Sent: 03 April 2010 21:02:30
Dear Mr Cook,
Thank you for your comments regarding this line that we regularly use in our reports: “The settlements are considered illegal under international law, though Israel disputes this.”
On the most basic level, we use the word “disputed” because it is a simple statement of fact – Israel does actually dispute the contention of illegality. The Israeli government’s argument is outlined here http://www.mfa.gov.il/MFA/Peace+Process/Guide+to+the+Peace+Process/Israeli+Settlements+and+International+Law.htm
While the international is clear on the issue, this opinion comes from an interpretation of treaties and conventions. No court has actually sat and ruled definitively that Israeli settlements are illegal. The International Court of Justice ruling on the West Bank barrier would certainly support the contention that settlements are illegal and that the West Bank is occupied territory as defined by the Geneva convention, but this was an advisory ruling and does not carry the force or weight of law.
So we believe that is fair and reasonable to characterise the issue in the way we have.
The arguments around this issue are considered in detail in this report, commissioned by the BBC Governors:
Thanks and best regards,
Middle East desk
BBC News website
Thanks for your reply.
You first offer that you are simply stating a fact which prevails. In other stories, however, the BBC does not state that a different view is held.
Eg. in this story:
You do not state that armed reprisals are illegal under international law yet they are, or that Israel disputes it. Similarly the munitions used by the Israeli armed forces, torture in Israeli jails etc. You do not use that phrase or similar at the end of those stories, only in the settlement stories.
Using the phrase as you do seems to give the state of Israel an undue level of credibility for it's claim that that the settlements are legal. The international community is clear that they are not, and that the other policies / tactics mentioned above are not. The Israeli state website you offered me is mere propaganda by the guilty party, and in no way stands up to scrutiny. Of course it cannot stand up since it declares the illegal to be legal. Such theory is not therefore enough to justify including the statement "though Israel disputes this" at the end of your settlement stories.
'Revisionist historians' and fascist/Nazi sympathisers dispute that the Holocaust took place, and yet you would not feel it justifiable to indicate their views at the end of Holocaust-related materials, I'm sure.
You then contradict yourself by outlining the case that there is no such thing as international law.
You state that the relevant rulings are advisory and do not carry the force of law. If this is the case, why do you state that the settlements are "illegal under international law" in the first part of the phrase that I am objecting to? Clearly the international community is clear, the UN which has supreme responsibility is clear, and the BBC have quoted it after every settlement story I can remember, so the BBC is obviously also clear that international law exists and the settlements are illegal under it.
Finally the report commissioned by BBC governors which you imply is your guidance on the matter has been discussed by Arab Media Watch I note:
They are happy with Lubell's advice that the settlements be described as " illegal settlements ", and recommend that their illegal nature be stressed. The report is also very clear, in that it's last word on the settlements is:
The vast majority of opinion holds that the establishment of the settlements is indeed a
violation of the 4th Geneva Convention. This is the view expressed not only by leading
commentators (including Israelis), but also by other states (including allies of Israel), the UN
Security Council, and the International Court of Justice. The Security Council has clearly
“[…]that Israel's policy and practices of settling parts of its population and new
immigrants in those territories constitute a flagrant violation of the Fourth Geneva
Convention relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War and also
constitute a serious obstruction to achieving a comprehensive, just and lasting peace in
the Middle East”
There is no mention of any need to describe the way the state of Israel reacts to the claim that the settlements are illegal. Why then does the BBC insist on using this phrase / summing up technique in this circumstance? This one alone? When something is illegal it is criminal, and there is no reason to oppose the opinion of a tiny criminal minority against the judgement not merely of the injured party but of the vast majority of the rest of the world and the relevant bodies, ie the only bodies whose job it is to judge the matter.
I repeat my demand that the BBC stops saying: "though Israel disputes this" at the end of stories relating to the settlements. I would be very happy if the sentence merely read " The settlements are illegal under international law."
No reply to my email below so far.
The BBC is still using the phrase:
"Jewish settlements in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, are illegal under international law, though Israel disputes this. "
eg. here: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/middle_east/8634754.stm
I take it that since you are unable or unwilling to further defend its use, you are putting measures in place to ensure it will not be used from now on?
Sent: 11 May 2010 10:16:00
Dear Mr Cook,
Thank you for your further email on the issue of the illegality of the settlements.
The reason we feel it is correct to say the “settlements are illegal” is, to quote Lubell’s advice, “the vast majority of opinion holds that the establishment of the settlements is indeed a violation of the 4th Geneva Convention”.
We are not judging the credibility of Israel’s argument, but recognising that there is an argument.
Clearly, you remain unsatisfied with our response, it is open to you to address your complaint to the BBC Editorial Complaints Unit: email@example.com or Room 5170, White City, 201 Wood Lane, London W12 7TS.
Middle East Desk
BBC News website