Even before Hamas fired seven missiles at Israel’s capital city at 6 p.m. on May 10th triggering the outbreak of ‘Operation Guardian of the Walls’, BBC framing of the factors that supposedly led to that conflict had already begun.
One of those factors is the decades-old property dispute in Sheikh Jarrah which the BBC has continued to cover widely ever since.
In our discussion of a BBC News website report published two days before the conflict began – May 8th – we observed that:
“By focusing audience attentions on the Sheikh Jarrah story, the BBC’s report plays into the Hamas narrative and fails to provide audiences with any information concerning the additional issues which lie behind the violence on Temple Mount that is supposedly its topic. Readers are told nothing at all about the efforts of Hamas, other terror groups, the PA and interested parties to escalate tensions in Jerusalem and in other locations and the connection between that and Mahmoud Abbas’ indefinite postponement of Palestinian elections scheduled to be held later this month.”
Already on May 8th the Jerusalem Post’s Khaled Abu Toameh had documented the strategy behind exploitation of the Sheikh Jarrah story:
“The Palestinians have succeeded in turning the dispute over the ownership of a number of houses in the east Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah into a major crisis that has now caught the attention of the United Nations, the European Union and the US administration, as well as several countries and local and foreign media organizations.
This success came on the heels of another “victory” proclaimed by the Palestinians two weeks ago, when Jerusalem police, responding to daily demonstrations, removed barricades it had placed outside the entrance of the Old City’s Damascus Gate. […]
To maintain the momentum, the Palestinians decided to focus on al-Aqsa Mosque compound on the Temple Mount and Sheikh Jarrah, where a number of Arab families face eviction from houses that were owned by Jews before 1948.
The violence that erupted in Sheikh Jarrah in the past few days and al-Aqsa Mosque compound on Friday, when hundreds of rioters threw rocks and other objects at policemen, has succeeded in creating a link between the dispute over the Sheikh Jarrah houses and Islam’s third holiest site.
The Palestinians have also succeeded in making the Sheikh Jarrah dispute appear as if it is part of an overall Israeli scheme to drive Arabs from Jerusalem and “Judaize” the city.”
“The Guardian of the Walls” conflict was provoked by Hamas as a tool to achieve a series of political goals on the domestic front, in the regional theater, in the international domain, and vis-à-vis Israel – and not to achieve tactical military goals. It was a classic case in which military means were used as an extension of political activity to achieve political objectives. […]
The primary motive for Hamas inventing the excuse to launch the atrocities had to do with its political strategy in the Palestinian domestic arena.
Hamas was ready to take the leading role in this arena following the announced elections to the Palestinian parliament scheduled for May 22, 2021. It was prepared to accept all of Mahmoud Abbas’ conditions regarding the elections, knowing that the rift inside Fatah would guarantee Hamas’ victory. However, when Abbas realized the inevitable outcome of the elections in Hamas’ favor, he decided to postpone or abort them, using as an excuse Israel’s expected refusal to allow the Palestinians in east Jerusalem to participate in the elections. Hamas was frustrated but at the same time identified the opportunity that this show of weakness from Mahmoud Abbas and Fatah presented, and Hamas planned to take advantage of it.
As always, the easiest way to mobilize the masses and justify terror activity was Jerusalem. The old libel that the “al Aqsa Mosque is in danger” was raised again in tandem with disinformation about an imminent court decision regarding a few housing units in the Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah.
The crowds on the Temple Mount called on Muhammad Deif, the head of the military wing of Hamas in Gaza, to take action to protect the mosque and the residents of Sheikh Jarrah. Deif responded with general threats and later, on May 10, 2021, issued an ultimatum that led to the launching of seven rockets toward Jerusalem (one of them fell inside the Gaza Strip and probably caused the death of several Palestinians).
With these actions, Hamas presented itself as the leader of the Palestinians and as the bona fide protector of Palestinian interests in Jerusalem. Hamas argued that it is the only group inside the Palestinian people with the capability and courage to act. It is ready to pay a heavy price for protecting Jerusalem. Therefore, it claims that it alone is entitled to lead the Palestinians in their national and religious battle over the holy city.”
BBC reporting however continued to present Hamas’ narrative on Sheikh Jarrah at face value, with no serious examination undertaken concerning the reason why a decades-long property dispute had suddenly become an issue on which Hamas was prepared to initiate yet another costly conflict with Israel.
A filmed backgrounder produced by the BBC on May 13th uncritically amplified Hamas’ “Judaization” talking point by informing audiences that the Sheikh Jarrah story is “connected to a lawsuit brought by Israeli settlers and these protesters see that as part of a broader effort to drive them from East Jerusalem”. [emphasis added]
The BBC’s Middle East editor had done the same two days earlier when he told radio listeners that “…the Palestinians would argue that actually they’re on the rough end of Israel’s policies of…ah…settlement colonialism…ahm…making Jerusalem more of a Jewish city and that these are actions of self-defence”.
As time went on, the BBC’s narrative concerning Sheikh Jarrah was distilled down to context-free promotion of unquestioned claims such as:
“As the dust settles on another Gaza war, the disputes that helped to ignite it remain unresolved. One of them concerns the fate of Palestinian families living in Arab East Jerusalem who find themselves threatened with eviction because Jewish settler groups claim the land belongs to them.”
“…a place of shade and calm at the centre of a furious incendiary dispute which helped to trigger a war. […] A dispute decades in the making exploded into violence.”
“Tensions in Sheikh Jarrah played a role in recent fighting between Israel and the militant group Hamas.”
“It was the tension surrounding the imminent eviction of Palestinian families from that area that was a catalyst for the conflict between Israel and Hamas in May.”
A recent example of the promotion of that partial and simplistic narrative was found in the August 6th edition of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘The Fifth Floor’ when the presenter introduced an item by BBC Arabic’s Michael Shuval (from 10:57 here) as follows:
Presenter: “For a few nights back in May violence flared up between Jews and Arabs in the Israeli city of Jaffa. Similar outbreaks happened in other cities after weeks of rising tensions. It started with a threatened eviction of some Palestinian families in East Jerusalem and culminated in clashes at al Aqsa Mosque. Then came 11 days of fighting between Israel and militant group Hamas which controls Gaza.”
Shuval reinforced that narrative:
Shuval: “So the early months of 2021 were already tense. Palestinian residents of the East Jerusalem neighbourhood of Sheikh Jarrah were facing evictions from their home and many of the Arab residents of Jaffa sympathise with that. The presence of Israeli police during the holy month of Ramadan at al Aqsa Mosque also fuelled the tension and the militant group Hamas that rules the Gaza Strip threatened that if Israel doesn’t withdraw its forces from the Muslim Quarter and al Aqsa Mosque, it will fire rockets at Israel. And that triggered a two-week cycle of violence between the Palestinians and the Israelis.”
Three months on from the conflict initiated by Hamas, BBC audiences have still not been properly informed how and why the terrorist organisation exploited long-standing sensitivities surrounding Temple Mount and the coincidental fact that an Israeli court was due to rule on a long-running property dispute in order to rationalise military action aimed at advancing its own political interests.
BBC audiences are however still seeing uncritical amplification of a facile narrative on why that conflict erupted, with no information provided regarding the Hamas origins and political purposes of that framing.