In what at first glance might seem like nothing more than a downright amazing display of her ability to shoehorn a Palestinian angle into any and every topic under the sun, the BBC Jerusalem Bureau’s Yolande Knell produced a St George’s Day article on April 22nd which was promoted in the ‘Features & Analysis’ section of the BBC News website’s Middle East page and in its ‘Magazine’ section under the heading “George of Palestine – Why St George is a hero on the West Bank”. A filmed version of the report – shown on BBC television news – also appeared on the website on April 23rd.
Knell’s written article – titled “Why St George is a Palestinian hero” – opens:
“As England celebrates the day of its patron saint, many Palestinians are gearing up for their own forthcoming celebrations of the figure they also regard as a hero.”
“However, Palestinians have particular reason to display the symbol and revere the early Christian martyr. For them he is a local hero who opposed the persecution of his fellow Christians in the Holy Land.”
Knell of course neglects to point out that the location of the legend of the martyrdom of St George – Nicomedia, which is modern-day Izmit in north-west Turkey – is not a place which informed people would include in any definition of “the Holy Land”. She goes on to quote Atallah Hanna.
“We believe he was a great martyr for his faith who defended the Christian faith and values,” says Greek Orthodox Archbishop Atallah Hanna.
“By making sacrifices for his faith he was able to defeat evil. We take St George as a patron for people living here – and as he was born in historic Palestine, we pray to him to remember us and this holy land.”
If the name of Knell’s clerical interviewee sounds familiar, that is of probably because of his rather more earthly extensive political activity. Atallah Hanna is one of the authors of the Kairos Document and gave his endorsement to the 2012 exercise in delegitimisation of Israel known as the ‘Global March to Jerusalem’. He sits on the board of advisors to the flotilla-organising ‘Free Gaza’ movement which is linked to the ISM. In 2002 – during the second Intifada – he was sacked by his own church from the position of spokesman after having allegedly condoned terrorism and in the same year was detained by the Israeli authorities on suspicion of illegally entering an enemy country.
Despite clear BBC editorial guidelines concerning the need “to make it clear to the audience when contributors are associated with a particular viewpoint”, Knell of course neglects to inform her readers of the Archbishop’s political motivations for the promotion of “historic Palestine” as the place of St George’s birth. She reinforces the political sub-text running through her piece by going on to write:
“While the saint’s father is usually traced back to Cappadocia, an area in modern Turkey, it is believed his mother was Palestinian from Lydda – now Lod, in Israel.” [emphasis added]
Of course the legend of St George is exactly that: folklore. His very existence is a matter of belief rather than fact and opinions regarding his supposed place of birth and death vary, with even the BBC claiming in an article to which there is a link in Knell’s piece that he was born in Cappadocia in today’s Turkey.
Nevertheless, Knell’s historically challenged promotion of the patron saint of England as a Palestinian born in “historic Palestine” rather than a citizen of a province of the Roman Empire, together with her barely veiled attempt to draw a connecting line between a figure of folklore who “opposed the persecution of his fellow Christians in the Holy Land” and modern-day Palestinians, indicate that this supposedly light-hearted report is in fact nothing more than yet another of her self-conscripted promotions of the politically motivated PA public relations narrative.