Bias for Kids

Composing educational materials for children on world events requires simplifying some political complexities. The recent efforts of two major news agencies to provide kids’ primers on the Mideast conflict, however, go beyond oversimplification to outright distortion, encouraging impressionable young people to absorb, as elementary truths, the great myths of Israelis as land-hungry war-mongers, and Palestinians as their hapless victims.

The BBC has a popular online site called ‘Children’s BBC’ (CBBC), a colorful news and education portal for kids and their teachers.

CBBC has a special section on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The homepage first explains ‘Who is Fighting?’:

The troubles in the Middle East are mainly between the Jewish Israelis who live in Israel, and the Arab Muslims, who used to own the land Israel now controls. *

So from the very outset, children are informed that at the heart of this conflict is the supposed ‘fact’ that Israel ‘took’ Arab Muslim land. This is, of course, patently false. At the time of UN partition in 1947, more than 70 percent of the area that would become Israel were public lands officially held by the British Mandatory authorities. (An additional 8.6 percent of lands were purchased outright by Jewish organizations or individuals.) Even in the present-day West Bank, most lands were not owned by local Arabs at that time, but were rather deemed ‘crown lands’ or held by absentee landowners.

(If one wishes to go back further to, say, the Roman era depicted in Mel Gibson’s new film, one should notice that no Palestinians and no Muslims even existed at the time.)

Back to the 20th century, here’s another history lesson from CBBC:

In 1947, the United Nations voted to divide Palestine into two states: Arab and Jewish. The Jews accepted the plan and declared independence for Israel on 14 May 1948.

But the Arabs rejected it, saying it was unfair they didn’t get as much land, even though there were more of them.

The historical record clearly shows that the Arab Higher Council and the Arab League rejected the UN partition plan not because of ‘unfair land distribution,’ but rather because it created a Jewish state, an entity they never accepted. Moreover, 75% of the land allocated to Jews was barren desert (see this map), so in terms of inhabitable lands, the Arabs were offered at least twice as much under the UN plan.

Beyond 1947, more historical distortion from CBBC:

There were other wars in 1956, 1967, 1973 and 1982 – and each time Israel gained more land.

In fact, lands acquired in 1956, 1973 and 1982 (Lebanon) have all since been fully returned, but this receives no mention in a section that paints Israeli history as one big land grab.

Finally, CBBC misrepresents the failings of the Oslo Accords and Camp David:

A new set of peace talks broke down in summer 2000 because the Israelis and Arabs could not agree on the future of Jerusalem – which both sides claim is their own capital. *

Kids should know that the breakdown at Camp David was not caused by disagreement over Jerusalem Dennis Ross concluded, “Chairman Arafat could not accept Camp David…because when the conflict ends, the cause that defines Arafat also ends.”

While CBBC is misleading British children, Knight Ridder is doing their part on the other side of the Atlantic…


On March 7, Knight Ridder (through their joint subsidiary with the Chicago Tribune) distributed to dozens of American newspapers a Sunday educational supplement called Kid News, inserted alongside the Sunday comics.

The lead article (see scanned version here) is an effort to explain the history and status of the Palestinian people to American children. But the very title “Where is ‘Palestine’?” presupposes the existence of an Arab state that has never existed. The distortion extends into the lead sentence:

Since the end of World War I, Arabs and Jews have disagreed over boundary lines in the area of the world that was ancient Palestine, with bloody and fatal results.

‘Ancient Palestine’ suggests today’s Palestinians merely want to return to an earlier, ‘ancient’ state, yet today’s Palestinians have no relation to the 2nd century Roman entity referred to here. (The article later acknowledges that “technically, Palestine is not a country,” leaving one wondering why they previously suggested is was.) Then Knight Ridder informs kids that this is “Why they are still fighting”:

The Palestinians are still pushing for an independent Arab nation of Palestine. Cease-fires have been declared over the years, but the fighting continues.

Hamas and Islamic Jihad are not ‘pushing for an independent Arab nation,’ but rather agitating for as many Jewish deaths as possible, as well as the complete destruction of Israel. As is, Israel comes off in this narrative as the cruel ‘denier’ of Palestinian independence, a faulty history lesson indeed.

In fact, terror groups (and their indoctrination of Palestinian children to ‘martyrdom’) do not appear at all in Knight Ridder’s overview of Palestinians, which includes two pictures of cute, young Palestinian schoolchildren. The American child reader is left wondering why these children’s lives are so difficult (if not for Israeli ‘stubbornness’), and is left uninformed of the culture of hate that inculcates them on a daily basis.

Finally, in describing Israel’s security fence, all of six words are granted in its defense, while the Palestinian position receives over seventy words, plus a emotive picture of an Arab farmer.

*  *  *

BBC and Knight Ridder have an important opportunity to produce materials for children to better understand the Mideast conflict. But by distorting the history of the region, ignoring the legacy of Arab rejection of Israel, denying the reason for peace failings, and omitting Palestinian terrorism, these news agencies do a great disservice not only to Israel, but to our young people, the decision-makers of tomorrow.

Comments to Children’s BBC : click here

Comments to Knight Ridder’s Kid News:
*UPDATE:In response to this HonestReporting communique, BBC has changed the wording in two sections of their CBBC Mideast primer: The lead page no longer claims that “Arab Muslims used to own the land Israel now controls,” but rather that “at the heart of the conflict is a dispute over land and borders.” And the “peace progress” page has eliminated the previous reference to Jerusalem as the source of the 2000 breakdown.

Thank you for your ongoing involvement in the battle against media bias.