Even Yahya Sinwar’s March 31st statement of intent – “We will take down the border and we will tear out their hearts from their bodies” – did not receive any BBC coverage either in this programme or elsewhere.
Sadly it is all too obvious that both of the topics covered in this May 14th ‘split screen’ edition of Newshour – the opening of the US embassy in Jerusalem and the rioting on the Gaza border on the same day – were presented in a manner intended to amplify a specific political narrative rather than to provide BBC audiences with “accurate and impartial news […] of the highest editorial standards so that all audiences can engage fully with issues” as required by the corporation’s public purposes.
In the context of the question of whose interests this edition of ‘Newshour’ served, it is worth noting what Hamas’ leader Yahya Sinwar had to say about the Western media’s ‘split screen’ reporting two days after this BBC programme was broadcast:
“Our people have imposed their agenda upon the whole world. There was supposed to be a romantic picture of the opening of the U.S. embassy in Jerusalem on the world’s television screens, but our people, in their collective consciousness, forced the whole world to split the television screens between the footage of fraud, deception, falsehood, and oppression, manifest in the attempt to impose Jerusalem as the capital of the occupation state, and between the image of injustice, oppression, heroism, and determination painted by our own people in their sacrifices – the sacrifice of their children as an offering for Jerusalem and the Right of Return.”
Last week we looked at how the opening of the US embassy in Jerusalem was reported live in the May 14th afternoon edition of the BBC World Service radio flagship news and current affairs programme ‘Newshour’.
The same programme – presented by Razia Iqbal and available #playt=11s" rel="noopener" target="_blank">here – concurrently gave listeners a portrayal of events along the border between Israel and the Gaza Strip on that day – as described in its synopsis.
“Dozens of Palestinians have been killed and nearly 2,000 injured by Israeli forces on Gaza’s border. The clashes came as the United States formally opened its embassy in Jerusalem. We will hear from both Palestinian and Israeli voices.”
That content related to two topics: what was happening along the Gaza border and why. In this post we will first take a look at the ‘what’: how the events themselves were portrayed.
[emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]
03:34 Iqbal: “Thousands of Palestinians have gathered on the edge of the border between Gaza and Israel fanning out along the fence that separates Palestinian territory from Israel. There have been demonstrations by Palestinians in Gaza, in Jerusalem and in the West Bank.”
Listeners heard a report from Yolande Knell who began by failing to inform listeners that the “Palestinian health officials” she quoted are in fact Hamas employees.
03:56 Knell: Well the latest we’re hearing from Palestinian health officials is that at least 37 people have been killed, one of them as young as 14. Many hundreds of people have been injured – several of them are journalists – and this, of course, is on top of at least 40 people who’ve been killed by Israeli soldiers during the past 6 weeks of protests…eh…during the demonstrations themselves. So really a very deadly day: the bloodiest day since the war in Gaza back in 2014.
Knell – who had previously been described by Iqbal as being in Ramallah – refrained from describing the events in the BBC’s own words.
Knell: “We’re hearing there are about 35,000 Palestinians spread across 12 locations. These are figures from the Israeli military. They say that Palestinians are throwing fire bombs, burning tyres and throwing rocks along the border. They said that they are sticking to what they call the usual rules of engagement. They have been warning they expected hundreds of Palestinians to try to approach the perimeter fence, to try to cut their way through it and break into Israeli territory and they made it clear that they would open fire in such cases to stop people from attacking the fence and from possible attacks being carried out on the Israeli communities that live nearby.”
She went on to promote the view of additional people not actually present on the Gaza border but, like her, commenting from Ramallah.
Knell: “But the PA government is accusing the Israeli military of carrying out a terrible massacre in Gaza.”
That portrayal of Israeli army statements from Yolande Knell in the first five minutes of the programme was in fact also the last account listeners heard of what the Palestinians at the border were actually doing. Throughout the rest of the programme they heard a series of context-free statements from Razia Iqbal such as the following during an interview with Israeli MK Sharren Haskel.
12:11 Iqbal: “If I could just get your response to what is happening not very far away from where the embassy is being inaugurated. Gazans are being shot dead by Israeli forces.”
13:22 Iqbal: “Dozens of Palestinians have been killed and more than a thousand injured by Israeli forces on Gaza’s border. These clashes come as the United States formally opens its embassy in Jerusalem.”
At one point – as Haskel spoke of “violent riots in the attempt to break the border” – Razia Iqbal abandoned journalistic impartiality altogether:
15:07 Iqbal [interrupts, shouting]: “They’re unarmed, Sharren Haskel! They’re unarmed! It’s the Israeli forces who are armed and shooting at them.”
Listeners also heard a portrayal of the events along the Gaza border from yet another person located over a hundred kilometres away in Ramallah – Mustafa Barghouti.
16:46 Barghouti: “And now the Israelis are thinking that they got a green light from the Americans to do whatever they want. What we see today is a real massacre. So far Israel is responding to peaceful marches. They respond to us with lethal weapons. So far they killed 20 Palestinians and injured no less than 900.”
Despite the fact that many of those killed in prior bouts of rioting over the previous six weeks had been identified as members of Hamas and other terror groups (information that was not disclosed to listeners of this programme) Razia Iqbal provided Mustafa Barghouti with the cue to disseminate more propaganda.
19:11 Iqbal: “Those who speak on the side of Israel and Israeli security forces in particular will argue that Hamas is using in some cases children as human shields. Is there any truth to what they say?”
19:24 Barghouti: “Not at all. They are shooting civilians. The people who are killed are 30 years old. Some of them are children also. But no; people are marching peacefully. But Israel is shooting us. The world must take a stand here and must tell Israel enough is enough. You can’t continue to kill Palestinians as if they are not equal human beings.”
Later on in the programme Iqbal interviewed a Palestinian from Gaza.
33: 26 Iqbal: “Not very far from where people were hearing President Trump there are protests going on along the border between Gaza and Israel. We have just got through to a Palestinian activist. His name is Fadi Shamala…”
Shamala spoke of “tear gas” and “seeing hundreds of the youth are getting shot and killed”, claiming that:
Shamala: “More than 41 Palestinians is killed in these demonstration and more than also thousand of Palestinians were got injured.”
Referring to her first interview with Sharren Haskel, Iqbal asked:
34:41 Iqbal: “Fadi – so I was speaking to an Israeli member of the Knesset earlier and she was saying that the Palestinians are being provocative, they are armed and they are threatening Israel. Were you carrying a weapon today? Did you see other people who were protesting with you carrying weapons?”
After a sarcastic quip, Shamala replied:
Shamala: “No absolutely not. We were just thousands of Palestinian protesters who are unarmed. Just making a peaceful – a very peaceful – demonstration inside the Palestinian side. I mean they are till now are in the Palestinian side and around 3,000 journalists are seeing what is going on in the Palestinian side and also the activities of the demonstration, the protests themselves.”
During a later conversation with former Senator Joe Lieberman, Iqbal again gave a context-free portrayal of the day’s events:
41:07 Iqbal: “I wonder if I can just ask you to reflect then on the word ‘peace’ because today we are seeing Israeli forces shooting dead currently at least 16 protesters on the border between Gaza and Israel proper.”
41:52 Iqbal: “Since I did that interview with Senator Lieberman the number of Palestinians dead has gone up to 37.”
Later on, she repeated the exercise:
44:11 Iqbal: “Not very far from where the ceremony was taking place, dozens of Palestinians have been killed and more than a thousand injured by Israeli forces on Gaza’s border.”
48:20 Iqbal: “And what do you think then is going to be the direct result of what President Trump has done? I mean we’re seeing today coinciding with the opening of the embassy, continuation of protests on the border between Gaza and Israel and the death toll of Gazans is going up by the hour. What are we to make of those two parallel – almost parallel – universes that are existing today?”
Freidman: “This is part of a shifting, a recalibration of relations around Israel-Palestine and we don’t know where it goes just yet. It is currently being measured in blood.”
As we see, BBC World Service audiences were presented with a very blinkered view of what actually happened along the Gaza border on May 14th. Yolande Knell told listeners that the IDF had said that “Palestinians are throwing fire bombs, burning tyres and throwing rocks” but BBC audiences heard nothing at all about the more violent incidents that took place before and during the time that this programme was on air – including attempts to breach the border.
BBC audiences did however repeatedly hear descriptions of “peaceful marches” and “protests” and were led to believe time and time again that the IDF was shooting unarmed civilians, with Hamas’ role in organising the riots mentions erased from audience view. On two occasions the events were described as a “massacre” – even as the BBC concealed the more violent incidents from listeners.
Like the programme’s portrayal of the relocation of the US embassy to Jerusalem, the information and descriptions heard by BBC World Service listeners were obviously intended to steer audiences towards a very specific and one-sided understanding of events.
As Rod Liddle summed it up at the Times:
“Having listened to and watched the BBC news all last week, I am of the firm opinion that the fascist, apartheid state of Israel has been guilty of genocide against the peaceable Palestinian teenagers and toddlers who simply wanted to hold a kind of alcohol-free fundraising gala near that border fence, to celebrate diversity and niceness and raise money for worthy concerns. It is outrageous that the Israelis should have fired on unarmed civilians simply when they were running a tombola.
Some people will have been taken in by stuff less extensively reported by the BBC. Such as that more than four-fifths who were shot by Israeli soldiers were members of the terrorist organisation Hamas. Or that Hamas had ordered and in many cases paid demonstrators to breach the border and “tear the hearts out of the Jews”. Or that Egypt had summoned Hamas’s leader and told him to stop the bloodshed. Or that Molotov cocktails were thrown.
None of this has shifted my opinion, because it was not reported by our impartial state broadcaster. So it cannot possibly be true, can it?”
1) At the Tablet, Yair Rosenberg notes “13 Inconvenient Truths About What Has Been Happening in Gaza“.
“The protests on Monday were not about President Donald Trump moving the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem, and have in fact been occurring weekly on the Gaza border since March. They are part of what the demonstrators have dubbed “The Great March of Return”—return, that is, to what is now Israel. (The Monday demonstration was scheduled months ago to coincide with Nakba Day, an annual occasion of protest; it was later moved up 24 hours to grab some of the media attention devoted to the embassy.) The fact that these long-standing Palestinian protests were mischaracterized by many in the media as simply a response to Trump obscured two disquieting realities: First, that the world has largely dismissed the genuine plight of Palestinians in Gaza, only bothering to pay attention to it when it could be tenuously connected to Trump. Second, that many Palestinians do not simply desire their own state and an end to the occupation and settlements that began in 1967, but an end to the Jewish state that began in 1948.”
2) At the Forward, Einat Wilf has an essay titled “The Gaza Protest Is About Ending Israel“.
“The Palestinian demand for “return” has been shaped in the wake of the 1949 failure to prevent the establishment of the state of Israel. Having failed to prevent the UN partition vote diplomatically, and having failed to prevent Israel’s emergence militarily, the demand for “return” was shaped as a continuation of the war against Israel by other means, a war that continues to this day.
It is precisely the reason why despite Israel retreating fully to the 1967 lines between Gaza and Israel, the people of Gaza are demanding to take what is beyond those lines, which they still believe is very much theirs.
If the war is ever to end with true peace, the Palestinians as well as the Arab and Islamic world at large have to come to accept the Jewish people as an indigenous people who have come home and who have an equal and legitimate right to their ancestral land.”
3) At the JCPA, Jonathan Halevi analyses a press release put out by Hamas on May 14th and presumably seen by the BBC.
“If, in the past, Hamas counted its victories according to the number of Israeli casualties, today it measures victory according to the number of Palestinian casualties. Hamas is interested in flowing Palestinian blood. Its press release mentioned its hope that these events would lead to a broad intifada in the West Bank, Jerusalem, Israel, and various major cities. In other words, Hamas perceives Palestinian blood as an explosive material, the purpose of which is to threaten regional stability in a way that will help it to build a coalition against Israel and weaken it from within through an intifada of Israeli Arabs. Thus, for the purpose of a reaching a broader audience, Hamas did not immediately respond to the killing of Palestinians who attacked IDF soldiers (or to an Israeli air force attack on Hamas targets). This also contradicts its repeated promises to the Palestinian public that its armed activists would follow the participants in the march and protect them if the IDF opened fire on them.”
4) The High Level Military Group has published a report about the ‘Great Return March’.
“Hamas’s use of actual smoke and mirrors to conceal its aggressive manoeuvring on the Gaza border is the perfect metaphor for a strategy that has no viable military purpose but seeks to deceive the international community into criminalising a democratic state defending its citizens.
The UN and EU, NGOs, government officials and media — primary targets for Hamas — have been willingly taken in. For example a Guardian headline, ‘The use of lethal force to cow nonviolent demonstrations by Palestinians’, blatantly misrepresents the violent reality that has been plain for all to see. Likewise the NGO Human Rights Watch claims that we are seeing a movement to ‘affirm Palestinians’ internationally-recognised right of return’.
In reality these demonstrations are far from peaceful and do not pursue any so-called ‘right of return’. Rather they are carefully planned and orchestrated military operations intended to break through the border of a sovereign state and commit mass murder in the communities beyond, using their own civilians as cover. The purpose: to criminalise and isolate the State of Israel.”
The May 14th afternoon edition of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour‘ – presented by Razia Iqbal – included a pre-recorded interview (from 16:05 #playt=11s" rel="noopener" target="_blank">here) with regular BBC guest Mustafa Barghouti in which many of the themes already apparent at the beginning of the programme (discussed in part one of this post) were repeated and reinforced.
Iqbal: “Let’s hear now from the Palestinians. Mustafa Barghouti is a member of the Palestinian Legislative Council. He also sits on the central council of the Palestine Liberation Organisation. A short while ago I spoke to him from our Ramallah studio. He gave me his reaction to the opening of the US embassy in Jerusalem.”
Barghouti: “This move from the side of the administration of President Trump is very bad and I think it makes the United States complicit and even participant in violating international law and actually committing a war crime by approving the annexation of occupied territories by force. It also destroys the ability of the United States to be a negotiator in any peace process.” […]
Iqbal: “Let’s start with that first point that you made – that the US is in violation of international law. President Trump would argue that the peace process was moribund and by taking Jerusalem off the table, he has a plan to reinject life into a process that was dead.”
Barghouti: “No, he is substituting the peace between two sides with…and enforcing a deal unilaterally with Israel on the Palestinian side, consolidating the occupation and the system of apartheid and racial discrimination. He’s taking off the table the issue of Jerusalem, the issue of settlements, the issue of refugees. So practically he’s saying I’m fulfilling what the Israelis want.”
Listeners heard no challenge to Barghouti’s ‘apartheid’ smear from Razia Iqbal, who went on to ask a ‘question’ which is obviously irrelevant given that Israel’s position on its capital has not changed in thirty-eight years and merely served as a cue for more of Barghouti’s deliberately delegitimising falsehoods and smears.
Iqbal: “A third of the residents of Jerusalem are Palestinians. Given what Prime Minister Netanyahu has been saying about Jerusalem being the undivided capital of Israel, what do you think is going to happen to those Palestinians now.”
Barghouti: “Well they are treated as third grade citizens. They are discriminated against. There is one law for Israelis and another for Palestinians. Their properties are confiscated. They are prohibited from building new homes. In reality, Mr Netanyahu is trying to push the Palestinians out of Jerusalem and trying to exercise ethnic cleansing against the Palestinian people.”
Razia Iqbal could have put Barghouti’s allegations of ethnic cleansing into proportion had she told listeners that the Arab population of Jerusalem grew from 69,000 (26%) in 1967 to 324,000 (37%) in 2015. She chose not to do so. Listeners then got an insight into the source of Iqbal’s earlier claim that “many people” think that “the United States is joining the occupier in violating international law”.
Iqbal: “How are the Palestinians going to respond in the context of what you regard as a violation of international law? If you’re saying that the US is now siding with the occupying power, what is it that you can do about the United States breaking those resolutions at the United Nations?”
Barghouti responded with promotion of the BDS campaign – which as usual was not explained to audiences. Later on he was given another opportunity to promote the ‘apartheid’ smear unchallenged.
Iqbal: “The United States is clearly moving in a direction unilaterally in many different spheres. Who would you like to intervene now?”
Barghouti: “Look I believe our case is very similar to the case of South African people who struggled against apartheid. There was a time when most governments turned their backs to Nelson Mandela who was described as a terrorist. […] I think the peoples of the world are now realising how just the cause of the Palestinians is and how it is unacceptable to allow Israel to create a system of apartheid in the 21st century.”
After a break, Iqbal returned to the story at 30:06 with more of the same messaging.
Iqbal: “We’re going to return to our top story today – the story that’s dominating our programme – the opening of the new US embassy in Jerusalem: an issue that has been hugely contentious. The Israelis of course welcoming it. Palestinians and many in the international community seeing it as going against international consensus.”
At 36:09 Iqbal spoke to former US Senator Joe Lieberman who was at the US embassy event and –as she clarified – was one of those who put forward the 1995 Jerusalem Embassy Act. Iqbal told listeners:
Iqbal: “It [the act] did pass both Senate and the House but it was not signed into law by then president Bill Clinton.”
That obviously implies to BBC audiences that the Jerusalem Embassy Act did not become law. In fact, a footnote states:
Ignoring the fact that in his December 6thstatement the US president specifically said “[w]e are not taking a position of any final status issues, including the specific boundaries of the Israeli sovereignty in Jerusalem, or the resolution of contested borders”, during their conversation Iqbal ‘asked’ Lieberman:
Iqbal: “The president could have said though – couldn’t he? – that the US would move its embassy to west Jerusalem. The idea of claiming Jerusalem in its entirety as the capital sends out a very hostile – at the worst – but in some respects not a neutral position or signal to the Palestinians.”
Iqbal again promoted the ‘US embassy relocation as the end of the peace process’ theme.
Iqbal: “Do you think there still is scope for a peace process?”
She promoted another recurring theme by referring to the opening of the US embassy in Jerusalem as a decision that “puts Washington completely at odds with the rest of the international community” and when her interviewee responded that “a country puts its embassy in the city that the host country declares to be its capital”, Iqbal interrupted him.
Iqbal: “But Senator Lieberman – I’m so sorry to interrupt you – under the UN resolution East Jerusalem is occupied territory.”
Iqbal did not bother to clarify to listeners that the UNSC resolution to which she referred – 2334 – is non-binding.
At 45:03 Iqbal introduced her final pre-recorded interviewee – the head of an American political NGO that claims to have been trying (obviously unsuccessfully) to “promote a just resolution” to the Arab-Israeli conflict since 1979. Listeners however were not provided with background on that NGO’s political stance (as required by BBC editorial guidelines) which would help them put the contributor’s words into context.
Iqbal: “We are going to stay with our top story now and hear from Lara Friedman who is president of the Foundation for Middle East Peace in Washington. I began by asking her a little while ago how significant she thought the move was for the embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.”
Unsurprisingly, Friedman’s responses dovetailed with the themes Iqbal had chosen to promote throughout the programme.
Freidman: “The moving of the embassy has been a red line politically.”
Friedman: “The notion that you reinvigorate a peace process by effectively telling one side all of the arguments we made to you to come into a peace process are now dead and we expect you to stay or come into a peace process based on an entirely different set of arguments that compromise everything that you need – it doesn’t pass what I call the laugh test. It’s impossible to hear that without laughing if you understand what is necessary for Israeli-Palestinian peace.”
Iqbal: “The Palestinians argue that in doing this President Trump and the United States has placed itself on the side of the occupying power and that by recognizing Jerusalem in its entirety as the capital of Israel, it is in violation of international law since East Jerusalem is an occupied territory recognised by international law. Is there any scope in taking that route?”
Friedman: “It isn’t the Palestinians who say that – it’s pretty much the rest of the world except for Guatemala and possibly Paraguay down the road. This is not a move that is recognised as legitimate by anyone and on the question of whether or not President Trump is taking the side of Israel – the occupier – I mean Mr Trump himself has said ‘I’ve taken Jerusalem off the table’.”
Freidman: “The United States really has in the views of almost anyone who looks at this issue seriously, they have taken themselves out of the room as a viable or credible steward of a peace process…”
And with that cosy little echo-chamber interview, ‘Newshour’ reporting on the topic of the opening of the new US embassy in Jerusalem came to a close.
As we see BBC audiences worldwide were fed a highly regimented view of the topic of the US decision to move its embassy to Jerusalem. They heard no serious discussion of the topic of the ‘international law’ to which Iqbal and some of her guests repeatedly referred as though it was not open to different interpretation. The idea that the US embassy’s move brings about the demise of the ‘peace process’ was repeatedly promoted with no discussion whatsoever of any additional factors affecting that process and the notion of the United States being at odds with an ‘international consensus’ was amplified unquestioningly.
Just as it was all too obvious what impression of the opening of the US embassy in Jerusalem BBC audiences were intended to take away, the programme’s presentation of the second topic on the ‘split screen’ – the Gaza border rioting on May 14th – was equally monochrome, as we will see in a separate post.
Writing at the New York Times, Matti Friedman discusses media coverage of the May 14th pre-planned events along the Gaza Strip-Israel border:
“About 40,000 people answered a call to show up. Many of them, some armed, rushed the border fence. Many Israelis, myself included, were horrified to see the number of fatalities reach 60.
Most Western viewers experienced these events through a visual storytelling tool: a split screen. On one side was the opening of the American embassy in Jerusalem in the presence of Ivanka Trump, evangelical Christian allies of the White House and Israel’s current political leadership — an event many here found curious and distant from our national life. On the other side was the terrible violence in the desperately poor and isolated territory. The juxtaposition was disturbing.
The attempts to breach the Gaza fence, which Palestinians call the March of Return, began in March and have the stated goal of erasing the border as a step toward erasing Israel. A central organizer, the Hamas leader Yehya Sinwar, exhorted participants on camera in Arabic to “tear out the hearts” of Israelis. But on Monday the enterprise was rebranded as a protest against the embassy opening, with which it was meticulously timed to coincide. The split screen, and the idea that people were dying in Gaza because of Donald Trump, was what Hamas was looking for.
The press coverage on Monday was a major Hamas success in a war whose battlefield isn’t really Gaza, but the brains of foreign audiences.”
BBC World Service radio of course does not have a literal split screen but the May 14th afternoon edition of ‘Newshour‘ – presented by Razia Iqbal – certainly managed to create an audio equivalent of that “storytelling tool”.
“Dozens of Palestinians have been killed and nearly 2,000 injured by Israeli forces on Gaza’s border. The clashes came as the United States formally opened its embassy in Jerusalem. We will hear from both Palestinian and Israeli voices.”
The overwhelming majority of that hour-long programme was devoted to those two concurrently presented topics: the inauguration ceremony of the US embassy in Jerusalem and the May 14th rioting along the Gaza border. In addition to Iqbal’s own commentary, listeners heard live excerpts from the ceremony at the new US embassy along with a report from the BBC Jerusalem bureau’s Yolande Knell and interviews with one Israeli MK, one Palestinian politician, one Palestinian demonstrator, a former US Senator and an American member of a political NGO.
In the two parts of this post we will look at how the former event was presented to BBC audiences and in a future post we will discuss the programme’s presentation of the second topic.
Razia Iqbal introduced the broadcast (from 00:11 #playt=11s" rel="noopener" target="_blank">here) thus: [emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]
Iqbal: “Our programme is dominated today by the city of Jerusalem – a city which embodies that very potent mix of religion, politics and history. Today – as we speak – the United States is inaugurating its embassy there following President Trump’s decision to recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel in early December last year. It could mark the beginning of a seismic shift in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The status of Jerusalem is among the issues which remain open for negotiation in any final peace accord; as a recognition of how contentious it is. The Israelis regard the undivided city as their capital and the Palestinians – as well as international law – regard the east of the city as territory occupied by the Israelis after the 1967 war and there for the Palestinians to make as their capital of any Palestinian state. The new US embassy will be located in west Jerusalem but President Trump has said that his unilateral decision to recognise it as Israel’s capital takes it off the table. It is among several issues which now separate the United States from the rest of the international community. We’ll be getting views from all sides about what’s happening today, right now, and also what it means for a peace process which has long been dormant.”
Already in that introduction the themes which would be repeatedly emphasised throughout the rest of the programme were apparent. Despite the fact that, even as Iqbal spoke, tens of thousands of Palestinians were literally demonstrating the fact that they are not interested in a peace agreement by participating in an event promoting efforts to eradicate the world’s only Jewish state, for the BBC it was the placement of a new plaque on an existing US mission in Jerusalem which was the “seismic shift” and the factor which would affect the ‘peace process’.
Iqbal’s partisan portrayal of ‘international law’ was likewise a theme repeated throughout the programme, as was that of US ‘isolation’ from a touted ‘consensus’ within the ‘international community’. Notably, on the two occasions that she mentioned the name of the Jerusalem neighbourhood in which the US embassy is now situated, Razia Iqbal could not even be bothered to get its name – Arnona – right.
03:20 Iqbal: “Not very far from what’s happening in the Arona neigbourhood of Jerusalem where the new US embassy is going to be is quite a different scene.”
30:06 Iqbal: “In the past few minutes as the ceremony has been taking place in the Arona suburb of Jerusalem…”
At 08:26 Iqbal began a live interview with Israeli MK Sharren Haskel, asking her first for her thoughts on the opening of the US embassy in Jerusalem. When in the course of her answer Haskel pointed out that “you cannot separate Jerusalem from the Jewish identity” and that the move is “very exciting”, an audibly hostile Iqbal (and one has to listen to it to appreciate the level of aggression) interrupted her.
Iqbal: “OK. So very exciting from your perspective. Arabs have also lived in Jerusalem for millennia. The Palestinians regard East Jerusalem…please let me ask a question Sharren Haskel. Please let me ask a question. And Arabs regard…Palestinians regard East Jerusalem as occupied territory – occupied illegally by Israel – and they see it as a possible future capital for a Palestinian state. What do you think about the view put by many people, including many in the international community, that the United States is joining the occupier in violating international law?”
The source of that “view put by many people” which Iqbal promoted became apparent minutes later when – at 16:05 –Iqbal introduced a notably less aggressive pre-recorded interview with BBC frequent flyer Mustafa Barghoutiwhich will be discussed in part two of this post.
The BBC’s Paul Moss has been visiting Lebanon and on May 14th the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour‘ aired his report (from 45:06 #playt=45m6s" rel="noopener" target="_blank">here) about the possibility of a war between Israel and Hizballah.
Apparently inspired by statements made by Hizballah leader Hassan Nasrallah, Moss’ report – including the introduction from Julian Marshall – is notable for the fact that it fails to inform listeners even once of the decidedly relevant fact that Hizballah is a terrorist organisation proscribed by many Western and Arab states alike.
[emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]
Marshall: “With today’s bloodshed in Gaza it might be hard to imagine but there is the possibility of an even more serious conflict brewing on Israel’s northern border with Lebanon. Last week Israel exchanged fire with Iranian forces in Syria and with their allies, the Lebanese group Hizballah. And today Hizballah’s leader suggested they could launch more attacks on Israel. What many people in Lebanon now fear is that the conflict could spread to their country. It happened before in 2016 [sic], leaving more than twelve hundred Lebanese dead. So could it happen again? From Beirut, Paul Moss reports.”
The BBC’s portrayal of the topic of Lebanese casualties during the Second Lebanon was has long been hallmarked by a glaring and consistent absence of any mention of Hizballah combatants. Although the Lebanese authorities did not differentiate between civilians and combatants during the 2006 war, Lebanese officials nevertheless reported even before the conflict was over that some 500 of the dead were Hizballah personnel. UN officials gave similar figures while Israeli estimates stand at around 600 (with 450 identified by name: see page 55 here).
Moss began his report in a shop in Lebanon where the shopkeeper allegedly struck up a conversation about a “deadly war” between Israel and Lebanon. Moss went on to give another euphemistic portrayal of Hizballah itself and also of its relationship with its patron Iran. Remarkably, he failed to make any mention of the fact that Iran supplies its proxy with both funds and weapons.
Moss: “It’s the kind of defiance which even the most mild-mannered Lebanese citizens tend to boast of. Yet there is a genuine worry here right now. The powerful Lebanese political and military group Hizballah has been fighting alongside its allies Iran and both groups have now come under fire from Israel. Israel in turn has been on the receiving end of rockets fired at the Golan Heights and today the Hizballah leader Hassan Nasrallah warned this would not be the only response Israel would get. All of these are threats which Israel seems unlikely to ignore.”
Listeners next heard from Lebanese journalist Patricia Khoder.
Khoder: “Israel would not accept Hizballah growing and Iran growing on its borders and this is what is happening for the time being. So at some point maybe there would be an Israeli attack, Israeli offensive in Lebanon.”
Moss then gave listeners an inaccurate portrayalof how the Second Lebanon war began. It was of course Hizballah that initiated the conflict by carrying out a cross-border raid into Israeli territory and concurrently fired missiles at Israeli civilian communities before any Israeli response took place.
Moss: “Patricia Khoder is a writer for L’Orient le Jour newspaper here. She was reporting when Israel last attacked Hizballah in Lebanon back in 2006 and fears Lebanon once again being the arena where this battle is played out – although this time, she says, Hizballah is better armed.”
Khoder: “We don’t have figures but Hizballah is saying that it has 100,000 weapons. Now, they fought in Syria and they were trained as an army and Iran also is training them and Israel would not accept this.”
Curiously, Moss showed no interest in informing listeners that those weapons were supplied to Hizballah by Iran – in violation of the UN SC resolution that brought the previous war between Israel and Hizballah to an end. Listeners did however hear some interesting advance framing:
Moss: “If there was a conflict, what could Hizballah possibly achieve from it? It would be just a defensive war, wouldn’t it?”
Khoder: “Personally I don’t think Hizballah would achieve a lot. It would be a horrible war that would put Lebanon on its knees.”
Listeners heard some ‘man in the street’ interviews with Hizballah supporters before Moss spoke to a member of Lebanon’s Kataeb party (Phalange) called Michel Ragien [phonetic].
Ragien: “They [Hizballah] follow the Iranian orders and if they consider that Iran is being threatened definitely Hizballah will act to cause the war. They will trigger it if they consider that it should be triggered. So now it’s a matter of tactics.”
Moss: “So what are you going to do? Are you going to try and stop Hizballah?”
Ragien: “No, no, no. Unfortunately the decision is in the hand of the Hizballah. They will choose the moment and the way.”
The report ended with more ‘man in the street’ interviews.
In the programme’s synopsis Moss’ piece was described as “a special report from Lebanon”. It is of course difficult to see what is ‘special’ about an item that conceals the fact that Hizballah is a terrorist organisation, erases relevant repeated violations of more than one UN Security Council resolution and misinforms audiences with regard to how the previous war in Lebanon began. After all, BBC reports have been doing that for years.
Viewers of the May 15th edition of BBC Breakfast (aired on BBC One and BBC News) saw an interview conducted by Louise Minchin with a representative from the Israeli embassy in London, Michael Freeman.
Although the interview was presented as being about “violence in Gaza where 58 people were killed by Israeli troops”, the footage that viewers were shown throughout nearly a quarter of the item was in fact not filmed in the Gaza Strip and did not reflect the events along the border.
At 01:16 in the video below, Louise Minchin stated that a baby had been killed on May 14th.
Minchin: “Fifty-eight people have been killed. We understand that some of them were children, including a baby. Is this not excessive force?”
The Hamas-run Gaza health ministry did indeed claim that eight children and a baby had been killed:
“The Gaza Strip’s Hamas-run health ministry said Tuesday morning that a baby was among those killed during violent border clashes along the territory’s border with Israel the previous day, bringing the overall death toll in the day’s bloody events to 60. […]
The baby died from inhaling tear gas fired at Palestinian protesters, the health ministry said.
Eight-month-old Leila al-Ghandour was exposed to gas fired by Israeli forces east of Gaza City, it said.”
However, AP later reported that:
“A Gaza health official cast doubt Tuesday on initial claims that an 8-month-old baby died from Israeli tear gas fired during mass protests on the Gaza border with Israel.
A Gazan doctor told the Associated Press that the baby, Layla Ghandour, had a preexisting medical condition and that he did not believe her death was caused by tear gas. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not allowed to disclose medical information to the media.
Layla’s family claimed Tuesday that the baby had ended up in the area of the protest as a result of a mixup, the AP reported added. The Gaza Health Ministry initially counted her among several dozen Palestinians killed Monday.”
The New York Times reported that:
“The child’s parents have given interviews to journalists and aid workers in Gaza recounting how their daughter died. A tweet from Steve Sosebee, who works with the Palestine Children’s Relief Fund, suggested that they confirmed their daughter had an underlying health condition.”
This would not be the first time that BBC audiences have been told that a Palestinian baby had died from tear-gas fired by Israeli soldiers without the allegation having been confirmed.
At 02:47 Minchin returned to a popular BBC theme:
Minchin: “No Israelis as far as we understand were injured yesterday. Fifty-eight Palestinians killed. Is this proportionate?”
As we have frequently had cause to note here in the past, the terms ‘proportionate’ and ‘disproportionate’ have long been abused by BBC journalists who wrongly use the every-day meaning of those terms to imply that Israel has breached legal limitations on the use of force in combat.
“In everyday usage, the word “proportional” implies numerical comparability, and that seems to be what most of Israel’s critics have in mind: the ethics of war, they suggest, requires something like a tit-for-tat response. So if the number of losses suffered by Hezbollah or Hamas greatly exceeds the number of casualties among the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), then Israel is morally and perhaps legally culpable for the “disproportionate” casualties.
But these critics seemed largely unaware that “proportionality” has a technical meaning connected to the ethics of war.”
By promoting the false notion that ‘proportionate’ means equality in death or suffering, Louise Minchin conveyed to BBC audiences that Israel must be in the wrong because “no Israelis… were injured”.
BBC Breakfastcontact details
The Middle East editor’s role was described by the BBC as follows when it was created 13 years ago:
“Jeremy Bowen’s new role is, effectively, to take a bird’s eye view of developments in the Middle East, providing analysis that might make a complex story more comprehensive or comprehensible for the audience, without the constraints of acting as a daily news correspondent. His remit is not just to add an extra layer of analysis to our reporting, but also to find stories away from the main agenda.
“The BBC’s Middle East Editor Jeremy Bowen explains the reason why people have been protesting in Gaza.”
Given that above job description, one would therefore have expected Bowen to provide BBC audiences with the information concerning the background to the ‘Great Return March’ that they have been lacking for the past month and a half, such as the involvement of multiple Gaza factions – including Hamas and other terror groups – in its planning, organisation and financing and maybe even clarification of the connections of British Islamists to the project. Likewise, one would of course assume that Jeremy Bowen would have informed BBC audiences that the publicity stunt’s prime aim is to attract attention, with one organiser describing it as “a rally that the whole world and media outlets would watch.”
However, Jeremy Bowen’s entire ‘explanation’ went like this:
“This is the outside wall of Shifa, Gaza’s main hospital, celebrating paramedics, fire-fighters. Emergency services were very busy here yesterday and inside the hospital there are a lot of people with gunshot wounds. There is shock here in Gaza at the scale of the killing. Yes, they were of course expecting casualties but more than fifty is a lot. That’s the biggest number killed since the war of 2014.
The thing about Gaza, the thing about the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians is that the issue at the heart of it doesn’t change. And that issue is that there are two peoples on one piece of land and until they can find a way to share it, they will continue to suffer.”
Completely absent from Bowen’s ‘why can’t they just get along?’ narrative was the fact that Israel completely withdrew from the Gaza Strip almost thirteen years ago, relinquishing all territorial claims to it. Also missing was Hamas’ existential commitment to Israel’s destruction – as expressed in its founding charter, in the ‘rationale‘ behind its ‘Great Return March’ and in its continued use of terrorism against Israeli citizens.
The problem, therefore, is not that “two peoples” cannot find “a way to share”. The problem is that major factions within one of those peoples cannot tolerate the existence of the other under any circumstance.
That simple fact is precisely what Jeremy Bowen has avoided telling the BBC’s funding public for the past thirteen years and – as his latest trite report once again demonstrates – he will likely continue to do so.
Hence, audiences reading the site’s coverage of the events of May 14th had no idea that Hamas had planned that day in advance with the intention that a particularly high number of rioters would breach the border fence with the aim of forcibly entering Israeli territory and reaching nearby communities.
BBC audiences were not aware that Hamas had urged participants to “bring a knife or a gun” and to use them “to capture soldiers or residents of Israel” who, it stipulated, should be handed over to Hamas to be used as hostages.
The BBC News website produced a ‘live’ page titled “#lx-commentary-top" rel="noopener" target="_blank">As it happened: Gaza protest violence” which actually included more entries relating to the same day’s ceremony marking the opening of the new US embassy in Jerusalem than it did reports on the events along the Israel-Gaza Strip border. Notably, no fewer than nine statements condemning Israel were also published on that live page, including some from political NGOs which engage in ‘lawfare‘ against Israel.
In addition to that live page, the BBC News website published an article titled “Gaza clashes: 52 Palestinians killed on deadliest day since 2014” which opened:
“At least 52 Palestinians have been killed and 2,400 wounded by Israeli troops, Palestinian officials say, on the deadliest day of violence since the 2014 Gaza war.
Palestinians have been protesting for weeks but deaths soared on the day the US opened its embassy in Jerusalem.” [emphasis added]
Although tagged ‘Gaza border clashes’, the 920 word article devoted over a third of its word count (314 words) to the topic of the new US embassy in Jerusalem and 126 words to background information on Jerusalem itself, including of course the BBC’s standard partisan mantra on ‘international law’.
“Since 1967, Israel has built a dozen settlements, home to about 200,000 Jews, in East Jerusalem. These are considered illegal under international law, although Israel disputes this.”
The subject matter of the report as described in its headline received 377 words of coverage and 103 words of ‘analysis’.
Under the sub-heading “what happened at the border” readers were correctly told that the rise in the number of participants (and hence casualties) compared to previous weeks was in fact connected to a factor other than the ceremony marking the opening of the new US embassy in Jerusalem.
“There have been six weeks of protests at the Gaza border, dubbed the “Great March of Return” and led by Gaza’s Islamist rulers Hamas.
Hamas had always said it would step up the protests before Tuesday, when Palestinians hold their annual commemoration of what they call the Nakba or Catastrophe. Hundreds of thousands fled their homes or were displaced following the foundation of the Israeli state on 14 May 1948.”
The article’s limited description of the incidents themselves was as follows:
“Palestinians hurled stones and incendiary devices while the Israeli military used snipers, as black smoke poured from burning tyres. […]
The Israeli military said it had killed three people trying to plant explosives near the security fence in Rafah. Aircraft and tanks had also targeted military positions belonging to Hamas in the northern Gaza Strip, it said.”
BBC audiences were not told of three separate shooting incidents, infiltration attempts or arson attacks.
“At around 4 p.m., the time that the US was inaugurating its embassy in Jerusalem, military sources said Hamas-spurred groups were trying to breach the border at several spots along the Gaza fence.
The army said three of those killed were trying to plant explosives at the border fence. In three separate incidents, Palestinian gunmen opened fire at Israeli troops, according to the IDF. There were no injuries among the soldiers.
In one case in the northern Strip, the troops fired back directly. In another case farther south, an IDF tank responded to the shots fired by destroying a nearby Hamas position, the army said. […]
Numerous fires broke out in agricultural fields near Israeli communities, sparked by kites laden with containers of burning fuel flown from Gaza into Israeli territory. Firefighters were called to fight the blazes. But many farmers did not wait for help and worked to put out the conflagrations themselves, tilling the soil around the fires in order to starve out the flames.”
Notably the BBC – which has completely ignored two previous incidents of large-scale vandalism at the Kerem Shalom crossing during ‘Great Return March’ riots – likewise ignored a third incident on May 14th and readers of this article were not told that leaflets warning participants to stay away from the border fence were distributed by the IDF before the rioting began.
Readers were told that:
“Israel says the protests are aimed at breaching the border and attacking Israeli communities nearby.”
They were not informed that – as noted above – Hamas says the exact same.
“Hamas’s leader in Gaza said Thursday he hopes to see hundreds of thousands of Palestinians breach the border fence from Gaza into Israel at next week’s protests to coincide with the US embassy’s move to Jerusalem.”
There was however one welcome innovation in this article. As we have recorded over the past few weeks, previous BBC reports have repeatedly failed to clarify to audiences that the casualty figures from “health officials” that they quoted were in fact provided by Hamas. Readers of this latest report found the following:
“The health ministry, run by Hamas, said children were among those killed.” [emphasis added]
While the fact that at least one of those children was a terror operative appears to have escaped the BBC’s notice – along with Hamas’ acknowledgement that ten of the others killed were its employees – at least that is one small step towards greater transparency and accuracy.