Three recent and separate editions of ‘From Our Own Correspondent’, which is broadcast on BBC Radio 4 and on the BBC World Service, included an item by the BBC’s Middle East Editor Jeremy Bowen.
The BBC World Service edition of the item, which is abridged and was broadcast on May 7th, can be heard here. The programme’s webpage is illustrated with a photograph explained in the following euphemistic caption which omits all mention of the terrorist activities of Yassin and Arafat.
“Palestinian women walk past a mural depicting late Hamas spiritual leader Sheikh Ahmed Yassin (L) and late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat on May 4, 2014 in Gaza City.”
A slightly different version of the same item – also abridged – was broadcast in addition by the BBC World Service on May 10th and can be heard here.
The BBC Radio 4 version from May 3rd can be heard here from about 07:12.
The transcript below is of the unabridged version.
Jeremy Bowen: “Gaza City has very few open spaces. The beach is the most popular. Many Palestinians in Gaza can’t leave the narrow and overcrowded Strip because of Israeli and Egyptian restrictions. At the beach they can walk, swim in the Mediterranean, relax a little and wonder about a much bigger world somewhere beyond the horizon.
Another oasis is the Gaza War Cemetery. Three and a half thousand British and Commonwealth dead from the two world wars are buried there and the Commonwealth War Graves Commission has performed its usual gardening miracle. Among the lines of limestone graves are flat, green lawns, trees and they’ve created some peace and shade in a dusty, noisy city built on sand dunes.
More than fifteen years ago I walked around the cemetery with a Palestinian man in his mid-twenties. He told me it was the only place he could think. We were talking because he’d been tortured in a Palestinian jail. His fingernails had been torn out with pliers and had regrown as horny little stumps. He’d been accused of being an activist in Hamas. His torturers were from the Palestinian Security Forces that were dominated by men from Yasser Arafat’s faction Fatah. The peace process with Israel was still supposed to be moving ahead and Arafat’s people had cracked down hard on Hamas after a series of suicide bombs that had killed dozens of Israelis.
Tension – and worse – between Hamas and Fatah has deep roots. So, it was no surprise that it led to bloodshed after Hamas won an election in 2006. Palestinians were sick of Fatah’s excesses, corruption and ineptitude. Hamas is an acronym for the Arabic words for Islamic Resistance Movement. It’s a branch of the Muslim Brotherhood – the group that’s been working since the late 1920s to put Islam at the heart of political and social life in Muslim countries. The barman in the American Colony – the hotel journalists like to use in Jerusalem – was a Muslim who didn’t drink. He said back then that he’d known an electoral upset was coming when Christian Palestinians had told him over their whiskies that they’d be voting for Hamas.
Fatah and its allies in the West were aghast about the victory of Hamas. A senior American official told me in his office in the State Department in Washington that the priority was reversing the result. The Americans helped Fatah prepare a coup against the newly elected Hamas government. Hamas moved first and amid brutal scenes, Hamas fighters unceremoniously ejected Fatah from the positions of power it still held in Gaza.
Mohamed Dahlan was the Fatah strongman in Gaza; someone the Americans relied on. His men had rounded up and tortured Hamas sympathisers in the 1990s, including the man I’d met in the British graveyard. I’d talked with Dahlan in his office not many months before I saw TV pictures of exultant Hamas fighters smashing it up and firing their Kalashnikovs into his desk. He had escaped.
Since then the Palestinians have been divided, with Hamas in power in Gaza and Fatah in the West Bank. I use the term ‘in power’ advisedly. Israel is really in control of the West Bank and even though its troops and settlers were pulled out of Gaza nine years ago, it can still blockade the Gaza Strip in a way that is at times devastating for civilians. People in Gaza in different ways relied on tunnels dug into Egypt for everything from Coca Cola to weapons. Some tunnels were big enough to drive in cars and live animals. When the Muslim Brotherhood – Hamas’ allies – won the election in Egypt, Hamas was flying high. But now the Egyptian military says it’s destroyed more than thirteen hundred tunnels since it seized power last year.
Hamas was running out of options. What it had left was ending the split with President Mahmoud Abbas of Fatah. His side had concluded that the latest round of talks with Israel was going nowhere – like all the others over twenty years or more. So unity seems to be part of a new strategy for President Abbas and his people. It includes joining international organisations which could eventually lead to war crimes prosecutions of Israeli soldiers.
And there’s BDS – or Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions. The idea is for Israel to be as isolated as South Africa was in the 1980s. That worries the Israelis more and more. The editor of one of Israel’s leading papers told me that BDS was moving from the fringes to the centre of politics. ‘Israel’s so much stronger than us’ one Palestinian activist told me before I left Jerusalem this week. ‘But we’re more organised than we were – and we’re not going away’.”
As we noted here a couple of weeks ago, Bowen’s job description has been defined by BBC News management thus:
“Jeremy Bowen’s new role is, effectively, to take a bird’s eye view of developments in the Middle East, providing analysis that might make a complex story more comprehensive or comprehensible for the audience, without the constraints of acting as a daily news correspondent. His remit is not just to add an extra layer of analysis to our reporting, but also to find stories away from the main agenda.”
It is therefore unacceptable that Bowen should present an entire item based on the subject matter of the Hamas-Fatah reconciliation without informing audiences of Hamas’ terror designation, that he should fail to mention the fact that it was terrorism by Hamas and other Gaza-based factions which brought about the need for tight security along the border with the Gaza Strip and counter-terrorism measures to prevent weapons smuggling and that he should mislead audiences by stating that “Israel is really in control of the West Bank”.
It also remarkable that the BBC’s senior Middle East authority portrays the 2007 Hamas coup to his audience as a pre-emptive – and therefore presumably justified – move and that he appears to have adopted the Hamas narrative regarding the rivalry between it and Fatah at the time.
But most notably of all, it is of course completely inexcusable that Bowen is permitted to use no fewer than three BBC programmes to once again amplify and promote the BDS campaign and its tactical ‘apartheid’ analogy to millions of listeners both in the UK and abroad.
That editorial decision is especially egregious considering that whilst the BBC has to date refrained from informing its audiences of the true agenda of the political campaign to dismantle Israel as the Jewish state, promotion of the BDS movement is becoming an increasingly regular phenomenon in BBC content of all types, with Bowen currently in the running for title of chief cheerleader.
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