Yolande Knell has taken sides. In Knell’s eyes, and in the eyes of most of the BBC’s Middle East staff, Israel’s existence automatically places it in the wrong.
An unpleasant article in the Independent by Christina Patterson drifted into stormy waters not so long ago because it characterised London’s Jews as boorish freaks. She managed to dig herself even deeper in a follow-up article entitled “How I was smeared as an antisemite”.
Well, I’ve had a look at Yolande Knell’s output, and as far as impartiality is concerned, she also sails close to the wind. But she represents the BBC, which Patterson does not.
Every one of Knell’s pieces is angled from the Palestinian / Arab perspective.
For example on 26th August, a vehicle for showcasing the tally of militants killed by Israel appeared, entitled “Militant Groups in Gaza Agree to a second Israel Truce’.
On 8th September, ‘Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood faces fresh political fight’ arrived. It portrays the Muslim Brotherhood as a relatively moderate group who have disavowed violence, and whose banner reads: “Freedom and Justice Party”
On 15th September along came “West bank residents split on Palestinian Statehood bid.” The split is echoed in the article’s two contrasting halves. The first predicts the paradise that will emerge from the forthcoming transformation, ‘when the international community will recognise our rights.’
“In the city it is easy to imagine what a future Palestinian state might look like. Palestinian police officers direct traffic on the newly cleaned streets and the shops and restaurants are packed. It lends a sense of relative prosperity and security.” Yolande Knell has turned into Maeve Binchy!
In part two, the mood changes. She descends sharply into misery memoir mode and the rhetoric is ramped up to full death-Knell.
“It is hard to imagine a Palestinian state here. “We’re under occupation until now and you speak about a state?” says Zayd, a Beduin. “The Israeli army is everywhere here and the settlers are everywhere – they’re armed and they cause a lot of problems and you speak about a state?” Unadulterated pathos and bitterness, with an undercurrent of belligerence. Orla, eat your heart out.
Now for the Patterson parallel. When she composed her ‘Judaisation of Jerusalem’ (Israel-Palestinian conflict writ large etc) article on August 17th, Yolande Knell didn’t feel any need to conceal her aversion to Jews. Her assumption was clear. Empathy with the Palestinian cause is a given, therefore entirely outside the scope of the impartiality conundrum. She took it for granted that the reader would accept that the stereotypical Jew is ‘over familiar’ – “swaggering” Jeremy Bowen might say. Her friendship with a high-profile Palestinian activist seems almost a boast, as does her mischievous urge to ridicule her young Jewish fellow-passenger’s preference for using the Hebrew name for Jerusalem by expressing her personal preference for the Arabic one.
“Land may be at the heart of the P/I conflict” she opines, ignoring what everyone knows deep down, but chooses to ignore, that really, Palestinian rejectionism is at its heart. The possibility that signage in Jerusalem will display “the transliterations of Hebrew names of cities”, the ‘Judaisation of Jerusalem’ hints, for Knell and her friends, at a cunning plan which threatens the Palestinians’ struggle.
After Benjamin Netanyahu’s terrific speech at the UN, where he compares the incongruity of this concept with the ‘Americanisation of Washington’, I needn’t elaborate on the ignorance and bias inherent Knell’s piece.
Drawing attention to place-names brings to mind the Palestinians’ deeply unpleasant habit of naming their streets and towns after terrorists, but such things don’t interest Knell. She recounts the conjecture posited by her friend Huda, the ‘well-known, energetic Palestinian activist’, that the Israelis are erasing all traces of Palestinian identity. Israel’s opponents frequently project their own foibles and conspiracy theories onto their enemy; the more ludicrous and malevolent the better. And as erasing traces of Jewish history and identity is exactly what Arab historians and archaeologists persist in doing themselves, Huda’s theory looks like a choice example of that psychological condition.
“The biggest problems arise in East Jerusalem – which was occupied by Israel in 1967 and is still a mainly Arab area – although Jewish settlers are fast moving in, taking over Palestinian homes”.
Knell slips that in almost casually, though she must be well aware that ‘taking over Palestinian homes’ is an incendiary statement, undoubtedly phrased, deliberately, to cause outrage, especially as she doesn’t explain how the occupation came about in 1967, and leaves the unwary reader with the impression that it was a random act of aggression by an expansionist, land-grabbing thieving entity. Which may well be what she herself believes.
So, if the BBC’s reporters are allowed to be as overtly anti Israel as Mr. Bowen and Ms. Knell, where are the overtly pro Israel ones? The impartiality in their genes evaporated and left the building long ago.