An item aired in the afternoon edition of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour’ on May 8th (from 14:05 here) provides a good example of how the corporation chose to frame the weekend’s incidents in Jerusalem for listeners worldwide.
One notable point is the portrayal of the site of the violent rioting. As noted here previously, four written BBC reports on the same topic all ignored the BBC’s style guide by using the term “al Aqsa mosque complex” rather than the stipulated “Haram al-Sharif”.
ie both words capped. Note that the area in Jerusalem that translates from Hebrew as the Temple Mount should also be described, though not necessarily in the first four pars, as known to Muslims as the Haram al-Sharif (ie lower case “al”, followed by a hyphen – and never “the al-Haram al-Sharif”, which is tautological). The Arabic translates as the Noble Sanctuary.”
Since November 2014 we have recorded numerous instances in which BBC journalists used the PLO recommended terminology “Al Aqsa Mosque Compound” in breach of BBC guidelines and in this item both presenter Lyse Doucet and reporter Yolande Knell adopted that politically motivated instruction. [emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]
Doucet: “Rubber bullets, stun grenades, tear gas fired from one side. Rocks, bottles, fireworks from the other. An all too familiar yet ever-troubling sight at the al Aqsa mosque compound in Jerusalem. Yesterday’s clashes between Israeli security forces and Palestinian protesters are said to have left some 200 people injured.”
Doucet’s description of people who used pre-stocked rocks and fireworks in violent riots as “protesters” is clearly inadequate.
Doucet: “The clashes erupted this time over Israeli restrictions on access to parts of the Old City during the Muslim holy month of fasting and the threat of eviction hanging over Palestinian families in East Jerusalem’s Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood to make way for Jewish settlements.
In contrast to Doucet’s claim, there were no “Israeli restrictions on access to parts of the Old City” during Ramadan. The police had put up barriers (later removed) outside Damascus Gate in order to prevent people from congregating on the nearby steps with the aim of ensuring the flow of pedestrians using the gate to enter or exit the Old City.
Also notable – particularly given that the BBC defines settlements as “residential areas built by the Israeli government” – is Doucet’s portrayal of any existing housing potentially inhabited by Jews in the parts of Jerusalem invaded and illegally occupied by Jordan between 1948 and 1967 as “Jewish settlements”
Listeners then heard two voiceover interviews with anonymous Palestinians.
Doucet: “These Palestinian demonstrators said they had to act to defend their homes.”
V/O Man: “We are used to the occupation. They took a few houses here illegally and they claim these houses belong to them. If we don’t stand with this group of people here, this will come back to my house, her house, his house and to every Palestinian who lives here.”
V/O Woman: “The plan is to occupy all of Jerusalem and to turn it into a Jewish ethnic city that lacks an Arab presence. And this allows them to get all the homes like they did in the Nakba in 1948 and 1967.”
With no effort made to challenge those blatantly inaccurate claims, Doucet continued:
Doucet: “With the latest from our correspondent in Jerusalem, Yolande Knell. Yolande, what is the situation today?”
Knell: “At the moment it’s relatively calm but people obviously wondering what’s gonna happen after dark when Palestinians gather again for [interruption on the line] their fast and have prayers at the al Aqsa mosque compound in these nightly protests in Sheikh Jarrah, the neighbourhood of East Jerusalem where Palestinian families are facing possible eviction from their homes and that would be because of Jewish settlers laying claim to the land.”
Knell did not bother to clarify that the Supreme Court long since determined that the land in question “was owned by Chief Rabbi (Hacham Bashi) Avraham Ashkenazi and Chief Rabbi Meir Orbach until the War of Independence , after they purchased it in 1875 from its Arab owners.”
She went on to misrepresent Jerusalem Day, thereby erasing from audience view the fact that it celebrates the reunification of the city after 19 years of Jordanian occupation of its eastern areas.
Knell: “And it’ll also be the end of the Jewish Sabbath after dark. People also on tenterhooks because there is another hearing related to these Sheikh Jarrah cases at the Israeli Supreme Court on Monday. That is the same day that Israel marks Jerusalem Day: its annual celebration of its capture of East Jerusalem in the 1967 Middle East war.”
Doucet: “So just to be clear on the situation then in Sheikh Jarrah which has been going on almost for generations. Now it’s in the court and there’s going to be…the Supreme Court will have to decide whether to grant an appeal to four Palestinian families. What are the legal arguments?”
Knell: “Well these are court cases that have been going on, as you say, for years but now they are crunch hearings. We’ve seen just one back on Thursday, this coming up. And this concerns imminently four Palestinian families but there are dozens of Palestinians who face eviction in Sheikh Jarrah. It’s a neighbourhood that’s within walking distance of the Old City and so as well as the regular Friday protests there’ve been…we’ve seen that it has really taken on greater symbolic importance for…ah…Palestinians from Jerusalem, Palestinian citizens of Israel gathering there as well, backed by some Left-wing Israelis with…ahm…lots of messages of support from foreign diplomats…ahm…saying that any evictions would violate international law.”
Knell made no effort to clarify to listeners that “some Left-wing Israelis” includes political NGOs often quoted and promoted by the BBC. Neither did she explain why claims that “evictions would violate international law” are (not withstanding her own obvious enthusiasm for promoting them) unfounded. Professor Avi Bell notes that:
“Contrary to the claims of the critics, there is nothing in the Geneva Conventions or any other part of the laws of belligerent occupation that forbids Israel to carry out court orders enforcing private property rights of landlords to evict their overstaying tenants. The claim that property rights of Jews must be disregarded while other property rights must be upheld or even enhanced has no basis in the law and is morally offensive.”
Knell did however go on to state that the Israeli judicial system provides “backing” to “Jewish settler groups” (which she described as “well-funded”), thereby implying that “Israeli courts” are not impartial.
Knell: “And really the general picture is that Jewish settler groups – sort of well-funded with the backing of Israeli courts – have been laying claim to land on the basis that it belonged to Jews before 1948. They fled in the war that followed the creation of the State of Israel.”
Knell continued with a whitewashed portrayal of the Jordanian occupation of parts of Jerusalem and politicised description of those currently inhabiting the properties in Sheikh Jarrah as refugees.
Knell: “And Palestinians who live there now are many of them refugees. They were resettled by the United Nations and Jordan when Jordan…ah…controlled that part of the city prior to 1967. Ahm…Jordan has actually in recent days supplied documents to support this, to say that these are…these Palestinians are the legitimate owners of the homes that they live in.”
Jordan did indeed hand over documents which it said it had “found” (decades after the legal cases commenced) to the Palestinian Authority – rather than the Israeli court – in April.
Knell: “Ahm…and many of the families I was talking to, people there, just a couple of days ago, they tell you how they lost their original homes in parts of historic Palestine that became part of Israel. Israeli law only applies to East Jerusalem, allowing…ehm…people to reclaim their property; Jewish groups to reclaim Jewish property there. It doesn’t allow the Palestinians to reclaim their property.”
“Some critics have claimed that Israel’s land planning laws, land use regulations and 1950 Absentee Property Law are problematic or biased. Whatever the merits of such claims, the claims of the parties in the current Sheikh Jarrah disputes have nothing to do with Israel’s land planning laws, land use regulations or the 1950 Absentee Property Law. […]
Contrary to claims in some media accounts, Israel has not created different rules for “enemy property” based on ethnicity. The ethnic dimension to the current-day property disputes is historic discrimination against Jews by a country other than Israel: Jordan denied Jews all ability to exercise property rights during its illegal occupation of east Jerusalem 1948-1967. […]
Contrary to the statements in some media accounts, the question in the land disputes is not whether “Jews owned the property prior to 1948.” The ethnicity of the owners is not legally relevant to the dispute, and does not serve as the basis of any legal rights in this case. The historical ownership is relevant only because it is part of the chain of title leading to the current owners’ title. What has been litigated is the current rights of current property owners.”
A rather confused-sounding Knell closed:
Knell: “And…ah…Israel’s foreign ministry has been saying that, you know, the Palestinians are presenting this as a real-estate dispute – what is a real-estate dispute between the parties – as a nationalist cause in order to incite violence in Jerusalem. That is an allegation that is strongly rejected by the Palestinians. Ahm…of course anything about land here takes on huge symbolic importance. It’s very sensitive.”
Doucet: “Indeed, Yolande Knell, the past so very much present. Our correspondent in Jerusalem.”
As we see, BBC World Service listeners around the globe were not given an accurate and impartial picture of the history, chronology and background to the legal cases concerning the property in Sheikh Jarrah. Rather, Knell and Doucet simply promoted a simplistic version of the story intended to advance a chosen narrative while failing to address the issue of how that story has been exploited to promote unrest in Jerusalem by Palestinian factions for their own political ends.