Listeners to the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour’ on December 22nd heard an item (from 33:52 here) which not only gave uncritical amplification to what is clearly no more than an exercise in delegitimisation of Israel but also gravely misled BBC audiences.
Presenter James Menendez introduced the item.
[emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]
Menendez: “The British street artist Banksy has made a big name for himself with his witty, provocative and usually political graffiti. His most famous images have been widely reproduced. Perhaps less well-known is his campaigning against Israel’s separation barrier: the high wall dividing Israel and the West Bank and in places cutting deeper into Palestinian territory. The UN’s highest court has advised that it contravenes international law.”
Menendez made no effort to inform listeners either at that point or any other in the four and a quarter minute item that – despite his description of a “high wall” – over 95% of the anti-terrorist fence is made of wire mesh.
His claim that in places the fence cuts ‘deeper into Palestinian territory’ fits in with the BBC narrative according to which areas that the Palestinians agreed under the terms of the Oslo Accords would have their final status determined through negotiations with Israel (in this case locations in Area C) are described using the pre-emptive phrase “Palestinian territory”, which is of course unhelpful and even misleading to audiences.
Menendez: “Well it turns out Banksy has an interest in a small hotel in Bethlehem called the Walled Off Hotel – that’s walled off, not Waldorf – and has just produced a new work to sit inside the lobby. It is a Christmas manger scene called ‘the scar of Bethlehem’ and it shows the manger by Israel’s separation barrier which appears to have been pierced by a blast, creating the shape of a star. Well the hotel manager Wissam Salsaa has been telling me more.”
Salsaa: “The holy family is just a classical holy family but the background of the holy family is a replica of the separation wall that Israel built round the Palestinian cities and of course there’s a big part of it around the town of Bethlehem. And on the middle there is a kind of shell hole carved the wall as a scar. So this nativity scene…I mean it looks like the star of Bethlehem but Banksy called it the scar of Bethlehem.”
Menendez refrained from telling listeners that Israel did not build a “wall” – or a fence – “round the Palestinian cities” at all – including Bethlehem. Indeed, the BBC presenter proceeded with the false claim that “the wall runs through Bethlehem”:
Menendez: “And the background that people should understand as well is that – as you say – that the separation barrier, the wall, runs through Bethlehem but specifically runs right round the back of your hotel. I mean I think all the rooms overlook the barrier; is that right?”
As the B’tselem map below shows, the anti-terrorist fence (marked in red, with planned construction in purple) does not ‘run through’ Bethlehem at all – that claim is a complete falsehood.
Salsaa: “Yes, the Walled Off hotel – a hotel that was created by Banksy in 2017 – located about 4 meters away from the separation wall. It is known as the hotel with the worst view in the world. Usually our room sells according to the view: the worse the view is, the more expensive the room becomes.”
Menendez made no effort to clarify that the location of the propaganda exercise that is the hotel was selected precisely because of its proximity to the small section of the anti-terrorist fence made of concrete at that location.
Menendez: “But how has this work gone down in Bethlehem? What’s been the response to it?”
Salsaa: “Yeah I mean I heard some of the responses. I think people so appreciative to this contribution by Banksy to Bethlehem because Christmas started in Bethlehem but unfortunately we in Bethlehem we don’t live normal Christmas because of our situation. So it’s putting the spotlight on our pain.”
Menendez then came up with the falsehood that no terror attacks have taken place “for…three years now”. Since the beginning of this year alone 218 attacks have taken place in Jerusalem and on the Israeli side of the ‘green line’ – some of which were perpetrated by residents of PA controlled areas in Judea & Samaria.
Menendez: “Israel of course says the barrier is necessary to prevent terror attacks and there hasn’t been one for, what, three years now. I mean have they got a point do you think?”
Salsaa: “Building the wall?”
Menendez: “Yeah, building the wall, yeah.”
Salsaa: “Actually I mean if you come over here and you could see in your eyes that there are thousands of Palestinians – Palestinian labourers – sneak into Israel every day to go and work. They use ladders and grappling hooks to climb the wall. So I don’t think that the wall could prevent terrorism or violence. I completely disagree with that.”
The Palestinians who illegally enter Israeli territory do so – according to Israel’s former Chief of Staff – in places where the anti-terrorist fence has yet to be constructed rather than in locations where a ‘wall’ has to be climbed. Salsaa went on – unchallenged by Menendez – to promote more baseless propaganda.
Salsaa: “Beside that, the wall is not built on a border. So like if you look at the map of the wall you would see that the wall is strangling for example Bethlehem; is converting Bethlehem into an open-air prison. So the wall is not the border. You cannot talk about the border between two countries. You are talking about a different set-up, OK, and this is the problem. Of course I mean security is important for everyone. We talk about peace; peace should be for everyone. So walls cannot be an answer for the circumstances of the conflict that we are living in.”
Menendez: “And given the way things have been going, do you have any optimism that the wall will come down any time soon?”
Salsaa: “Well honestly I mean…yeah I mean the political situation are not so much encouraging but of course as human beings we should have some hope and the hope that I have is a big support by Banksy and through art we try to speak out and raise our voice. The set up of the Walled Off Hotel and the activities have been mainly led by Banksy in our part of the world are so essential in promoting creativity and positive way of resistance instead of violence. So today we Palestinians can raise our voice in a very positive way.”
Menendez closed the item at that point, with BBC audiences having been exposed to over four minutes of totally unchallenged and entirely one-sided propaganda concerning the anti-terrorist fence, without even one mention of the hundreds of Israeli civilians murdered in the attacks which were the reason for its construction.