That day’s edition of the BBC Radio 4 ‘Today’ programme included an item (from 37:47 here) by Yolande Knell in which – oddly – those and other recent events in the region were framed as being connected to the upcoming general election in Israel.
Robinson: “Tensions are rising ahead of Israel’s elections. The Israeli army says that a person has been killed and two seriously injured in a shooting near the Ariel settlement on the occupied West Bank. We can talk to our correspondent Yolande Knell. Tell us more about that incident, Yolande, please.”
Knell began by giving an account of the incident which – predictably – did not include the words terror or terrorist.
Knell: “Well the Israeli military is still searching this morning for a Palestinian man who was…ehm…this attacker yesterday in the West Bank. He killed an Israeli soldier of 19 years old and then wounded badly two other people. Basically he stole the gun of the soldier after stabbing him and then started firing at cars heading towards the nearby settlement. He took one of those cars, having injured a man inside, and then drove it to another nearby junction where he shot and badly injured a second soldier before he drove off. So I mean really Palestinian attacks with guns, knives, car rammings; they have continued to occur sporadically in the West Bank but really the frequency of such attacks has decreased a lot from back in 2015 and 2016 when there was a real series of them. But this in very worrying for the Israelis as they head towards the April 9th general election where the prime minister wants to run for his fifth term. He’s really brandishing his credentials as Israel’s Mr Security.”
As recently reported at the Times of Israel, Knell’s portrayal of “decreased” terror attacks since 2015/16 does not tell the whole story.
“…Israeli officials say that slightly more than 200 terror attacks were prevented in 2015, about 350 in 2016, roughly 400 in 2017, and almost 600 in 2018. So far in 2019, there have been almost 100 thwarted terror attacks — and these are only of the kind defined as severe: shootings, explosives, vehicle-rammings, and the like. In other words, terrorists are attempting to perpetrate more terror attacks each year, and their motivation remains high.”
Robinson continued with further reinforcement of that questionable framing.
Robinson: “I talked of increasing tensions ahead of those elections. There were rocket attacks on Tel Aviv from Gaza and retaliatory strikes on Gaza by the Israeli armed forces.”
Knell: “That’s right. Quite a lot of unusual things happening in Gaza in just the last few days. Last Thursday night, as Hamas leaders sat down with an Egyptian security delegation which has been trying to mediate a longer-term ceasefire between Hamas and Israel, there were two longer range rockets fired from Gaza at Tel Aviv. That’s something that has not been seen here since the 2014 full-scale armed conflict…ahm…between Israel and Hamas militants in Gaza. Then the Israel military responded with airstrikes on dozens of Hamas targets.”
Notably Knell failed to inform listeners that residents of communities close to the border with the Gaza Strip had also been targeted with several barrages of rocket fire overnight and the following morning. However we discover that – in contrast to her colleagues at the BBC News website – Yolande Knell was able to tell ‘Today’ listeners who is behind the weekly rioting along the border fence.
Knell: “There was then this insistence from Hamas and the Egyptians that the rocket fire was some kind of mistake and as Egypt tried to broker calm, Hamas called for the cancellation of its demonstrations along the boundary fence last Friday. That’s the first time that’s really happened since those protests began nearly a year ago.”
Knell moved on to another topic:
Knell: “The other thing that’s caught us somewhat by surprise…erm…is…several days of protests in Gaza by another group calling itself ‘We Want to Live’ and they’re really protesting – defying the tight control of the Hamas authorities – protesting about the rising cost of living and high taxes in Gaza. And that’s led to dozens of arrests, people being beaten up by the Hamas security forces including journalists and human rights workers.”
Failing to mention the reports of Hamas’ use of live fire against the demonstrators, Knell then rounded off her report with more dubious framing relating to the upcoming election.
Knell: “And Israeli commentators writing in the papers this morning that there’s kind of a paradox here. Normally Israel would be very pleased with the kind of public protest in Gaza, seeing it as proof that its closure policy in Gaza, which often says could lead to Hamas’ downfall, is working. But right now this is the kind of turmoil that will be more worrying for Israeli officials. It doesn’t want to see some kind of disintegration in Gaza – possibly even leading to another full-armed conflict – just ahead of those elections.”
Despite Knell’s use of the plural, one Israeli commentator wrote one piece in one newspaper claiming a “paradox” on that day. The paper is Ha’aretz and the commentator is Zvi Bar’el. This is what he wrote:
“The paradox is that under other circumstances, Israel would be pleased with the public protest in Gaza and see it as proof of the success of the closure policy, which it believes could lead to Hamas’ downfall. But the turmoil Hamas is experiencing worries Israel too. It needs a partner to take responsibility for running the Strip, stop a disintegration that could lead to a large-scale armed conflict on the eve of the election, and serve as an address for mediation. Suddenly it turns out that the confrontations at the fence are a marginal threat, if at all, compared to the risk of instability of the Hamas government.”
Leaving aside the fact that what Knell and her unnamed source describe as “closure policy” primarily came about because of Hamas’ terrorism against Israeli citizens, the BBC’s domestic audiences now know that their obligatory licence fee goes towards paying for Yolande Knell to sit in a Jerusalem studio and recite almost word for word selected passages from a publication read by less than 4% of the Israeli public which they could actually have found online for themselves.
Knell also used Bar’el’s commentary in a written report published later in the day on the BBC News website as we shall see in part two of this post.