Listeners to the June 16th edition of the BBC Radio 4 ‘Today’ programme (available here for a limited period of time) heard the following during the news bulletin two hours into the programme.
“Reports from the West Bank say Israeli soldiers searching for three teenagers who haven’t been seen since Thursday, have shot dead a Palestinian man near the city of Ramallah. Palestinian medical officials say he was killed during clashes that started after soldiers conducted house to house searches in a refugee camp.”
Of course when that announcement was broadcast – around 08:00 GMT – that report had not been confirmed.
Later on in the programme, from around 02:36:08 in the recording above, listeners heard presenter and Wikipedia fan Evan Davis introduce an item ostensibly on the subject of the kidnappings of the three Israeli teenagers. As readers will soon see, that item rapidly became a platform for political campaigning, both by his first guest and by Davis himself, with his adoption and use of the language and narrative used by anti-Israel campaigners quickly dispelling any impression of that famed BBC ‘impartiality’.
Evan Davis: “Three Israeli teenagers are missing. The three are students at a seminary on the occupied West Bank and they were taken while hitch-hiking on Thursday night. Israel blames Hamas and in searching for the three, Israeli troops did kill a Palestinian youth overnight.”
Again, Davis repeats an unconfirmed report and gives no context regarding what the “youth” was doing at the time. He continues:
“With me in the studio is the Israeli Ambassador to the UK, Daniel Taub, but first let’s talk to Dr Mustafa Barghouti who’s an independent member of the Palestinian Legislative Council and joins us on the phone. Good morning.”
So, in an item supposedly about three kidnapped Israeli citizens, the BBC elects to open not by providing listeners with factual information about the incident or how it is affecting the families of the missing boys or Israel as a whole, but by giving a platform to one of its favorite serial Palestinian propagandists.
Mustafa Barghouti: “Good morning.”
ED: “Do you have a suspicion as to where these teenagers are or who would have taken them?”
MB: “Well there is no…nobody has any idea about where they are but I think Mr Netanyahu’s government is jeopardizing the lives of these young people by putting them in illegal settlements inside the West Bank. And the whole situation is very explosive because of the fact that 260 Palestinian prisoners who are detained without charges by Israel for…some of them for more than two years, are now on hunger strike for over 50 days and some of them might die at any moment. Eh…if Israel did release these prisoners and had a way to solve the fact that five thousand Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails could be released, I think we would have avoided all these problems.”
Failing to meet BBC editorial guidelines on accuracy by neglecting to clarify to listeners that Barghouti’s statement omits any mention of the terror offences of which the prisoners he promotes were convicted, Davis goes on.
ED: “Right. So listening to you, sorry, Dr Barghouti. Listening to you I would – if I knew nothing about this case – would assume that someone on the Palestinian side had abducted these..err…youngsters as a political – an act – a political act of some kind. Because you’ve mentioned the settlements – the illegal settlements – you’ve mentioned the desire to release prisoners; that would suggest…I mean anyone thinking like you…that you’d take the teenagers, maybe as a bargaining chip or you’d take the teenagers as some kind of revenge.”
Note that Davis fails to meet BBC guidelines on impartiality by presenting audiences with the notion of “illegal settlements” without any accompanying clarification of the fact that there exist many differing views of that topic.
MB: “It could be the case that some Palestinian…it could be the case – nobody has the proof of course – but it could be the case that some Palestinians decided that the only way to release the prisoners whose life is at stake is to have Israeli prisoners as well…”
MB: “…like has happened with Gilad Shalit before, after which Israel had to release the one thousand prisoners who were in jail for more than 30 years or 25 years.”
Again, Davis makes no attempt to clarify to listeners that those released under the terms of the Shalit deal were convicted terrorists.
MB: “So, but the original root of the problem is the fact that Israel is maintaining illegal occupation…”
Davis interrupts with another display of deliberate and active breach of editorial guidelines on impartiality:
ED: “Illegal settlements.”
MB: “..for 47 years and this occupation has transformed into a system of apartheid and discrimination…”
MB: “….and the solution to this problem is not by conducting what Israel does now which are acts of collective punishment against the whole people including killing people as happened this morning in Ramallah.”
Not only does Davis fail to challenge Barghouti’s use of the defamatory and inaccurate ‘apartheid’ trope or his ridiculous promotion of the notion of “collective punishment” to describe an ever increasingly urgent search and rescue operation but – as readers will soon see – he adopts and promotes the latter propaganda himself.
ED: “Ah, Dr Barghouti; thank you for that and maybe wait on the line and listen to Daniel Taub the Israeli Ambassador. Good morning to you.”
Daniel Taub: “Good morning.”
ED: “And I know you weren’t willing to discuss with Dr Barghouti in this case. Has Israel any evidence that Hamas is actually the guilty party in this case?”
DT: “The answer is yes. Obviously I can’t share intelligence with you, but we can point to a number of things. The fact is, since the beginning of 2013 we’ve had tragically over 64….64 attempts to kidnap Israelis and we know that the majority of those were actually orchestrated by Hamas. We have Hamas leaders who have been calling for an increase in attempts – not just general terrorist attacks – but attempts to kidnap Israelis. And of course we have the Hamas leadership which still today is calling the people that perpetrated this atrocity as heroes.”
ED: “If you know it’s Hamas, and you appear to – in your own mind – be clear about that, why would you be arresting people or going into the West Bank and taking people, searching places, that are not related to Hamas – which is certainly the accusation the other side is making.”
DT: “What we’re doing at the moment is what I think any government in this situation would be doing. We are detaining for questioning anybody that may have any intelligence that can help us identify the whereabouts of these three teenagers.”
ED: “Including non-Hamas people?”
DT: “We are detaining the people that we think may have any intelligence.”
ED: “Right, but if you know it’s Hamas, why would you be detaining non-Hamas people?”
DT: “You know I’m not going to go into the details of intelligence gathering operations. As the British intelligence services know, those are complicated.”
ED: “Right, but…”
DT: “Our only goal is to bring these three boys home.”
ED: “What you do get into though is the notion of collective punishment for a whole community for the sins of maybe a few people within that community…”
DT: “I don’t think…it’s not a question of collective punishment but there is a question of collective responsibility. The fact is we have a leadership here in the Palestinian Authority which has engaged in a national unity government with Hamas. You know, they assured us, they assured the international community that in fact that Hamas would become more moderate, would sign up to the international principles of the Quartet, would renounce violence; that we would see Gaza becoming more like the West Bank, and tragically what we’re seeing is actually the West Bank becoming more like Gaza. And if President Abbas wants to be the president of a unity government the first thing that he has to do is ensure that he has a monopoly on the use of force; that he exercises responsibility over all parts of his government; dismantles Hamas and exercises authority over Gaza as well.
Once more breaching BBC guidelines on impartiality, Davis then also suggests to audiences that the blame for the kidnapping of the three teenagers lies with Israel.
ED: “Do you think your approach is working? Illegally settling those areas and having young people wandering around them. Is that working for Israeli security?
DT: “Ahm…the youngsters that we’re talking about were people that were born in this situation. These are not youngsters that you can blame for having moved somewhere. Obviously, the solution that we would like to see is a peaceful negotiation…”
ED: “You’re not denying though…it would generally have been regarded as Palestinian territory until the Israelis…”
DT: “I tell you I don’t accept that that has anything to do with this case because we know that Hamas makes no distinction. Think about it: since the beginning of this year we’ve had from Gaza over two hundred missiles fired on towns and villages inside Israel. Just yesterday we has two more…two more missiles found…people who are not living over the green line, but living in Ashkelon.”
Davis then takes it upon himself to act as telepathic pollster of the Palestinian people and yet again finds a way of promoting the notion that Israel is to blame for terror attacks against its citizens.
ED: “Hamas may not make the distinction that you draw between the occupied and the unoccupied territories, but the rest of the Palestinian community may make that distinction and the ability of Hamas to operate in the way that you say it is operating may have been enhanced by the fact that you’re occupying what would generally have been regarded as Palestinian…”
DT: “I have to say that if you look at the experience of recent years, what Dr Barghouti is advocating doesn’t make sense to most Israelis. We have today 170,000 missiles that are directed at Israel and the vast majority – almost all of those – are located in areas that Israel has pulled out of, whether it’s in South Lebanon or the Gaza Strip. The notion that pulling out of these areas without a responsible authority that is going to take control, do what any responsible government would do, is not an intelligent move. It’s unfortunately much closer to suicide.”
The item ends at that point, with Radio 4 audiences none the wiser about how the kidnappings took place, who the kidnapped boys and their families are, how the incident is being dealt with at an operative level or what is the reaction of the Israeli public. Neither, of course, are listeners told anything about the celebratory reactions on the Palestinian street and the inflammatory statements made by Hamas and Fatah officials – as has indeed been the case in all BBC coverage of this incident so far.
As three families endure a tortuous wait for news of their loved ones and an entire nation stands anxiously between hope and fear, Davis’ politically motivated attempts to place the blame for their abduction upon Israel and frame search efforts as “collective punishment” are frankly obnoxious. The BBC has no editorial guidelines concerning its presenters’ good taste and social skills, but it does have guidelines on accuracy and impartiality which Evan Davis, in his rush to amplify his own chosen political narrative, tramples just as much as he does plain old common decency.