‘Balanced’ Coverage of Judea and Samaria? Hardly.
Between mid-May and the end of June, the BBC devoted considerable efforts to the preemptive framing of an event it managed to convince audiences — and itself — was definitely going to happen on July 1st: the application of Israeli civilian law to specific parts of Area C of the Judea/Samaria region.
As we have previously documented, that framing was remarkably uniform in its use of partial terminology such as “annexation,” “illegal occupation,” and “West Bank”; its airbrushing of Palestinian rejection of previous and current peace proposals; and a failure to present the history essential to proper understanding of the issue.
July 1, of course, arrived, and the BBC’s much touted scenario failed to materialize. Yet that did not prevent that day’s edition of the BBC Radio 4 “Today” program from devoting a significant amount of its airtime to the topic that had already been done to death across the corporation’s multiple platforms.
Presenter Nick Robinson introduced the first item (from 1:21:05 here) by promoting the notion that the application of Israeli civilian law to Israeli communities in Judea and Samaria would “dash hopes” of a two-state solution, and with the claim (despite the fact that the joint US-Israeli mapping committee has not completed its work) that a “green light” had been given for the process.
[emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]
Robinson: “Today is the day when Israel could begin to annex large parts of what most of the world regards as the illegally occupied West Bank, dashing hopes of a so-called two-state solution in which an independent Palestinian state lives alongside Israel in peace. … Donald Trump has given Israel’s prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu the green light to declare Israeli sovereignty over areas which already have large Israeli settlements.”
With listeners having once again heard nothing of the relevant historical background, Robinson introduced his interviewee.
Robinson: “We’re joined now by the head of the Palestinian mission to the UK, Huza…Husam Zomlot. Good morning to you.”
Zomlot: “Good morning Nick. Thank you for having me.”
Robinson first asked Husam Zomlot (whose partisan talking points on the topic had previously been aired on BBC World Service radio and hence were presumably familiar to “Today” producers) to “explain” the topic to BBC audiences.
Robinson: “Good to talk to you this morning. Could you explain to people what this would actually change. After all, the Israeli settlements are there, Israel has long claimed sovereignty over them. What if Mr Netanyahu went ahead with what you call annexation, what would actually change?”
The representative of the body which chose to scupper the last round of negotiations in 2014 and destroyed a previous chance for peace by commencing a terror war against Israeli civilians began by accusing Israel of destroying the “peace process” and inaccurately describing the Oslo Accords as “peace agreements”:
Zomlot: “Well actually your question is the right question. I’m afraid it won’t change much about the already on the deathbed peace process with us the Palestinians — I mean Israel and the Palestinians — because Israel has already destroyed this long ago, long before its proposed illegal annexation. As you mention, the moment we signed the peace agreements in 1993, we were busy, the world was busy, building the Palestinian state, the institutions, on the 22% of historic Palestine as per the international framework, as per Israeli agreement and signed commitments and as per what Israel has been demanding to establish two states.”
Robinson failed to clarify to listeners that Zomlot’s reference to “22% of historic Palestine” actually means that he believes they have a claim to all the land designated for the creation of a Jewish homeland by the League of Nations. Neither did he challenge Zomlot’s subsequent use of terminology such as “illegal colonial settlements” and “apartheid and segregation” or bother to point out that the Oslo Accords do not include any restrictions on construction in Israeli communities in Judea and Samaria or commit the parties to a two-state solution.
Zomlot: “Yet Israel was busy building these illegal colonial settlements, jeopardizing any possibility for a Palestinian state, pre-empting the two-state solution. What this does now, this illegal annexation is actually changing nature of Israel from a temporary occupier as per all the agreements, to a permanent occupier and therefore we are into the situation of apartheid and segregation system and open-ended conflict. Second, its relationship to the region and it endangers stability in the entire Middle East. The king of Jordan was clear that this will lead to severe confrontations. And thirdly it makes mockery of international legality, international rules, and it will be a question of who’s next. It’s not only going to be Netanyahu and Trump and all this was done…”
With apparently no comment to make about Zomlot’s absurd suggestion that there is “stability” in the “entire Middle East” that is endangered solely by possible Israeli actions, Robinson even went so far as to suggest that the blatant propaganda that listeners were hearing was “a history lesson”:
Robinson [interrupts] “And these are all points I want to make to an Israeli spokesman that I’ll talk to later in the program. Could you not though, Mr Zomlot, say it’s no point having a history lesson about what has gone wrong. This could be just a recognition of reality and the push that is needed to say let us deal with that reality and work out what can be…ehm…saved of any hope of a peace process.”
Zomlot: “Seriously Nick I mean if…if…if reality and de facto control and annexation is to be taken international affairs you’re talking about the rule of the jungle and there assure you there are hundreds of Netanyahus there who want to operate such political circus and want to grab land and want to assure to be reelected and dodge criminal charges and wreak havoc everywhere at the expense of the future generations and future possibilities.”
Robinson’s challenge to that hyperbole was non-existent:
Robinson: “Just one…yeah…”
Zomlot: “No sir, the United Kingdom was very pioneering and championed the establishment of international rules after the Second World War for this particular purpose. That international relations is not convened based on power, based on vested interests and land grab but it is convened based on rules. And we have…”
Absurdly, Robinson rounded off the item not by asking the PA and PLO representative why the Palestinian leadership has refused to engage with the US administration’s peace plan that proposes to establish a Palestinian state, but for his “view” on internal Israeli politics:
Robinson: “One last one if I may, Mr Zomlot, sorry to rush you but we’re a bit short of time and I’d like your view on this. This is the first day when Mr Netanyahu could do this. But there are a lot of people speculating that he might not, the divisions in the Israeli cabinet mean he’s reluctant to go ahead. What’s your sense of it?”
Zomlot: “Well I think…I think it’s a matter of time for him. He might delay it a bit because of some pressure internally and outside and from the region but I believe the calculus for him remains to be an end game. He wants to do it for his personal gain, he wants to do it for Trump and the base of Trump. This is feeding the base of ultra-nationalism, of racism. He wants to do it for strategic purposes. He is anti-two-state solution, anti-peace ideologically. He looks down at people’s aspirations and of course he wants to do it also as a political diversion. So so far all that come from the world does not really tantamount to changing his calculus.”
Robinson failed to challenge any of those claims — including the suggestion that Israeli actions “feed” racism in the United States — before closing the item, telling listeners that they would subsequently be hearing an Israeli point of view.
The BBC has a long record of airing interviews with Husam Zomlot in which no effort is made to challenge or question his gross propaganda and hyperbole, and this nearly five-minute long item was no exception. Obviously such content does nothing to enhance audience understanding of the issues concerned, and as we will see in part two of this post, the promised “balance” provided to Radio 4 listeners was not delivered.
Hadar Sela is the co-editor of CAMERA UK — an affiliate of the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America (CAMERA). Her work has appeared at The Propagandist Magazine, Harry’s Place, The Commentator, and the MERIA journal among others.