BBC broadcasts folksongs that glorify attacks on Jews

Palestinian songs celebrating violence targeting Jews are aired on Arabic language service without challenge


The BBC has broadcast folksongs that glorify attacks on Jews and call for bloodshed, the JC can reveal.

One of the songs, aired on its Arabic language service — which has 36 million viewers — is addressed to Palestinian militants.

Translated by Media Watchdog Camera Arabic, the song says: “The force in your hand is your right. Don’t leave your weapon in its sheath… From the Jerusalem mountains and from the plain, your blood, should it be shed on the earth, would make red freedom bloom.”

A BBC presenter can be seen in the studio, nodding and filming the bloodthirsty performance on his phone, which was aired on the BBC Xtra series to mark “Nakba Day” in May.

In an interview before the rendition, musician Ashraf Sholi made it clear that his song was intended to energise the “resistance” movement, undermining those who “lean towards a blind peace” or “anyone who normalises [with Israel].”

The smiling BBC presenter made no serious attempt to challenge Mr Sholi’s statements.

Another song, which tells the story of a militant knocking on his mother’s door before he launches an attack, was broadcast in October on an Arabic version of Loose Women called Dunyana, or “Our World”.

The guest presenter, Mira Sidawi, who sang the song as guests clapped along, was billed as being from “Palestine”, a highly politicised move that contravenes BBC guidelines, as there is no such state.

In January, Ms Sidawi had presented a segment on Middle Eastern cooking in which she claimed that Israel had no cuisine or culture apart from what it “takes from the original peoples”.

The government’s former anti-terror czar, Lord Carlile, said the material was likely to “give succour and encouragement to extremists”, raising further concerns about the role of BBC Arabic in fomenting unrest across the Middle East.

Neither of the songs or the statements, all of which appeared to openly contravene the publicly-funded broadcaster’s guidelines on impartiality and accuracy, were challenged on air.

After being contacted by the JC, the BBC removed the offending episodes from its social media accounts, though despite ongoing conversations, the corporation has not admitted that guidelines were breached.

It comes after Ofcom slammed the BBC culture of “defensiveness” as it ruled last week that the corporation had “failed to observe its editorial guidelines on due impartiality and due accuracy” in its notorious Oxford Street Chanukah coverage.

A JC petition demanding a parliamentary inquiry into the corporation’s coverage of Jews and Israel passed 9,000 signatures this week. It can be signed and shared by visiting

The controversial BBC Arabic broadcasts that glorified violence were aired in this year between January and October.

The most striking example was aired in May to mark the “Nakba”, or “tragedy” of the foundation of the state of Israel. Watched by a presenter on BBC Xtra, Palestinian oud player Mr Sholi was invited to perform a folksong that addressed Palestinian militants.

Speaking to the presenter, he laid out his aims in singing a song promoting violence. “There are youths who work on aspects that are love-specific, that are land-specific, but on the matter of resistance and focusing on the resistance… there are people who try to make it forgotten,” he said.

When the presenter asked who those people were, Mr Sholi replied: “Anyone who leans towards a blind peace, for example. Anyone who — the normalisers [with Israel], of course.

The Arab normalisation which happened recently is a saddening, unfortunate thing. These are among the things that make us forget.”

The presenter then pointed out: “Some people, Ashraf, say this conflict will end once there will be peace between the two states.”

The musician replied that peace would only be achieved when there was “a Palestinian state which consists of all”, with no “Zionist state which builds its state on a religious basis”.

He was then invited to perform the song. “Who else, other than you, would stop the arrogance of the oppressor of my country’s land, and stand against him?” he sang.

“The force in your hand is your right. Don’t leave your weapon in its sheath. From the land of Lod, from Ramleh, from the Jerusalem mountains and from the plain, your blood, should it be shed on your earth, would make red freedom bloom.”

The song continued: “No, by Allah, we haven’t forgotten Jerusalem and Ramallah... From Acre to Gaza to the Jordan valley, from your white [Mediterranean Sea] to your mountains, we won’t forget your soil, no by Allah.”

A line in the song that praised the Syrian militia leader Izz ad-Din al-Qassam, the namesake for Hamas’s military wing, the al-Qassam Brigade, whose gang murdered at least eight Jewish civilians in Mandatory Palestine, was not sung.

Describing the item, the BBC Arabic’s webpage said: “In these days, and especially on May 15, comes the anniversary of what is known as the ‘Nakba’ which occurred in 1948. Palestinian youths still commemorate history, with some of them seeking to maintain the memory alive by art and music. Palestinian oud player Ashraf Sholi sings from this musical heritage in the studio of BBC Xtra.”

In an episode of the BBC Arabic programme Dunyana in October, the guest presenter introduced a folksong called Mother, There’s a Knock at Our Door, which is about a Palestinian terrorist carrying out an attack on Israeli civilians, according to experts.

On a web page which has been deleted following questions from the JC, the BBC described the episode as showcasing “instances of emotional ‘patriotic songs’ narrating stories from the people of Palestine’s daily lives”.

The programme, which has a cast of regular guest presenters, featured Ms Sidawi singing about a Palestinian man who left south Lebanon “to carry out an operation.”

The lyrics are: “Mother, there’s a knock on our door; mother, this is a knock of our beloved ones. Mother, it is a strong knock; mother, it is the knock of the militant.”

Following her performance, Ms Sidawi explained: “This song, for example, tells the story of a Palestinian youth named Bilal who ran away from South Lebanon, at a time when the occupation was present in Acre. He wanted to carry out an operation.

“And during his journey he wants to go through his mother’s house, because he misses her, he hasn’t seen her.” A spokesperson from media watchdog Camera told the JC: “The song is based on a true story about a Palestinian terrorist going to visit his mother in the West Bank sometime in the mid ’70s, while she thinks he had died in South Lebanon.

“The man mentioned in the song, Bilal, is Bashir Taqatqa, who has said that the ‘operation’ he was carrying out was to fire rockets and shells on residential areas in West Jerusalem, including the Israeli parliament, the Knesset, and also on civilians in West Bank settlements.”

In the broadcast, Ms Sidawi contextualised her choice of songs in the programme by saying: “Our connection to our land has always been — not once were we left alone — from the British Mandate to the Israeli, the Zionist, we always have a special connection to everything that has to do with our land.”

This was not the only time that Ms Sidawi had shared controversial views on the Dunyana programme.

In a January episode, she presented a segment about Middle Eastern cooking in which she mocked Israel for supposedly having no culture or cuisine of its own.
“The occupier, I mean, Israel, does not leave any mark of its own, because it does not have any, it is compelled to take from the original peoples,” she said.

As with the songs, no contrary view was offered.

Despite its own style guide forbidding the use of “Palestine” as a geographical place, Ms Sidawi is consistently captioned on the programme as “director and actress, Palestine”.

The BBC’s style guide specifies that “there is no independent state of Palestine today… So, in day-to-day coverage of the Middle East you should not affix the name ‘Palestine’ to Gaza or the West Bank — rather, it is still an aspiration or an historical entity.”

In a letter to the JC last month, the BBC’s head of Editorial Standards Malcolm Balen emphasised the importance of the BBC’s “guide to appropriate terminology” which he said was key to producing accurate and fair coverage of the region in the national broadcaster’s output.

Lord Carlile KC, former independent reviewer of anti-terror legislation, told the JC: “Once again, the BBC has failed properly to check its broadcasts of material that properly is regarded as extremist.

“In both the broadcasts referred to in this article material was included that would give succour and encouragement to extremists.”

Jonathan Turner, the Chief Executive of UK Lawyers for Israel, said: “As part of the BBC World Service, BBC Arabic is legally obliged to contribute to the BBC’s mission to act in the public interest and its content must be firmly based on British values of accuracy, impartiality and fairness.

“It is also required to operate in accordance with the BBC’s editorial guidelines. It seems clear from the description on the BBC website that the BBC Xtra programme was lacking in impartiality.”

A BBC spokesperson said: “We don’t believe the Dunyana episode and a BBC Xtra programme condone violence, however, we accept that the Xtra presenter’s challenge to some of the guests’ statements should have been more robust.

“We also accept the social media post to promote Dunyana should have been clearer to avoid causing confusion.

“In previous episodes of Dunyana we described a contributor as being from ‘Palestine’ as opposed to being ‘Palestinian’, which is the preferred terminology in this context. The appropriate wording will be used in any further broadcasts. In addition, in an episode in April we accept the contributor’s personal views of the region’s cuisine should have been questioned further.”

As complaints about the BBC’s Arabic content continue to prompt online deletions and corrections, the JC can further reveal that last year, Ofcom published research showing Arabic speaking audiences found the broadcaster’s output untrustworthy.

“[Audiences] felt that broadcasters such as BBC Arabic did not apply the same standards to content they expected from the BBC in general, for example around harm and accuracy,” it said.

Ofcom’s “report on ethnic minority audiences” quoted one Arabic speaker as saying: “The news on BBC Arabic is not accurate, it is biased and can’t be trusted.”

The report noted that Ofcom did not oversee the BBC’s World Service, which is regulated by the BBC’s own editorial guidelines.

It comes as the JC won a landmark apology from the BBC earlier this month for its “unacceptable” handling of complaints about its Arabic output, which activists said represented a “disdainful” attitude towards Jewish concerns.

Since the Gaza war in May 2021, BBC responses to complaints about Israel coverage have taken up to a year, with some ignored completely. Even when complaints are acknowledged and upheld, issuing corrections is often delayed further or in some cases is not done at all.
The BBC Charter requires a framework that provides “transparent, accessible, effective, timely and proportionate methods” of fixing problems.

According to BBC rules, this means addressing complaints within 10 working days when possible.

But it has taken the BBC an average of four months to respond to a watchdog’s complaints about its Israel coverage in Arabic, with half of complaints ignored.

In one case, the broadcaster took 12 months to accept an error in a report about holy sites in Jerusalem. Although the BBC acknowledged it, the mistake remains online more than two months later, and is still in place.

You can sign our petition calling for an investigation into the BBC's coverage of Jews and Israel here

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