Repeat framing from BBC’s Knell in report on Jerusalem property dispute

On January 21st the BBC News website published a report by the BBC Jerusalem bureau’s Yolande Knell headlined “Jerusalem: Armenian Christians fight controversial land deal”. Bizarrely tagged “Israel-Gaza war” even though its subject matter has nothing at all to do with that topic, the report opens as follows:

“While Christmas may be a distant memory for many, the Armenians of Jerusalem only just held their annual celebration on 19 January.

This year, the holiday was overshadowed by the war in Gaza and the ongoing threat to the survival of the community from a deeply controversial real estate deal.”

Readers have to reach the tenth paragraph before they discover that the leader of the Armenian church in Jerusalem was a willing party to that “deeply controversial real estate deal”.

“Last April, facts began to emerge about a 2021 contract secretly signed between the Armenian Patriarch and a Jewish Australian-Israeli developer. It gave a newly-created firm, Xana Gardens, a 98-year lease to build and operate a luxury hotel in an area known as the Cow’s Garden.” [emphasis added]

This is not the first time that Yolande Knell has covered this story: in June 2023 she produced written and audio reports on the same topic.


Now as then, Knell fails to mention that according to several reports published in recent months, the luxury hotel that Xana Gardens Ltd has applied to build at the site – much of which is currently a car park – would be operated not by that firm but by a UAE company called One&Only. Knell also fails to clarify that the parent company of Xana Gardens Ltd – Xana Capital Group – is registered in the UAE.

Knell tells her readers that:

“Amid heated protests by locals and a decision by Jordan and the Palestinian Authority to withdraw their recognition of the patriarch over his role in the deal, pressure grew on the Church to cancel the contract.

Meanwhile, an international team of Armenian lawyers came to investigate and give advice.

The patriarch claimed he had been tricked by a trusted priest who was later defrocked. He finally announced a formal move to cancel the deal in October.”

According to reports, a petition to annul the deal between the leader of the Armenian church and Xana Gardens Ltd was submitted to the Jerusalem court in late October 2023.

Knell continues: [emphasis added]

“At that point, tensions between Armenians and representatives of the developer – whose workers had forcibly taken over the car park – began turning into direct confrontations.

When Israeli bulldozers arrived at the contested site to try to begin demolition, Armenians rushed to block it. The next month, there were claims of intimidation as the developer arrived with several armed men.

Further attempted incursions came after the protest tent was set up. The most violent was last month when masked men came to the car park beating people with sticks and using tear gas. A priest, Father Diran Hagopian, broadcast events on Facebook Live.

“They were shouting, ‘you should go out from this land’,” he later told the BBC. “One of their leaders was shouting: ‘You can break their legs, you can even kill them, but they should leave.'””

The Jerusalem Post’s report on that December 2023 incident includes the following:

“The Police […] said that arrests were made on both sides – both Armenians and Muslims who allegedly carried out the attack. No one has been officially charged, the Police said.

“There was an unfortunate incident where some Arab Muslim men and some men from the Armenian community got into a brawl in the old city of Jerusalem,” Deputy Mayor Fleur Hassan-Nahoum told the Post. “Police came promptly to separate the parties, and arrests were made on both sides. […]

Neither the Police nor Hassan-Nahoum could confirm any connection between Thursday’s brawl and the developers.”

Knell however goes on to present the following framing: [emphasis added]

“The apparent involvement of known Jewish settlers in attacks alongside other evidence has increased long-held suspicions that a powerful settler organisation is involved in the attempted land takeover.”

That paragraph is apparently based upon claims made by the Qatari owned media outlet ‘The New Arab’ which was founded by former Balad MK Azmi Bishara who fled Israel in 2007 after having been charged with treason. In an article published in early December the Times of Israel reported that:

“On November 5, Rothman [of Xana Gardens Ltd -ed.] turned up, accompanied by his Arab Israeli business partner and a group of about 15 armed Israelis with two attack dogs seeking to “threaten and harm the community,” who had organized a protest sit-in. […]

According to the New Arab news website, among those who took part in the confrontation was an American-Israeli West Bank settler named Saadia Hershkop, a self-described “hilltop settlement activist.””

Notably, Knell’s report makes no mention of the involvement of an Arab Christian named George Warwar (Hadad) in the development company.

Knell’s portrayal of the story continues:

“Ever since Israel captured the Old City and its holy sites from Jordan in the 1967 Middle East War, Jewish investors in Israel and overseas have sought to buy properties to try to cement Israeli control over occupied East Jerusalem.

Palestinians want this part of the city as the capital of their hoped-for future state. Jewish Israelis view the whole of the city as their eternal, undivided capital.”

In order to support her framing, Knell brings in a representative of a political NGO.

“Researchers at the Israeli non-profit organisation Ir Amim, which is focused on the Israel-Palestinian conflict and supports the diversity of Jerusalem, are worried about developments in the Armenian Quarter.

“This is close to sensitive places,” says Aviv Tatarksy. “Creating a settlement in this area is part of very far-reaching aims of settler organisations who basically want to Judaise completely the Old City, with their eyes on the Temple Mount or al-Aqsa Mosque.”

The settlements built in occupied territory are seen as illegal under international law, although Israel disagrees.”

There is of course nothing at all novel about the BBC’s unquestioning promotion of the politically motivated narrative whereby the presence of Jews in parts of Jerusalem in which they lived for centuries before being ethnically cleansed by the Jordanian armed forces is ‘illegal’.

Quoting the “now-defrocked American [sic] priest who coordinated the deal, Baret Yeretsian”, Knell tells readers that:

“He has since denied to journalists that the developer has any political or ideological agenda, describing such accusations as “propaganda” based on his [Rothman’s] Jewish identity.”

Nevertheless, Yolande Knell once again chose to frame a story about a dispute surrounding a property deal signed by representatives of the Armenian church and a branch of a UAE registered company intending to build a luxury hotel as being about “a settlement” and aimed at ‘Juadising’ Jerusalem.

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1 Comment

  1. says: Sid

    Knell makes accusations “The apparent involvement of known Jewish settlers in attacks alongside other evidence has increased long-held suspicions that a powerful settler organisation is involved in the attempted land takeover.” that cannot be verified by BBC VERIFY- this leaves the BBC in an untenable position and requires immediate investigation by the Director General as to her partiality towards anything anti Israel. It must be reported immediately as per yesterdays statement on the BBC by the UK Minister for Culture.

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