BBC report on Intifada anniversary incomplete, unfair

Above: The article as it appeared today on the BBC’s website.

To BBC News Online (newsonline@bbc.co.uk)

Your story “Palestinians mark two years of intifada,” posted on September 28 contains the following passage:

“The intifada began after Ariel Sharon, then leader of the Israeli opposition, made a controversial visit to the Temple Mount in September 2000, a site sacred to both Jews and Muslims. Many Israelis say Mr Sharon’s visit was used by Palestinians as an excuse to resume violence. They accuse Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat of being determined to pursue violence after the collapse in July 2000 of the Camp David peace talks hosted by President Bill Clinton.”

[Source: Palestinians mark two years of intifada, BBC News Online, 28 September 2002]


It is unfortunate that the story only contains this distorted view of events, and fails to meet the usual BBC standards of fairness and completeness by including information about the Mitchell report as well as other evidence which wholly contradicts it.

The widespread protests that broke out following Mr. Sharon’s September 28 visit to the “Temple Mount,” in fact the Aqsa Mosque, were peaceful. Violence was introduced into the situation when Israeli soldiers and police shot dead at least four unarmed protesters on September 29.

The New York Times reported on 30 September 2000 that:

“Four Palestinians were killed at Haram al Sharif, known to Jews as Temple Mount, in a second day of rioting that began when Ariel Sharon, the rightist opposition leader, visited the Muslim compound on Thursday to assert Jewish claims to the site. Wearing full riot gear, Israeli police officers today stormed the Muslim area, where they rarely set foot, to disperse Palestinian youths who emerged from Friday prayer services to stone first a police post at the Moghrabi Gate and then Jewish worshipers at the Western Wall.”

“Dr. Khaled Qurei, director of the Makhased [sic: Maqassad] Hospital on the Mount of Olives, said the hospital had treated more than 150 men, women and youths, many of whom were wounded by rubber bullets and some by live ammunition. The Israeli police denied that live bullets had been used.”


Source: “Battle at Jerusalem Holy Site Leaves 4 Dead and 200 Hurt,” New York Times, 30 September 2000.

The New York Times report did not contain even an allegation by the Israelis that any Palestinian had used firearms. But Israel’s killing of unarmed protestors sparked wider protests throughout the occupied territories. Within weeks, dozens of Palestinians, almost all unarmed civilians, both inside Israel and in the occupied territories had been killed.

Despite the clear chronological order of the events, Israel and its supporters in the US media continue to maintain that Arafat and the Palestinian Authority launched the Intifada.

The high-profile investigative committee headed by former US Senator George Mitchell stated in its final report that:

“The [Government of Israel] asserts that the immediate catalyst for the violence was the breakdown of the Camp David negotiations on July 25, 2000 and the “widespread appreciation in the international community of Palestinian responsibility for the impasse.” In this view, Palestinian violence was planned by the PA leadership, and was aimed at “provoking and incurring Palestinian casualties as a means of regaining the diplomatic initiative.”

The report continued:
“In their submissions, the parties traded allegations about the motivation and degree of control exercised by the other. However, we were provided with no persuasive evidence that the Sharon visit was anything other than an internal political act; neither were we provided with persuasive evidence that the PA planned the uprising.”

“Accordingly, we have no basis on which to conclude that there was a deliberate plan by the PA to initiate a campaign of violence at the first opportunity; or to conclude that there was a deliberate plan by the GOI [Government of Israel] to respond with lethal force.”


Finally, the Mitchell committee agreed that:
“The Sharon visit did not cause the “Al-Aqsa Intifada.” But it was poorly timed and the provocative effect should have been foreseen; indeed it was foreseen by those who urged that the visit be prohibited. More significant were the events that followed: the decision of the Israeli police on September 29 to use lethal means against the Palestinian demonstrators; and the subsequent failure, as noted above, of either party to exercise restraint.”

So despite the Mitchell committee’s strenuous efforts to be “balanced” by trying to place blame on both sides, two things come through clearly: the PA did not intitiate the Intifada as the Israelis charge, and it was Israel’s lethal use of force which lit the match.

It is surprising that the BBC would quote baseless Israeli allegations in a report without providing any context for them, particularly the findings of the Mitchell report, which wholly contradict them. We look to the BBC for fairness, and I am certain this is merely a momentary lapse.

Sincerely,

Ali Abunimah