On BBC Monitoring’s fantasy ‘ban’ and short skirt syndrome

On June 16th BBC Monitoring informed audiences – in an article titled “Israel: Hitchhiking continues despite kidnap dangers” on its ‘News From Elsewhere’ page on the BBC News website – that the Israeli prime minister had ‘banned’ hitchhiking.BBC Monitoring hitchhiking

“Travellers are likely to ignore a directive from Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu that “bans” hitchhiking in the wake of the disappearance of three teenagers, it seems.

According to the Ma’ariv Hashavu’a newspaper, the prime minister has directed “all settlers and travellers in Judea and Samaria [West Bank] not to take rides offered by strangers”. The order comes as Israel makes scores of arrests and blames Hamas for the disappearance of one 19-year-old and two 16-year-old youths near an Israeli settlement in the West Bank on their way home from lessons.”

The link to Ma’ariv Hashavua appearing in BBC Monitoring’s piece leads to its main page rather than to the source of that quote, but the same website did report on June 13th that:

“The Prime Minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, today requested to convey a guidance to residents not to travel by hitchhiking, following the disappearance of three youths from Judea and Samaria.”

Other media outlets reported “Netanyahu to residents of Judea & Samaria: don’t travel by hitchhiking” (Ynet) and “Netanyahu also expressed his sympathies to the families in Judea and Samaria and urged its residents not to hitchhike” (Jerusalem Post). So – in contrast to the claims made by BBC Monitoring (which apparently seriously over-estimates the Israeli prime minister’s authority)  – no “ban”, no “order” and no “settlers”.

The more remarkable aspect of this article, however, is its promotion and amplification of an ‘analysis’ piece which appeared in Ha’aretz less than 72 hours after the kidnappings.

“However, as Anshel Pfeffer points out in Israeli newspaper Haaretz, neither the fact that people have gone missing nor any government discouragement will stop young Israelis from hitchhiking. The culture of “tremping” (hitchhiking) is deeply ingrained in the country’s youth, despite the dangers of accepting lifts from strangers. Tremping, Pfeffer says, is a “hallowed institution”, and teenagers are more likely to continue tremping in defiance.”

The link provided by BBC Monitoring to Anshel Pfeffer’s article lies behind a pay wall, meaning that the majority of readers will not be able to view it in full. Most will therefore be unaware that, beyond the curious suggestion that hitchhiking is a mode of transport used only by “teenagers” (in fact, many people who have long since ceased to belong to that category also hitchhike in Israel) as a form of “defiance”, Pfeffer also has some additional cod psychology theories which BBC Monitoring apparently saw fit to amplify.

“But there are much deeper reasons, that go beyond logistical necessity. For mitzvah-observant adolescents who have been going to gender-segregated schools since before puberty, there are few places where they can feel as free and as unregulated as on the road. And for them, the roads of Judea and Samaria — the West Bank — are not the dangerous, ominous regions they seem to most Israelis. To them it’s home, and no one, certainly not the IDF officers who periodically warn the settlement elders of the perils of allowing their children to hitch rides, will tell them they can’t travel freely throughout their homeland. Trempim to them aren’t just a way of getting around — they’re a rite of passage, a way of life, a declaration of independence and of ownership of the land.”

Whilst Pfeffer does point out in his pay-walled article that (as is the case in many countries) public transport in remote rural areas is often infrequent, inadequate and expensive, BBC Monitoring does not adequately clarify that point to audiences, stating only that hitchhiking continues to be “attractive” rather than, in many cases, necessary.  Neither does it bother to remind readers that not too long ago, a bus ride anywhere in Israel (not only in Judea & Samaria) was literally a life and death gamble due to the appalling frequency of attacks by suicide bombers and that Israeli public transport is still a target for terror attacks.

But what is really interesting is the decision by the BBC – an organization one presumes would define itself as holding liberal and progressive values – to promote Pfeffer’s ‘short skirt syndrome’ approach to this topic.

The fact that a person carries the title ‘journalist’ does not of course immunize him or her from producing content intended to advance a particular political viewpoint or mean that every notion promoted is written in stone. One can be fairly certain that the BBC – which as we know defines itself as “the standard-setter for international journalism” – would not see fit to promote and amplify an article from another country claiming that despite past incidents of rape, young women continue to wear short skirts “in defiance”.

Remarkably though, BBC Monitoring elected to focus audience attentions on the ‘short skirt’ presentation of hitchhiking in Israel rather than any of the numerous articles or opinion pieces dealing with the actual problem – Palestinian terrorism – which have appeared in the Israeli media concurrently. 

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