Did the BBC Jerusalem Bureau’s Yolande Knell even bother to check the facts behind the Palestinian claims featured widely in both of her recent reports about the new exhibition of archaeological finds from Herodium at the Israel Museum? It seems not.
In her filmed report from February 16th – broadcast on BBC television – Knell describes Herod as having “ruled the Holy Land” – despite the fact that he was actually the Roman client king of Judea, as is explained above the entrance to the exhibit shown in the opening seconds of the film. After one minute of footage about the exhibition itself, Knell moves on to pastures political. Standing at the bottom of Herodium, she reports:
“But it’s this location where those artifacts were found that’s causing controversy. From here, you’ve got a clear view of Herodium. It’s an impressive man-made mountain and you can just make out where a palace stood on top. In Roman times this whole area was under Herod’s control, but nowadays the site is inside the West Bank – on occupied Palestinian land. And Palestinian officials say that all Israeli archaeological digs in the West Bank are illegal.”
The report then cuts to an interview with Rula Maayah – Palestinian Minister of Tourism and Antiquities – who says:
“The Israelis have no right for any excavations there. They don’t have any right of authority there in Herodion [also Herodium] and they don’t have the right to take any antiquities.”
In her written report on the same subject, which appeared in the Middle East section of the BBC News website on February 16th, Knell also quotes Ms Maayah.
“Herodium is on land that was occupied in 1967. This is Palestinian land and the Israelis have no right for excavations there. They don’t have any right or authority there in Herodium and they don’t have the right to take any antiquities.”
Ms Maayah says Israeli authorities did not consult her department about the exhibition even though it involves joint cultural heritage. “Actually we only heard about it from the media,” she says.”
Knell also quotes a Chilean-born official from the PLO’s Negotiations Support Unit:
“There is no respect for Palestinian history. Herod is not just important for Jews. He is important to Christians and Muslims as well,” says Xavier Abu Eid, a spokesman for the PLO Negotiations Unit.
“Archaeology and tourism are being used as tools to justify the occupation.”
So let’s take a look at the facts behind the Palestinian claims which are unquestioningly repeated and amplified by Knell in both her reports.
The national park of Herodium – as mentioned right at the bottom of the written article, but not in the filmed report – is in Area C. Thus, what Knell tritely describes as “occupied Palestinian land” is in fact an area subject to final status negotiations under the terms of the Oslo Accords to which the Palestinians are full partners. The claim made by Ms Maayah that “they [Israel] don’t have any right of authority there in Herodian” is clearly false: under the terms of the Oslo Accords Israel has full control over Area C.
The Oslo Accords also specifically addressed the subject of archaeology in Article 2 of Annex III of the Interim Agreement. The Palestinian Authority was given control of archaeological sites in Areas A & B and Israel’s Civil Administration retained responsibility for sites in Area C until negotiations on the status of that area were complete. Of course those negotiations never came about due to the Palestinian Authority’s decision to launch the terror war known as the second Intifada instead and the subsequent policy of foot-dragging and avoidance under Mahmoud Abbas.
The Interim Agreement clearly makes provisions for Israeli archaeological excavations in Area C, therefore contradicting Rula Maayah’s claim that “the Israelis have no right for any excavations there”. The Civil Administration responsible for Area C runs a dedicated archaeology department which, in accordance with international law, operates according to the legislation in existence preceding 1967. That legislation specifically makes provisions for “the implementation of excavations to discover antiquities”, thus further refuting Maayah’s erroneous claims.
Under those same Oslo Accords, the Palestinian Authority is obliged to “ensure free access to archaeological sites, open to the public without discrimination” and to safeguard a list of sites important to Israel either for religious or historic reasons, to which it is possible to make additions under the terms of the agreement. Some of the sites are supposed to be administered by a joint Palestinian – Israeli committee, including the Na’aran Synagogue which was vandalized last year and the Shalom Al Israel Synagogue in Jericho.
Yolande Knell makes no effort whatsoever to inform her audiences of the factual background which undermines the baseless claims of her Palestinian interviewees. Instead – apparently insufficiently impressed by the history alone and desperate to concoct a political angle to the story – she dedicates considerable portions of both her reports to the repetition of a fact free narrative designed solely to delegitimize Israel.
In doing so, Knell has rendered herself and her organization nothing more than an extension of the Palestinian Authority’s ongoing propaganda campaign.