Diatribe against anti-terrorist fence on BBC Radio 4

As may have been anticipated, episode four of John McCarthy’s radio series “In a Prince’s Footsteps” – broadcast on BBC Radio 4 on May 9th 2013 and available here for a limited period of time – consisted of fifteen minutes of undiluted propaganda. 

Jib & Beit Ur al Fauqa

Beginning in the village of al Jib – which is located in Area B and therefore under the administrative control of the Palestinian Authority – McCarthy was quick to acquaint listeners with the main focus of his programme.

“We’re now stopped looking out over the hillsides toward the neighbouring villages. Separation wall is visible in the distance.”

At 2:25, in response to a question from McCarthy about the direction of the second village on his itinerary, a local man tells him:

“Before the wall, we got from here to Beit Ur about five, six minutes. Now you must go to Ramallah and there about one hour to go to Beit Ur. 

Following that, listeners are introduced to McCarthy’s mind-reading abilities:

“And I think it’s particularly poignant for them [the villagers] as they think about the places that the Prince went in an hour or so on horseback. Now because of the Israeli barrier – what they call the separation wall – they cannot get there without taking massive detours through the countryside. So this picture is important to them because it reminds them of what life had been like in former times.”

Next, the village mayor labours the point still further:

“Before the wall we can go from here to Ramallah just five minutes. From here, from al Jib village, to the Damascus Gate, just seven minutes. Now we cannot go to Jerusalem. We are village from Jerusalem district, but we cannot go to Jerusalem.”

McCarthy interjects:

“So you do not have the right ID anymore. They will not let you ..”

The mayor replies:

“If anyone want to go to Jerusalem now, he must go to Ramallah and to the checkpoint. If you want to go to your land, you can’t.”

McCarthy asks: File:Eljibcenter9840.JPG

“How do you earn a living if you cannot go to Jerusalem, your farm land has been taken away – you cannot use that. How do you all survive? What do you do?”

The mayor replies: “Now we use this land – from the wall to the village. Very difficult life.”

Another man interjects: “Very hard”. The mayor echoes: “Very, very hard.”

In response to a question from McCarthy about the future of the village’s children, the mayor answers:

“It’s more difficult. I think it more difficult if the Israelien (sic) occupation is still here. If the Israelien (sic) go, maybe the future is good.”

Of course McCarthy offers no evidence for his claim that the villagers’ lands have been “taken away” and fails to make clear the fact that such lands are generally accessible via agricultural gates in the anti-terrorist fence. McCarthy also makes absolutely no effort to explain to listeners that his interviewees have lived under the control of the Palestinian Authority for almost two decades, according to the terms of the Oslo Accords signed by that body, and that their complaints that they do not have unlimited access to Israel’s capital city should therefore be weighed within that framework.

Next, at 5:59, McCarthy speaks to Eugene Rogan from Oxford University in what is presumably the section of the programme supposed to tick the impartiality box. 

JM: “The Israeli government says that the barrier is necessary to protect its citizens from potential Palestinian suicide bombers and other attacks. Eugene Rogan is a fellow of the Middle East Centre at Oxford University. Eugene, the work on the barrier started in 2000: what actually prompted construction?”

McCarthy inaccurately brings the date of commencement of construction work on the first section of the anti-terrorist fence forward by at least a full two years. The second Intifada began at the end of September 2000 and the Israeli government authorized the construction of a fence in July 2001. The decision to start work on the first section of the fence was made in June 2002 and Israelis had suffered almost three years of non-stop terror attacks before that first section was completed in July 2003. During that time, 73 terror attacks originating in Samaria were carried out, killing 293 Israelis and wounding 1950 others. 

Rogan responds:

“Coming out of the violence of the second Intifada the government of Israel took the view that it needed to put a physical barrier between the Palestinians and the Israelis to stop the violence that was ravaging Israeli towns. I think the international community was very comfortable with the idea that a barrier be put up to separate Israelis and Palestinians. The real issue was the course the barrier would follow. It’s the way in which the wall encroaches upon territory to the east of the green line which marked the boundary between Israel and the West Bank before June 1967. That’s really caused the trouble.”

For an Oxford scholar, Rogan makes some very basic mistakes here. Firstly, the ‘green line’ is of course actually the 1949 Armistice Line and it never constituted a “boundary” in any legal sense of the term, as was made amply clear in the Armistice Agreement itself. 

“Article II
With a specific view to the implementation of the resolution of the Security Council of 16 November 1948, the following principles and purposes are affirmed:

1. The principle that no military or political advantage should be gained under the truce ordered by the Security Council is recognised;

2. It is also recognised that no provision of this Agreement shall in any way prejudice the rights, claims and positions of either Party hereto in the ultimate peaceful settlement of the Palestine question, the provisions of this Agreement being dictated exclusively by military considerations.”

Secondly, the anti-terrorist fence was always intended to be just that: a structure – envisioned as being temporary by Israeli governments which initially opposed public pressure for its construction – aimed at curbing the access of terrorists from the PA controlled areas to Israeli towns and cities. Perhaps if journalists and academics employed the correct terminology to describe the structure, they would also be clearer about its function. But that is all too often not the case, with too many having adopted the terminology of Palestinian propaganda to the degree that they are capable of describing a structure which is 95% wire fencing as a “wall”. 

Like many others with political motivations, Rogan ignores the fact that the fence was never intended to define borders or co-opt territory. He also deftly skirts round the obvious need to inform listeners of the fact that the anti-terrorist fence has a proven track record of achieving its aim.

McCarthy continues:

“It’s interesting visiting villages in the area. Their access to Jerusalem, their access perhaps to each other, is affected by the route of the barrier. Clearly that has a dramatic effect on the lives of the villagers as they explain it. Do they have any recourse to Israel which is obviously occupying the West Bank?”

Rogan replies:

“Interestingly enough the Supreme Court has refused to take a stand on the wall as a whole, but when Palestinians take specific segments of the wall to the Israeli courts to complain that this encroaches upon their human rights in terms of cutting them off from their livelihoods or separating their houses from their neighbourhoods and things like that, they’ve often found these Israeli courts supportive and that the government of Israel has been forced to change the course of direction of the wall to accommodate this decision, but you know it’s a very painstaking process for the Palestinians and it’s still the case that the wall has created a situation that’s really intensely difficult for Palestinians living alongside the wall.”

Apparently Rogan did not deem it necessary to mention that rebuilding a family after one or more of its members has been blown to smithereens on a bus, in a café or in a shopping centre is also “very painstaking” and “intensely difficult”. As for Rogan’s disingenuous claim that the Israeli Supreme Court has “refused to take a stand” on the subject of the anti-terrorist fence, the opposite is in fact the case, although the particular “stand” taken is apparently not to Mr Rogan’s taste.

“The Israeli Court shall continue to examine each of the segments of the fence, as they are brought for its decision and according to its customary model of proceedings; it shall ask itself, regarding each and every segment, whether it represents a proportional balance between the security-military need and the rights of the local population. If its answer regarding a particular segment of the fence is positive, it shall hold that that segment is legal. If its answer is negative, it shall hold that that segment is not legal. In doing so, the Court shall not ignore the entire picture; its decision will always regard each segment as a part of a whole.”

Next, McCarthy travels to Beit Ur al Fauqa in the Palestinian Authority controlled Area A. Interestingly, he does so in the company of two activists from the Palestinian NGO the Land Research Centre – but fails to disclose that organisation’s political aims, as required by the BBC Editorial Guidelines on impartiality.

“We should not automatically assume that contributors from other organisations (such as academics, journalists, researchers and representatives of charities) are unbiased and we may need to make it clear to the audience when contributors are associated with a particular viewpoint, if it is not apparent from their contribution or from the context in which their contribution is made.”

The Land Research Centre was established in 1986 by Faisal Husseini.

“The Land Research Centre (which, despite its participation in the BDS campaign, has received funding from the UK via DFID) engages in the production of reports, often in collaboration with ARIJ and with EU financial support, which do little to hide their political motivations, going under the banner of “Monitoring Israeli Colonisation Activities in the Palestinian Territories”. In one such recent report, the Land Research Centre reportedly stated that: 

“The Land research center warned that the Israeli occupation government intends to bring more Jews from all over the world to occupied Palestine in order to change its demographic composition and annex more lands for their settlements.

The center said in a report that the Israeli legislation regarding the construction of roads for Jewish settlers so as to protect what they call the state lands reveals that Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territories is aimed to Judaize them and bring Jews to live in place of the Palestinian natives.

The Israeli occupation annexed the Palestinian lands, destroyed agricultural lands, demolished homes, displaced their residents, built settlements for Jewish settlers and then unleashed them to control the tops of mountains, expand their outposts, launch attacks on Palestinian property and then set up an apartheid wall that dismembered Palestine and isolated and besieged its villages, it added.” “

In Beit Ur al Fauqa, McCarthy allows an interviewee – with apparently as much difficulty in understanding cause and effect as he himself seems to have – to indulge in romantic nostalgia for the ‘good old days’ of the first IntifadaFile:PikiWiki Israel 9676 matat look-out in bet-horon.jpg

“Back then when the intifada was ongoing things weren’t as bad as today because there weren’t as many checkpoints. There weren’t this kind of separation that is going on these days.”

“Since the beginning of the nineties the separation started between like separating Arabs from Israelis and now they’re like contained in their communities they cannot really – like they have almost no relations whatsoever with the other side because the other side just isolated them in a way.”

Apparently, Mr Samara and Mr McCarthy do not ‘do’ irony either:

“It’s important to recognize the existence of the others. Not to destroy the future of the others. To live with the others in peace. So we can live with them, but without these barriers or these checkpoints.”

McCarthy’s entire broadcast is clearly nothing more than a politically motivated factually skewed diatribe against the anti-terrorist fence which includes numerous breaches of BBC standards on accuracy and impartiality. One of the most glaring of those breaches is the repeated use by McCarthy and his various interviewees of politically inspired terminology to describe the anti-terrorist fence in flagrant contravention of even the BBC’s own specific guidelines on the subject.


BBC journalists should try to avoid using terminology favoured by one side or another in any dispute.

The BBC uses the terms “barrier”, “separation barrier” or “West Bank barrier” as acceptable generic descriptions to avoid the political connotations of “security fence” (preferred by the Israeli government) or “apartheid wall” (preferred by the Palestinians).

The United Nations also uses the term “barrier”.

Of course, a reporter standing in front of a concrete section of the barrier might choose to say “this wall” or use a more exact description in the light of what he or she is looking at.”

The fact that this broadcast got past the BBC’s system of editorial checks and balances for Middle East-related content indicates that a very serious review of that system is clearly urgently needed. 

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