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February 22, 2019 11:24 am

BBC Distorts the Reality of Life in Hebron

avatar by Emanuel Miller

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A view of Hebron. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

A flashy new feature on the BBC website, entitled “Hebron: One street, two sides,” takes one of the most complex places in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and creates a spectacularly misleading and one-sided narrative.

The feature, which seems to be heavily influenced by the Breaking the Silence organization and Palestinian talking points, repeatedly allows the Palestinian subjects to make unsubstantiated claims unopposed, while under-representing the Israeli side of the story.

The presentation starts with a screen describing Hebron as “the only Jewish settlement … in the middle of a Palestinian urban centre.” This is only half the story. In reality, Hebron has a Jewish history dating back millennia. Despite facing centuries of persecution, discrimination, and massacres in the city under Islamic and Christian control, the Jewish community has always come back and re-established itself.

The text continues, telling readers that “There have been 128 attacks carried out by Palestinians in Hebron and its surroundings 2015-18,” without making clear that many of these attacks included murders and attempted murders of civilians, with one particularly gruesome attack on a 13-year-old Israeli child sleeping in her bed, for example.

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The interactive website itself features nine video clips from a two-part BBC documentary that first aired in August 2018. Of the nine clips, only two are sympathetic towards the local Jewish community, while the other seven are severely critical of the Jewish community, or sympathetic with the Arab residents of the city.

Four of the nine video clips show video footage from “anti-occupation” organizations, and the Elor Azaria incident is shown on two separate videos. However, no video footage is taken from the Jewish community or pro-Israel organizations showing footage of shootings, stabbing attacks, or riots. The BBC feature promises to show two narratives, but instead shows the Palestinian perspective far more than the Israeli perspective.

Even when speaking to Israeli sources, the videos betray a deep-seated bias. While the Palestinians interviewed uniformly criticize  Israel, the Israelis shown do not uniformly support Israel. This creates a net effect of criticizing Israel and playing down the effects and seriousness of terrorism.

Two videos in particular stand out. One, which also serves as the introductory segment in the accompanying two-part documentary, involves footage of an Israeli resident of Hebron climbing up to the roof of a building in order to remove a Palestinian flag.

That this individual gets himself caught up in razor wire and has to be rescued from his predicament while arguing his own political perspective is clearly damaging to Israel, and paints the Jewish side in negative terms.

But is this video relevant? Is it recent?

No. The video was actually originally posted on the YouTube channel of the Israeli non-governmental organization B’Tselem on March 14, 2014.

Nevertheless, The BBC fails to acknowledge that the footage is nearly 5 years old, thus creating the impression that the incident took place recently. This displays a lack of transparency, and is simply dishonest journalism.

Breaking the Silence is a highly politicized organization that collects anonymous testimonies of Israeli soldiers regarding alleged and often unsubstantiated misdemeanors or “war crimes,” which it frequently presents to foreign audiences as a means of fighting Israel’s “occupation.”

In the documentary, Breaking the Silence spokesperson Dean Issacharoff (more about him and his attempts to smear Israel here) is captured making the claim that

[A]s a soldier, you don’t need a warrant to enter a Palestinian’s house. You just decide that you’re going to enter it.

HonestReporting contacted over a dozen former combat and combat support soldiers who served in Hebron. One of them, Amots Muller, even served in Issacharoff’s battalion (Nahal 932) at the same time. Some served as many as 10 years ago, while others only left Hebron a few months ago.

All stridently denied Issacharoff’s claim, with many calling it “a lie.” Repeatedly, and independently, the former soldiers reported that soldiers can only enter a Palestinian house with clearance from higher up the chain of command. (Some said that permission is granted from the battalion commander, while others said it is given by the company commander.) The soldiers uniformly stated that this holds true unless there’s an immediate operational need, such as coming under fire from a terrorist. In such cases, soldiers can take initiative, but even then, the activity would need to be coordinated and not done on a whim.

Coincidentally, a number of the soldiers reported being the targets of Palestinian attacks, with one recounting how a brick thrown off a nearby roof flew past his head, while another said that a Palestinian tried to stab him. Throughout the series, not one soldier or former soldier was interviewed about the attacks that they have faced.

One former soldier, Mor Shpaier, who served in 2017 in the Givati Brigade, told HonestReporting:

Let me tell you that the reality in Hebron is more complex than that of any other army in the world … the window of opportunity for you to err and hurt a civilian, a Palestinian, or yourself is 24/7.

Numerous other ex-soldiers reported that Israeli soldiers could enter a Palestinian home spontaneously while in pursuit of a suspect, or if a soldier came under fire and needed cover. However, all made clear that this was the exception rather than the rule.

Another Givati infantry soldier, Itamar Dayani, said:

[E]ntering a Palestinian home is defined in IDF terminology as a planned mission, and even the smallest of these requires combat planning and the permission of the company commander. … [I]t would be an operational mistake to enter a home without advance preparation and permission.

Itamar served as a soldier and commander in Hebron over two stints: for four months in 2015, and another four months in 2017.

Interestingly, another one of the videos taken from the documentary shows Hebron Jewish community deputy spokesman Yishai Fleisher make a claim that Jews can only enter 3% of Hebron. On the website, a text then appears challenging his assertion.

Why is it that the Jewish community’s spokesman is challenged, but Breaking the Silence’s egregious statement is not?

Why did the BBC give a platform to a political lobby such as Breaking the Silence, without subjecting their claims to even the most basic of fact-checking? And why was an unsubstantiated and seemingly false statement allowed to pass without any examination or comment?

This article was originally published by HonestReporting.

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