BBC News channel confuses viewers on Sheikh Jarrah property dispute

In recent days BBC audiences have heard and seen no small amount of incomplete, uninformative and unhelpful reporting on the topic of the property dispute in the Jerusalem neighbourhood of Sheikh Jarrah which has been presented as one of the factors behind the current escalation in violence.

However, one of the more confusing portrayals of that issue – which surely contributed nothing to British audiences’ understanding of the story – was aired on the BBC News Channel on the morning of May 12th. [emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]

“And I mentioned a moment ago the Sheikh Jarrah area which is occupied by so many Palestinians at the moment, many of whom were…lost their property in 1948 for the creation of Israel, but also some of those properties there were occupied by Israelis or Israelis lay claim to them having lost their property in division of property under the British and the 1948 division of property there. What can be done about that? Because there are legal arguments on both sides and no-one seems to know which is right.”

The presenter of that bewildering portrayal – apparently Tim Willcox – seemingly does not know that Israeli courts have repeatedly ruled “which is right”, as explained here by Jonathan Spyer:

“In the Six Day War of 1967, the entirety of Jerusalem, including Sheikh Jarrah and the area of the Shimon Hatsadik and Nahlat Shimon neighborhoods, came under the control and jurisdiction of Israel.  The properties in this area, including the compound where the refugees and their descendants were dwelling were transferred to the Custodian General in the Ministry of Justice. 

The Jewish organizations responsible for the original purchase began proceedings for the return of the areas to them.  In 1972, their claims were accepted and ownership of the areas was transferred to them, and recorded in the land registry. 

In 1982, the two Jewish trusts sought the removal from their property of 23 Palestinian Arab families that had remained resident in the Shimon Hatsadik area.  An agreement was reached, according to which the Palestinian families recognized the ownership of the trusts, and in return received the status of ‘protected tenants.’ The agreement was afforded the status of a court ruling, and on the basis of it, the petition by the trusts to remove the families from their property was rejected.  As part of the agreement, the families were afforded long term rental rights, and undertook to pay rent to the owners and to maintain the apartments. 

In practice, however, no rents were subsequently paid, and, according to the Jewish trusts, renovations and alterations to the buildings were made by the tenants, without a permit. In addition, the trusts claimed, the tenants had damaged and sought to destroy structures of the old Jewish neighborhood, including the synagogue. In 1993, the trusts initiated further legal proceedings to have the tenants removed because of non payment of rent.  In 2001, the Jerusalem Magistrates’ Courts accepted the demand of the trusts. 

A series of subsequent lawsuits have sought to ensure the expulsion of the non-rent paying residents, many of which have become entangled in the appeals process.  The two Jewish trusts subsequently sold their properties in the area to an organization called ‘Nahalat Shimon International’ which in 2008 presented a plan for the removal of the non rent paying families (now numbering around 500 people) and for the construction in the area of a Jewish neighborhood of 200 housing units.”

That confusing portrayal from Willcox was part of an interview he conducted with the former UK consul-general in Jerusalem Sir Vincent Fean who is now the chair and a trustee of a partisan organisation called The Balfour Project which has no problem collaborating with representatives of anti-Israel NGOs, including one linked to the PFLP terrorist group.

Viewers of that item heard Fean claim that the “fundamental issues” behind the current violence are “occupation”, “settlements” and “displacement of Palestinians” but of course neither he nor Willcox used the word terrorism or considered it necessary to inform BBC audiences of Hamas’ ideology that seeks to eradicate Israel.

Fean also claimed that former US president Donald Trump “was bad for everybody. Trump was bad for Israel as well as for the Palestinians but he was particularly vindictive towards the Palestinians”.

Willcox informed BBC audiences that “Britain of course has a terrible reputation in the actual design of what is happening now.”

In addition to Fean’s unchallenged interpretations of ‘international law’ and his obvious enthusiasm for the ICC investigation, viewers heard him refer to “the potential eviction – the current eviction of Palestinians from homes they’ve lived in for decades”. There are of course as yet no “current” evictions because the court session has been postponed. Fean’s portrayal of the claims of the Jewish owners of the property was confined to “land that they may have occupied back in the 19th century” but he described Palestinians as having been “evicted” in 1948.

While Fean advocated “the opportunity to create their own sovereign state” for Palestinians and urged “recognition by Britain of the Palestinian state”, he did not clarify which of the Palestinian factions he envisages running such a state or how the Palestinian state he advocates “alongside the State of Israel” would square up with the ambitions of Palestinian terrorist organisations such as Hamas and the PIJ to destroy the Jewish state.

The BBC cannot seriously claim that this one-sided item in which the word terror is not mentioned once did anything to help “to build people’s understanding” of the current situation in Israel and the Gaza Strip.

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