The July 2nd edition of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘The Real Story’ purported to discuss the topic of the recent protests against the Palestinian Authority following the death of Nizar Banat after his arrest by PA security forces.
“There is continuing anger in the West Bank over the death in custody of a vociferous critic of the Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas. Nizar Banat, an anti-corruption campaigner, was picked up in a violent night-time raid at his home [sic] in Hebron. The Palestinian Authority has launched an investigation into the circumstances of Banat’s death and has promised action against anyone responsible. But that’s done little to placate protesters who allege that the Palestinian security forces use extra-judicial force against anyone who questions or criticises the leadership. They say this behaviour is emblematic of a wider break down of law and order and a thriving culture of corruption in the West Bank, where elections were last held over 15 years ago. So why is corruption such a problem and where is it happening? Is there scope for reforms with the current leadership in charge? And how dependent is any change on the overall relationship with Israel and rival administration in Gaza, run by Hamas? Ritula Shah is joined by a panel of Palestinian commentators.”
The ”Palestinian commentators” recruited to facilitate what Ritula Shah described as a “deep dive into a story that’s making news” were:
Listeners were not informed that two of those contributors – Mariam Barghouti and Dana el Kurd – are members of Al Shabaka. While Shah did mention in her introduction of Nour Odeh that she “was also planning to stand as a candidate in this year’s elections on the National Democratic Assembly list”, no explanation of that list’s political flavour was provided (including the fact that it merged at the last minute with the list of convicted terrorist Marwan Barghouti) and listeners were not told that Odeh was previously the Palestinian government’s spokesperson. Neither were audiences informed that Mariam Barghouti has been on tour with the International Solidarity Movement in Holland, is a supporter of the anti-Israel BDS Campaign and has contributed to the ‘Mondoweiss’ website among other anti-Israel outlets.
Seeing as this 50-minute programme did not adhere only to its declared subject matter, such associations are relevant and should have been disclosed to listeners. Indeed, although Shah told audiences at the beginning that “the dispute with Israel is obviously a part of this story but it isn’t its main focus on this programme today”, Israel was repeatedly referenced in an inaccurate and partial manner, with no Israeli representative given the right of reply to the assorted falsehoods promoted by the contributors. [emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]
Having provided some background to the supposed subject matter, Shah deviated from the declared topic by asking each of her guests “what does it mean to you to be Palestinian?”
US based Dana el Kurd began by answering that it means “to realise from a very young age that you are under attack and not given your full rights and to witness, you know, transgressions against children and people who look like you from, you know, from an age where perhaps you don’t understand the political ramifications. But it’s also a great blessing because it makes you realise that you have to be on the side of right and on the side of liberation from quite a young age.”
Similar ‘justice’ signposting was provided by Nour Odeh:
Odeh: “For me it means that you are part of a free-spirited people, a people who have been fighting with dignity not just for their freedom but for recognition of their very humanity. So to be Palestinian means that you stand for justice everywhere, not just for your own.”
Referring to the earlier reference by Shah to “the dispute with Israel”, Mariam Barghouti opined:
Barghouti: “I think being Palestinian means to acknowledge and recognise things and bring up and expose dynamics like calling this the Israeli dispute, which is inaccurate. Our trying to consistently have to explain why this is not a conflict of two equal sides. Being Palestinian has turned into this need to constantly be in a state of confrontation because our survival depends on it.”
From 06:00 Shah asked her guests to explain “basic concepts” related to the topic of discussion, the first of which was the Palestinian Authority. Nour Odeh replied:
Odeh: “Well it was the product of an interim agreement with Israel. It was supposed to last five years and it was supposed to plant the seeds of the institution of the independent Palestinian state and after five years of that interim government we were supposed to go to final status negotiations and declare independence.”
Shah made no effort to clarify to listeners that in fact the Oslo Accords made no mention of a two-state solution, did not call for a Palestinian state and did not dictate the end-product of negotiations. Neither did she bother to explain that those final status negotiations never took place was because the Palestinian leadership chose to initiate the terror war known as the second Intifada.
Listeners also heard an explanation of Fatah from el Kurd in which she claimed that Fatah has “become synonymous with the Palestinian Authority because of…essentially like international machinations to retain Fatah in power especially after the 2006 elections where Hamas won a [unintelligible] and Fatah overturned the elections”. Hamas’ status as a terrorist organisation was not clarified in that explanation.
Mariam Barghouti went on to make a reference to “the Israeli colonial system” which did not solicit any challenge from Shah.
Barghouti: “There’s an ongoing struggle over maintaining or taking hold of whatever little power Palestinians have against the Israeli colonial system that was imposed on Palestinians.”
Indeed, Shah even echoed that falsehood [from 09:13] when referring to “structures that came out of the Oslo Accords”.
Shah: “Mariam, you described this as sort of an imperial Israeli imposition. There would be others who would say well, Palestinians at the time signed up to it.”
One bright point about this discussion is that Nour Odeh did dispel the myth that has been promoted by the BBC since late April according to which the PA elections were indefinitely postponed because Israel would supposedly not allow voting in parts of Jerusalem.
The focus then turned to the death of Nizar Banat and listeners heard a recording of the PA prime minister speaking after which Barghouti was asked for comment.
Barghouti: “I think a lot of the discourse being used by Palestinian Authority representatives resembles that by Israel, which is deflection. So Israel deflects its own crimes to Hamas. The Palestinian Authority also deflects its own crimes onto Hamas and now it tells you to focus on colonial Israel. But at the same time no mentioning comes of how the Palestinian Authority has arrested Palestinian activists on behalf of Israel or how the Palestinian Authority helped sustain the military imposed occupation in the West Bank and Gaza and made it cheaper for Israel.”
Barghouti asserted that Nizar Banat was “deliberately targeted” and that his death was “a political assassination”. El Kurd concurred and then went on to claim that:
El Kurd: “It’s not the first time that the Palestinian Authority has coordinated with the Israeli occupation forces to assassinate political activists, people who are dissidents, people who reject the Palestinian Authority’s role. You know this happens a lot of the time. And the Palestinian Authority, it’s not only like not going to admit to its own crime but […] it’s playing its role. Its role at this point in time is to perpetuate itself and to ensure security for its Israeli counterparts.”
As was also the case in the synopsis and the introduction, el Kurd then went on to wrongly claim that Nizar Banat lived in Hebron. In fact, Banat resided in Dura – which is under PA control – but was staying with a relative in the H2 sector of Hebron at the time of his arrest.
El Kurd: “…he lived in an area where the Palestinian Authority cannot function without Israeli approval. Like their security forces cannot enter into that area in Hebron without Israeli approval. So it was clearly a premeditated and coordinated assassination as has happened many times and is the role that the Palestinian Authority plays.”
Shah went on to ask Odeh about the PA security forces [from 18:39]:
Odeh: “…I think we need to put two things into perspective. First of all to remember that these accords [Oslo], at least in the beginning, were not intended to be permanent. Second of all, that they were problematic on more than one level, including this novel and quite twisted idea that the occupied would provide the occupier with protection. It’s nonsensical and it [laughs] it’s never been done anywhere, unless you literally collaborate with the occupation.”
Once more Shah made no effort to introduce the all-important context of Palestinian terrorism into the picture presented to listeners.
Odeh: “So there was always a problem for security forces to maintain the trust and confidence of the public because of that obligation to coordinate with the occupier that demolishes homes, that kills with impunity and oppresses and so on and who, you know, sometimes even targets security officers themselves.”
Odeh was not asked to provide evidence to support those claims and neither was Barghouti when – referring to Banat’s death – she claimed that:
Barghouti: “And it was a deliberate political assassination amid a brutal crackdown and mass displacement taking place by Israel at the same time. […] We are being ethnically cleansed. We are at a last breath.”
Barghouti: “And I think Palestinians are at a place where we have been forced to just speak in whispers about Israeli colonialism and apartheid as well as the repression of the Palestinian Authority.”
Following a news break, Shah turned to the topic of the PA president Mahmoud Abbas, noting that he is “very different” from Yasser Arafat who she described as “known for his charisma and wily negotiation skills, along with perhaps an ambivalent attitude towards violence”.
Dana el Kurd described Arafat as “quite an authoritarian figure” adding:
El Kurd: “…but he did think of the Palestinian Authority as a means to an end. He understood its temporary nature and as you said…you described it as ambivalence to violence. It’s more that he was tolerant of the resistance.”
Listeners were not informed that that ‘tolerance’ resulted in the deaths of over a thousand Israelis in the second Intifada that Arafat initiated. El Kurd continued:
El Kurd: “A two-state solution is no longer viable – if it ever was – and the Palestinians are just constantly under attack and not having their rights respected or their, you know, living conditions improved.”
After Shah raised the topic of the recent cancellation of the PA elections, asking whether or not it made sense for Abbas to do so because of the possibility of a Hamas win, Odeh referred to “the Israeli assault on Gaza”, with Shah refraining from clarifying that the recent round of conflict commenced because Hamas chose – for its own political reasons – to launch missiles at Israel’s capital city on May 10th.
Odeh: “And instead of focusing on kind of healing and finding a different way out of this stalemate in internal Palestinian politics, the Israeli assault on Gaza happened…”
Odeh went on to describe Abbas as being able to “basically get away with anything” because he presents himself to the West as “defending the prospect of a political process with Israel which is the antithesis of what he should be doing.”
Later on [from 42:21] el Kurd claimed that the Americans have “groomed” the PA security forces “to look the way they look today”, adding:
El Kurd: “I would argue that the Americans have never intended to help the Palestinian people. They have always wanted to maintain their interests in the region through their ally Israel and democratic accountability for the Palestinian people has never been on their agenda.”
Relating to American funding for the PA, she opined:
El Kurd: “They amplified security forces. They did not funnel money into local initiatives. They actually destroyed grassroots institutions. It was very, you know, quite intended to not allow for democratic accountability. It was quite intended just to control Palestinians as much as possible; control their ability to mobilise.”
Once again the context of Palestinian terrorism was erased from the conversation before Shah devoted part of the programme [from 44:50] to the topic she had claimed it was not about at its beginning.
Shah: “I just want to talk about Israel quite specifically. There is no peace process in any meaningful sense. […] Do you see a reason for Israel to change tack, to perhaps be more proactive in trying to resolve this situation?”
Odeh: “No I mean I think Israel has been kept pampered and [laughs] well taken care of by successive American administrations including this one. It is kept beyond verbal, political or legal reproach and accountability and it will continue to enjoy that protection.”
Odeh went on to speak about the Abraham Accords:
Odeh: “In the meantime in Israel there’s absolutely no pressure. Normalisation deals and security deals between Israel and other repressive Arab regimes are happening and being encouraged by the Biden administration. The UAE, Bahrain and others. And so right now occupation, colonisation and dispossession for Israel actually is paying off. Why should it change course in the absence of accountability?”
Shah’s final question to her contributors was “is this the beginning of change?”.
Barghouti: “Yes absolutely. I think the only constant is change and this is a turning point. Whether this is gonna be the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians and the ridding of Palestinians from the equation by Israel or the actual creation and reimagination of these systems that allow us to remain on our land, dignified and free.”
The other two interviewees concurred that the current unrest on the streets is indeed “a moment of change” as Odeh put it and the programme ended at that point.
Clearly the fact that the BBC brought in three very like-minded but inadequately presented contributors to discuss the topic of a potential “turning point” in Palestinian politics did not provide listeners with a broad view of the issue. Neither did the selective and in some cases inaccurate presentation of events past and more recent – including the total erasure of Palestinian terrorism from the picture – contribute to audience understanding.
The fact that baseless smears such as ‘colonialism’, ‘apartheid’, ‘ethnic cleansing’ and supposed Israeli cooperation with the killing of “dissidents” passed repeatedly without any challenge whatsoever from the BBC presenter is a serious cause for concern as it mainstreams such politically motivated talking points, especially when presented in a supposedly factual programme purporting to tell ‘the real story’. Moreover, those inaccuracies will remain available online for “over a year” according to the programme’s webpage, without any right of reply having been given.