13 years on: BBC website still misleads over 2000 Ramallah lynching

As has been noted here previously, the BBC’s Editorial Guidelines on accuracy include a sub-section entitled ‘Managing Online Content which, inter alia, states:

“Unless content is specifically made available only for a limited time period, there is a presumption that material published online will become part of a permanently accessible archive and will not normally be removed.

For news stories, the archive is intended to act as a permanent public record.” [emphasis added]

But what happens when that “permanent public record” is inaccurate, biased or misleading? Should the BBC be obliged to clearly label it as such or even to remove the webpage? That question has previously been raised here in the context of the fact that material promoting the ‘Jenin massacre that never was still appears on the BBC website and in relation to the fact that whilst the BBC has publicly acknowledged that there is no conclusive evidence to prove that Mohammed al Dura was killed by Israeli forces, its website still promotes that narrative. But of course those are not the only examples of flawed “public record” appearing on the BBC’s website.

On October 12th 2000 – some two weeks after the start of the second Intifada – newly-wed 1st Sgt Vadim Norzhich (also spelt Nurzhitz) and father of three 1st Cpl Yosef (Yossi) Avrahami, both in their thirties and both of whom served in the IDF as drivers, were on their way to reserve service when they took a wrong turn and were stopped by PA security forces. From there they were taken by force to the police station in Ramallah where they were brutally lynched by a mob. 

In a report which still appears on the BBC website, Martin Asser begins by describing the horrific scenes which anyone who was in Israel at the time will never forget having watched on television.

Asser article Ramallah lynching

However, the majority of Asser’s report is notable for its inaccuracies and its failure to meet BBC standards of impartiality.

Asser claims that there were four soldiers in the civilian car with Israeli plates which took a wrong turn – rather than two – and fails to make clear that they were apprehended and taken to a Ramallah police station by PA security forces.  

“Four men had been travelling in an unmarked car that was somehow apprehended on a street in Ramallah. At least two were killed a couple of hours later.”

Under the sub-heading “Rising anger”, Asser transparently tries to ‘contextualise’ the lynching by presenting readers with a set of ‘explanatory’ circumstances. He first suggests that the murdered soldiers may have been members of an undercover unit, inventing a very creative interpretation of a picture of one of them being dragged off by a member of the mob after his eyes have been covered with a kefiya placed back to front.  Asser also presents the fact that the two soldiers were wearing civilian clothes rather than army uniform (as is quite normal for reservists who have not yet reached their base) as though it were relevant.

“Photographs show some of the doomed men were dressed in civilian clothes and one was photographed before his death wrapped in a black-and-white Palestinian head-dress. […]

But this outburst of fury apparently stemmed from rumours circulating through the mob that the captives belonged to the feared and hated undercover units of the Israeli army which dress as Arabs and strike in the heart of Palestinian towns.”

In addition, Asser tries to ‘explain’ the lynching by patronisingly portraying it as an inevitable reaction to previous Palestinian casualties.

“Anger had been brewing for the last two weeks which have witnessed the funerals of about 100 Arabs, nearly two dozen of them children, who have been killed in the violent uprising against Israeli occupation forces. […]

Earlier this week, the badly beaten body of a Palestinian, Issam Hamad, was found dumped on the outskirts of Ramallah. Palestinians blamed his death on Israeli settlers.”

Then, under the loaded sub-heading “Wrath of Israel”, Asser equates a mob’s brutal bare-handed lynching and mutilation with an incident in which – at the very worst – a child was caught in the middle of a firefight and accidentally killed.

“Their deaths were captured on film with the same power as the last moments of the short life of Muhammad al-Durrah, shot by Israeli troops 12 days ago as his father vainly tried to shield him with his own body.”

Asser rounds off his article with an overdramatic description – almost biblical in tone – of the Israeli response to the lynching which in no way reflects the reality of the limited, precise actions against buildings taken at the time which were pre-announced to the Palestinian Authority in order to avoid casualties.

“Israel’s overwhelming military might means that, unlike the Palestinians, it has the option of a dramatic and immediate response to those who cross its path.

The inevitable wrath of Israel came just as noon prayers were being called.

Wave after wave of missiles rained down on Ramallah, as well as Palestinian Authority installations in Gaza.”

So there we have it: a self-declared “permanent public record” replete with inaccuracies and unsubstantiated speculation, and rife with breaches of BBC editorial guidelines on impartiality, which has remained accessible to the general public around the world for thirteen years.

It really is time that the BBC got round to spring cleaning its website in order to bring it into line with its own standards of accuracy and impartiality and the various contributions by Martin Asser would be a very good place to start.

Related articles:

Myths and lethal narratives on the BBC website

Another lethal narrative on the BBC website

BBC’s “Obstacles to Peace” do not hold water – part 1

BBC’s “Obstacles to Peace” do not hold water – part 2

Revisiting a BBC story about charcoal

BBC’s ‘Obstacles to Peace’: wrong on right of return – Part 1

BBC’s ‘Obstacles to Peace’: wrong on right of return – Part 2

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