Palestinian National Orchestra and BBC's historical illiteracy

By raycook
January 4, 2011

I had to read a BBC News article twice recently; not something I would recommend.

The subject was 'Palestinian orchestra to hold debut concert in Ramallah'.

Great. I'm all for culture and it's good to see what must be essentially a Muslim orchestra playing western music.

The article shows us orchestra members including a woman in a hijab. So far so good.

Then the jaw-dropping bit:

The first Palestinian orchestra of professional classical musicians since 1948 is due to perform its debut concert in Ramallah in the West Bank.

BBC's emphasis.

Hang on a minute. When did the Palestinians ever have an orchestra before? The idea of a separate Palestinian state only took of with the creation of the PLO in 1964. Between 1948 and 1967 the West Bank and Gaza were occuped by Jordan and Egypt.

What's this '1948' business?

Then it dawned on me. 1948 was the year that the State of Israel was declared. It was the year the British Mandate for Palestine ended. Palestine ceased to exist as a political entity. It had never been a country. Ever.

The Palestinians the writer of the article refers to were the Jews of Mandate Palestine who formed the Palestine Orchestra in 1936. In Hebrew it wasn't even called that, it was the Symphony Orchestra of the Land of Israel. In 1948 it became the Israeli Philharmonic.

So let's see what the article is saying. It is saying that those who call themselves Palestinians today are somehow connected with the Palestinians of 1948 and before. It suggests that this orchestra is a reincarnation of that pre-1948 Jewish orchestra. Of course, it is not. It is a new thing. The old Palestine Orchestra still exists, it was just renamed.

Does the writer know this? Surely he/she must. Does the editor who let it published know all this? Surely he/she does.

It's as if Israel has been airbrushed out. It's as if in the minds of the BBC news editors this version of Palestine, the one that wishes to destroy Israel, is somehow a legitimate heir to the one which 'disappeared' in 1948. It's as if this new orchestra replaces that old one.

This whole article is a subtle example of the way Israel is delegitimised and how the putative 'Palestine' is legitimised.

It's a kind of coup de theatre. It's historical illiteracy.

But that's not all. There is a nice piece of editorialising thrown in for good measure.

The programme also consists of a piece by the modern Hungarian Jewish composer, Gyorgy Ligeti, both of whose parents were sent to Auschwitz.

And the point is? Surely, it's to show what a peace-loving lot the orchestra is and how they are so open-minded that they will play Jewish music. I'm sure that's true.

It also tries to tell us that the Palestinians who are represented by this orchestra have deliberately chosen Ligeti because his parents died at Auschwitz.

Yet this orchestra grew from the Edward Said Conservatory. Said was well known for his work with Israeli musician Daniel Barenboim in creating an orchestra of Israelis and Palestinians to promote the noble cause of peace through music.

What the article fails to tell us, of course, is that this wonderfully tolerant group of Palestinians are completely atypical of the usual anti-Semitic filth vented by the Palestinian media daily.

The article doesn't tell us about the Palestinian Youth orchestra that was closed down in 2009 because it dared play in front of Holocaust victims, thereby accepting that there are Holocaust victims and, therefore, a Holocaust.

I wrote about this here.

Here's a snippet:

Fatah-linked community leaders in the PA-controlled city of Jenin slammed the participation of 13 young local musicians aged 11 to 18 in a "Good Deeds Day," held at the Holocaust Survivor's Center in Holon.
The PA politicians made a point of using the issue of the young musicians' performance as a platform upon which to launch a diatribe against participation in any integrative activity with Jewish Israelis.

Any decent and knowledgeable journalist would know this and would have pointed it out.

The whole BBC article is typical of the way inaccurate and decontextualised reporting serves Israel's enemies, even if this is not the intent of the journalist.

It's simply shameful.

Update from

IDF reporters uniform were 'ejected' from a concert in Haifa where this orchestra were performing.

Let me reiterate that: Israeli soldiers in an Israeli city were ejected because they were wearing uniform.

Can you imagine that happening in the UK? British soldiers thrown out of a BBC Prom because it might upset someone who doesn't like the UK's Afghanistan policy?

We find in this story that the organisers were the Mossawa Center for Arab Civil Rights who are supported by the New Israel Fund.

<40 Palestinian National Orchestra musicians arrived at the Kreiger Hall in Haifa before an Israeli audience, but when posed questions by the IDF Radio reporters, they refused the uniformed IDF soldiers, even though they were simply reporters for IDF radio.

... the director of the Mossawa Center for Arab Civil Rights in Israel, [that] tried to explain the incident in the name of the orchestra. "The musicians are used to IDF uniforms interrogating them at checkpoints, but it was strange for them at a cultural event. You [IDF Radio] arrived to interview them wearing the uniforms of the occupying army."

So much for the orchestra promoting peaceful co-existence.

It appears it's just another tool of  Palestinian propaganda which has a Palestine orchestra performing in what the Palestinians regard as Palestine, namely Israel, so that their media can spout something like: 'Today the Palestine Orchestra performed in the Palestinian town of Haifa'.

Wake up Israel!

First posted at


Joe Millis

Tue, 01/04/2011 - 09:28

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Ray, good piece. Just for clarity, when a composer has lost his parents in the Holocaust it is not unusual for that fact to be written in the blurb about his or her music since it probably has an influence on his composition. So it's not really editorialising.

Jonathan Hoffman

Tue, 01/04/2011 - 09:44

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As so often, BBC bias is in what they don't say rather than what they do say.

It's their way of injecting bias without infringing the Charter.

Joe Millis

Tue, 01/04/2011 - 09:48

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Very difficult to guage what someone doesn't say because…they haven't said it.

jose (not verified)

Tue, 01/04/2011 - 10:19

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Well, sometimes Milligramsam, if you don't speak about Holocaust in WW II history class, that says something very clearly.
When one speaks of Arab Naqba and totally avoid speaking of the Jewish Naqba, that also says something very clearly.

When people speak of 1967 frontiers while there hasn't been such a thing and the closest realistic expression is "1949 armistice line" that also says something.

It says something about those who don't use the correct expressions and who make silence on important facts while they mention minor ones.


Tue, 01/04/2011 - 11:00

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Joe, Ligeti himself was in Mauthausen - not mentioned in the piece.

The article is about the orchestra, not Ligeti, who, as Jewish composers go, is one of the more less well-known.
How about Mahler, Shoenberg, Bernstein, Bruch etc etc.

So how does Ligeti's parents' fate figure in all this? There is no express influence on his music as far as I know. The whole think is gratuitous and is, therfore, in my opinion, editorialising because there is no evidence direct from the orchestra of any motivation to play Ligeti because of the Holocaust connection. If you can find one, I will stand corrected.

Joe Millis

Tue, 01/04/2011 - 11:02

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Ray, I haven't heard much of his stuff, but what I have heard seems quite mournful. But I'll check deeper.

jose (not verified)

Tue, 01/04/2011 - 11:29

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Ray, I think you are right. This is Wikipedia-journalism...


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