BBC misleads again on Gaza’s coastal waters and airspace

On September 17th the BBC News website published an article on its Middle East page entitled “Palestinian killed during Israeli raid in West Bank“. Early versions of the article addressed the subject of an incident in Jenin during which Islam Tubasi – a member of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad terror organization – was shot and later died of his wounds. 

A later version of the article – the one currently available to visitors to the BBC News website – was extended to include unsubstantiated claims made by Tubasi’s family. The report also includes additional unrelated information regarding recent measures approved by the Israeli government, including the allocation of more permits to enable Palestinians from PA controlled areas to work in Israel.

However, the background information provided is highly misleading. The article states:

“The West Bank has been under Israeli military occupation since 1967”

Once again we see here an example of the BBC practice of arbitrarily commencing history in 1967. No mention is made of the attack by surrounding countries which resulted in Israel coming to be in control of Judea & Samaria or of the 1948 to 1967 Jordanian occupation of the area. Neither is the reader informed of the status of that area before the Jordanian occupation and the fact that it makes up part of the land intended for a Jewish homeland by the League of Nations. The fact that part of the area has been under the control of the Palestinian Authority for two decades is also ignored. 

The article goes on:

“Israeli forces withdrew from Gaza eight years ago although it maintains control of Gaza’s airspace and territorial waters and restricts movement across its shared border.

Israel says the restrictions are necessary security measures to prevent attacks by Palestinian militants.”

This misleading theme has been frequently promoted by the BBC in the past. The suggestion that Israel unilaterally “maintains control of Gaza’s airspace and territorial waters and restricts movement across its shared border ” – compounded by the sentence which follows it – leads audiences to mistakenly believe that the current status of airspace and waters surrounding Gaza is entirely dependent upon Israeli caprices. 

Under the terms of the Interim Agreement of the Oslo Accords – which were willingly signed by the Palestinian people’s representatives – Gaza’s coastal waters remained Israel’s responsibility. Readers will note that the document does not refer to Gaza’s “territorial waters” due to the fact that they do not border a recognised state  – and hence the BBC would do well to review the accuracy of its use of that term.

Likewise, the same Interim Agreements between Israel and the Palestinians state that:

“All aviation activity or use of the airspace by any aerial vehicle in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip shall require prior approval of Israel. It shall be subject to Israeli air traffic control including, inter alia, monitoring and regulation of air routes as well as relevant regulations and requirements to be implemented in accordance with the Israel Aeronautical Information Publication, the relevant parts of which will be issued after consultation with the Council.”

In other words, the Palestinian Authority – considered by the international community to represent the Palestinian people – agreed to Israeli control of Gaza’s coastal waters and airspace in 1995. No changes were made to those terms in subsequent agreements between Israel and the PA signed after Israel’s withdrawal from the Gaza Strip in 2005. 

Of course the progress of the process of which that Interim Agreement was part ground to a halt in 2000 when the Palestinian Authority elected to begin the second Intifada and hence the agreements signed at the time remain in force. Additionally, agreements relating to the Gaza Strip signed between Israel and the Palestinian Authority in 2005 became academic when the PA lost control of the Gaza Strip in 2007 after the violent Hamas take-over there.

Regrettably, the BBC habitually refrains from informing its audiences with regard to Palestinian actions and choices which have resulted in the terms of the Interim Agreement lasting much longer than envisaged at the time, along with the fact that the current status quo is the product of agreements to which the Palestinians’ representatives were willing partners.

For the BBC to imply – as it so often does – that there is something amiss about the fact that Israel controls the coastal waters and airspace of the Gaza Strip is therefore in breach of its own editorial guidelines on accuracy and impartiality. 

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