On December 5th the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour’ broadcast a special edition from Jerusalem, presented by Tim Franks. Titled “The push to increase access to the Temple Mount”, this programme obviously presented an opportunity to provide some much-needed background information and context on a topic with which the BBC has been dealing very unsatisfactorily since late October.
The parts of the programme relating to the declared subject matter were presented in two segments – available here from 00:04 and from 30:00. In the first segment listeners heard from two Israelis and two Palestinians and Tim Franks opened the programme by explaining why the BBC World Service was devoting a special broadcast to the topic.
“Welcome to this special edition of Newshour from the BBC World Service with me, Tim Franks, live in Jerusalem. We’re here because…well, because this city has been in the news for most of recorded human history but in recent months, residents here – you’ll hear from them in this programme – they’ll tell you that an edge, a fear, a sense of division has sharpened. Why and how and what it means for any political resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, we’ll be exploring.”
Having gone up to Temple Mount, Franks lets his first interviewee introduce herself.
“My name is Abir Zayad [phonetic]. I’m now working inside Al Aqsa Mosque as an archaeologist. I’m coming here almost on daily basis for the whole of my life.”
TF: “And do you also now have a job here as a…as a guardian of the compound?”
AZ: “Yes. As part of a person who grow up in the place, I feel like other people as a responsibility for protecting the Al Aqsa Mosque. If you hear what the settlers are saying, all the time they are saying that they want to demolish especially the Dome of the Rock.”
TF: “But the Israeli government has made it very, very clear that it does not want to change the status quo up here.”
AZ: “The difference is in many things. First we are not controlling the gates. We used to control the gates. Tourist; we was controlling the tourists. Now we are not controlling the tourists. They can anytime close Aqsa Mosque and tell us it is not allowed for Muslims to enter. They take the identity card – our identity card – before we enter to pray. They allow for settlers to pray inside Al Aqsa Mosque. So all this is a new things which is not accepted on us. So you are speaking about a new status. He is playing with the words, Netanyahu.”
So what would Tim Franks have had to insert into his report at this point in order to avoid listeners being misled by Zayad’s inaccurate claims? He would of course have had to point out that not only do “settlers” not pray “inside Al Aqsa Mosque” but that non-Muslims – Jews and Christians – are not allowed to pray anywhere on Temple Mount at all. He would also have had to clarify that Israel has been responsible for the site’s security ever since 1967 – including the gates – so the claims of changes made by Israel to the status quo (at least during the past 47 years) are inaccurate. He would also have had to inform listeners that closures of the compound to Muslims are extremely rare (twice in the last 14 years) and that such measures are only implemented in extreme security situations.
Not only did Tim Franks make no effort to inform listeners that his interviewee’s claims were false, he also failed to counter her inaccurate and stereotypical claim that half a million people – according to the BBC’s own definition of “settlers” – intend to destroy the Dome of the Rock. It is worth remembering that this programme was broadcast to audiences worldwide – including countries in which the amplification of such a defamatory allegation can have potentially dangerous effects.
And whilst he was at it, Franks should also have clarified to listeners that the female “guardians of the compound” (whose main activity is to hassle non-Muslims visiting Temple Mount), among whom his interviewee is apparently to be counted, are paid by the Hamas-affiliated Northern Islamic Movement with the funds often coming from Gulf countries.
After additional interviews with architect Gideon Charlap and MK Tsipi Hotovely, Franks goes to Ramallah to meet Fatah’s Husam Zomlot. In recent weeks the BBC has amplified Zomlot’s falsehoods and propaganda on at least two separate occasions – see here and here – and yet someone at the ‘Newshour’ production team apparently thought that audience understanding of this complex topic could be enhanced by providing that propagandist with a platform yet again.
Even more significant is the fact that Tim Franks passed up the opportunity to present audiences with a clear and accurate view of the crucial issue of Palestinian incitement which has up to now been whitewashed and ignored by the BBC.
Franks: “How concerned are you that the language of negotiation, the language of territory, the language of the United Nations may become redundant as we see increasing levels of anger and increasing levels of a more sort of religious nature to this war; to this conflict? Ahm…especially in light of what’s happened in recent weeks?”
Zomlot: “You’re absolutely right and this is a very alarming development thanks to the Netanyahu government. Not only the Netanyahu government have been murdering the two state solution via this phenomenal expansion of settlements everywhere in the occupied Palestinian territory…state. But also they have been shifting the identity of the conflict from a national one that could be resolved to a religious perpetual confrontation.”
The adjective phenomenal of course means very remarkable or extraordinary. Not only have Israel’s current and previous governments of course not been building housing “everywhere” in Judea & Samaria as Zomlot inaccurately claims, but the rates of construction – as has been pointed out here in the past – can in no way be accurately described as “phenomenal” in comparison to those under prior administrations. Tim Franks, however, allows Zomlot’s misleading propaganda to be heard unhindered.
Franks: “You talk about the radicalization on the Israeli side. What about on the Palestinian side where you have the Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas condemning acts of violence but you also have senior figures in Fatah and elsewhere who praise the actions, for example, of those cousins from Jabel Mukaber who killed four rabbis who were praying in West Jerusalem. That sort of language – calling these…those cousins martyrs for example – what good does that do for the Palestinian cause?”
This is not the first time that we have seen Tim Franks downplaying Mahmoud Abbas’ incitement and trying to create a faux separation between the PA president and incitement coming from the PA officials and Fatah officials he controls. Whilst Abbas himself did issue a form of condemnation of the Har Nof terror attack, he has publicly praised others. Zomlot does not miss the open goal provided for him.
HZ: “What we need to hear is always from the head of the state and from the president of the people. He is the one – or she – would represent the people.”
TF: “But do you deplore that?”
HZ: “Let me tell you: you ask a question and I’ll answer it. So when the head of the state come and condemn this in a very clear language I think this is really the most serious and the most expected outcome. We hear so many voices – individual voices – and if I want to get into that argument and tell you about the Israeli argument, some of it is sub-human…”
TF: “But I’m not asking you about the Israelis. I’m asking you about your fellow Palestinian politicians.”
HZ: “Where I am getting. I don’t want to quote you the hundred Israeli politicians so I don’t think, again, what is missing is our part of the story – condemnation. I believe the majority of Fatah would want to see a non-violent resolution to this.”
And that is that. Listeners to this BBC World Service special edition of ‘Newshour’ remain none the wiser about the scope and nature of incitement and glorification of terrorism from official Palestinian sources such as the PA and Fatah. Moreover, they are misleadingly led to believe by Tim Franks that Mahmoud Abbas has no part in that incitement.
The second part of this programme will be discussed in a later post.