BBC tries to create reality with terminology

Does the BBC think it knows something which the rest of the world does not?

“Using the word Palestine is controversial for some. Israeli policy is that the borders of a Palestinian state are yet to be agreed.” [emphasis added]

That sentence appeared in an article published in the Middle East section of the BBC News website on May 3rd entitled “Google edition adopts ‘Palestine’“.

Google art

We can probably be pretty confident that had the borders of a Palestinian state indeed been agreed upon, we would definitely be aware of that fact by now. As for the bizarre and inaccurate use of the words “Israeli policy is that..”:  the sentence would have made much more sense had that phrase been omitted. “Israeli policy” has nothing to do with the fact that final status negotiations on borders have indeed yet to take place.

In fact, contrary to the implication in this article, “using the word Palestine” is apparently a tricky call for the BBC too. Otherwise it is difficult to explain how the entry below found its way into the BBC College of Journalism’s ‘style guide’.


There is no independent state of Palestine today, although the stated goal of the peace process is to establish a state of Palestine alongside a state of Israel.

In November 2012 the PLO secured a vote at the UN General Assembly, upgrading its previous status as an “entity” so that the UN now recognises the territories as “non-member observer state”.

The change allows the Palestinians to participate in UN General Assembly debates. It also improves the Palestinians’ chances of joining UN agencies.

But the UN vote has not created a state of Palestine (rather, it failed in its bid to join the UN as a full member state in 2011 because of a lack of support in the Security Council).

So, in day-to-day coverage of the Middle East you should not affix the name ‘Palestine’ to Gaza or the West Bank – rather, it is still an aspiration or an historical entity.

But clearly BBC journalists should reflect the changed circumstances when reporting on the UN itself and at the Olympics, where the International Olympics Committee recognises Palestine as a competing nation.

Best practice is to use the term Palestine firmly and only in the context of the organisation in which it is applicable, just as the BBC did at the Olympics – for example: “At the UN, representatives of Palestine, which has non-member observer status…” “

Another entertaining line comes later on in the article:

“Israel considers any formal use of the word Palestine as pre-judging the outcome of currently stalled peace talks. In much of Israel’s official terminology the West Bank is referred to as Judea and Samaria.”. [emphasis added]

Apparently it does not occur to the BBC that this is because the said geographical regions have been called Judea and Samaria for thousands of years. We should, however, perhaps not be too surprised at the BBC’s approval of the much more modern imperialist term ‘West Bank’ which only came into use when Jordan occupied that area in 1948 (with British help) and annexed it on April 24th 1950 – with British approval (in contrast to opposition from the rest of the world’s nations, including members of the Arab League). After all, the FCO has been an important source of financing for the BBC for many years. 

Curiously, as anachronistic as using a term coined by an invading and occupying power (which executed a name change in an attempt to add credence to a belligerent territorial acquisition) may seem in this day and age, the BBC does not shy away from – or apparently even debate – the use of the politically and historically loaded term ‘West Bank’. Even so, it should be aware that the use of that term does not in any way define borders – as a discussion on Jordan’s annexation of the area by its sole major international supporters in the British House of Lords in April 1950 clearly indicates.


My Lords, I have a statement to make and I must crave your Lordships’ indulgence as it is rather long. His Majesty’s Government in the United Kingdom have been officially informed by the Government of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan of the union of the Kingdom of Jordan and of that part of Palestine under Jordan occupation and control. The Jordan Government in this communication have stated that an Act providing for this union was unanimously adopted on April 24 by the Jordan Assembly, which is composed of representatives of both these territories, and received the royal assent on the same day. His Majesty’s Government have decided to accord formal recognition to this union. They take this opportunity of declaring that they regard the provisions of the Anglo-Jordan Treaty of Alliance of 1948 as applicable to all the territory included in the union. This action is subject to explanation on two points.

The first of these points relates to the frontier between this territory and Israel. This frontier has not yet been finally determined. The existing boundary is the line laid down in the Armistice Agreement signed between Israel and Jordan on April 3, 1949, and is subject to any modification which may be agreed upon by the two States under the terms of that Agreement, or of any final settlement which may replace it. Until, therefore, the frontier between Israel and Jordan is determined by a final settlement between them, His Majesty’s Government regard the territory to which the Anglo-Jordan Treaty is applicable as being bounded by the Armistice Line or any modification of it which may be agreed upon by the two parties. [emphasis added]

So, nice try BBC, but no: the borders of a future Palestinian state have not been agreed and there is no reason for Israelis (or arguably anyone else) to adopt the terminology of the Jordanian occupation by calling an area in the east the ‘West Bank’. 

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