BBC coverage of the Pope’s recent canonization of four nineteenth century nuns has focused exclusively on the two who were born in places which were at the time part of the Ottoman Empire: Jerusalem in the Mutassariflik of Jerusalem and Ibillin in the Acco (Acre) Sanjak. The Ottomans of course did not recognize ‘Palestine’ as a separate entity but divided the Levant into provinces, governorates and districts.
On May 17th the BBC devoted two written articles and two items in radio broadcasts to the story.
“Vatican boost for Christians in Holy Land” – Yolande Knell, BBC News website
“Pope Francis canonises two Palestinian nuns” – BBC News website
‘Newshour’ – “Palestinian nuns become saints” – Julian Marshall, BBC World Service radio (from 00:32)
‘Sunday‘ – Edward Stourton with Fr David Neuhaus, BBC Radio 4 (from 00:57)
All those items include an element of politicization of the topic by means of promotion of two women who would have been extremely unlikely to self-define as Palestinians as “Palestinian nuns”.
An idea of the aims of such politicization of what is, after all, an event of religious significance can be gleaned from an article published by the Palestinian news agency Ma’an.
“Rifaat Kassis, a prominent political community activist and coordinator of Kairos, a local Christian group, says the canonization is significant on many levels, notwithstanding the recognition that Palestinians under Ottoman rule were part of a diverse, productive society, contrary to the mainstream sidelining of Palestinians from the region’s history.
“This puts Palestine on the map, among not only the catholic world, but the whole world, and I think this will also help people to understand Palestine and the occupation,” he told Ma’an.” [emphasis added]
Not content with the geographical politicization of the topic, the ‘Newshour’ item went even further and a report supposedly about the canonization of two nuns quickly became a platform for the promotion of political propaganda when presenter Julian Marshall brought into the conversation Oliver McTernan of the Hamas-supporting ‘Forward Thinking’ and a Palestinian Christian from Beit Sahour named only as Ghassan Bannoura who appears to have worked variously for Oxfam GB, and the IMEMC media arm of the ISM-linked Palestinian Centre for Rapprochement between People.
McTernan: “I think to the broader Palestinian public it’s the rebuilding of Gaza, the unity of Palestine: terribly important.”
Bannoura: “Well of course living under occupation, the war-torn Gaza strip needs rebuilding of course – that is very important and we should, you know, be focusing on rebuilding Gaza, ending the occupation in the West Bank, stopping the settlements that eating our resources in the West Bank, make it impossible to build any kind of future state in the Holy Land.”
Bannoura: “We can’t get to Jerusalem not because of the Palestinian Authority – our own government and our own police. We can’t get to Jerusalem because of the Israeli occupation and the wall that surrounds the city.”
Clearly the editorial consideration behind the running of this item was not only to inform listeners worldwide of the life and times of the Catholic Church’s new saints.