The BBC and the Temple Mount status quo

On the afternoon of January 12th a report by the BBC Jerusalem bureau’s Tom Bateman appeared on the BBC News website’s ‘Middle East’ page with the following less than accurate presentation:

That report relates to a visit to Temple Mount by the British minister Lord Ahmad earlier in the day which was held up for half an hour – rather than “blocked” – due to an apparent lack of communication.

Readers of Bateman’s report – headlined “UK minister’s visit to Jerusalem holy site hampered by Israeli police” – have to get down to its thirteenth paragraph before they discover that the delay resulted from a deliberate absence of communication with the Israeli authorities responsible for security at the site, prompted by political posturing:

“The UK government, like the rest of the international community, does not recognise Israel’s annexation of East Jerusalem, so official visits are not co-ordinated through the Israeli authorities.”

Bateman provides amplification for the political talking points of the Waqf:

“The Islamic authority administering the site called it “unacceptable”, saying: “Whether he came as a minister or as a Muslim he shouldn’t have been blocked.””

“Whether this was an intentional delay or for other reasons, the Israeli authorities only want people to co-ordinate with them, through the Israeli government, only through the Israeli side,” said Wafq [sic] director Sheikh Mohammed Azam al-Khatib.”

Bateman also uses this report to re-promote the messaging of a lobbying group that he had featured in an article published the previous evening which appears below this report as “more on this story”:

“Lord Ahmad’s visit came after a two-day trip to the region, including meetings with Israeli officials from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s new coalition – the most nationalist in the country’s history. The meetings sparked criticism from a British-Arab relations group for “turning a blind eye” to “racist positions”.”

A PLO recommended narrative also seen days earlier in BBC reporting relating to the same religious site is also promoted by Bateman:

“The hilltop site is the third holiest in Islam and the most sacred place in Judaism. To Muslims it is known as Haram al-Sharif, the site of Muhammad’s ascent to Heaven, and the entire compound is considered al-Aqsa Mosque. The same area is known to Jews as the Temple Mount, site of two Biblical temples.” [emphasis added]

Bateman goes on:

“Non-Muslims are allowed to go to the compound from a designated gate at specific times but not to pray, though Palestinians see visits by Jews as attempts to change the delicate status quo.” [emphasis added]

That talking point had also been promoted in two earlier reports but interestingly, in none of the three articles did the BBC inform readers to which “status quo” it refers.

The Ottoman era ‘status quo’ permitted visits (but not prayer) by non-Muslims on Temple Mount, as did the later Mandate period rules. Later in his report Bateman refers to “the decades-old status quo” so perhaps readers should conclude that he means the 1967 status quo which, although it has been eroded over the years, also includes visiting rights for non-Muslims at the site. Both the Israel-Jordan peace treaty of 1994 and the 2015 “Kerry Understandings” included visits to Temple Mount by non-Muslims, with the former agreement obliging Israel and Jordan to “…provide freedom of access to places of religious and historical significance”.

The fact that some Palestinians portray visits by Jews as “attempts to change the delicate status quo” as part of a broader long-running political campaign concerning the site holy to three religions is not new. However it is the job of an impartial journalist to put such claims into context – not least by explaining their purpose and the fact that the status quo does include visits by non-Muslims.

The BBC however repeatedly fails to provide such context, having chosen instead to adopt and promote a one-sided political narrative which does not enhance audience understanding of this sensitive and complex topic.

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  1. says: Sid+Levine

    Bateman should be immediately declared persona non grata in Israel and his Press Card issued by the Israel Government Press Office withdrawn (GPO).
    This is becoming a sick situation when the BBC promotes Islam as the key focus on the Temple Mount – it is racist and xenophobic!
    Perhaps, one should claim the Black Rock in Mecca as holy to the other religions other than Islam!

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