Partial portrayal of Negev Bedouin rioting on BBC WS radio

The final item in the November 13th evening edition of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour’ related to a story which had by that time been going on for several days.

Presenter Tim Franks introduced the item (from 49:21 here) as follows: [emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]

Franks: “For the fourth consecutive day in southern Israel there’ve been clashes between protesters and Israeli riot police over a government tree planting scheme. Nomadic Bedouin communities say the project in the Negev Desert is intended to push them off the land. The Israeli authorities deny the claim. The uproar is also causing a political crisis. Israeli nationalist parties and the United Arab List – all of whom are members of the government coalition – are deeply split over the issue.”

The tree planting is actually being carried out by the Jewish National Fund (JNF or KKL) and the Bedouin communities concerned are not “nomadic”.

Listeners were not told of the violent incidents perpetrated by some those it described merely as “protesters” which included assault, the torching of a car, incidents of rock-throwing and the placing of rocks on a train track.

Franks then introduced his sole interviewee, with no effort made to meet BBC editorial guidelines concerning ‘contributors’ affiliations’ which require information about “affiliations, funding and particular viewpoints” to be provided to audiences.

Franks: “Wisam Salah is the general director of the advocacy group ‘Bedouins without Borders’. It’s based in Bethlehem. What happened today?”

Listeners were hence not informed that the NGO concerned is sponsored by foreign donors and the Palestinian Authority or that Wisam Salah previously worked for the PFLP-linked NGO ‘DCI-Palestine’.

Salah: “Hundreds of protesters tried to stop the bulldozers and tanks basically that were…ahm…digging the land and planting oak trees. So they tried to stop them. The activists in the area did the legal procedure of informing the authorities of a demonstration happening. Ten minutes after the demonstration started the police and security forces started pushing the demonstrators and spraying them with wastewater and with tear gas. They even dropped tear gas from a drone on the protesters and…ahm…arrested around 28 people today, half of which are under 18 – children.”

According to the Israeli police, thirteen people – rather than 28 as claimed by Salah – were arrested on January 13th after they blocked a road and threw stones at security forces. There is no evidence to support Salah’s bizarre – but unchallenged – claim that “tanks” were “digging the land”.

Franks: “Wisam, it’s not the first time that there’ve been protests between the government attempting to plant trees and Bedouin saying we’re being pushed off the land. But why do you think this year it’s…it’s got so bad?”

Salah: “Every so many years when every government comes in Israel they will revive this land confiscation plan…”

Franks: “I mean just…just to interrupt – and forgive me for doing so – I mean you will know that the government – the Israeli authorities – would say we’re not confiscating the land because it actually doesn’t belong to the Bedouin, therefore this is state owned land. I understand that that is a long-running dispute but, you know, that is what their argument is.”

Salah: “As well as claiming that this is state land. Bedouins are claiming, you know, that it’s their ancestor land. All the villages know that this is the start of all their areas are going to get affected by this tree planting plan so the Bedouin residents in the area actually filed a court case to prove their ownership and to claim their ownership actually to the land to stop any state acquiring. And basically the authorities did not wait for the even the court to have a saying. They just started working on the ground so changing the demographics or the landscape basically.”

Listeners were not told that a claim to the specific plot of land near Sawa al Atrash to which this story relates was filed in 1973 and is still pending. Neither did Franks bother to clarify that the planting of trees on that land would not affect “demographics”.

Franks: “Do you think that there perhaps could be more hope on a political level given that there are members of the United Arab List – an Israeli Arab party – for the first time in the governing coalition and that perhaps they could exert some leverage?”

Salah: “Hopefully they will. We heard a lot of promises that they will put a halt on this plan and stop it. We’re waiting. What really escalated things is the area they tried to plant was actual farms.  All Bedouin residents already planted these lands for the Spring so they can use them as shepherding fields, grazing fields for the cattle or sheep. But the bulldozers [unintelligible] destroyed their farms so now their way of life is threatened. They use these lands for centuries as grazing areas for their livestock.”

Franks: “Wissam Salah speaking from Bethlehem.”

As we see, the BBC’s idea of accurate and impartial presentation of this internal Israeli story relies solely on one inadequately presented Palestinian commentator from a Palestinian Authority and foreign funded NGO based in Bethlehem. 

Notably, no effort was made by either Franks or his guest to inform listeners of Hamas’ statements of support for the rioting.


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  1. says: Grimey

    Comment : So it goes on and on – The BBC bias against anything and everything that Israel does. Hopefully Nadine Dorries (the new UK Culture Secretary) will sort them out .

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