BRITISH BIASED BROADCASTING DOCUMENTARY ON JERUSALEM: ROBIN SHEPARD
Prime time BBC documentary on Jerusalem: An anatomy of bias and distortion
On Monday night, the BBC’s flagship documentary programme Panorama was devoted to Jerusalem. Rarely will you get a clearer insight into the flagrant institutional bias inside the world’s most powerful media outlet than this. The slipperiness of the tactics employed, the unabashed censorship of vital historical context, and the blatant pursuit of a political agenda constituted a lesson in the techniques of modern day propaganda. It was something to behold.
Entitled “A Walk in the Park” — a reference to the parkways which link settlements across East Jerusalem — the programme was introduced by veteran BBC reporter Jeremy Vine: “Palestinians are being thrown out of their homes; Israelis are moving in, even underground,” he tells us. The drama then shifts to Jerusalem itself where Jane Corbin, narrator and reporter on the ground, is ready to begin a demolition job all of her own.
Right away, the documentary cuts to the destruction of a Palestinian home: “…roads were sealed. The Israelis don’t make it easy to see what’s going on,” we are ominously told as she skips daringly down a dirt track to avoid the watchful eye of the dastardly Israelis.
So why, one wonders, would the Israelis be so keen to hide their dirty little secret? “Under international law,” she tells us earnestly, “East Jerusalem is occupied territory; its status shouldn’t be changed.”
Well, good to know that we haven’t wasted much time before she introduces her very own, and quite definitive, interpretation of international law. But objective versions of the law are soon complemented by a historical narrative which forms the backdrop to the entire programme:
“When the State of Israel was born in 1948, Jerusalem was divided,” says Corbin. “The West of the city became part of Israel and the East was controlled by Jordan. In 1967, Israel annexed East Jerusalem after seizing the West Bank following war with its Arab neighbours.”
And that’s it. That is the broad historical context offered to a prime time British audience on the BBC’s most prestigious weekly documentary programme. Is her version accurate? Well, yes, modern day Israel was formed in 1948 and Jerusalem was indeed divided — Jordan on the one side and Israel on the other. It is also true that “following war” with its Arab neighbours in 1967 East Jerusalem was annexed by Israel.
But as an instance of propagandist methodology in airbrushing out vital context, especially in a documentary about the status of Jews in Jerusalem and the underlying causes of the wider conflict, this really rather takes the biscuit..
Consider another way of phrasing that paragraph which, once again, is vital to the documentary since it serves as the key context for a largely uninitiated British audience. Try this, with the salient points in italics:
“When the State of Israel was born in 1948 — following Arab and Palestinian rejection of a peace agreement accepted by Israel which would have seen the internationalisation of the city — Jerusalem was divided. The West of the city became part of Israel and the East was controlled by Jordan — which expelled Jewish residents and forbade Jews from praying at all of the city’s holy sites. In 1967, Israel annexed East Jerusalem after seizing the West Bank following war with its Arab neighbours. That war was caused by Arab governments and the Palestinians who had the aim of eliminating the state of Israel in its entirety and expelling its Jewish residents.”
Well, that would really cast a different light on things wouldn’t it?
Next we come to Corbin’s “walk in the park” which starts in Sheikh Jarrah and winds its way through the Mount of Olives and Ras al Amoud to Silwan.
Stopping off in Ras al Amoud the documentary now introduces “an Israeli lawyer”, who serves throughout the programme as the objective analyst providing a neutral point of reference to enhance the credibility of the narration.
That Israeli lawyer is none other than, Danny Seidemann, a well known (but not to British viewers) left-wing lawyer-activist. No countervailing Israeli opinion from a similar kind of source is offered.
But the slippery and blatantly biased tactics of the programme makers are immediately revealed as the objective reference point offered by Seidemann is then counterbalanced by the opinion of an Israeli, Arieh King of the Israel Land Fund.
A purportedly neutral anti-settlement view is thus juxtaposed with the views of an interested party whose work we are told (to a background of darkly melancholic music), “is paid for by wealthy backers [ie Jews] in America and Europe.”
Then we are offered another piece of “context”: “Peace deals proposed so far reckon on giving Arab areas in these eastern parts of the city to the Palestinians. Western areas, which are Jewish, would go to Israel.”
Hmm. I wonder what’s missing from that one then? Again, here’s another way of putting that point with my suggested additions in italics:
“Peace deals proposed so far — all of which were rejected by the Palestinians – reckon on giving Arab areas in these eastern parts of the city to the Palestinians. Western areas, which are Jewish, would go to Israel.”
The omission is so blatant it is almost laughable. In this desperate attempt to support the long-standing BBC narrative that Israeli “occupation” forms the root cause of the conflict, it has become necessary to mention peace deals without pointing out that such peace deals were offered by Israel but flatly rejected (in favour of violence, one might add) by the Palestinians. To raise that issue would clearly undermine the ideological edifice. It would suggest that the root cause of the conflict is Palestinian rejectionism and anti-Semitism — two concepts that the BBC is apparently unable to deal with.
The distortion is reinforced as we then move to a catalogue of instances of how settlement policy is making a two state solution difficult if not impossible.
Harrowing stories are told of Palestinians kicked out of their homes. The briefest of references is made to the claim of the settlers that they are taking back land and property which was seized from them by Jordan in 1948. But it is done in such a away that no lay audience could possibly see any real justification for the settlers’ position.
We are told of, and shown, instances of Palestinians being thrown out of homes they have “lived in for generations”. This is stated as fact by the narrator. When the counter argument, that the land they have lived on was stolen from Jews in the first place, this is ventured as the mere opinion of Nir Barkat, the Mayor of Jerusalem.
Arriving in Silwan, the narrator just happens to drop in at the very moment a Palestinian house is being demolished. A Palestinian activist, Jawad Siyam, is given prominence as the articulate and reasoned voice of the oppressed. He cries out: “It’s the most racist state in the world, you see…” Pointing to Israeli policemen he adds: “You are the most racist people in the world.”
No voice from the Israeli side is offered to protest about terrorism or Palestinian anti-Semitism. Nothing. With the historical context largely obliterated earlier in the programme, few uninitiated viewers could disagree with Siyam’s diatribe.
Fading in the melancholic music again, we are then told ominously that many of the settlers come from abroad as we are introduced to the Adlers, a family of American religious Jews who have settled in Silwan. (American, religious, Jewish and settlers? That’s the sort of combination that gives BBC reporters sleepless nights).
As a warning of how Israeli policy is leading to tensions, we are later introduced to a Palestinian man, Ahmed, (complete with close-up of crying son) who was shot in the right thigh by an Israeli following a scuffle. No instance of Palestinian violence is offered for balance. Ahmed then tells of how the Israeli stepped over him and “shot a child”.
As the documentary draws to a close, the narrator once again interjects with her own tendentious opinions: “Those who know Jerusalem warn that this is a powder keg,” she says. “More than the city could be ignited if the Israelis persist in what they are doing.”
“Those who know Jerusalem?” Who might that be then? We cut back to Danny Siedermann, the BBC’s objective analyst of events. Widening the discussion and placing responsibility for the overall conflict squarely with Israel, he says: “This is the volcanic core of the conflict…what begins in Jerusalem doesn’t stay in Jerusalem.” He adds darkly that regimes could be destabilised from Pakistan to Morocco in the ensuing cataclysm.
Finally we move to the wider settlements outside Jerusalem and “The Wall”. Corbin concludes the documentary with the words: “The face of the city is changing and that makes the chances of peace even more remote.”
Well, you get the picture. Obviously the issue of Jerusalem excites passions inside Israel and outside it. Reasonable people can disagree on it. There are many shades of opinion to be assessed. And there is no reason why a BBC documentary should not reflect that. The problem is that the documentary does not reflect that reality at all.
Every Jewish step in East Jerusalam is presented as wrong and dangerous. All the important context has been removed. A clear ideological agenda has been pushed at the expense of basic standards of fair reporting.
Welcome to the world of the BBC. And welcome to yet another illustration of the slippery path to the deligitimisation of the world’s only Jewish state.
I watched this documentary so you don’t have to. But suckers for punishment (at least those resident in the UK) can see it in full at the following link: