BBC's "Jenin–massacre" that never was
Israeli-Palestinian Impartiality Review
20 November 2005
BBC Governance Unit
Room 211, 35 Marylebone High Street
London, W1U 4AA
By Air Mail and e-mail
To: Sir Quentin Thomas
and the select Panel for the BBC Israeli-Palestinian Impartiality Review
Sub: Take-A-Pen's Submission I: On the BBC coverage of the battle of Jenin -
The "massacre" that never was but is believed until today
We, Take-A-Pen, are a volunteer international and multilingual organisation, or rather an internet network, founded in 2000 with the purpose that we and our readers around the world counter with truth the widespread inaccuracies, misinformation and propaganda about Israel and about the Arab-Israeli conflict, by writing letters or otherwise.
We appreciate this opportunity to submit our remarks and complaints about the BBC News and political commentary practices to the Select Panel for an independent review. We do trust that this review will be impartial and independent. For this good reason, however, we have to request your more spacious attention and patience to our say. We intend to submit more than one contribution, incl. re-submitting such previous complaints which remained untreated by the BBC and are valid until this day.
Our last apology in advance is for that that we shall not limit our comments to single factual errors, word counts, issues of wordings and arguments about single cases of bias. We'll take the liberty to arise more complex and painful issues (of course supported by individual facts and figures) like: whether or not certain BBC News consistent practices have come close or maybe even crossed the borderlines of legitimacy.
Our first such major issue in this Submission-I below is on the BBC News' coverage of the Battle of Jenin in April 2002 and on until today, which spread many times the false 'news' and 'data' on the 'Jenin massacre' - that never was. We submit this case now because the terrible damage and pain this libel caused has never been properly undone and the'massacre' libel sticks on Israel until today, November 2005.
In August 2005 I submitted a formal complaint with similar content regarding Jenin to BBC News editor Ms Helen Boaden. That complaint received an absolutely unacceptable treatment, including legal threats to me. On this case we'll tell in our separate Submission-II in the context of the BBC's Complaint Procedure. Regarding Jenin we request that you review this present updated Submission I, and not that previous complaint.
1.1 The facts of our complaint on the BBC News coverage of the Jenin Battle
The infamous case of Jenin started in March 2002. In this one single month 16 Palestinian terror bombings and other acts targeted and deliberately killed 102 Israeli civilians. For most of the killings Palestinian organizations sitting in Jenin proudly took responsibility. In the next month, on 3d April the IDF - Israeli Defence Forces - entered the city of Jenin, as part of 'Operation Defensive Shield', to capture the perpetrators.
Since the first day of this operation the BBC radio and TV news and special reports "informed" the world on the "Israeli massacre" of the Palestinian civilian population of Jenin in at least half-hourly sensational reports. The BBC News and World Service gave the microphone to and quoted unchallenged the Palestinian Authority spokesman, Saeb Erekat and other Arab sources to talk on an 'Israeli massacre', starting with "data" of 3000 and switching later to 500 or 520 Palestinian civilian casualties. The BBC broadcasted very intensively the big story of the Israeli 'massacre' of Palestinian civilians, through reports, unchallenged quotations and renewing reminders. False allegations of massacre and false data were actively repeated literally thousands of times (see data later), at least until 29.10.2002, their traces and repetitions by others are on the net until now, November 2005.
The BBC mentioned rarely and then downplayed or even ridiculed the dry official Israeli statements - which came of course somewhat late, because a democracy can not speak without fact-finding done before - on '52 Palestinians dead; 5 women, one child and 46 adult males mostly wanted terrorists'.
By mid-April most major media organs, i.a. AP, CNN or the Washington Post, found out that the Palestinian statements on a massacre in Jenin were unfounded and therefore stopped the 'massacre' story. Not so the BBC.
On 1 August 2002 a UN Report showed that the Israeli figures were right; it said that 52 Palestinians had been killed in Jenin, the majority was proven as gunmen, and former Palestinian reports about 500 civilians killed - were not true. **
(**The Report of the Secretary-General prepared pursuant to General Assembly resolution ES-10/10 - 2002 [ http://www.un.org/peace/jenin/index.html Paragraph 56] says [quote] " Fifty-two Palestinian deaths had been confirmed by the hospital in Jenin by the end of May 2002. IDF also place the death toll at approximately 52. A senior Palestinian Authority official alleged in mid-April that some 500 were killed, a figure that has not been substantiated in the light of the evidence that has emerged." [unquote] )
The exact figure of civilians out of the 52 dead was more difficult to prove. The Israelis claimed 7 Palestinian civilian casualties. The Palestinians claimed twenty, however admitted that most of their dead had been fighters and took pride in killing 23 Israeli soldiers in the battle of Jenin. Israel paid the life of these 23 soldiers for doing a surgical land operation instead of air strikes in order to save the life of Palestinian civilians who were routinely used as human shield by Palestinian gunmen***. (***Quoting the UN Report: "Much of the fighting during Operation Defensive Shield occurred in areas heavily populated by civilians, in large part because the armed Palestinian groups sought by IDF placed their combatants and installations among civilians. Palestinian groups are alleged to have widely booby-trapped civilian homes...")
So the 'Israeli massacre' story turned out to be a straightforward lie unwittingly but very effectively served by the BBC - but the BBC has never admitted it so clearly. It never condemned Saeb Erekat and other Palestinian spokespersons involved as unreliable sources if not simply as barefaced liars. No BBC reporter or editor ever publicly apologised or corrected the shamefully inaccurate story or has subsequently been disciplined for uncritically and unprofessionally disseminating a version of events which rapidly became apparent as a tissue of lies designed as anti-Israel propaganda. In fact the Director of BBC News on whose watch this happened, Mr Richard Sambrook , has since been promoted. A crucial question is how many times and how long did the BBC spread the false and libellous story of the 'massacre'? To the 'how many times' question a simple Google search (with all the words: "BBC" "Israel" "Jenin" "massacre" "2002") finds 57000 (!) items. Many thousands of these are relevant evidences. We have not had the resources to fully analyse this amazing amount of evidences within the limited time until submission, however even a first screening illustrates safely that after the deduction of less relevant entries and duplicities there are still thousands of evidences on hundreds of false and defamatory BBC publications libelling Israel with the 'Jenin massacre' instead of relating to the Jenin battle. See a few examples here*.
(*The first - that is the most popular- Google item is BBC's "Jenin 'massacre evidence growing."
Another most quoted libellous BBC title is: "Expert weighs up Jenin 'massacre' " - we'll discuss this one later. The BBC News title on 4 May 2002 is: "Arabs press UN over Jenin 'massacre'."
And this is what the BBC News article "Palestinians reject UN's Jenin findings" says even on the day of the release of the UN Report on 1August(!):- (quote) "Palestinian officials have rejected a United Nations report on Israel's assault on a West Bank refugee camp, after it said it found no evidence that Israeli troops had committed a massacre there. Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said mass killings of civilians had "clearly happened" when Israel attacked the Jenin camp in April, calling Israel's actions a "war crime". "This is a war crime and crimes against humanity also took place " " (unquote). The BBC did not challenge again the by then proven liar Saeb Erekat.
Another example of the massacre libel as late as 29 October we'll discuss later.
Further there are thousands of external items leaning on false BBC info. Thousands of Palestinian website and other statements spoke on the 'Jenin massacre' quoting BBC libels, from the articles above or elsewhere.)
How long? Though in May some dry and downplayed BBC denials of the 'massacre' started to come, BBC's false and defamatory quotations, commentaries and reminders about the "Jenin massacre" also continued at least until 29 October, 2002. We have seen above what the BBC News wrote on 1 August in the article "Palestinians reject UN's Jenin findings". On 29 October, 2002, the BBC News web article "Arrest call for Israeli ex-army chief" wrote this: "He directed some of Israel's most controversial military operations in the West Bank earlier this year, including Jenin - where Palestinians claim a massacre took place". After complaints by Honestreporting, the BBC had to change the sentence twice to reach its still hostile but not totally false wording one can see today on the web.
The BBC did this 3 months after the UN Report (1 August) or 6 months after CNN, AP or the Washington Post found out the lies. Or exactly 6 months after when on April 29 British military expert David Holley, returning from his official audit in Jenin, told to the BBC itself that : "There was not a massacre in Jenin. 54 dead bodies were found." !
An interesting sub-study is to analyse the BBC's misleading and libellous title even for this fact-finding article with David Holley. The title was: "Expert weighs up Jenin 'massacre' ". As if there was a massacre. The capture under the top photo is: "Palestinians say there was a massacre in Jenin". Again, as if there was a massacre. Could it be a mistake made by chance? Probably not; the BBC knows better than myself that 70% of the readers never see more than the title and the photo with the capture. Now, how many readers, does the Select Panel believe, understood that the title and the capture were misleading and the '...' sign should have meant that the 'massacre' term was probably untrue? What percentage of the readers, you believe, have read and perceived the truth written in small letters much later, where the British expert said clearly: "There was not a massacre in Jenin"? Thus, the BBC actually conveyed the blood libel of the 'massacre' to many readers even with that very article which should have cleansed the previous misinformation! We found the BBC quoting this title - libellous in itself - as late as in November 2002!
The question arises who did this cunning editing manipulation and where is he or she today? Similar couvert misleading defamatory misinformation by the BBC can be documented in the hundreds. Practically each and every report by Ms Orla Guerin or Ms Barbara Plett mentioning Jenin contained this type of defamatory slant against Israel.
A possible line of defense might be that the origins and the sources of false information were in the main not BBC journalists themselves but rather overzealous Palestinian or other anti-Israel activists quoted by the BBC. However, as the BBC lawyers have taught me in several legal threats that they have made to me; when you quote and repeat false and libellous statements of doubtful sources verbatim and unchallenged, it leaves the whole responsibility for the quoted libels on yourself. The BBC therefore is fully responsible for all the falsehoods about Jenin that it has repeated and disseminated.
Among the many further anti-Israeli BBC News slants about Jenin we would mention one more case only, where the source was within the BBC itself. The BBC's young reporter personally 'testified' on the TV screen from the spot of the Jenin battle pointing at a manmade heap under his feet where he said the massacred hundreds of Palestinian corpses were 'allegedly' bulldozed by the IDF. He reckoned he could smell the rotting corpses. One may believe he smelled them, but how could he have known their number? The BBC News article of 22 April "UN names Jenin inquiry team" contains on six occasions again the 'massacre' allegations including three times the 'smell of the rotting corpses'. The BBC 'proved' this with a photo where 3 Palestinians cover their nose and make faces towards the lens like schoolboys do in a practical joke. Only this time it was no joke. The BBC News had recruited one more sense, the closest one to our subconscious, to hammer through the massacre libel.
In summary of the facts the BBC reported, in thousands of broadcasts, TV and text news, to hundreds of million people around the world, the false 'news' and 'data', which Palestinian fantasists invented out of thin air, namely that there had been a massacre by Israeli troops in Jenin in which hundreds of Palestinian civilians were deliberately killed. The BBC continued it despite the fact that the truth had already been documented that 52 Palestinians, mostly fighters (and 5 women and one child) were killed, in an Israeli pinpoint hand operation instead of air strikes in order to minimise Palestinian civilian casualties. 23 Israeli soldiers gave their lives for this.
1.2 The effects of the 'Jenin Massacre' libel
The BBC News reporting on the Jenin battle was a blunt distortion of the truth and has done enormous damage. Considering the amazing amount of repetition of the BBC's false and defamatory statements, in 43 languages, to hundreds of million people, it is no wonder that this libel stuck very strong on its victim. It is not an exaggaration to say that If there was any massacre in Jenin - it was the massacre of the truth by the BBC News.
The question arises, whether the BBC's false and defamatory coverage on a massacre that never happened, repeated long after the falsity was already widely known, and never proportionally corrected, may or may not be perceived as a blood-libel against Israel?
I have personally experienced in many encounters that the BBC's coverage on the Jenin battle and the 'massacre' libel have left a horrible stain on Israelis. I have met, heard or read of many people from all over the world and from all walks of life; professors and men in the street, Christians, Muslims, Jews or secular, haters or lovers-once of Israel, naïve laymen or seemingly seasoned politicians like a Ken Livingstone or the Deputy Head of the Danish Parliament, who became convinced, misled by the false reporting on the 'massacre' in Jenin lead by BBC News, that Israel had committed something close to a genocide. The blood libel has worked only too well.
So to me it seems clear that a horrible blood-libel was very effectively disseminated by the largest news organization on earth against the Israeli army and against the Israeli people.
I believe that the BBC News' false and libellous coverage on Jenin has significantly contributed to the climate of opinion in the UK and elsewhere today that tolerates the deliberate killing of children, women and men - provided that they are Israeli Jews. I have never assumed that the BBC wanted to achieve these awful consequences but I am afraid that in fact it has done so.
1.3 Possible Solution - 'Correction Beyond Admitting Mistakes'
Even after the BBC's terrible mistakes became known beyond doubt, it has never made a proportionally large effort to correct the tremendous hatred against Israel what the misreporting of 'massacre' sowed amongst Palestinians as well as in the UK and in the whole world. The BBC has, until this day, never seriously apologized and made an honest effort to cleanse the blood libel it had unwittingly but so effectively spread.
However, we don't intend to dwell on past complaints. The question is what is a fair and practical solution now? How could the BBC honestly sooth the unhealed wounds of the 'Jenin massacre' libel? We believe that for an effective healing process now:
(1) You can re-assess whether the BBC really did spread false news and data, libellous about Israel; and whether it has really failed until now to clean and heal the wounds it caused. Should you find this complaint to be justified, as I believe it to be, then:
(2) The BBC should publicly admit responsibility. In addition to this and beyond mere admission, the BBC should actively repair the damage to which it has contributed. It can be done for example by a new series of TV and radio broadcasts telling the truth about Israel and specifically on the Jenin battle and on how the original BBC misinformation happened. How and why the BBC serve the terror's propaganda machinery on this issue unchecked, and for so long. This series should convey the truth to all who had been misled, and repeat it again and again - at least thrice as many times as the BBC broadcasted the untrue accusations earlier. Because it takes much more to rebuild a good name than it takes to destroy one.
(3) We do believe that the corporation is at a cross-road in its history and has to do its best to restore public confidence. With the above 'Correction Beyond Admitting Mistakes' approach the BBC could commendably create a revitalised high standard of impartiality and morality for the global media. After a major blunder one has to admit the error, and then not stop at admitting responsibility, but continue to actively repair to the largest extent possible the damage that has been done.
When this is done by the BBC with regard to Jenin we'll be only happy to see the BBC emerging again as the global standard-bearer of moral and responsible journalism.
(4) The BBC should find out how its biased and untruthful Jenin reporting blunder happened - and make the procedural and personal changes required in order to ensure that something like this never happens again.
BBC KNOWS THE TRUTH: SUICIDE BOMBINGS ARE TERROR but usually prefers not to tell this truth loudly.
** BBC Analysis: Palestinian suicide attacks **
Palestinian suicide attacks aim to kill and injure as many people as possible, and create the greatest amount of fear.