Comes with the territory

BBC profiles Palestine – as the narrative requires

Overview/Facts/Leaders/Media as it was 28 February 2013 at 12:22 GMT

Sometimes things pass under the radar and some never change. In 2005 I submitted a point-by-point fisking of the then current Israel and the Palestinian territories Country profile to the BBC Israeli-Palestinian Impartiality Review. While they never acknowledged it and I may be taking credit from others who made the same criticisms practically everything in the current Israel country profile  conforms to my submission. It’s worth reading David Guy’s 2005 BBC Israeli-Palestinian Impartiality Review submission partly as a historical document and partly to see how the BBC pushes the Palestinian narrative when given half a chance.

In my opinion and the BBC seems to agree, at least in theory, a country review should be accurate, unambiguous and with no hidden agenda. It should not editorialise. Where a term might not be immediately understandable to a reader it should be briefly and clearly defined. If that is not possible an alternative word must be used. As I noted – at least in theory.

The BBC Palestinian territories profile is inaccurate, confusing and shouts of agenda. This is not an honest profile but an uncritical list of Palestinian talking points. A thorough fisking† is in order. As the profile is constantly being modified a link to the profile as it was when fisked is provided here.

Impartiality lies at the heart of the BBC’s commitment to its audiences. It applies across all of our services and output, whatever the format; from radio news bulletins via our web sites to our commercial magazines and includes a commitment to reflecting a diversity of opinion.

Editorial Guidelines in Full

Palestinian territories profile

As this article is very long I have divided it into four parts according to the divisions in the profile.



The Palestinian population of around ten or eleven million people …

What can be worse than a blatant inaccuracy in the first paragraph? Where do they get that figure?

How do they work out that figure. UNRWA lists 5,271,893 registered persons. 1,617,000 Arabs live in Israel (2012) That’s around 6 million unaccounted for.

Has the BBC accepted the Zionist claim that  “Jordan is Palestine”?

That would be a political bombshell. In 1922, the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan (formerly Transjordan) was arguably and however briefly,  a part of the British Mandate (to create a Jewish homeland) for Palestine Jordan received ⅔ of the Mandate .  It was once Likud policy, but not now, that there is no need for a new Palestinian state because it already exists – in Jordan!

The figures for how many Palestinians (a term I use as an ethnic label to distinguish the Levantine Arabs from the Bedouin), live in Jordan is never released by the Bedouin Hashemites but is estimated to be a majority of the 6,181,000 Jordanians. Let’s say 60% although I have heard as high as 80%. If we subtract the 1,951,603 refugees already counted that leaves 1756997 non refugees. More than 4 million surplus Palestinians.

Is the BBC counting any Arab who left the area, whether under Turkish, British, Egyptian, Jordanian, Syrian or Israeli control in the 20th century? 19th century? No matter where they settled?

It would appear that the BBC has accepted, quite uncritically a claim from the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics which we have seen don’t work out. Would they count every Jew in the world as a citizen of Israel? Not by their Israel profile, at least.

… is divided between historic Palestine … 

Palestine Quiz

Click for larger image

What and where do they mean by historic Palestine – a loaded term if there ever was one? Check out the famous Dry Bones STATE OF ‘PALESTINE’ Quiz. There never was a Palestine entity at least not since the Roman Syria Palaestina and they were neither Arabs or Muslims. Do they mean the British civil administration in Palestine operated from 1920 until 1948? Not very historic. Perhaps the Ottoman Turkish Administration from 1516 until 1918? Unfortunately the Ottomans didn’t call it Palestine and divided it into three parts without any connection to modern boundaries. We can ignore Muhammad Ali’s Egyptian invasion and occupation between 1832 and 1840 but how can we ignore the Egyptian Mamluks (from the Eurasian Steppes) from 1260 to 1516 and different boundaries?

Probably the only honest description is that most Palestinians live in the area that is now, Israel, the Palestinian Authority and Gaza and Jordan. The Nakba didn’t drive them very far and they stayed inside their own country. Another startling admission because by the 1951 United Nations Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees most would not be refugees†.

 … and a diaspora, mainly in neighbouring Arab countries.

So why is this part of the Palestinian territories profile?

Efforts to create a Palestinian state on the West Bank of the River Jordan and Gaza on the Mediterranean coast have been frustrated by the continuing conflict with Israel …

Isn’t that a convoluted way of saying if there is war there is no peace? Once again a simpler explanation is possible. Israel won’t settle until the Palestinians, both Hamas and Fatah give up their declared aims for her destruction.

…  and disputes over the status of diaspora Palestinians.

The Palestinian Authority refuses to negotiate is Israel doesn’t agree in advance all those who left for what ever reason and all their descendants have a right of return to wherever it is they or more likely their great grandparents left , no matter where it is. That’s over 5 million registered persons demanding entrance to a state with a population of 7.6 million of whom 20% are already Arabs. Every Israeli sees that as suicide as a Jewish state.

… the former British mandate of Palestine partitioned between Israel, Trans-Jordan and Egypt.

Nothing to do with the 1947 Partition Plan but this would be a good point to mention that Israel accepted the plan and all the Arab parties refused it. If they had accepted there would have been an Arab state 65 years ago; no Nakba and it would have been larger than anything they are likely to get.

The word partitioned suggests a third-party divided it up between claimants. Nothing could be more misleading. As a consequence of the 1948 War and Armistice Agreement, Egypt, Trans-Jordan and Israel kept the land where their military had control.

… Hundreds of thousands of Palestinians fled or were forced out of their native land during the war.

Or were persuaded to leave to make way for the Arab armies or in the case of the educated and middle/upper class left without ever seeing a Jewish soldier, expecting to come back in a few weeks when the fighting was over.

 … The demand of these refugees and their descendants to return to their former homes

As previously mentioned swamping the Jewish population. This would be an appropriate place to mention UN Declaration 194 calling for the repatriation of refugees. Israel has usually contested this reading, pointing out that the text merely states that the refugees “should be permitted” to return to their homes at the “earliest practicable date” and this recommendation applies only to those “wishing to… live at peace with their neighbors“.

It would be appropriate to note that most of their former homes no longer exist; few making that demand have ever  seen them and that in 1948 most of the country Arabs (as opposed to city Arabs) lived a form of feudal existence with right of settlement no legal title that was recognised by the British or for that matter the Ottoman.

The Palestinian national movement gradually regrouped in the West Bank and Gaza, run respectively by Jordan and Egypt

It was my understanding that Fatah was formed by Yasser Arafat and others in Kuwait.

… shortly before the Six-Day War of 1967, during which Israel captured the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem.

Or in some cases recaptured. The Jordanians expelled the Jews from those areas they occupied. In 1949 around ten percent (10%) of the ‘refugees’ were Jewish. The last Jews from Gaza fled after that war when it was clear they could not continue safely in their former homes.

The PLO under Yasser Arafat gradually won international recognition as the representative of the Palestinian people …

Rather a big and unexplained jump, with no mention of the forbidden words ‘terrorism’ ‘hijacking’, ‘Munich Massacre , etc, of almost 39 years until the Oslo Accords with Israel.  The PLO was created by the Arab League in 1964 for the liberation of Palestine through armed struggle. United Nations General Assembly Resolution 60/39  2005 declared the PLO sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people even though Hamas had no representation at the time and none now.

The PNA functions as an agency of the PLO, which represents Palestinians at international bodies.

Is that still technically true? The ‘elected’ Palestine National Authority represents Palestinians at international level. Fatah the largest movement of the PLO controls it. Some of the organisations that were members of the PLO have no representation and there are independents. Uninformed readers may well be puzzled about the difference between the Palestinian Authority, as created at Oslo and the Palestinian National Authority as it renamed itself.

Its civilian and security writ runs in urban areas (Area A) under the Oslo Accords, with civilian but not security control over rural areas (Area B).

… and Area C? The Oslo Accords is a very complicated set of agreements about many issues, including, for example, water, Jews in areas under Palestinian control, etc. The BBC does no one favours by reducing it to one sentence.

The Israeli occupation of the West Bank, with its continuing settlement building and military checkpoints, and Palestinian attacks, have slowed progress towards a final agreement and led many on both sides to dispute the worth of the Accords.

These are straight Palestinian propaganda talking points, that could have come directly from any Fatah press statement. At best this is a simplistic take on a complex issue.

It ignores PA refusal to take advantage of a 10 months settlement freeze, forced on Israel at US President Obama’s insistence. It ignores multiple and increasing conditions beyond settlement and checkpoints that the PA insist on as preconditions before returning to negotiations. It ignores legal controversy over whether Israel is, in fact, in occupation – even the standard BBC boilerplate –“The settlements that Israel has built in the West Bank are home to nearly 500,000 people and are deemed to be illegal under international law, although Israel disputes this.” It ignores Palestinian demands that all Jew be expelled the new state.

Perhaps most importantly it ignores cross-the-board claims that ALL of Israel is occupied territory and illegal settlement.

The numbers of checkpoints in the West Bank rise and fall with the security situation. There have been no checkpoints in Gaza since 2005 and that has brought negotiations no closer.

Uneasy co-existence between PNA President Mahmoud Abbas and a Hamas-led government …

Without any explanation why that should be of the major and unbridgeable differences between the Islamists led by Hamas and the Nationalists led by Fatah. Not least would be Hamas refusal to countenance any negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians. An uninformed reader could easily come away with the impression that the split was personal not ideological.

Here might be a good point to mention Islamic claims to any land that once was conquered by Islam and subjected to Sharia Law and the concept that Dhimmis (permitted non-Muslims) must always be subservient to Muslims.  It is not possible to understand the conflict without factoring in Islam.

… led to violence between armed wings of Fatah and Hamas, …

Two objections here. The first is the claim that there are separate armed and political wings of both movements and the second that violence was confined to armed combatants.

… culminating in Hamas seizing power in Gaza in June 2007 and President Abbas dismissing the government.

Surely Israel’s complete withdrawal from Gaza in 2005 required a mention?

Local elections on the West Bank in October 2012 undermined Fatah’s position …

How was it possible to ignore two wars between Israel and Gaza? How was it possible to ignore that President Abbas is in his 9th year of his 4 year term? How was it possible to ignore the two, and arguably three intifada? Might not the reader be interested to know who it was who won the majority of contested seats.

The PNA made a symbolic bid for recognition at the UN as the “State of Palestine” in 2011, mainly in an effort to highlight the lack of movement in relations with Israel.

Surely this goes right against the purely factual purpose of the profile and is nothing but unsubstantiated opinionising? What evidence is there that the move was purely symbolic and not a serious attempt to change the PNA’s status to a state, by fait accompli, with all the legal consequences? The claim that the move was mainly made to highlight lack of progress is not backed by statements of any of the principals. Whatever the aims of the Palestinians, statehood is always described as the destination and not simply a means to a quite minor end.

At a glance (with one eye closed)

  • Politics: One could easily argue that the move for self-determination only began when the Jordanians were forced out in 1967. Similarly, it could be argued that the intransigence of Palestinian leaders from the Mufti of Jerusalem until Arafat and Abbas was the major factor in them not taking it when offered. Sixty-five years of warfare didn’t help. We accept that these positions are themselves contested which is why the BBC shouldn’t make generalised statements of this nature.
  • Economics: What does that mean a fragmented economy? As I have stated on several occasions: Making war on your closest and largest employer, supplier of raw materials, customer, market, port for your exports, source of electricity and water, investor and technical partner is bound to create serious economic fall-out. The implication in the food aid statement is of a Palestine population on the verge of starvation. How Palestine can be dependent on food aid and still be among the world leaders for obesity is a question for another time.
  • Foreign relations: Hamas is an issue but surely this is a red herring? A total of 143 states currently have some form of diplomatic relations with the PLO and PNA. One hundred and eight have full relations.

Graphical analysis

Overview illustrations

BBC map

1) Map

2) Jerusalem

2) Jerusalem

3) Gaza

3) Gaza

We grant that selecting a representative photograph from the thousands available is not an easy task and that it is not necessary conducted by someone with real knowledge of the subject matter. It does, however, give an indication of the state of mind of the sub-editors.

  1. No major problem with the map. One could argue that the border between Syria and Israel is also unresolved and that the PNA has no control in Gaza and therefore the Hamas flag should fly. It is also a little odd that the text for de-facto Palestine capital Ramallah make sit appear to be in Israel while the text for Jerusalem makes it appear to be in Palestine something that in terms of control and Israeli law it is not. However all of these could be graphic rather than political decisions.
  2. We have to wonder if the choice of worshipers in Jerusalem is not a political statement? Jerusalem is together with refugees the most highly contentious issue between Israel and the Arabs. In July 1980, the Knesset passed the Jerusalem Law as part of the country’s Basic Law. The law declared Jerusalem the unified capital of Israel. Many UN member states formally adhere to the United Nations proposal that Jerusalem should have an international status. Israel and the Palestine National Authority, both of which claim Jerusalem as their capital. It is not up to the BBC profile, by implication, to express an opinion.The Al-Aqsa Mosque introduces a whole new layer of complexity. Israel claims sovereignty but allowed the  Muslim Waqf to retain administrative control. To further cloud the waters, the gold-domed mosque in the background in not the Al-Aqsa mosque but its neighbour, the Dome of the Rock (Arabic Masjid Qubbat As-Sakhrah). The BBC profile gets it wrong, yet again.
  3. If the Jerusalem photograph is a statement, what are we to make of the Gaza photograph? Gaza has kilometres of beach front and the locals take advantage of it. This is probably the one non-narrative effort in the Overview. Beach front apartments, under construction, and happy bathers rather work against a miserable Palestine under occupation image.

6 April 2013
By David Guy (@5MFI)


† In the interest of clarity fisking deserves an explanation. The word is derived from articles written by Robert Fisk (no friend to Israel) that were easily refuted, and refers to a point-by-point debunking of lies and/or idiocies.
‡ The 1951 United Nations Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees
Any person who: owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group, or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality, and is unable to or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country”

Country Profiles in General

BBC Profiles map

Notice something odd? We’ll give you a hint. America is illustrated by the face of American icon JFK; Russia by Gorbachov; Europe by the Eiffel Tower and Asia by a presumably Indo-Chinese on a bicycle.
What is Africa represented by?


About David Guy

B.A./B.C.A. (Communication and Media Arts) University of Wollongong, AUSTRALIA M.A. in Government (Diplomacy and Conflict Studies) Inter Disciplinary Center, Herzliya, ISRAEL Twitter @5MFI
This entry was posted in 5MFI Blog and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.