Standard BBC ‘international law’ insert breaches editorial guidelines

Regular BBC readers, viewers and listeners do not need to be reminded of the standard BBC mantra according to which:

“The settlements are considered illegal under international law, though Israel disputes this.”

Though that mantra has been repeated countless times over the years, it is not accompanied by a definitive cited source (because of course there isn’t one) and its claim is erroneously presented as being contested only by the government of Israel. In other words, the BBC’s standard formulation egregiously ignores the existence of legal opinions which contradict its own adopted narrative.

Those legal opinions include that of Professor Julius Stone as laid out in his book “Israel and Palestine: Assault on the Law of Nations“, extracts from which can be read here. On the subject of the Fourth Geneva Convention – which is usually the basis for claims that Israeli communities in areas formerly occupied by Jordan are “illegal” – Professor Stone wrote the following.

“Perhaps the central current criticism against the government of Israel in relation to its administration of the territories occupied after the 1967 War concerns its alleged infractions of the final paragraph (6) of Article 49, of the Fourth Geneva Convention Relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War, of August 12, 1949. The preceding paragraphs deal with deportation or transfer of a population out of the occupied territory. The final paragraph (6) reads as follows. “The occupying Power shall not deport or transfer parts of its own civilian population into territory it occupies.” […]

It is clear that in the drafting history, Article 49 as a whole was directed against the heinous practice of the Nazi regime during the Nazi occupation of Europe in World War II, of forcibly transporting populations of which it wished to rid itself, into or out of occupied territories for the purpose of liquidating them with minimum disturbance of its metropolitan territory, or to provide slave labour or for other inhumane purposes. The genocidal objectives, of which Article 49 was concerned to prevent future repetitions against other peoples, were in part conceived by the Nazi authorities as a means of ridding their Nazi occupant’s metropolitan territory of Jews – of making it, in Nazi terms, judenrein. Such practices were, of course, prominent among the offences tried by war crimes tribunals after World War II.

If and insofar, therefore, as Israel’s position in Judea and Samaria (the West Bank) is merely that of an occupying power, Article 49 would forbid deportation or transfer of its own population onto the West Bank whenever this action has consequence of serving as a means of either

(1) impairment of the economic situation or racial integrity of the native population of the occupied territory; or

(2) inhuman treatment of its own population.

Impairment of Racial Integrity of the Native Population of the Occupied Territory

The prominence of the question of legality of Jewish settlements on the West Bank reflects the tension of the peace process, rather than the magnitude of any demographic movement. Despite vociferous political warfare pronouncements on both sides, it seems clear, therefore, that no serious dilution (much less extinction) of the separate racial existence of the native population has either taken place or is in prospect. Nor do well-known facts of dramatic improvement in the economic situation of the inhabitants since 1967 permit any suggestion that the situation has been worsened or impaired…

Inhuman treatment of its own population

On that issue, the terms of Article 49(6) however they are interpreted, are submitted to be totally irrelevant. To render them relevant, we would have to say that the effect of Article 49(6) is to impose an obligation on the state of Israel to ensure (by force if necessary) that these areas, despite their millennial association with Jewish life, shall be forever judenrein. Irony would thus be pushed to the absurdity of claiming that Article 49(6) designed to prevent repetition of Nazi-type genocidal policies of rendering Nazi metropolitan territories judenrein, has now come to mean that Judea and Samaria the West Bank must be made judenrein and must be so maintained, if necessary by the use of force by the government of Israel against its own inhabitants.”

Additional legal opinions disappeared from audience view by the BBC include that of former Chief Justice of the International Court of Justice Professor Stephen Schwebel, former  Harvard Law School visiting scholar Jeffrey Helmreich, former US Under-Secretary of State Euguene W. Rostow and numerous others.

Whilst the BBC clearly does not have to agree with – or like – any of the above opinions or the many similar others, it does have the obligation under its editorial guidelines on accuracy and impartiality to inform its audiences of their existence. Currently, it fails to meet that obligation. 

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