After 17 months, BBC Arabic corrects on Jordan and Jerusalem’s Christian sites

A post by CAMERA Arabic

(All translations, emphases and in-bracket remarks by CAMERA Arabic)

One of CAMERA Arabic’s oldest pending complaints to the BBC, originally submitted in June of 2021, was finally resolved on November 11th.

The complaint concerned two BBC Arabic news items which misrepresented the Jordanian role in relation to Jerusalem’s holy sites and the history of Jordan in Jerusalem. The first item – titled “Who assumes oversight over Muslim holy places in Jerusalem?” – which was originally published on May 16th 2021, read as follows:

“The Jordanian Waqf Department’s custodianship [over ‘al-Aqsa compound’, i.e. the Jerusalem sanctuary] was enshrined under international law, because it was the last authority to oversee the holy sites before the Israeli invasion.”

However, only Britain recognised Jordan’s 1950 annexation of parts of Jerusalem: most of the international community regarded Jordan’s pre-1967 de facto authority over east Jerusalem as illegitimate. Hence, from the perspective of “international law” the fact that Jordan’s Waqf Department oversaw the holy sites prior to “the Israeli invasion” is in itself a result of a 1948 “Transjordan invasion” and therefore of little relevance to any “custodian” position it holds today. 

Furthermore, the role of the Hashemite dynasty at the compound actually predates the divided city phase of 1948-67, going back to 1924 when the Old City was still run by the last authority whose rule there had international legitimacy – the British Mandate. As far as modern Jordan is concerned, it is the series of other countries’ acknowledgements during recent decades which provide international legitimacy to its “special role” (not necessarily “custodianship”), starting with Israel in 1994 (see article 9-ii of the Peace Treaty).

The second item (originally published on May 10th 2021) read:

“King Abdullah II, custodian of Jerusalem’s Muslim and Christian holy places…”

The May 16th item also indirectly referred twice to Jerusalem’s “Muslim and Christian” holy places as one, in the context of Israeli and Jordanian approaches towards them, as though the two religions’ sanctuaries belong in the same category in both parties’ eyes.

In fact, Jordan itself forwent its role in Jerusalem’s Christian holy sites as early as 1988. All international recognition it received regarding Jerusalem ever since is hence valid solely for Muslim sites (see also CAMERA UK’s previous posts on the matter here and here).

In a complaint submitted to the BBC in June 2021, CAMERA Arabic pointed out that Jordan’s role in Jerusalem does not derive international legitimacy from its 19-year rule there, nor does that legitimacy extend to Christian sites. In September 2021, the BBC corrected only the first item, erasing the passage about the Jordanian Waqf’s “international legitimacy” and replacing “Muslim and Christian” with “Muslim”. The editors nevertheless waited until August 2022 to acknowledge that in their official reply:

“We accept and apologise for the two inaccuracies that you pointed out in your complaint pertaining to both the international legitimacy of Jordan’s custodianship (or special role) in Jerusalem’s holy site and the fact that it extends to Muslim sites only.”

However, it was not until The Jewish Chronicle’s exposé appeared earlier this month that the second item was corrected, with “Muslim” eventually replacing “Muslim and Christian” there as well.

That latter correction was made over 17 months – or 363 working days – since the submission of the original complaint: more than 36 times the timeframe for addressing a complaint set by the BBC itself.

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