When I heard the trailer for Thursday’s FOOC announcing that we were to be treated to a tale from Israel by Yolande Knell I felt obliged to listen.
(I promptly forgot.) However, I listened later on iPlayer.
Kate Adie’s introduction was typical. In just a few words she managed to refer to the UN and the EU, and include one “Israel says” and one “bulldozed.”
At first glance, it might seem to any casual listener that Yolande Knell was making an admirable attempt to give a balanced account of this tale. After all, she tells of witnessing the eviction of an Israeli settlement “illegal under international law” and on the other hand mentions the proposed construction of several new ones. She speaks to some Israelis and some Palestinians to find out what they think.
The subtle difference between her approach to Israeli and Palestinian spokespersons is discernible to my twitching antennae, but that’s not the only problem we have with Yolande Knell, Kate Adie and the BBC.
In this particular essay she gives the impression that the settler family with the eight children and the American sounding name are religious fanatics who believe Palestine is theirs by God-given right.
This might well be exactly the case. It probably is; but bringing it up quite so explicitly in this report, while omitting any reference to the religious (Islamic) fanaticism that underpins the entire Israel/Palestine conflict seems crass, if not deliberately obstructive.
The issue of the legality / illegality of settlements is complex and convoluted. There are umpteen online resources available should anyone happen to be interested in finding out why “Israel disagrees” or “Israel disputes” that “settlements are illegal under international law” and on what legal precedents their argument is based, (the West Bank was annexed by Jordan 1948 - 1967)
Though routinely referred to nowadays as “Palestinian” land, at no point in history has Jerusalem or the West Bank been under Palestinian Arab sovereignty in any sense of the term. For several hundred years leading up to World War I, all of Israel, the Kingdom of Jordan, and the putative state of Palestine were merely provinces of the Ottoman Empire. After British-led Allied troops routed the Turks from the country in 1917-18, the League of Nations blessed Britain’s occupation with a document that gave the British conditional control granted under a mandate. It empowered Britain to facilitate the creation of a “Jewish National Home” while respecting the rights of the native Arab population. British Colonial Secretary Winston Churchill later partitioned the mandate in 1922 and gave the East Bank of the Jordan to his country’s Hashemite Arab allies, who created the Kingdom of Jordan there under British tutelage.
Following World War II, the League of Nations’ successor, the United Nations, voted in November 1947 to partition the remaining portion of the land into Arab and Jewish states. While the Jews accepted partition, the Arabs did not, and after the British decamped in May 1948, Jordan joined with four other Arab countries to invade the fledgling Jewish state on the first day of its existence. Though Israel survived the onslaught, the fighting left the Jordanians in control of what would come to be known as the West Bank as well as approximately half of Jerusalem, including the Old City. Those Jewish communities in the West Bank that had existed prior to the Arab invasion were demolished, as was the Jewish quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem.
After the cease-fire that ended Israel’s War of Independence in 1948, Jordan annexed both the West Bank and East Jerusalem. But, as was the case when Israel annexed those same parts of the ancient city that it would win back 19 years later, the world largely ignored this attempt to legitimize Jordan’s presence. Only Jordan’s allies Britain and Pakistan recognized its claims of sovereignty. After King Hussein’s disastrous decision to ally himself with Egypt’s Nasser during the prelude to June 1967, Jordan was evicted from the lands it had won in 1948.
This left open the question of the sovereign authority over the West Bank. The legal vacuum in which Israel operated in the West Bank after 1967 was exacerbated by Jordan’s subsequent stubborn refusal to engage in talks about the future of these territories. King Hussein was initially deterred from dealing with the issue by the three “no’s” of Khartoum. Soon enough, he was taught a real-world lesson by the Palestine Liberation Organization, which fomented a bloody civil war against him and his regime in 1970. With the open support of Israel, Hussein survived that threat to his throne, but his desire to reduce rather than enlarge the Palestinian population in his kingdom ultimately led him to disavow any further claim to the lands he had lost in 1967. Eventually, this stance was formalized on July 31, 1988.
.....but it seems that for ease of comprehension (or deception, whichever you prefer) the BBC has rounded the complexity up (or down) to the nearest slogan, in the same way one might round up or down some fiddly numerical figure in order to simplify it.
“That’ll do”, is roughly what they must have decided. “In order to simplify all that guff about ‘who originally owned (or did not) own the land’, we’ll call all settlements illegal, and say that they are illegally built on ‘Palestinian land’.”
What exactly is meant by “Palestinian land” when uttered by the BBC is unclear, but it obviously sounds good enough to reinforce the dumbed-down concept of ‘stolen land’.
Knell repeats the generalised Palestinian view that the removal of this outpost shows how hard it would be to take away other much larger Israeli settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, but her earlier description of the homes, (flimsy) coupled with the relative ease with which the evacuation appears to have been executed belies this message. As for “land they want for their state”, well, the operative word here is “want”.
It’s when she reports her favourite falafel shop that the difference is most marked. The descriptive adjectives she uses to describe her Palestinian interviewees verge on the affectionate.
Anyone would think that the Israelis are the religious fundamentalists and the Palestinians are rational, personable and hard-done-by. Not a single reference to Hamas or Islam, Jew-hatred or terrorism, none of which play any part in Knell-world.
Craig has kindly supplied the following transcription, which is over the page.
KATE ADIE: The building of settler homes in Israel continues to be condemned by Palestinians, as well as many countries across the world. Downing Street said that Theresa May reiterated the UK's opposition to settlement activity when she met Israel's prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu on Monday.
A controversial law passed by the Israeli parliament to retroactively approve Jewish settlements built illegally on Palestinian private land has also been criticised by the United Nations and the European Union, with the EU warning it would lead to a perpetual conflict.
Israel says the Palestinians would receive compensation or get alternative land, but last week one Jewish settlement was cleared and bulldozed. Yolande Knell was there.
YOLANDE KNELL: On a windy hilltop in the West Bank under a blue cloudless sky I saw bulldozers crushing flimsy dwellings in Amona, where some 40 Israeli families living until last week.
On evacuation day much of the Israeli press pack toiled up the grassy slope to watch hundreds of police clearing the site. Three years after the Israeli High Court ruled the outpost was illegally built on private Palestinian land some residents left tearfully and quietly. Others were dragged away, shrieking abuse. Some people told us they'd moved here from the mid 90s onwards believing God had promised the whole area to the Jewish people.
"We're in great pain. It's a sin against God, against humanity", said a father of eight, Eli Greenberg, sticking his head out of the window as he was barricaded inside his home. He lamented the action was being taken just as Donald Trump had come into office. "We're now with the most favourable president for Israel," Mr Greenberg said.
From the edge of a neighbouring village a Palestinian farmer, Ibrahim Yaqoob, watched Amona being cleared. After a long legal battle he hopes to take his teenage children back to see a plot which he says was worked by least five generations of their family. "We lost our land to the settlers the 20 years", he says. "It was our main source of food and income."
But while Palestinians generally welcomed the removal of this outpost, which was built without Israeli government approval, many are discouraged. They say it's shown how hard it would be to take away other much larger Israeli settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem - land they want for their state.
All settlements are seen as illegal under international law, but Israel disagrees, and the new US administration has taken a much softer stance on the issue, emboldening Israel's government to take new steps. Plans have been announced for thousands of new settlement homes. A new Israeli law has been passed which is meant to retrospectively legalise thousands more, already built, like Amona, on private Palestinian land.
Away from the political fray I'm curious to know what ordinary Israelis think. A new survey indicates they're divided. Half believe it's unwise to expand settlement building now, while just under half take the opposite view.
Out for a stroll in West Jerusalem I meet Yael pushing a pram with her newborn baby. She's cautious about what America's new president means for Israel. "It's very hard to predict what he'll do. His actions can change very quickly", she comments.
She's sensitive to the recent build-up of international criticism, particularly at the United Nations. "It shoves us into a corner and just leads to more extreme announcements", she says.
Hadassah leaving the supermarket with her little daughter is British Israeli, so I ask her about the meeting between Theresa May and Israel's prime minister, which brought up trade and settlements.
"Friendly approaches always work best", she says. "I believe in talking. It was really disappointing at the UN Security Council last year", she goes on, pointing out Britain's backing for a resolution which called for an immediate halt to settlement building. "We'd like more support from countries that share our values".
In search of a snack and keen to sample Palestinian views, I drive a short distance to the West Bank, reaching Bethlehem via an Israeli checkpoint. Photographs on the wall of my favourite falafel shop show the former prime minister David Cameron eating here during an official visit. "We were surprised when the British supported the UN Security Council resolution", says a local businessmen, drinking dark Arabic coffee. "But then a few weeks later you didn't back the Paris peace conference", he adds, referring to the French summit at which over 70 countries reiterated support for the two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. "My feeling", he goes on, "is that the British will do nothing to upset the Trump administration. "They'll just accept the Israeli attitude".
Assem, munching a falafel sandwich, is alarmed by the expansion of settlements. "They eat up our land. And look how many Israeli checkpoints and settler roads they are", he says. When I ask if he believes there'll be a Palestinian state he's dismissive. "We're in a weak position. We're not deciding our future."
Donald Trump says he wants to see peace here but hasn't yet spelled out how. Polls suggest most Palestinians and Israelis support a deal that would see them living separately in two states, but both sides see that possibility fading. Increasingly they mistrust each other and outside influences.