Sunday, 29 November 2009

BBC: Israeli settlements are a) legal b) illegal c) considered illegal?

Dear BBC,

I am writing to you to criticise and complain about the ambiguous wording you use, sometimes but not always, to describe the illegality of Israel's settlements in the Palestinian territories. Before I give you examples, let me thank you for your many articles that simply say settlements "are illegal".


1. "The settlements... are deemed to be illegal under international law, although Israel disputes this"

Google Search: "settlements "deemed illegal""
118 results

2. "Jewish settlements in the West bank, including East Jerusalem, are considered illegal under international law, though Israel disputes this"

Google Search: "settlements "considered illegal""
203 results

It seems to me and many others, the use of words like 'deemed illegal', or 'considered illegal', only confuses the situation. This wording leaves it open in the readers' minds the extent to which the legal status is argued. You wouldn't write, "Rape is deemed to be illegal" or "Rape is considered to be illegal", would you?

You say on your page,

"The United States has in the past called the settlements illegal, but has more recently used milder language, at least in public."

Is it possible this "milder language" is rubbing off on the BBC?

You start this article,
"It is widely accepted that under international law, the Jewish settlements in the Palestinian territories occupied by Israel are illegal"

Widely accepted? Again, to use an analogy, it is widely accepted that rape is illegal. By using the words, "widely accepted" - the inference one draws is a sizeable split of opinion on the matter when actually it is the international community, UN, EU and human rights and aid organisation's opinion, backed up by law and UNSC resolutions versus that of just some in Israel.

Please can you instruct your writers and presenters to stop including words that complicate, confuse or obfuscate the matter?

I would like a reply,

Best wishes,

Update: April 2010 - BBC Reply

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.” I am sorry that we did not reply to your previous email.

We are dropping the use of the word “considered” in this context. The international law is clear on this matter, as the UN secretary general stated recently.


The arguments around the issue of the legality of the settlements are addressed in detail in a report commissioned by the BBC governors a few years ago

Thanks and best regards,

Tarik Kafala
Middle East editor
BBC News website

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