If one were to depend solely on the BBC for information about the Arab-Israeli conflict, one might understandably come away with the impression that Israel is at the root of all evil in the Middle East.
Articles about Israel featured daily on BBC’s Web site typically fall into two categories: 1) those condemning Israel for its military practices, government policies or supposed intolerance; and 2) those depicting the alleged decline of Israeli society or its cities. On the other hand, articles about Palestinians tend to fall into two different categories: 1) those highlighting Palestinian grievances; and 2) those minimizing the Arab threat to Israel. Many fall into more than one category at the same time, for example, articles that both highlight Palestinian grievances and condemn Israel. Taken together, these grossly unbalanced articles present an obvious anti-Israel message.
A typical array of recent articles in late November 2008 in the “Features and Analysis” section of the Web site included the following:
“Gazans despair over blockade” typifies BBC’s (and reporter Aleem Maqbool’s) pattern of highlighting Palestinian grievances and blaming Israel. The BBC formula: a) present an individual account of Palestinian suffering, b) generalize to the Palestinian population as a whole, and c) blame Israel.
In this article, a Gaza aid worker complains of having no electricity and little food. Maqbool then states that “since June 2007, Israel has allowed little more than basic humanitarian aid to enter the Gaza Strip” and criticizes Israel, claiming that despite the Hamas “truce,” “Israel’s strict restrictions on the movement of goods and people into and out of Gaza largely remained.”
While Maqbool perfunctorily mentions Israeli concerns – “Israel’s government says its Gaza closure strategy aims to deter Palestinian militants from firing rockets across the border at Israeli towns”– he quickly discounts them – “Few take Israel’s explanation, that it is only protecting its citizens from the horror of rocket attacks, at face value.”
What Maqbool never once mentions is that Gaza is also bordered by Egypt to the south. And while Egypt is not victimized by continued rocket attacks, it nevertheless routinely seals its border with Gaza. (See “BACKGROUNDER: The Rafah Crossing and Restrictions on Cross-Border Movement for Gaza Palestinians“)
“Gazans describe life under blockade” is yet another article highlighting Palestinian grievances. Comprised of four personal anecdotes, the feature is introduced as a description of how Gazans “have been affected by Israel’s renewed blockade of the territories.” It includes only one sentence, attributed to Israel, explaining the reason for the closures – “Israel says the closures are prompted by rocket fire into Israel by militants in Hamas-controlled territory.”
A Gazan bakery owner, a shop worker, a taxi driver, and an unemployed father of six each describe the difficulties they face due to lack of fuel and power cuts.
BBC articles consistently blame Israel for the “humanitarian crisis” in Gaza. Ignoring Israel’s complete withdrawal from the Gaza Strip in 2005, BBC’s working assumption remains that it is Israel’s responsibility to provide for those in Gaza, even though they are sworn to its destruction and terrorize its population with cross-border missile attacks. There is never any suggestion in BBC articles that Egypt, Gaza’s other bordering country– which is not similarly threatened by Palestinian aggression–take some responsibility in providing Palestinians with their needs.
“Palestinian life: Splits and barriers“ distorts both international law and historical context to present an indictment of what it calls “Israeli occupation.” In the first half of the article, BBC bureau chief Jeremy Bowen presents an emotive account of a wheelchair-bound Palestinian boy who must travel “the long way around” to school “instead of the direct route” because of an army barrier. (While Bowen acknowledges that the IDF removed the barrier after the family’s request, he claims credit for this action, suggesting that it was only as a result of the BBC’s broadcast of the boy’s travel to school.)
Bowen reveals his bias, as well as his ignorance of international law and history, when he wrongly declares that “A small community of Israelis lives in the centre of Hebron, in defiance of international laws that forbid an occupying power to settle its own people on the territory it has captured.” While Bowen and the BBC consistently mislead their audience by asserting that Jewish habitation of biblical Israel is illegal, internationally renowned experts on jurisprudence and international law have declared otherwise. (See “BBC Editor Sets Tone for Biased Reporting“)
Moreover, Hebron – one of Judaism’s four holy cities – was inhabited by Jews for thousands of years. This continuous Jewish habitation was interrupted only in 1929, when Arab rioters massacred their Jewish neighbors as British soldiers stood by, putting an end to the Jewish community. An attempt to re-establish the community lasted only five years, as further Arab riots in 1936 led to the Jewish community’s evacuation by British forces. After Jordan occupied Hebron in 1948, Jews were barred permanently from living there. It was only after Hebron came under Jewish control in 1967 that the community was re-established.
BBC presents as fact an uncontested (some might say, racist) viewpoint that denies Jews the right to reside in a city where their ancestors lived for millenia. Does Bowen consider the ethnic cleansing of Jews from Hebron (in 1929 and 1936) and the Jordanian banning of Jews from Hebron to be illegal, or does he only view Jewish habitation in this ancient city as an unlawful act?
“Holy City facing splits and decline” presents what the reporter describes as “a gloomy picture about the Holy City” by highlighting individuals grumbling about Jerusalem’s “soaring land prices, dirty streets, economic stagnation, job shortages, the flight of the city’s young people and secular Jews,” as well as the city’s traffic jams. Of course, there is no city in the world where one does not find individual complaints about prices, government services, economic policies, etc. The airing of such complaints as part of a routine negative portrayal of Israeli society, policies, and cities seems to reflect a pervasive anti-Israel culture within the ranks of the BBC.
Other articles on the Features and Analysis page included “Rice bids farewell to Middle East” about U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice’s failure to achieve a peace agreement between the Israelis and Palestinians and a profi le of Jerusalem’s new mayor, Nir Barkat – both of which pertain more to news events than features providing background or context..
It is the lack of context in these background articles that misleads readers. In the articles devoted to the detrimental effects of closures upon Palestinians, a single sentence ascribed to Israel about its reason for closing the border hardly constitutes a sufficient framework for appreciating the rocket siege under which Israelis are living. There is rarely, if ever, any context provided about how Palestinian rocket attacks affect civilians within Israel. And there is rarely, if ever, any context about Israel’s complete withdrawal from Gaza in 2005. The cumulative anti-Israel slant in the articles chosen to provide background directly contravenes BBC’s stated editorial guidelines of accuracy, impartiality and fairness.