In part one of this post we noted that two recent reports from the BBC’s Middle East editor featured interviews with members of the families of two terrorists killed whilst carrying out attacks in Jerusalem.
Both those terrorists – and many others – were motivated by incitement based on conspiracy theories concerning Temple Mount and al Aqsa Mosque and hence one would have expected the person charged with providing BBC audiences with “analysis that might make a complex story more comprehensive or comprehensible for the audience” to offer them factual background information on how that incitement is propagated, by whom and to what ends.
Jeremy Bowen’s presentation of the issue of incitement in his written report – “Jerusalem knife attacks: Fear and loathing in holy city“- is as follows:
“The Israeli government blames the attacks on incitement by political and religious extremists. A video has circulated of a Muslim cleric in Gaza waving a knife and calling on Palestinians to slit the throats of Jews.”
“The last straw has been the widespread belief that Israel is planning to allow Jews more access to the compound of the Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem, which Palestinians call the Noble Sanctuary and Israelis call the Temple Mount. […]
The Israeli government denies that it plans to change the status quo around the Aqsa Mosque. It maintains that agitators have incited trouble by spreading baseless rumours.
But the perceived threat to the Noble Sanctuary is widely believed by Palestinians…”
In the filmed report – “Middle East violence: ‘Grief cuts across divided Jerusalem’” – viewers are told by Bowen that:
“The Israelis deny that they want Jews, who venerate the site [Temple Mount], to worship there too. Palestinians don’t believe them. That’s a major reason for the anger on the streets across the Palestinian territories.”
“Israel says Palestinian leaders tell lies to incite riots and the killing of Jews. Palestinians say they don’t need to be told when to be angry.”
Later on in the report, viewers hear an Israeli police spokesman say:
“We’re talking about a small number within the Israeli-Arab population that unfortunately is both listening to the incitement that is being put out on the internet as well as by different organisations.”
In other words, in neither of these reports is the issue of incitement concerning Temple Mount explained to BBC audiences in Jeremy Bowen’s own voice. Instead – as has been the case in much other recent BBC reporting – that topic is presented exclusively as something which “Israel says” or “Israel maintains” and audiences are given no tools with which they can assess whether what “Israel says” is correct or not.
Like his colleagues, Bowen refrains from showing his audiences examples of that incitement on the internet, on social media (including accounts run by Palestinian organisations such as Fatah and Hamas), on official PA television and official PA newspapers. As has long been the case – even before this latest wave of terrorism – Bowen refrains from clarifying to BBC audiences that incitement concerning holy sites in Jerusalem is coming from differing sectors of Palestinian society – including the PA president, Palestinian Authority ministries and religious leaders.
Bowen also refrains from telling BBC audiences about the long history of the exploitation of the topic of Temple Mount for purposes of incitement and makes no effort to examine why that particular subject is so potent or what the aims of those employing such incitement are.
Significantly, neither he nor his colleagues have to date made any effort to independently inform their audiences worldwide that there is no basis to those conspiracy theories concerning Temple Mount and al Aqsa Mosque. Moreover, Bowen opens this filmed report with promotion of an inaccuracy which has been seen in other recent BBC content but, when coming from a supposed expert responsible for the accuracy and impartiality of the world’s largest broadcaster’s Middle East content, is particularly remarkable.
“Jerusalem: city of beauty, sanctity and hate. Its holy places are at the centre of the conflict. Only Muslims can pray in the compound around the golden Dome of the Rock at the Aqsa Mosque.” [emphasis added]
The Dome of the Rock and al Aqsa Mosque are two of many structures in existence on an enclosed area known by Muslims as Haram al Sharif and Jews and Christians as Temple Mount. That entire area is not al Aqsa Mosque, even if some interested parties with a very clear political/religious agenda would like to claim otherwise for the purpose of denying Jewish history in Jerusalem.
The fact that we have seen repeated cases of adoption and promotion of that narrative from assorted BBC correspondents over the past few weeks raises considerable cause for concern with regard to the BBC’s ability to report on this very sensitive topic to audiences in the UK and worldwide accurately and responsibly.
However, whilst the BBC’s Middle East editor avoids providing audiences with comprehensive information on the issue of incitement, he does use his own words – together with paraphrasing of anonymous sources – to tell them what they should see as the cause of the current violence. In the written article, for example, readers are told that:
“Jerusalem has been simmering dangerously for two years or more. The government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been asserting what it believes is its national right to build homes for Jewish Israelis wherever it decides they are needed in a city that it calls its undivided, eternal capital.
The government’s backing for the expansion of settlements in the sections of Jerusalem captured during the 1967 war, and classified as occupied territory by most of the rest of the world, has transformed some districts.
Palestinians feel they are being squeezed out of their home. They believe that their territory is being eaten up by Israel’s appetite for land, and loath what they see as a national ideology designed to enforce the dominance of Israel and Judaism. […]
Jews have settled alongside areas that were wholly populated by Palestinians, in some cases right in the heart of Palestinian neighbourhoods.”
Bowen even promotes a spurious link between incitement concerning Temple Mount and Israeli construction.
“But the perceived threat to the Noble Sanctuary is widely believed by Palestinians, not least because it comes when Israeli settlements in occupied Jerusalem have been expanding.”
It is unclear upon what factual information Bowen bases that claim of ‘expansion’ because not only do official figures document construction in all of Jerusalem without differentiation between its various districts, but the available statistics for building up to the end of the second quarter of 2015 show no sign of “expanding” construction beyond the usual rate throughout the last four years and figures for the third quarter of 2015 are not yet available.
Besides ‘settlements’, Bowen promotes additional themes as explanations for the current violence in both his reports. In the written article readers are told that:
“Many Palestinians have told me they believe the reason for the attacks is that another generation is realising its future prospects will be crippled by the indignities and injustice of the occupation of the Palestinian territories, including East Jerusalem. […]
Israel’s use of considerable force in defence of its people also causes anger. The shooting dead of some assailants has been condemned, not least by the Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.”
“Violence does not come out of the blue. It has a context. Once again, the problem is the unresolved conflict between Palestinians and Jews. It is at the heart of all the violence that shakes this city.
A big part of the conflict is the military occupation of the Palestinian territories, including East Jerusalem, that has lasted for nearly 50 years. It is impossible to ignore the effects of an occupation that is always coercive and can be brutal.
In successive Palestinian generations, it has created hopelessness and hatred. In some cases, that bursts out into murderous anger.”
Similar themes are promoted in Bowen’s filmed report:
“Palestinians say they don’t need to be told when to be angry after almost fifty years of an occupation that is always coercive and often brutal”
“Palestinians get constant reminders that Israel is in charge. It can mean a lifetime of humiliations. […] For some, that produces a murderous rage.”
These two reports present audiences with two categories of ‘context’ for the current wave of terrorism in Israel. One the one hand, Bowen gives a completely inadequate representation of the issue of incitement concerning holy sites, presented exclusively using the “Israel says” formula which signals to audiences that he and his organisation do not stand behind it.
On the other hand we see Jeremy Bowen using his own voice – and reputation – to persuade audiences that the explanation for the violence is to be found in a “military occupation” which includes “settlements” and causes “humiliation”, pushing apparently agency-free Palestinians towards “murderous rage”.
Obviously any explanation of why that ‘occupation’ came about or what was the status of the geographical areas concerned before the Jordanian occupation (which Bowen naturally refrains from mentioning) would detract from the narrative he is trying to promote and so audiences are deprived of that context and left with the take-away message that Israelis are to blame for the terrorism against them.
Jeremy Bowen’s choice of politically motivated narrative is cringingly obvious. The problem is that there is another, much older and deeper story here which predates ‘occupation’ and ‘settlements’ and is related to the issue of incitement concerning Temple Mount. That is a story which Bowen and his colleagues have avoided telling BBC audiences, not just in these two reports and not only over the last few weeks, but for a very long time indeed.