Over the past few weeks a developing theme seen in BBC reporting relating to the recent violence and terror attacks in Israel has been that of a purported shift from a conflict between Israel and the Palestinians over land to a ‘religious war’ sparked by the issue of equal prayer rights for non-Muslims at Temple Mount and Palestinian claims that the status quo at that site is in danger.
As Dr Jonathan Spyer recently noted:
“An oft-repeated sentiment currently doing the rounds in discussions of the Israeli-Palestinian issue is that it is imperative that the conflict not become a “religious” one. This sentiment, guaranteed to set heads nodding in polite, liberal company, stands out even within the very crowded and competitive field of ridiculous expressions of historical ignorance found in discussion of the Israeli-Palestinian issue.
This sentiment is connected to the recent wave of terror attacks in Jerusalem, which are the result of Palestinian claims that Israel is seeking to alter the “status quo” at the Temple Mount. As this theory goes, up until now this conflict had mainly been about competing claims of land ownership and sovereignty, but it is now in danger of becoming about “religion,” and hence turning even more intractable. So this must be prevented.
In objective reality, the conflict between Jews and Arab Muslims over the land area between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea has been, from its very outset, inseparable from “religion.””
In addition to dedicating an item in a Radio 4 programme to the topic, the BBC has seen fit to promote that narrative on other platforms. In an interview with BBC News broadcast on television on November 18th, for example, the PNI’s Mustafa Barghouti claimed that:
“I think in this case Mr Netanyahu has been provoking the Palestinians, is trying to transform this conflict – which is a national liberation movement trying to get freedom – into a religious conflict. It’s not a religious conflict and we don’t want any people who pray to be attacked; this is unacceptable.”
In an interview with Fatah official Husam Zomlot broadcast on BBC World Service radio on December 5th, presenter Tim Franks asked:
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.”
It is therefore all the more remarkable to find that an interview with Hamas official Mahmoud al Zahar by Siavash Ardalan which was broadcast on BBC Persian television on December 30th (BBC Persian website version here) has not yet appeared on the corporation’s English language platforms.
In that interview al Zahar spoke, inter alia, of Hamas’ relationship with Iran, stating that the strategic relationship between that country and the terrorist organization is based on the fact that:
“…more than anything else we believe in the concept of an Islamic Ummah including all nationalities and different branches of the Muslim Ummah from east to west.”
A translated version of the voiceover of al Zahar’s statements in the interview can be seen below.
Clearly the subject of Hamas’ relationship with Iran and the points at which its religiously motivated ideologies also dovetail with those of theocratic regimes in the region is one which has considerable bearing on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and is of great significance to BBC audience members aspiring to enhance their knowledge of this particular international issue. It is also, however, a subject which the BBC has consistently under-reported and the failure to make this interview available to the vast majority of BBC audience members who do not speak Farsi perpetuates that policy.