BBC presenter promotes ‘two versions’ of events on Temple Mount

We have previously discussed some of the BBC’s coverage of the pre-planned violent rioting on Temple Mount on the morning of April 15th:




The sequence of events was reported by the BBC itself at the time as follows:

“Israeli police said dozens of Palestinians, some carrying flags of the Palestinian militant group Hamas, marched on the compound at about 04:00 (01:00 GMT) then started throwing stones and fireworks.

The police said they waited until Muslim Friday prayers had ended before entering the site to disperse the rioters, who had started throwing stones towards the Western Wall below the compound, where Jewish worshippers were.”

The UN’s Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process later told the UN Security Council that:

“On 15 April, during the early morning hours, a large number of Palestinians gathered at the Al Aqsa compound. Some Palestinians threw stones, fireworks and other heavy objects towards Israeli Security Forces, and ISF used stun grenades, sponge-tipped bullets and batons, including against some bystanders. In the midst of these clashes, several dozen Palestinians entered a mosque in the compound, with some continuing to throw stones and fireworks towards ISF. Following a standoff with those inside, Israeli police entered the mosque and arrested those barricaded inside.”

Although the sequence of events is amply clear, one BBC Radio 4 presenter nevertheless repeatedly promoted the notion that there were two apparently equally credible “versions” of what happened on that morning.

Listeners to BBC Radio 4’s ‘Today’ programme on the morning of April 16th heard an item (from 12:44 here) which was introduced by presenter Mishal Husain as follows: [emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]

Husain: “Violence in Jerusalem as Passover, Easter and the Muslim holy month of Ramadan all coincide this year, is of great concern the [US] State Department has said after more than 150 Palestinians and three Israelis were wounded at the Temple Mount al Aqsa compound. Israeli forces went into the mosque, which is one of Islam’s holiest sites. Yolande Knell, our Middle East correspondent, joins us now from Jerusalem. On what happened yesterday, Yolande, can you take us through the two versions, first of all, about how it came to be that Israeli forces went into al Aqsa?”

Two days later, on April 18th, Husain – who once again ignored the BBC News style guide instructions on terminology relating to Temple Mount – introduced another ‘Today’ programme item on the same topic (from 2:33:04 here). Notably, the version of events promoted by Husain eliminated the Hamas incitement and the actions of some Muslims gathered on Temple Mount which preceded the entry of police into the area. Her account of rocks thrown at a bus failed to clarify the identity of the perpetrators.

Husain: “The Old City of Jerusalem is a place where you can see the intertwined histories of Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Easter attracts pilgrims from all over the world, Passover is being marked at the moment and this time it is also the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. At the Temple Mount al Aqsa compound yesterday there was more violence. Israeli police again entered the area, which is one of Islam’s holiest places. They used batons against Palestinians who were there and the Palestinian Red Crescent said 19 people were injured, some of them by rubber-coated steel bullets. At least 5 were hospitalised. Five Israelis including a 13-year-old girl were injured elsewhere in Jerusalem by stones thrown at a bus. Now we’ll speak first to Fleur Hassan-Nahoum who is the Israeli deputy mayor of Jerusalem. […] How is the use of bullets – rubber-coated steel bullets – justifiable at a place like this and at a moment like this?”

After Ms Hassan-Nahoum had explained the sequence of events, Mishal Husain once again promoted the notion of ‘different versions’.

Husain: “There is a different version of what happened and we’ll hear the Palestinian version in just a moment. But on the use of violence, you can see – can’t you? – just how inflammatory this action was. There are videos circulating that show batons being used against…against women. They’re not armed with anything.”

Fleur Hassan-Nahoum explained how Hamas had used the topic of Jerusalem to curate incitement that led to the violence but was interrupted by Husain.

Husain [interrupts]: “Yes but Jerusalem is a central part…it is a central part – isn’t it? – of the issue which is why it’s been an issue all the way along in the peace process.”

As Ms Hassan-Nahoum explained that Jews are not allowed to pray on Temple Mount, Husain interrupted her again, using the misleading term “worshippers”.

Husain [interrupts]: “All faiths…people from all faiths and none are allowed to visit as tourists and Jewish worshippers are escorted frequently, including in this period, by Israeli police up onto the Temple Mount and into the al Aqsa compound. That does happen all the time, including now.”

Yet another interruption from Husain came as Ms Hassan-Nahum again tried to point out the lack of freedom of worship for Jews and Christians, with Husain purporting to tell her native English-speaking interviewee what she actually meant to say.

Husain [interrupts]: “They are allowed inside the compound. I think you’re saying that they should be allowed inside the Dome of the Rock and the al Aqsa.”

Following another attempt by Hassan-Nahoum to explain the topic of freedom of worship at Temple Mount, Husain closed that interview and introduced a longer (and decidedly less interrupted) one with frequent BBC interviewee Husam Zomlot.

Husain: “Let me turn to Dr Hussam Zomlot who’s the head of the Palestinian mission here in London. […] Now on Friday morning, which is the day that this particular spate of violence really began, there were Palestinians who appeared to have been dropping…ehm…stones and other items from the al Aqsa compound down towards the Western Wall where Jews were beginning Passover by praying at the Western Wall. That did happen, didn’t it?

Zomlot: “I didn’t see any of that. Nobody saw any of that. But we saw the invasion of the compound – Aqsa Mosque. We saw the hundreds of Israeli soldiers with tear gas, bullets. We saw them…eh…eh…raiding and desecrating the mosque itself. That was captured. We haven’t seen any of these lies that we keep hearing and this was not the first time and perhaps will not be the last. We remember in 1969 an Israeli extremist tried to burn the entire mosque and it continues on a regular basis.”

Not only did Husain refrain from asking her interviewee what he meant by “it continues on a regular basis”, she also failed to clarify to listeners that, contrary to his false claim, the 1969 incident at al Aqsa Mosque was perpetrated by a mentally-ill Australian Christian.

Especially given her earlier mention of supposedly “inflammatory” action by the Israeli police “at a place like this and at a moment like this”, one would have expected Husain to challenge Zomlot’s no less inflammatory propaganda but she instead remained silent. Zomlot was also given free rein to promote to listeners the notion that all of Temple Mount is “a mosque”: a politically motivated narrative which the BBC had also amplified three days earlier in a written report. It hence came as no surprise when Husain failed to challenge that notion at all and even supported it with the observation that at other sites “visitors are allowed to mosques except at prayer times”. 

Zomlot: “Jews do pray in Jerusalem all the time. Nothing happens. Why does it happen in this particular time? It’s not due to Ramadan. It’s due to some extremist Jewish groups who want to actually exercise, practice some religious rituals in a mosque. Like churches are for Christians, synagogues are for Jews; mosques are for Muslims.”

Husain: “But the…”

Zomlot: “And it is Israel’s responsibility as an occupying power to respect the status quo and protect the freedom of worship.”

Husain: “In most places in the world visitors are allowed to mosques except at prayer times, aren’t they?”

Zomlot: “Not if you believe that this isn’t a mosque and not if you want to erect a slaughterhouse and not if you want to actually not only burn it but destroy it and make something else.”

Husain: “And the Israeli police would say a lot of the time they are keeping groups like that away.”

Husain failed to clarify to listeners that the Israeli police had arrested six people just days earlier but allowed Zomlot to claim unchallenged that the police “are lying”.

Zomlot: “So those are…they are not…they are not…they are not true. They are lying. They allow many of these groups in. Some of them actually do practice some rituals inside the mosque. I mean how difficult is it to understand that a mosque is a mosque?”

Once again we see how the BBC’s adoption of politically motivated Palestinian terminology concerning Temple Mount compromises audience understanding of events and situations. Husain made no effort whatsoever to challenge Zomlot’s false claim that “Jewish groups… practice some rituals inside the mosque” and his diatribe continued uninterrupted.

Zomlot: “How is it difficult to understand you, as an occupying power, has the full responsibility to maintain and protect the status quo and provide people with the freedom of worship. You know hundreds of thousands of Palestinian in the West Bank and Gaza are unable to actually go to the mosque? Most of the Palestinian people are unable, prevented by the Israeli occupier. So this is the joke of the Easter holiday by the Israeli lady [Fleur Hassan-Nahoum] that they actually went there because these guys go in their shoes and they play soccer – football – they wanted to prevent them from doing so. Should I laugh? Really, should I laugh? What should we comment on this? This is an endemic situation. This is absolutely continuing for 74 years. There are three…three constants in our equation. The first is Israel’s expansion, colonialism, provocation of people…eh…eh…absolute killing on a regular basis. The second is Palestinian self-defence. There…our clenching to our rights, our sacred rights, our legitimate rights. And the third is the clarity of international law. Israel is an occupier. East Jerusalem is under military occupation. So is the rest of Palestine.”

Husain failed to question Zomlot’s reference to “74 years” or to point out to listeners that Temple Mount came under Israeli control 55 years ago. Neither did that reference to 74 years prompt her to enquire what exactly he meant by “the rest of Palestine”. Instead Husain thought it relevant to ask Zomlot about Israeli politics. Zomlot pointed out that he does not speak on behalf of the Ra’am party.

Husain: “No, I wondered what your view is as the head of the Palestinian mission.”

Zomlot: “I think this government, this Israeli government, is a very lethal one…eh…very futile so far. They have been publicly – the prime minister Bennett – against the two-state solution. He has been publicly against the negotiations. He say that from day one that he’s pro-settlement: the illegal settlements very well identified by the international community.”

Husain: “Well you say they’re illegal but they didn’t – unlike in Mr Netanyahu’s time – they didn’t bar Palestinians from coming into Jerusalem in this period as previous governments have done.”

Zomlot’s falsehoods continued uninterrupted:

Zomlot: “Hold it. And the amount of illegal colonies and settlements have been approved under this government is…is rocketing. They exercise the same policy but they have a different voice. They try to spin it in a different way. No we don’t see any real change in their exercise. The only change we see is that they are public about the colonisation of the rest of historic Palestine, that is the West Bank and East Jerusalem. They are public in their endorsement of some Kahanist and very extreme elements. This has one of the most extreme elements of the Israeli political spectrum in history. However they have some other groups and we leave it to the other groups to decide if they want to be part of this absolute travesty.”

With no effort made to challenge Zomlot’s plethora of false claims regarding the current Israeli government, Husain closed the interview there.

The BBC has more than enough experience with Husam Zomlot to know that any interview with him will include a barrage of lies and distortions which should be questioned and clarified on the spot. However, as we once again see in this interview, all too often Zomlot is allowed to promote his propaganda from BBC platforms with no meaningful challenge from BBC presenters who are apparently unperturbed by the fact that their efforts to promote “two versions” of a story result in audiences being fed gross misinformation.

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