Like the version of the programme broadcast earlier in the day (discussed here), the later edition of BBC World Service radio’s ‘Newshour’ on November 18th devoted a significant amount of air-time to the subject of the terror attack which had taken place that morning in a synagogue in the Har Nof district of Jerusalem.
Presented by Tim Franks, that edition (available from 00:50 here) also opened with a version of the eye-witness account given earlier by paramedic Akiva Pollak who was one of the first to arrive on the scene. Tim Franks then moved on to interview the Israeli Justice Minister, Tsipi Livni but, despite repeated explanation from the minister, seemed to have difficulty grasping the fact that whilst some people – including MKs – advocate equal prayer rights for members of all religions on Temple Mount, the Israeli government does not intend to change the status quo. Franks’ questions to Livni also included the following:
“You mentioned the responsibility of the Palestinians to try to stop these acts of violence. Hamas – or a spokesman for Hamas – has welcomed today’s killings. The President of the Palestinian Authority Abu Mazen – Mahmoud Abbas – has condemned the killing and yet the Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu equates the actions of Hamas and Mr Abbas. He says that they are both responsible for incitement. That’s not true, is it?”
As Minister Livni rightly pointed out, Abbas’ record of incitement began long before November 18th and it includes not only statements he made personally, but also material put out by the party which he heads – Fatah and content disseminated on official PA platforms. As has been noted here on numerous occasions, the BBC has not covered the issue of incitement from official Palestinian sources at all during the last month: had it done so, Tim Franks might perhaps have been well enough informed to refrain from asking such a redundant question.
However, the programme’s next interviewee was Husam Zomlot; described in the introduction as a “senior official” from Abbas’ party and Tim Franks soon got a dose of Fatah-style propaganda and incitement first hand.
Zomlot: “The Palestinian President condemned what happened in Jerusalem this morning in very clear terms and very clear language. And he condemned it on the basis of a very principled position all along through his career and throughout the last many, many years that we reject violence and we promote non-violence. On the other hand, there is sheer violence coming from Israeli-organised terror groups over the last so many weeks. That Israeli targeting Palestinian civilians including just an hour ago here in the west of Ramallah where a Palestinian young man was stabbed by Israeli settlers and including yesterday a Palestinian bus driver with two young sons was hanged in his own bus by again another most likely Israeli-organised terror groups and….”
Franks: “Sorry – sorry to interrupt you there. I mean there has been an autopsy report into that and it has come back as saying the bus driver hanged himself – it was a case of suicide.”
Zomlot: “We are really grown accustomed whenever there is a Palestinian person who commit violence they are assassinated immediately, mostly. Like the last week we had six of them assassinated and some of these cases they could have just arrested them. While when there is an Israeli act of violence, we always hear these allegations. Either Palestinians kill themself or the Israeli person who committed it like the one who burnt Mohammed Abu Khdeir, this young boy in Jerusalem, was mentally disturbed. I doubt the Israeli judicial system and I doubt their police investigations and regardless of what happened we need to hear Mr Netanyahu condemning the hanging; condemning what is happening.”
Franks: “But sorry – how can he condemn a suicide?”
Zomlot: “This is not about just that incident. There has been provocations…”
Franks: “I’m sorry to interrupt you. You do…for you to say that this man was not hanged, he was murdered is a very, very serious charge because it’s not just the case of murder, but what you are saying is that the authorities are colluding to cover up a murder.”
Zomlot:”We need to see real, meaningful transparent investigations in so many cases. And I don’t think the Israeli government – the current government – nor its establishment, is capable of producing a genuine real transparent investigations and this is our experience for years. Why don’t we call for international investigations for these incidents? And we will accept in full the founding [sic – findings] of international investigations.”
Franks: “You can raise doubts but you said in terms that this man had been murdered. My question to you is whether on a day like today when feelings are running very high, whether you should be careful not to incite feelings so that anger goes beyond and that it ends up as an incitement. You may say you don’t want it to be such but it is an incitement to violence: it’s an incitement to rage.”
Zomlot: “I don’t like this term. I don’t like your allegations and accusations. We are religious about non-violence. We roamed the world for years upon years to try and provide our people with non-violent way of achieving their rights and the proof is for the last so many years we actually – the Palestinian Authority and the PLO – have been absolutely clear about our commitments to the security of Palestinians and even to the Israelis, not only by words but by deeds. When we merely state facts, this is not incitement. The incitement is happening on the ground on a daily basis. When every other week we have a theft of our land, this is an incitement for violence. When every other day we have a provocation to enter mosques and burn mosques, this is an incitement every day. We Palestinians are the occupied, are the ones who are subjected to the de-Arabisation of Jerusalem. All what I’m trying to say is let’s not only focus on the symptoms of the situations, but on the root causes of it. We absolutely regret this murder of civilians. We should take it as an opportunity to really, really look at the situation and stop Netanyahu from taking us all to the unknown: from sending this conflict from a national conflict that could be solved to a religious conflict that could not be solved.”
Whilst Tim Franks certainly did better than any of his BBC colleagues in challenging Zomlot’s inflammatory and baseless allegations regarding the suicide of the bus driver, that was of course far from the only inaccuracy in Zomlot’s rant. The rest of the falsehoods and distortions by this Fatah senior official went unhindered and unchallenged, including the claim of “de-Arabisation of Jerusalem” and the claim of “assassination” of terrorists caught in the act and the claims of “every other week […] theft of our land” and “every other day […] provocation to enter mosques and burn mosques”.
The obvious question which must be asked is if Tim Franks was capable of recognising at least part of Zomlot’s incitement for what it was, why was this interview – which clearly contributes nothing to audience understanding of the facts behind the story being covered – broadcast to millions worldwide and further promoted by the BBC World Service on Twitter as a separate podcast?