In Britain it is not unknown for the police to treat incidents in which rocks, stones or other heavy objects are thrown at passing vehicles as attempted murder. The BBC, however, appears to be rather perplexed by the fact that one of the perpetrators of a stone-throwing attack in which two Israelis were killed has been convicted of murder.
An article from April 3rd entitled “Palestinian stone thrower to appeal murder conviction” which appeared on the Middle East page of the BBC News website relates to the conviction of Wa’al al Araja for the murders of Asher Palmer and his one year-old son Yonatan in September 2011.
The report opens:
“A Palestinian man found guilty of murdering an Israeli settler and his child by throwing a rock at their car is to appeal against the verdict, his lawyers has [sic] said.”
The inclusion of the word “settler” in that opening paragraph is a curious editorial decision given the fact that Asher Palmer’s place of residence has no bearing on either the legal case or the BBC’s story. The sentence would have made just as much sense without the use of that politically loaded and stereotypical term – increasingly employed to delegitimise those to whom it is applied and as an expression of value judgement.
Later on in the article, another example of a strange editorial choice is on display when al Araja’s lawyer is quoted: [emphasis added]
“I’m very surprised by the verdict. The court didn’t deal with this as a case of hurling an object or inflicting damage on a travelling car – which are crimes in Israeli law,” Khaled Araj, the defence lawyer told the BBC.
“They took this route instead, going for the most serious charge which can carry the maximum penalty. I think the court came under extreme pressure from the settler movement to reach this verdict.”
The selection of that last statement of conspiracy theory-style conjecture for inclusion in the report is also remarkable. Does the BBC editor concerned have any sort of factual evidence on which to base his or her decision to include a quote advancing the theory that a certain postcode-defined group within Israeli society is capable of applying “extreme pressure” in order to influence an outcome within the military judicial system? Did he or she not at least consider it appropriate to request a response to such a serious claim from the Military Attorney General’s office before aiding and abetting the spread of unfounded rumour?
Incidentally, the writer of this article did not apparently find it necessary to inform readers of the quoted defence lawyer’s connections to the Palestinian Prisoners Society and the politically motivated NGO Addameer.
Abstention from the knee-jerk use of delegitimising stereotypes such as ‘settler’ and from the indiscriminate repetition of any and every conspiracy theory thrown the way of a BBC reporter by an obliging Palestinian official or position holder would contribute significantly to the improvement of the BBC’s reputation on accuracy and impartiality in its reporting on Israel.