BBC screens “emotive” program on Jerusalem — seven months after pulling it

Seven months after it pulled a documentary questioning the scale of the Jewish exile from Jerusalem in 70AD, the BBC is preparing to show the same documentary this Sunday — followed by a discussion program to add “context and balance.”

Jerusalem: An Archeological Mystery Story was originally scheduled for broadcast on BBC Four on  25 April. However, when viewers settled down to watch it, they found themselves watching a repeat program on Egypt instead.

The Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC) wrote to the BBC to ask why the documentary had been pulled at the last minute, and without warning.

The BBC replied, saying: “We originally acquired Jerusalem: An Archeological Mystery Story to supplement BBC Four’s season exploring the history of archeology. However, we have decided that it doesn’t fit editorially and are no longer planning to show it as part of the season.”


This claim was disputed by the documentary-maker himself, Ilan Ziv, who wrote on his blog that “a mixture of incompetence, political naivete [and] conscious or subconscious political pressure” at the BBC had led to his film being dropped.

Ziv also explained how BBC executives had wanted to make substantial cuts to the film, including removing one scene about the Palestinians which, he wrote, was deemed “too emotive” by an internal BBC review.

Six organizations, including the PSC, Middle East Monitor, Friends of Al Aqsa and Jews for Justice for Palestinians, wrote an open letter to the BBC’s director general, Tony Hall, in June, in which they questioned the broadcaster’s reasons for discarding the documentary.

“Context and balance”

The letter concluded: “We write to ask if a reason can be provided for removing Jerusalem from the BBC’s schedule that can disprove the reasons given by Mr. Ziv.”

No reason that countered Ziv’s claims was ever provided. However, the PSC was informed that the film would be shown in November with an accompanying discussion program to give “context and balance.”

Today, the PSC received an email from the BBC with details of the film’s broadcast on Sunday. The documentary has been renamed Searching for Exile: Truth or Myth? and will be shown at 9pm (UK time) on BBC Four.

The email says the film “explores the historical and archeological evidence for the exile of the Jews.”

The email adds: “It will then be followed at 10pm by a debate chaired by Ed Stourton featuring the filmmaker and leading historians discussing the implications of the film for our understanding of the exile of the Jews.”

There is no further information on who the “leading historians” will be, or whether the documentary has been edited in any way, such as cutting the scene about Palestinians which was originally considered “too emotive.”

All those who have been putting pressure on the BBC for more than half a year on this issue will be watching carefully to find out.


Amena Saleem

Amena Saleem's picture

Amena Saleem is a journalist and activist. She has twice driven on convoys to Gaza and spent seven years working for Palestine Solidarity Campaign in the UK.