If you glance at BBC’s Middle East Web page at any given time, chances are the majority of the feature articles (non-breaking news, human interest stories) on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will reflect Palestinian grievances. Rarely will you find a story about Israeli victims of Palestinian violence or their families. Such is the case during the kidnappings of Gilad Shalit, a young Israeli soldier, and Eliyahu Asheri, a teenager from Itamar who was murdered by his captors and left near Ramallah. One of the “background” articles featured at this time was not about the family and friends of the kidnap victims but about Palestinian prisoners in Israeli prisons, for whom the Palestinian Authority wants to exchange the surviving kidnap victim. The article, entitled “Palestinians back prisoner release call” by Martin Patience began:
For Walid al-Houdaly, 46, the capture of an Israeli soldier by Palestinian militants offers the opportunity that his wife and their 18-month-old child will be freed from prison.
What is perhaps even more disturbing than this overtly partisan story choice was the reliance on Houdaly’s questionable claims, and the omission of pertinent context and information, thus misleading readers with a false, propagandistic version of the situation.
What information did BBC provide?
Readers were informed that:
* Palestinians such as Walid al-Houdaly are arguing that the world should focus less on the plight of one Israeli soldier and more on the thousands of Palestinians who are imprisoned by Israelis.
*Walid al-Houdaly is a writer who “was himself jailed for 12 years for being a political organiser.”
* Mr. Houdaly’s wife “headed a women’s organisation dedicated to providing health services for poor Palestinians,” until being kidnapped by Israeli soldiers who supposedly “dragged from [her] Ramallah home … early one morning,”
* His wife “was held in Israeli prison under administration detention – imprisonment without charge” and only “after going on a hunger strike for 16 days, the mother was allowed to keep her baby with her in prison.”
What information did BBC withhold from its readers?
* Walid al-Houdaly’s wife, Atef Alian, was a senior Islamic Jihad operative who has been in and out of Israeli prisons since 1987, when she was caught rigging a car bomb for a suicide attack she had planned to carry out in Jerusalem. (http://www.atimes.com/atimes/Middle_East/EJ25Ak02.html)
* Atef was convicted of attacking a prison guard while in prison.
* Atef was released in 1997 after serving less than half her time under a prisoner release agreement Israel made with the PLO.
* According to Gideon Levy, a Ha’aretz correspondent sympathetic to Atef, she ran a “Jihad Kindergarten” in her backyard in Bethlehem. (The article is carried on many pro-Palestinian Web sites) (http://www.kibush.co.il/show_file.asp?num=13832)
* Atef has been in administrative detention several times since. According to Amnesty International, her latest administrative detention began after her arrest on December 22, 2005, and is thought to be linked to her involvement in a group affiliated with the banned Islamic Jihad terrorist organization. (http://web.amnesty.org/pages/isr-action-detention)
* Walid al-Hudaly was imprisoned for attempting to kidnap an Israeli soldier to exchange for Palestinian prisoners. (http://www.palestine-info.cc/french/article_4827.shtml)
What did the BBC misrepresent?
The article implies that an innocent mother, a humanitarian worker involved in providing health care for poor Palestinians, was kidnapped by Israeli soldiers and dragged from her home for no apparent reason and has been languishing in prison ever since. The article quotes Mr. Houdaly describing his wife’s arrest as a kidnapping, comparable to that of Gilad Shalit:
“There is one soldier, but there have been hundreds of Palestinians kidnapped from their houses,” says the writer, referring in part to his wife…”
However, in an interview with Ha’aretz in May 2006, Houdaly clearly described an ordinary arrest:
“…soldiers surrounded their house. Hodali thought the door would come off its hinges from the soldiers’ knocking…Dozens of male and female soldiers entered the house. When Hodali saw the female soldiers he understood that they had come to take her, not him: “We always joked that if they came to arrest me, we would tell the soldiers that I was not connected to anything and that they should take her. But when it really happened, I prayed that they would arrest me 100 times over – just not her.”
The prisoner profiled in the BBC article, once and perhaps still a member of a terrorist organization who continues to be an activist and proponent of “Jihad,” is not an innocent victim of a kidnapping and provides no justification for the kidnapping and murder of Eliyahu Asheri, a civilian, nor of Gilad Shalit, a soldier stationed inside of Israel’s pre-1967 boundaries. Her husband, represented as a Palestinian writer, was himself involved in trying to kidnap an Israeli soldier.
By presenting only the Palestinian justification for terrorist activities and war crimes, and providing a propagandistic, selective version of events, the BBC is acting less like a news organization and more like a representative of Palestinian terrorists.