On 18 January, the BBC’s flagship documentary program, Panorama, focused on tensions in the area of eastern Jerusalem adjacent to the Old City.
Any pretence at balance is thrown out of the window as reporter Jane Corbin makes it clear that, under the BBC’s own interpretation of international law, anything that Israel does in that part of the city is illegal, setting the tone for the entire 30 minute program.
Thus, Israelis are presented as usurpers of Palestinian rights and property in eastern Jerusalem in a one-sided piece of agitprop. As analyst Robin Shepherd writes:
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.
Here we examine some of the assumptions, claims and biases that underpin this edition of Panorama.
Denying Jewish Rights to Jerusalem
The BBC’s institutional anti-Israel bias often manifests itself not in what is broadcast but what is left out. Panorama is no different. The BBC reports events as though Jewish history in Jerusalem begins in 1948, thus omitting thousands of years of Jewish attachment to the city, including those areas of eastern Jerusalem that are the subject of Panorama’s investigation.
The only time that the eastern part of Jerusalem was exclusively Arab was between 1949 and 1967, and that was because Jordan occupied the area and forcibly expelled all the Jews.
As Mitchell Bard makes clear, before 1865, the entire population of Jerusalem lived behind the Old City walls (what today would be considered part of the eastern part of the city). Later, the city began to expand beyond the walls because of population growth, and both Jews and Arabs began to build in new areas of the city.
By the time of partition, a thriving Jewish community was living in the eastern part of Jerusalem, an area that included the Jewish Quarter of the Old City. This area of the city also contains many sites of importance to the Jewish religion, including the City of David, the Temple Mount and the Western Wall. In addition, major institutions like Hebrew University and the original Hadassah Hospital are on Mount Scopus in eastern Jerusalem.
Palestinian House Demolitions
Corbin’s tone gives the impression that she just so happens to be strolling through eastern Jerusalem before coming across Israeli authorities carrying out a house demolition almost as if this is a daily occurrence. She disingenuously pulls a supposed list of dozens more demolitions scheduled to take place, claiming:
Demolitions have been increasing in recent days, and in fact, we’ve got hold of a list that shows there’s another 40 to go before the end of the year. That’s because the municipal government has a budget that it has to use up for demolitions.
In response, the Jerusalem Municipality issued the following statement:
The amount of demolitions carried out by the Jerusalem Municipality every year is determined solely by the number of illegally constructed buildings erected by those residents who flouted the law.
The number of structural demolitions conducted in eastern Jerusalem by the Jerusalem Municipality actually decreased in 2009 – from 86 in 2008 to 65 in 2009, a 25% decrease.
Further, there is simply no connection whatsoever between the annual budget of the Jerusalem Municipality and the number of demolitions conducted.
Throughout the program, Ms. Corbin presents a completely and utterly false representation of the facts and a distasteful distortion of reality.
It would be prudent to ask Ms. Corbin what happened to her alleged list of 40 planned demolitions since her filming in late 2009. You’ll easily find yet another one of her distasteful distortions.
Furthermore, viewers are treated to emotive scenes and Palestinian claims that such demolitions are driven by “racism” and “ethnic cleansing” while Jewish residents of Jerusalem are not subjected to similar demolition orders.
As human rights lawyer Justus Reid Weiner found in his research, illegal building by Palestinians has reached epidemic proportions while in the Jewish neighborhoods, illegal construction typically takes the form of additions to existing legal structures – such as closing a balcony or hollowing out under a building to create an extra room. In the Arab sector, however, illegal construction often takes the form of entire multi-floor buildings with 4 to 25 living units, built with the financial assistance of the Palestinian Authority on land that is not owned by the builder.
The same procedures for administrative demolition orders apply to both Jews and Arabs in all parts of the city, as a final backstop to remove structures built illegally on roadbeds or land designated for schools, clinics, and the like.
Despite frequent accusations that the city’s planning policy seeks to “Judaize” Jerusalem, the Arab population of the city has increased since 1967 from 27% to 32%. Moreover, since 1967 new Arab construction has outpaced Jewish construction.
The Hanoun Family Eviction
The eviction of the Hanouns has become something of a cause celebre with the family camped in the street outside of their previous home making for a compelling media story and propaganda tool. Once again, the BBC does its best to portray the Palestinians as victims of Israeli malice.
However, the Hanoun case is not quite so simple having been subject to legal activ
ity dating back decades. After 1948 the neighborhoods of Sheikh Jarrah and Shimon HaTzadik came under Jordanian control and the Jewish-owned land was handed over to the Jordanian Custodian of Enemy Property. In the mid-1950s the Jordanian government settled Arabs there. They took over the homes of the Jews and paid rent to the Jordanian Custodian.
Although a Jewish institutional presence has been established in the area in the form of Israeli governmental offices and services, Jewish groups have sought to establish a residential presence as well. This is being done through property and land acquisitions, and by judicial means. To date, this activity has achieved a residential presence of no more than ten families who are living in a small part of the Shimon HaTzadik neighborhood from which Jews had been evicted in 1948.
There are dozens of pending court cases and legal proceedings seeking to remove Arab tenants on the grounds that they have not been paying rent to the rightful owners – the Committee of the Sephardic Community and the Ashkenazi Assembly of Israel, who purchased the land in the second part of the nineteenth century. In some of these cases, eviction notices have been issued, although the Israel Police has delayed the actual evictions due to international pressure.
After 1967, control over Jewish-owned property in the Shimon HaTzadik neighborhood that had been seized by Arabs was transferred from the Jordanian Custodian of Enemy Property to the Israeli Custodian of Absentee Property. In 1972 the Israeli Custodian released the land back to its owners (the Committee of the Sephardic Community and the Ashkenazi Assembly of Israel). In 1988 the Israeli Supreme Court ruled that the 28 Arab families living on the premises enjoy the status of “Protected Residents,” but that the ownership of the land belongs to the two Jewish organizations.
Ten years later, in 1998, Jews entered deserted houses in the neighborhood. At the same time, a slow process of evicting Arab families who apparently refused to pay rent to the two Jewish organizations was begun.
For more on this issue see this JPost Analysis: Arabs, Jews don’t have equal rights to recover pre-1948 properties.
A Shooting in Silwan
Jane Corbin makes a big deal out of the fact that some of the Jews living in eastern Jerusalem are armed. As if to illustrate the apparent threat that this poses to the Arab residents of the area, she interviews the victim of a shooting incident that took place in September 2009 involving a Jewish gunman. Operating under standard BBC procedures, viewers are treated to scenes of crying children and a story of suffering. There is no interview with any Israeli spokespeople regarding the incident. While it is not in dispute that the Palestinian was shot, the BBC relies solely on his testimony without any Israeli response.
Had Corbin been concerned with balance or accuracy, she could have contacted the Israel Police, something that HonestReporting did. Police Foreign Press Spokesperson Micky Rosenfeld explained:
Upon arriving at the scene, a police investigation was opened and a suspect was immediately detained for questioning for being involved in the incident.
The suspect a twenty year old man said in his statement that he had been surrounded by six Arabs inside the neighborhood and then was attacked by them. In an act of self defense only and after being surrounded he had used his weapon.
Unfortunately after the incident local Arab residents rioted in the neighborhood and police had to call in extra units who quickly maintained the situation and prevented any further rioting.
As Rosenfeld points out, this was one isolated incident that could have taken place in any of the neighborhoods in Jerusalem both Jewish or Arab.
Contrary to the impression given by the BBC, it is, in fact, Jewish residents of Jerusalem who have far more to fear from their Arab neighbors. While the incident described above is remarkably rare, not so rare were the suicide bombings, stabbings and even bulldozer attacks that have been carried out by Palestinian terrorists residing in eastern Jerusalem.
The armed guards and security in the area is necessary to protect not only Jews but also Jewish holy sites from potential Arab extremists.
Foreign Jews Changing Jerusalem’s Demographics
Nadav Shragai writes that Jews from abroad are not the only ones buying property in Jerusalem. Munib al-Masri, a Palestinian millionaire from Nablus who holds American citizenship, is planning to purchase property 900 meters from the Teddy Kollek Stadium, not far from Jerusalem’s Malha shopping mall. His investment company is planning to build 150 housing units next to Beit Safafa, according to company chairman Samir Halayla. Until 1967, Beit Safafa was an Arab village south of Jerusalem divided between Israel and Jordan. After the war it became an area where Jews and Arabs lived together, generally as good neighbors.
The Gulf States, the PLO, and Palestinian millionaires such as al-Masri and the late Abd al-Majid Shuman have all invested funds to purchase property and support construction for Palestinian Arabs. The Jerusalem Treasury Fund affiliated with the Jerusalem Committee headed by King Hassan of Morocco is also active. The Jerusalem Foundation for Development and Investment was founded in Jordan, and there are several similar funds and foundations in Saudi Arabia.23 Foreign donations from Qatar were also involved in the construction of 58 housing units recently completed in Beit Hanina under the auspices of the Arab teachers’ association.
On July 19, 2009, Yuval Diskin, head of the Israel Security Agency, reported to the Israeli government on the extensive efforts of the Palestinian Authority and its security apparatuses to prevent Palestinian land from being sold to Jews, especially in eastern Jerusalem.
Regardless of these ongoing struggles, the State of Israel does not limit or forbid the purchase or sale of property or land within Jerusalem, which is under Israeli law, whether the individuals involved are Jews or Arabs.
Archaeology in the Hands of “Right-Wing” Groups
The BBC claims that right-wing Jewish groups have been left responsible for politically sensitive archaeological sites in eastern Jerusalem. In fact, all archaeological work in Jerusalem is carried out by the Israel Antiquities Authority, an independent gover
nment body with a sterling international reputation.
BBC: Failing to Reflect Reality
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 Jerusalem 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 delegitimisation of the world’s only Jewish state.