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December 29, 2014 8:28 am

BBC Report on Christmas in Bethlehem Amplifies PA Political Messaging

avatar by Hadar Sela

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BBC screenshot. Photo: HonestReporting.

Attempts to co-opt Christmas for Palestinian political messaging are nothing new, and neither is the BBC’s collaboration with those public relations campaigns. In previous years we have seen Jon Donnison and Yolande Knell using the occasion of Christmas Eve celebrations in Bethlehem for opportunistic promotion of political messaging. This year, coverage of the celebrations was assigned to Quentin Sommerville who managed to produce a reasonable filmed report free of political messaging. The accompanying written article that appeared on the BBC News website’s Middle East page, however, was not.

Titled “Christians hold Christmas Eve Mass in Bethlehem“, the report was amended no fewer than five times and those changes can be seen here. Just under 40% of that report’s word count is devoted to context-free amplification of political statements, with descriptions of the religious celebrations themselves barely appearing in the article.

With no background information provided to BBC audiences on the obviously significant context of the political activities of some members of the clergy in the region, the report states:

“In a homily, Latin Patriarch Fouad Twal called on Jews, Muslims and Christians to “live together as equals.

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Referring to violence in Gaza and Jerusalem, he said he hoped 2015 “would be better than this difficult year.” […]

Patriarch Twal, the most senior Roman Catholic cleric in the Holy Land, said the region had become “a land of conflict”.

I hope next year there will be no separation wall and I hope we will have bridges of peace instead,” he said, referring to the barrier Israel is building in and around the West Bank, which separates Bethlehem from Jerusalem. Israel says the barrier is necessary to prevent attacks by militants.

Peace comes from justice and we have a cause which we hope will be solved soon,” the Patriarch added. […]

Patriarch Twal urged Christians not to forget the residents of Gaza, where up to 19,600 families displaced by the 50-day conflict between Israel and Palestinian militants are still in need of medium- and long-term shelter…”

As usual, the proven effectiveness of the anti-terrorist fence is ignored by the BBC – along with the events that brought about its construction – and the reason for its existence was presented in the partial language of “Israel says.” Readers are not reminded that the summer conflict lamented by the Latin Patriarch was instigated by Hamas or of the obviously relevant issue of continuing Palestinian terrorism against Israeli civilians.

Additionally, the writer of this report saw fit to use it as a hook for the promotion of quotes from the PA Minister for Tourism.

“His sentiment was echoed by Palestinian Tourism Minister Rula Maayah.

Our message this Christmas is a message of peace like every year, but what we added this year is that all we want from Christmas is justice,” the minister said.

Justice for our people, justice for our case and the right to live like all other people in the world in our independent state without the occupation.”

Readers are not informed that the phrase “all I want for Christmas is justice” is the official Christmas political campaign slogan chosen this year by Ms. Maayah’s department, and neither are they told anything about the circumstances of how that quote reached the BBC just in time for its Christmas Eve report from Bethlehem.

Similar messaging was apparent in some of the images chosen to illustrate the report and their captions.

The article also includes the following snippet of unrelated information, echoing the BBC’s coverage at the time:

“On Tuesday, Pope Francis – who prayed at the West Bank barrier and called for an end to the “increasingly unacceptable” Palestinian-Israeli conflict when he visited the region in May – sent a message of solidarity to Christians in the Middle East.” [emphasis added]

If readers of this article assumed that – as suggested in its title – they were going to learn something about the celebration of the religious festival itself in Bethlehem, they were of course mistaken. Instead, the BBC has once again self-conscripted to the opportunistic exploitation of Christmas for promotion of context-free PA political sloganeering.

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