Listeners to the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour’ heard another long report (from 30:06 here) by Tim Franks in the programme’s May 22nd afternoon edition. The same report was also aired in the May 23rd edition of BBC Radio 4’s ‘The World Tonight’ (from 35:30 here).
[emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]
Franks: “Two days ago I was reporting for you from what we tend to think about when we talk about occupied territory: the congested, contested area of the West Bank and Palestinians and Israeli settlers. Today we’re gonna head to the north-eastern tip of Israel – to the Golan Heights. This is a small country so from here – Jerusalem – to the Golan it’s about a two-and-a-half-hour drive and into stunning landscape.
This is also occupied territory but, my goodness, it feels so different to the West Bank. Despite the signs you come across occasionally as you travel through this place warning you to keep out of minefields, this is quiet, it’s beautiful, in parts mountainous, in parts fertile. It’s the slice of land that separates Israel from south-west Syria. Israel captured the Golan Heights during the Six Day War in 1967 leaving thousands of Syrian Druze this side of the ceasefire line. There’s now about twenty thousand of them who, back in March, heard the news that Donald Trump was – unlike the rest of the world – going to recognise Israel’s unilateral annexation of the territory. We’ll find out later what some of those Syrian Druze make of that in a moment.”
Significantly, Franks’ portrayal of history as beginning in June 1967 – a typical BBC practice – failed to inform listeners why Israel “captured the Golan Heights during the Six Day War” and what happened in the years before that to prompt such a move. Additionally, while repeatedly referring to “annexation” of the region, Franks failed to clarify to listeners at any point that Israeli law was applied to the Golan Heights thirty-eight years ago.
Notably, Franks elected to exclusively use the term “Syrian Druze” despite the fact that by no means all of the Druze population of the Golan Heights identifies in that manner.
Franks: “First though, I’m going to meet one of the twenty thousand Israelis who live in the Golan Heights. He’s called Menachem Ender. He lives in this tiny hamlet and tonight he’s got a meeting with government officials about their plans to build a new settlement on his village’s land and name it in honour of Donald Trump.”
Although Franks refrained from naming that “tiny hamlet”, as the Jerusalem Post and others reported ten days before his report was aired, the community tapped to be the location of that “new settlement” is Beruchim.
“Makor Rishon reported last week that the community, which will be a mixed secular-religious settlement that in its first stage will number some 120 families, will be set up in the northern Golan at Beruchim, where plans for a previous settlement were approved in 1991, and where there have been unsuccessful efforts over the years to establish a community.”
“Today, Beruchim is the home of 10 people, and several other newcomers who wish to establish a leadership seminar for pre-army teens in the settlement.
The community was established in 1991, by then-housing minister Ariel Sharon, who sent a group of new immigrants from the Soviet Union to live there. It was established near Qela [Kela Alon] and meant to be a thriving extension of it, but failed to live up to the expectations.
Residents of Qela were outraged about the decision to change their existing community’s name, and hung signs protesting the move on their entrance gate, apparently under the impression that the entire perimeter of Qela and Beruchim will become the new Trump community.
However, the residents had false information, and it was clarified Sunday [May 12th] that the new settlement will not replace Qela, but rather built on top of Beruchim; a draft plan already exists and offers 110 new homes be built in Beruchim, that will house both religious and secular residents.”
An article published by Ha’aretz on the same day that Frank’s report was broadcast shows that he apparently did not bother to check facts adequately in the four days between recording and going on air. The man interviewed by Franks – Menachem Ender – appears in the Ha’aretz report where he is identified as a resident of nearby Kela Alon rather than a resident of the site of the new community to be named after the US president.
“Some 200 meters (650 feet) from Beruchim lies a very different place: The well-tended, middle-class settlement of Kela Alon, home to 85 families. Officially, Kela Alon and Kela-Beruchim are part of the same municipal entity, known simply as Kela. This led to confusion among Kela Alon residents when they heard of the Trump plan through the media, believing their settlement would be expanded and renamed for the U.S. president.
Their unhappiness is still visible on the main road to the neighborhood: Two homemade signs, one leaning against a tractor, read “Kela Alon is not for sale” and “Ramat Trump — not here!”
Mene [Menachem] Ender, 72, says the initial opposition was based on a misunderstanding of the government’s plans.
Ender, who moved to the Golan 45 years ago “out of Zionist motivation — I’m not ashamed to admit it” — after fighting in the Yom Kippur War, has lived in Kela Alon for the past two years. He says members of his community were disturbed by initial details of the plan, about which they had not been consulted. They feared it would transform their town.”
Franks’ claim that “tonight he’s got a meeting with government officials” is also shown to be inaccurate in the same Ha’aretz report.
“In a damage-control effort, the regional council has sought to calm the community, explaining that any new development would take place in Beruchim, not Kela Alon.
On Sunday, leaders of the Golan Regional Council met with 150 concerned residents and assured them that the new “Trump town” would be a separate entity from their own and that they would only benefit from its presence.”
That meeting with local council officials – not “government officials” – took place on May 19th – the day that Tim Franks was in the Golan Heights. We can identify the date of Franks’ visit because later on in the item he tells listeners that:
Franks: “Israel has launched hundreds of air sorties, particularly against Iranian positions [in Syria]. There was an airstrike just last night.”
That incident – which has not been acknowledged by Israel and was not reported by the BBC at the time – took place on the night of May 18th.
The rest of Franks’ report will be discussed in part two of this post.