“When I was posted here a few years ago as Middle East correspondent, one of the dominant stories was over the expansion of Jewish settlements on territory which Israel had occupied in the aftermath of the 1967 war. Undesirable if not downright illegal, said the rest of the world. Israel, for its part, said that the status of the territory was a matter of dispute and in the meantime it needed a place for its burgeoning population to live. So much might be familiar but in the last couple of months the announcement of a big new building development in occupied East Jerusalem has been described as a game-changer and brought furious international criticism. Why?”
Franks’ next interviewee is introduced as follows:
“And the south [of Jerusalem] is where I am now with Aviv Tatarsky. He’s with the think-tank and advocacy group Ir Amim which plots the changes to Jerusalem.”
Ir Amim of course does a lot more than just ‘plot changes’: it is an NGO with a clear political agenda which should have been clarified to BBC audiences before they were exposed to its researcher’s unchallenged claims.
Tatarsky: “Right, so we’re just on a lookout very close to Bethlehem on the southern perimeter of Jerusalem where right now it’s open land – open space – but Israel has published the official approval of a plan for a completely new neighbourhood – 2,600 housing units – called Givat HaMatos; that’s the name. And the significance is not only this big move to construct a neighbourhood and – for the world, for the Palestinians – a new settlement beyond the Green Line, but actually that this would really bring together Gilo and Har Homa and together with Givat HaMatos you would have continuous Israeli bloc that would finally separate Bethlehem – the south of the West bank – from East Jerusalem. I think everyone understands – the international community, certainly the Palestinians, also the Israeli government – to end the conflict, to arrive at a peaceful resolution of the conflict, there will be a Palestinian capital in East Jerusalem. Now when you decide to cut off East Jerusalem from the rest of the West Bank, actually what the Israeli government is saying: this will not happen; there will not be a Palestinian capital in East Jerusalem. Basically we don’t want one and we’re actually interested in keeping the situation as it is.”
Contrary to the statement made by Franks, the plan to build housing in Givat HaMatos is not “new” and it certainly is not from “the last couple of months”. In fact, the BBC has been misreporting that topic since December 2012 – a full two years before Franks’ report went on air – and since that date the BBC has also been claiming that new apartments in Givat HaMatos (around half of which are ear-marked for Arab residents of nearby Beit Tsafafa) would “cut Palestinians in East Jerusalem off from their West Bank hinterland”, just as Tatarsky does.
What no BBC report so far – including this one – has told audiences is that Givat HaMatos is in an area which, under any realistic scenario of a peace deal, would remain under Israeli control. What has also not been made clear is that it would be perfectly possible – and even logical – to construct a road leading from Bethlehem to, say, the Palestinian Legislative Council building in Abu Dis without passing through Givat HaMatos.
Rather than informing audiences accurately about this issue, however, Tim Franks, elects to give a platform to politically motivated sloganeering which does not even hold geographical water.
Next Franks goes to Issawiya to interview one Naim Hamdan whose nephews built a house without planning permission and are apparently now upset that the municipality has since demolished the structure, just as would be the case in any Western country. Franks grants Hamdan a platform to promote an egregious and redundant comparison between the demolition of a structure lacking planning permission and a hypothetical armed mugging in London.
Franks: “What do your nephews think about this?”
Hamdan: “What you will think? When someone stronger than you in the middle of London and hold a gun to your head; give me your money. What you will think when someone come to demolish your home? Are you gonna be happy? I don’t think so. I don’t think so.
Following that listeners hear an unidentified voice say:
“Today we are divided physically, we are divided geographically and we are divided by walls of fear and in many ways a more endemic and more personalized hatred.”
As Franks then informs listeners, that voice belongs to Daniel Seidemann who is introduced as “a lawyer and activist” and who has appeared with similarly inadequate introduction in several recent BBC reports. Franks fails to inform audiences that Seidemann is the founder of the foreign funded political NGO Terrestrial Jerusalem and that he also founded Ir Amim. That context – had it been supplied with an explanation of the political motivations behind the organisations to which Seidemann is linked – would have allowed BBC audiences to put his ensuing uninterrupted monologue into context.
“We had the horrendous murder of a teenage Palestinian boy Mohammed Abu Khdeir who was abducted and burned alive. You had the outbreak of violence in Gaza. So the only place where Israelis and Palestinians have enough of an interface is Jerusalem and it erupted here. Underneath all of this is a big question. What possesses thirteen, fourteen, fifteen year-old kids – who are the leaders of this uprising – to go out on a nightly basis for five months and clash with the police? They’re not being sent by their parents. They’re not being sent by some sort of authoritarian leader. They’re doing this spontaneously and that’s a huge question and I think the answer to that is they sense they have no future.”
Tim Franks clearly embraces Seidemann’s simplistic and cherry-picked narrative which completely erases from audience view recent Palestinian terrorism (including the kidnapping and murders of three Israeli teens in June) and Hamas’ instigation of the summer conflict whilst simultaneously failing to ask why parents and community leaders have made no discernible effort to put an end to such violent rioting or how the background of official PA incitement and glorification of terrorism legitimizes and encourages such acts. He then goes on to reinforce Seidemann’s spurious conjecture by promoting his own, similar picture.
Franks: “That level of disaffection spikes in places like this one: it’s the busy Palestinian neighbourhood in the north of the city called Shuafat where some of the sharpest clashes of recent months have erupted. Shuafat is the place also where the new light railway runs up to from the south of the city. This railway was designed by the city authorities to be – as far as they were concerned – a symbol of how Jerusalem is one united city. But here in Shuafat the train carriages have also been seen by many as a further intrusion from the other side: a target also for teenage stone-throwers. I’ve come to meet three of them.”
Obviously, Jerusalem’s light rail system was designed primarily to provide transport for all the city’s inhabitants rather than for the reasons of symbolism dubiously attached to its construction by Franks. He then goes on to allow his three anonymous teenage “stone-throwers” an unhindered platform to make the unverified claim that they were “imprisoned” because they are relatives of Mohammed Abu Khdeir and fails to make any effort to dig deeper into the kind of mindset which prompts statements such as “his cousin’s blood won’t go just like this without having any revenge” and “throwing stones feeds you dignity”. In fact, the main factor evident in this part of the programme is Franks’ attempt to impose his own Western standards and cultural relativism on the phenomenon of violent rioting by Palestinian teenagers.
Franks continues with an interview with the headmistress of a school in Jabel Mukaber and another with the mayor of Jerusalem Nir Barakat. Interestingly, he chooses to round off the special broadcast with an interview with the former British consul general in Jerusalem, Vincent Fean, who – as readers familiar with his record whilst he was in that position will not be in the least surprised to learn – is “now spending some of his time working to promote the international recognition of the Palestinian state”. Fean uses his unhindered platform to promote an inaccurate portrayal of the reasons for the failure of the last round of negotiations between Israel and the PLO.
Fean: “The reason why he [John Kerry] didn’t do it [reach a peace agreement] last time round is because Israel didn’t want it.”
In his introduction to this special edition of ‘Newshour’, Tim Franks outlined its purpose as follows:
“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.”
So what did BBC World Service listeners learn about the ‘why’ and the ‘how’ in that statement? They were told in the first part of the programme that one cause of tensions is Temple Mount, but provided with an inaccurate portrayal of the background to that topic. In the second half of the programme the focus was on ‘settlements’ and ‘disaffected’ youth with much misinformation and politically motivated manipulation of both those issues.
Listeners were not, however, told anything about the incitement focusing on Jerusalem and Temple Mount in particular coming from the Palestinian Authority and the topic of how that incitement serves the PA’s current strategies was not explored at all. Moreover, Tim Franks provided Fatah official Husam Zomlot with a platform from which to downplay that crucial factor.
The sole achievement of this special programme was in fact to reinforce the same mantras and narratives promoted by other BBC correspondents on other platforms so many times in the past. As usual, only things attributable to Israel are presented as factors contributing to ‘tensions’ and ‘division’. And as usual, Palestinians have no agency and no responsibility in the BBC’s chosen narrative. The very fact that Tim Franks managed to make an entire programme about Jerusalem without even once mentioning the recent terror attacks in that city speaks volumes about the motivations behind its production.
Had Tim Franks’ trip to Jerusalem culminated in some serious reporting on the issue of PA incitement – which has been conscientiously swept under the carpet by the BBC for the past two months – the exercise would have been justified. As it is, the people who funded Franks’ trip actually gained very little new information which could enhance their understanding of the real background to this issue.