The limits of BBC News reporting from PA controlled territories

The BBC's level of interest in internal Palestinian affairs is once again on display.

On March 11th listeners to the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour’ heard another report (from 37:50 here) from Anna Foster in Bethlehem about the discovery of Coronavirus in that town.

Tim Franks: “Around the world in places affected by the Coronavirus people aren’t just frightened of infection; they are scared of the long-term economic impact. This week Israel – with more than 70 cases of the virus – has taken stringent measures, ordering all new Israeli and foreign arrivals to the country to go into home quarantine which effectively halts tourism. Last week Bethlehem – just south of Jerusalem in the occupied West Bank – was put into near lock-down by the Israeli and Palestinian authorities after the first cases of Coronavirus were found at a hotel. The BBC’s Anna Foster has been talking to some residents in Bethlehem.”

The same item appeared in the BBC World Service ‘Global News Podcast’ (from 08:13 here) on that day.

Listeners would learn little more from Foster’s conversations with a student, market vendors, a hotel manager and a mother of two and her closing observation that “a whole community is suffering” could of course have been made in many other locations around the world. As in Foster’s previous report on the topic, listeners heard nothing about Israel’s efforts to help the Palestinian Authority deal with the outbreak of Coronavirus. 

Given the BBC’s long record of highly limited interest in reporting internal Palestinian affairs, it was not surprising to see that Foster showed no interest in reporting a story that began with televised remarks made by the Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas concerning a recent doctors’ strike.

“Some trade unions, like the doctors’ union, have declared a strike. […] Why? They want a raise. What raise? They want to double their salaries. I can’t pay their original salaries, so how do they expect me to pay for a raise? Nevertheless, I told them that if we overcome our financial crisis, and if our money stops being confiscated [by Israel] and things get better, we can talk about it. I met the people at the doctors’ union, and their secretary-general. They had made me promises that they later recanted and declared a strike. Why a strike? Is it reasonable for the doctors’ union to strike today when we are being confronted by the coronavirus? Even if there were no other [problems], once the coronavirus appeared, they should have dropped everything and went to work. The measures taken by the doctors are irresponsible. To declare a strike at a time like this, when we have the Deal of the Century on the one hand, and the economic and financial siege on the other hand, and on top of that, we have the coronavirus…”

As reported by Khaled Abu Toameh, criticism of Abbas’ remarks on Facebook prompted the arrest of a member of Fatah.

“A senior Fatah official who called into question the mental health of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has been arrested by the Palestinian security forces.

Hussam Khader, 59, an elected member of the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC), was arrested by PA security forces at this home in Balata refugee camp in Nablus on Friday.

Khader, an outspoken critic of the PA leadership, was arrested by the PA’s Protective Security Service after he posted a comment on Facebook criticizing the 84-year-old Abbas’s handling of a recent strike by Palestinian physicians who are demanding a salary increase. […]

Khader’s daughter, Ameera, said several Palestinian security officers raided the family’s home around midnight and told her father they have a court order to search the house. […]

Ameera said the search warrant presented by the officers stated that her father was accused of “incitement against the Palestinian Authority.””

Khader was apparently released five days later.

It is difficult to imagine that the arrest of an MP for criticising remarks made by the president or prime minister of a Western country would not have been reported by the BBC but as we see time and time again, it is rare for BBC audiences to be provided with stand-alone reporting on internal Palestinian affairs if the topic cannot be framed within the context of ‘the conflict’ and does not have an Israel-related component. 

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