h/t Tomer Ilan
As was noted here last year when the BBC began working with the AFP news agency:
“…unlike many other media outlets that use agency produced material, the BBC does not usually inform its audiences at the top of an article that the content was provided by an agency. Audiences hence have no way of knowing whether the information they receive does in fact come from the ‘trusted‘ BBC or from agencies which do not necessarily adhere to the corporation’s editorial guidelines.”
On August 14th AFP published a report by Hossam Ezzedine about delayed post addressed to people living in Palestinian Authority controlled areas. That report was picked up by numerous other media outlets including the BBC which, on August 15th, published an article headlined “Palestinian mail blocked by Israel arrives eight years late” on the BBC News website’s Middle East page.
The only indication that the story was sourced from an agency came in two indirect quotes from AFP:
“An official told AFP it would take another two weeks to sort and deliver.”
“The Israeli military’s Co-ordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (Cogat) told AFP that an agreement was in the works but gave no further details.”
BBC audiences were told that:
“Packages, letters and even a wheelchair intended for Palestinians have arrived in the occupied West Bank after Israel released years of undelivered mail.
The post, which includes internet orders that never arrived, had been held in Jordan since 2010 and was released under a one-time agreement.”
The explanation for the delay given to BBC audiences is as follows:
“Ramadan Ghazawi, who works at the post office in Jericho, said the items appeared to have been blocked on security or administrative grounds.
Israel controls entry to the West Bank via the border with Jordan.
In a statement issued on Tuesday, Palestinian Authority Communications Minister Allam Moussa accused Israel of having failed to implement a memorandum of understanding signed in 2016 that would have allowed international mail to enter the Palestinian Territories without first going through the Israeli postal service.
The Israeli military’s Co-ordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (Cogat) told AFP that an agreement was in the works but gave no further details.”
So what is the real background to this story?
The 1995 Interim Agreement between Israel and the PLO includes clauses relating to postal services. However, Arab countries which do not recognise Israel refuse to send postal items to areas under the control of the Palestinian Authority via the Israel Postal Authority. In 2009 steps were taken to try to solve that problem.
“The [Israeli] Communications Ministry and the corresponding PA bureau are reportedly close to finalizing an agreement which would allow the Palestinians to receive mail from other Arab countries.
Arab nations will not use the Israel Postal Service, which currently supplies the PA with international mail services. Israel is interested in signing the agreement in order to ease communications between Palestinian and their families abroad. […]
Yigal Levi, the Communications Ministry’s director of postal services, met with his Palestinian counterpart Mahmood Diwan several days ago and the two agreed to form a joint committee aimed at finding a solution which would allow the Palestinian Authority to use Jordanian postal services.”
In September 2016 a memorandum of understanding was signed.
“Until now, Israeli conducted global postal affairs for the Palestinians, including financial transactions. Mail would come first to Israel, which then transferred it to local Palestinian post offices in the West Bank and Gaza.
That system changed on Sunday, when the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT) and PA Minister for Civil Affairs Hussein al-Sheikh signed a memorandum of understanding to give the Palestinians postal rights. […]
“The MOU is designed to gradually regulate direct transfer of mail from around the world to the Palestinian Authority through Jordan via the Allenby Bridge,” COGAT said.”
As Ha’aretz reported, work on that issue continues.
““About a year ago, an in-principle agreement was signed between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. The memorandum of understanding has not yet resulted in a direct transfer, and the subject is in the advanced stages of being worked through. There is therefore no direct mail transfer at this time,” COGAT said in a statement.
“However, as a gesture, and in a step that went beyond the letter of the law, COGAT, with the assistance of the Ministry of Communications and the Customs Authority, allowed a one-time transfer of approximately ten and a half tons of mail that had been held in Jordan,” the statement concluded.
Hussein Sawafta, director of the Palestinian postal service, said that Israel held up the mail because it was not properly addressed to the Israeli postal service. Sawafta said the mail was released last week and workers are now sorting through mounds of letters and packages.” [emphasis added]
As we see, readers were by no means provided with the full background to this story (not least the relevant issue of the refusal by Arab countries to use the existing system) and the BBC’s report amplified inaccurate claims from Palestinian Authority Communications Minister regarding the 2016 memorandum of understanding which mistakenly led audiences to believe that Israel is exclusively to blame for the fact that the delivery of items including “even a wheelchair” was delayed.
BBC News also posted the report on Facebook and some of the responses allowed to remain standing on that BBC account included – not for the first time – offensive statements, comments “Holding Jews collectively responsible for actions of the state of Israel” and antisemitic Nazi analogies. For example:
Moreover, the day after the BBC News website recycled that misleading AFP article, the BBC Jerusalem Bureau’s Tom Bateman went to Jericho to report on the same story for the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour’ (from 45:06 here). Bateman’s report indicates that the BBC is aware of the fact that efforts had been made in the past to reach an agreement whereby not all post destined for PA controlled areas would have to come through the Israeli postal system (although he did not bother to inform listeners that the context was the refusal of Arab countries to use the Israeli postal services) and that the BBC also knows that past understandings have not yet “been implemented or not implemented in full”.
Significantly, however, the BBC did not bother to update its online report with that information.