The BBC ME editor’s portrayal of ‘international law’

It has been a while since Jeremy Bowen was last in Israel but early on July 13th – some twelve hours before the US president’s Middle East visit was due to commence – the BBC News website published a piece on that topic credited to “BBC Middle East editor, Jerusalem”.

Titled ‘Joe Biden heads to Middle East amid faltering US sway’, the article promotes Bowen’s pre-emptory framing of the visit, focusing mostly on Saudi Arabia and Iran.

However, readers also find the following highlighted statement:

“When he [Biden] visited Jerusalem as Barack Obama’s vice-president, he was humiliated by the former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu when he called for a freeze on Israel’s settlement projects for Jews in the occupied territories, which are illegal under international law.”

As we have documented on countless occasions, the BBC usually qualifies its claims concerning ‘international law’, with the preferred formula going along the lines of:

“The settlements are considered illegal under international law, though Israel disputes this.”

As has been noted here in the past, that more or less standard insert does not include a definitive cited source underpinning the claim of illegality and no explanation is given regarding the legal basis for alternative opinions to the one promoted. The claim is erroneously presented as being contested solely by the government of Israel, thereby erasing from audience view the existence of additional legal opinions which contradict the BBC’s chosen narrative and hence breaching its own editorial guidelines on impartiality.

The last – and probably first – time that the BBC provided a more nuanced explanation of the topic was in December 2016 in a backgrounder which has since been edited several times. Back then BBC audiences were told that:

“Most of the international community, including the UN and the International Court of Justice, say the settlements are illegal.

The basis for this is the 1949 Fourth Geneva Convention which forbids the transfer by an occupying power of its people into occupied territory.

However, Israel says the Fourth Geneva Convention does not apply de jure to the West Bank because, it says, the territory is not technically occupied.

Israel says it is legally there as a result of a defensive war, and did not take control of the West Bank from a legitimate sovereign power.

It says the legal right of Jewish settlement there as recognised by the 1922 League of Nations Mandate for Palestine was preserved under the UN’s charter.”

Jeremy Bowen however clearly has no time for such details. Ignoring the fact that – as he surely knows – the Oslo Accords signed in the 1990s between Israel and the PLO placed no restrictions whatsoever on construction in Israeli communities in Area C, he prefers to simply promote the claim that the towns and villages the BBC calls ‘settlements’ (including some that were the site of Jewish habitation and/or land ownership prior to 1948) are “illegal under international law”, without even the usual token qualification.

The BBC’s funding public might well expect the man whose job it is to enhance their understanding of the Middle East to be capable of providing them with accurate and impartial information that is more helpful to their comprehension of that topic than mere simplistic slogans. 

More from Hadar Sela
Weekend long read
1) The CST has published a research briefing titled ‘Coronavirus and the...
Read More
Join the Conversation


  1. says: Grimey

    Jeremy Bowen should not be allowed to return to Israel under any pretext.
    He is an avowed Israel- and Jew- hater who does everything in his power and beyond to undermine Israel’s praiseworthy record of defending itself to high ethical standards.

  2. says: Frank Adam

    Time to check out Bowen and Robert Graves for whether they have any worthwhile competence in Hebrew in contrast to their Arabic language and sympathies. At leastone of them grew up in Amman as the son of the expat manager of the local Barclays DCO bank. They are Anglos “gone native” and should be tirned inside out for it.

Leave a comment
Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *