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According to BBC, Israel has no capital - but Palestine does

If you go to the BBC’s website to read about the countries participating in the upcoming London Olympics, you’ll get some interesting information on Israel and Palestine. According to the BBC sports page’s profile on Israel, it simply has no capital, whereas Palestine does have one, in East Jerusalem.


The Israeli Foreign Ministry is of course up in arms. Prime Minister Netanyahu’s Foreign Press Adviser and Spokesperson Mark Regev sent a letter to BBC’s Middle East Bureau Chief  Paul Danahar yesterday, expressing his “dismay” at the British network’s “discriminatory” behavior:

From "Jerusalem is the Capital of Israel" Facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/JerusalemCapitalofIsrael

While Israel declares Jerusalem to be the “undivided capital of Israel,” the United States and the rest of the world do not recognize it as such, due to the capture and annexation of Palestinian land to the east, north and south of West Jerusalem, following the Six-Day War in 1967. This area has since expanded greatly through extensive settlement east of the Green Line and is referred to by the Israeli government as the Greater Jerusalem area. However to Palestinians and the rest of the world it is occupied territory, and anyone who is familiar with the city is well aware that it is not “undivided” or cohesive in any way – but rather severely divided by walls, barriers, checkpoints, and countless social and economic gaps and inequalities. However, according to all the proposed solutions brought to the table of the so-called “peace process” in the last 30 years, there should be two states for two peoples with a capital of Palestine in East Jerusalem and a capital of Israel in West Jerusalem.

The BBC’s choice raises some interesting questions: Does it make sense for a news site to independently recognize Palestine as a state and declare East Jerusalem as its capital, when the UN and the rest of the world has yet to do so – and when the Palestinians de facto have zero say or sovereignty over what goes on in their “capital?” And does the BBC refusal to list West Jerusalem as Israel’s capital mean it does not recognize Israeli sovereignty in 1948 lands either?

And what are the implications for how media outlets operate? Does that mean sites have the prerogative to recognize any entity they want as a country and proclaim its capital? According to what standards should news sites adhere to when it comes to disputed territories – the facts on the ground, or their vision for the future?

UPDATE: The BBC updated their page just hours after the post was published – under Israel it now says: “Seat of government: Jerusalem, though most foreign embassies are in Tel Aviv.”  h/t to commenters Yallah and Philos

UPDATE 2: Following the BBC correction, Mark Regev wrote another letter, insisting that “Seat of government” is still discrimination against Israel.

I think Mark Regev should spend more of his time worrying about the discrimination his government inflicts daily on nearly 40% of the “capital’s” population, the Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem who are systematically disenfranchised.

As for the issue of international recognition, as commenter Aaron correctly pointed out, Jerusalem was never internationally recognized as Israel’s capital – not even West Jerusalem – since the establishment of the state and recognition of the 1949 armistice lines as the country’s borders. However, what I meant is that most of the world would be willing to recognize West Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in a future resolution in which the Palestinians could make East Jerusalem their capital (although I’m not sure how this would de facto take place considering all the “neighborhoods” built by Israel in East Jerusalem for the last 4 decades).

Is someone born in Jerusalem born in Israel? 
U.S. Supreme Court: Jerusalem not a foreign policy issue

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    1. un2here

      Technically, Israel does not claim West Jerusalem as its capital.

      Reply to Comment
    2. Aaron

      “…due to the capture and annexation of Palestinian land to the east, north and south of West Jerusalem, following the Six-Day War in 1967.” That can’t be right. Jerusalem was not recognized as Israel’s capital before 1967 either. That’s because the status of *all* of Jerusalem, including west Jerusalem, was considered unresolved since 1948.
      I say, kudos to the BBC for not arbitrarily moving our capital to Tel Aviv, as most media outlets do.

      Reply to Comment
    3. charles-jerusalem

      to Mairav Zonszein

      Bravo for your article, it is greatly balanced, address all the problems simply and with objectivity.

      Reply to Comment
    4. Mairav Zonszein

      @Aaron, indeed, Israel used Tel Aviv as a de facto temporary capital for practical reasons during periods of war between 1948 and 1967. However, Ben-Gurion declared Jerusalem Israel’s eternal capital already in 1949, in response to the UN decision to internationalize the city.

      Reply to Comment
    5. Dan


      Technically, Palestine is not a state.

      Reply to Comment
    6. XYZ

      Jerusalem has been the capital of the Jewish people for 3000 years, and I couldn’t care less what the BBC thinks.

      Reply to Comment
    7. max

      Some corrections:
      1. “… do not recognize it as such, due to the capture and annexation of Palestinian land to the east, north and south of West Jerusalem, following the Six-Day War in 1967”
      Did they recognize it prior to ’67?
      2. “anyone who is familiar with the city is well aware that it is not “undivided” or cohesive in any way – but rather severely divided by walls, barriers, checkpoints”
      Really? Within Jerusalem?
      3. “according to all the proposed solutions brought to the table of the so-called “peace process” in the last 30 years, there should be two states for two peoples with a capital of Palestine in East Jerusalem and a capital of Israel in West Jerusalem”
      I presume that you refer to the Palestinian proposals, as Israel should have no say in this matter
      The issue I see with the BBC presentation is – as Mairav noted – the “discriminatory” aspect: accepting the Palestinian wish for Jerusalem as their capital but not Israel’s, where both haven’t been recognized by the intn’l community.

      Reply to Comment
    8. Aaron

      Actually, I meant that Jerusalem was not *internationally* recognized as the capital even between 1949 to 1967, even though Israel defined it as its capital since 1949. So international non-recognition of Jerusalem as capital HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH THE TERRITORIES CAPTURED IN 1967. The international position on Jerusalem is that ever since 1948, the status of Jerusalem – including west Jerusalem – is still unresolved, and is to be resolved by negotiation.

      Reply to Comment
    9. aristeides

      If the Beeb had listed the capital as Tel Aviv, they would have bitched about that, too.

      Reply to Comment
    10. Danny

      Pretty sad that after 64 years, Israel still struggles with its international legitimacy. Of course, it has no one but itself to blame for that.

      Reply to Comment
    11. paul

      Uru-Shalem, the city of the canaanite god Shalem, should be the capital of two states. his history does not ‘belong’ to a single people. not by chance his history starts 2000 years before king david (if he existed)

      Reply to Comment
    12. Yallah

      The text has been changed:

      Seat of government:
      Jerusalem, though most foreign embassies are in Tel Aviv.

      Reply to Comment
    13. max

      @Paul, interesting reasoning, by which I assume that London should be shared with the Italians, right? Should Germans share rights over Riga?
      Also, where did you learn that the Palestinians are the descendents of the Canaanites?

      Reply to Comment
    14. aristeides

      Max, the Israelites were Canaanites, and the Palestinians are their descendants. Get over your exclusivity.

      Reply to Comment
    15. Mairav Zonszein

      Thanks – the post has been updated

      Reply to Comment
    16. PAUL

      you are making confusion.
      Italians came from Rome in order to colonize a foreign country and they built up some cities. The center of their lives and their heritage was in the italian peninsula not in britain. Canaanites were the indigenous population in Palestine (in fact they gave the name to bethlehem, askalan, ariha (jericho), jerusalem and most of the cities in the region) and the center of their lives was in the region.
      To equate romans in britain with canaanites in palestine is rather strange.

      Then you address a second question. I didn’t say that, but u give the chance to write about it.
      Although no one can tell you exactly in which extent palestinians are the descendents of the canaanites, I can tell you that many aspect of the ancient canaanites society could be found on the spot until not many decades ago. I suggest you to read Tawfiq Canaan about this. For sure the “Arabs” didn’t “arrive” in the VII century after Christ. This is a myth that every serious academic can explain you. In the Palestinian region there was a lot of continuity. You can understand it also from the name of most of the cities, that in arabic are much more similar to the original name that you can find in the amarna letters or, even earlier, in the Execration texts: Askalan, Naqab, Ariha, Ashdud, Akka…ect…
      On the contrary a process of adapting FOREIGN names in Arabic did occur in the case of greek, roman, byzantine names such as Neapolis and Caesarea…

      Reply to Comment
    17. paul

      99% of the times I agree with you. In this case I dare to correct you. To write that “the Israelites were Canaanites, and the Palestinians are their descendants” is wrong. like former president ben zvi you are mixing uo canaanites with israelites, thinking the latter evolved from the first. the opposite is the case.
      “Get over your exclusivity”: I agree 100%

      Reply to Comment
    18. jake Singer

      I thought Israel’s capital was Brooklyn. At least, all the real decisions are made here in NY.

      Reply to Comment
    19. ulix

      Sorry to make this a lot less interesting:

      The BBC uses an advanced and very complicated “Semantic Web” like system on their Sports page, that collects data automatically from various sources (so that the Journalists don’t have to create and edit every individual profile page, be it that of a team, a country, or an individual athlete. Of which there are tens of thousands).

      They explain everything here in excessive detail:

      So in all likelihood the party to blame in this “foreign affairs crisis” is a computer, not a person.

      Reply to Comment
    20. Kolumn9

      Aaron is completely right. The lack of recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital goes back to 1949, not 1967. Many governments still diplomatically hold that Jerusalem is legally corpus separatum on the basis of the partition plan. What is entirely annoying though is their utter lack of consistency when applying the same policy to declaring East Jerusalem as the capital of the Palestinians.

      This once again only demonstrates the irrelevance and inconsistency of this legalistic garbage. All of the formulators, framers, judges and enforcers of international law are completely subject to non-objective motivations and pressures making the whole system a joke.

      @Paul, where objectively the Palestinians come from is pretty much irrelevant. They have most certainly adopted the Arab narrative as their own, including assigning Arabness to the Canaanites who spoke a language closer to Hebrew than Arabic. It is a fun little trick. In any case, Palestinian claims to Jerusalem are usually couched in Islamic terms, not deriving from any inherent Canaanite claim.

      Reply to Comment
    21. Palestinian

      Nice one Jake ,lol.Under international law ,East Jerusalem isnt part of Israel,period.The question remains ,has Israel determined its own final borders ? No.The Palestinians declared East Jerusalem as the capital of their future state which is loacted inside the Palestinian territory while Israel hasnt decided a capital inside its internatioanlly recognized territory.

      Reply to Comment

      It’s GOD’S FOOTSTOOL & it’s ALL in GOD’S HAND !!! Know more need be said !

      Reply to Comment
    23. paul

      I assume that u know a bit of ugaritic, hebrew and arabic. i studied the 3 languages for many years and I can assure you that you are on a red herring.
      arabic has the same sound system as cananite, reflected in 28-sign alphabets of both. ugaritic also has the same sounds, except that the 30-sign alphabet has 3 sign for the aleph.
      as the only live language in the region for many centuries, arabic can be said to be the storehouse containing the inventors of the earlier languages. “Square Hebrew” script is nothing but late square Aramaic, and descended originally from cananite.
      that arabic is much more closer to the later is testify by the names of the cities in the region, that, as I mentioned, are 90% of the cases much more similar to the original names that you can find in the amarna letters or, even earlier, in the Execration texts than in the western languages or in hebrew: Askalan, Naqab, Ariha, Ashdud, Akka, …ect…ect

      Reply to Comment
    24. Kolumn9

      @Paul, I know Hebrew and studied MSA for a few years. Ugaritic is not a Canaanite language and it is a language that is very close to Arabic, so I don’t understand the relevance of it. Talk about red herrings.. Hebrew is classified as a Canaanite language along with Moabite, Phoenician, Edomite and a couple of others. Arabic is not and retains sounds that all the Canaanite languages had lost or were in the process of losing when they adopted the same 22 character alphabet that corresponds to the square Hebrew alphabet, which I should point out predates the Arabic alphabet and is derived from the same Aramaic alphabet.

      In either case, the point is that the Palestinians are so attached to the Arab narrative that they have been appropriating various clearly non-Arab groups as being Arabs for the purpose of establishing a claim.

      Reply to Comment
    25. Sol Salbe

      Can somebody tell me why Bibi Netanyhau, who is complaining so loudly about the BBC site not listing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, has ignored a blatant error by that website in term of Israel’s area. The BBC lists Israel’s size as 22,072km², which is quite different to Google’s 20,770, Wikipedia 20,700 and the CIA’s 20,770. Shouldn’t Bibi and his friends rejoice that the BBC has accepted some of Israel’s annexation? Or doesn’t he know what is Israel size. [In mathematics one learns that to find an area one needs the boundaries, and Israel has no borders.]

      Reply to Comment
    26. paul

      an interesting debate.
      a fair knowledge of arabic, hebrew, canaanite and ugaritic would help in order to clarify that arabic is, phonetically and grammatically, more similar to ancient canaanite than “square hebrew”. it has the same sound system as cananite, reflected in 28-sign alphabets of both (in opposition to the 22-sign square Hebrew; btw, canaanite language nener lost its 28-sign alphabet). As i mentioned, no prove is stronger than the names of the cities in the region. pay attention to it.
      About Ugaritic, it was a Canaanite dialect, or, if you prefer, a language used by a canaanite culture. Arabic preserves the older languages, such as Ugaritic, Akkadian, and Canaanite/phoenician more than “square hebrew”.
      Once again, pay attention to the names of the cities in the region: from Dimashq to Naqab, from Askalan to Ariha,from Akka to Ashdud…ect…

      Reply to Comment
    27. paul

      as for the second part of your post, I am not interested in the fact if a Palestinian is attached to the “Arab narrative”. The point is that his culture predate the “arab narrative”, and it does not matter if this palestinian is aware of it or not. To link the Palestinian identity and culture to the “arab invasion” of the VII century shows a striking ignorance of the issue. I didn’t imply that you did it. On the contrary, some Palestinains think that their culture has his “point zero” in the Vii century: this is an issue that any serious scholar would not accept

      Reply to Comment
    28. Mia

      @ Paul, please help entlighten the rest of us and name (some of the) serious scholars that you refer to. Thanks.
      Also: what is the relevant point that you take from the serious scholars? XYZ wrote that Jerusalem has been the capital of the Jewish people for 3000 years; you object to that, based on what serious scholarship exactly? Thanks.

      Reply to Comment
    29. PAUL

      You assume something wrong. Jerusalem has been the “center” – if you prefer the “capital”, a western concept – of the Jewish people since an ancient past. But it was never ever only that. It was “crucial” for many other human beings, thousands of years before that the first Jew was born and for the centuries and millennia afterwards. This should suggest us that the city should never be consider the center – once again, if you prefer the capital – of one single people.

      as for my hint to “serious scholars”, it was a way to stress the fact that unfortunately you can find a lot of ideologies in many works about the palestinians (and, on the other side, the Israelis as well).
      In academia very few scholars consider the “arab conquest” as the “point zero”, although unfortunately outside of it is quite common to meet persons that are not aware of it.
      I do apologize if you had the impression that “serious scholars” had somehow offensive implications

      as for the first point, I don’t “enlight” anyone. Thankfully I don’t have any Messiah syndrom. I speak about things that I know and I am interested to know different opinions. The only precondition is that they have to be serious and academic, and not ideologic oriented.
      I don’t consider it necessary to provide you a list of archives or books. I suggest you just one title if you have an interest in these issues:
      Peter T. Daniels, William Bright, The World’s Writing System, Oxford University Press, 1996:
      “The wedge script records an inventory of sounds that is closer to that found in Classical Arabic (ca. 28 sounds) than to that found in Biblical Hebrew (ca. 22 sounds)”. p. 92

      Reply to Comment
    30. Mia

      @ Paul – thanks for the clarifications. Indeed there is a lot of ideology – in the bad sense of the word – inside academia and outside of it. So, actually enlightened debate, might be a good thing 🙂

      Reply to Comment
    31. The Israelites were Cannanites, and the Palestinians are related th them DNA shows this.

      Reply to Comment
    32. rose

      “The worst way to resolve the proper reading of these scenes is to start with an assumption that the Israelites were Canaanites or Shasu and arrange the sequence to fit one’s theory.”
      Did they come from Egypt or am I wrong? Bible dixit

      Reply to Comment
    33. jonny

      As we all know Jerusalem was built by King David who was jewish, israelite, so their is no question that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel. As none of the 3 major religions deny the old testament, then the proof is there.
      Palestine was never a country, and the world Palestine, is Latin, not arabic, their is no letter in the arabic alphabet, that sounds like P.
      Israel was renamed Palestine by the Roman occupiers deliberately to annoy the jews.
      Since judaism is the oldest religion, that was built and claims jerusalem to be their eternal capital, no one else, not even the bbc have a right to say what is the capital of the Land of Israel.

      Reply to Comment
    34. rose

      Jonny I don’t think that you deserve to be corrected. it is obvious that you are ideologic oriented and you don’t have any clue about the things that you think to know. an advice: start from the history of jerusalem. its name was uru-shalem (the city of the canaanite god Shalem) and you can find this name in the Execration texts, written when there was not even 1 jew in the world and kind david (that probably never existed, as never happened the exodus, masada, the expulsion by the romans…ect) was yet to come
      palestine was called by that already by aristotle and herodotous and the fact that was not a “country” could be importat just for a western mind

      Reply to Comment
    35. berl

      jonny judaism developed itself (or if you prefer, was created) 500 years after king david. at the times of king david, if he ever existed, the population was polytheist

      Reply to Comment
    36. zayzafuna

      Kudos to Mairav and the BBC for bringing up this item. Illegitimate states do not have capital cities. Mairav and the BBC are tacitly admitting the illegitimacy of the zionsit entity by demonstrating that it does not have a capital city. The IOC should just expel the zionist entity

      Reply to Comment
    37. rose

      zayzafuna don’t say bullshits and most of all change this old and ideoligic vocabolary that does not help at all the palestinian cause. on the contrary it helps the persons that you think you are opposing

      Reply to Comment
    38. zayzafuna

      Rose, I am merely speaking truth to power. If you dont like my “vocabolary”, then go post on zionist websites

      Reply to Comment
    39. rose

      “zionist entity” is not less stupid than settlers and racists that claim that palestine and palestinians never existed. if you like or not israel is a reality and if you want to support the palestinian cause and help people to understand which price they paid (and are still paying) is better if you put aside your “settler vocabolary”. otherwise you just build up a ‘mental wall’, the same that settlers need

      Reply to Comment
    40. ZIONLESS

      I’m agree with Rose about the bullshits, but the politic is another thing. They’ll use everythings to have votes, in particular the ignorance of the Israeli about their “jewish” ancestors. We must reply.
      To others, the BBC is a western-media, that reported the baddest misinformation about Palestinian struggle in recent years(It didn’t report it). It’s also the newspaper that covered the accusation versus Iraq about the mass distruction’s weapons, the misinformations about the war in Iraq, Serbia, Afghanistan, Libya and now Syria.
      Attention to false friends.

      Reply to Comment
    41. Zizo


      1- If I want it, it’s mine
      2- If it’s in my hand, it’s mine
      3- If I can take it away from
      you, it’s mine
      4- If I had it a little while ago, it’s mine
      5- If it’s mine, it must never appear
      to be yours in any way
      6- If we are building something together,
      all the pieces are mine
      7- If it just looks like mine, it’s mine
      8- If I think it’s mine, it’s mine
      9- If I give it to you and change
      my mind later, it’s mine
      10- Once it’s mine it will never belong
      to anyone else, no matter what

      OOOPS sorry that was the Israeli constitutions!

      Reply to Comment
    42. THe issue of the capital is a secondary issue, rather the size of Palestine and the size of Israel should be the main issue here? It seems that the numbers do not agree with any official site I have visited? They vary according to which State you visit? There seems to be no consensus on the size of the state of Israel either?

      Reply to Comment
    43. berl

      just to know, which resolution of the UN did “RECOGNIZE JERUSALEM AS THE CAPITAL OF ISRAEL”? or perhaps we should consider an internet page as an internationally recognized agreement? You look angry, but also funny:-)

      Reply to Comment


      not angry, just dismayed at the level if childish ignorance on this article and comments.

      The UN and the World recognised the creation and existence (and right to exist) of Israel.

      Now, you tell me any other country that has been dictated to on what to name as it’s capital. It’s the inherent right of a nation to name it’s own capital.

      Israel chose Jerusalem, end of story. It has no basis for conversation or debate.

      Reply to Comment
    45. berl

      “The UN and the World” recognised that Jerusalem was supposed to become an “international area”.
      you ask me to “tell me any other country that has been dictated to on what to name as it’s capital” I ask you to tell me the name of another country that was created through a resolution of the UN (after that until few years before the 9/10 of the total population was arab-palestinian).
      the “childish ignorance” is the one that you show writing these arguments. no state in the world recognizes israel beyond the green line and no state in the world recosnizes israel as the “undivided capital” of israel. don’t be angry. you have to learn to cope with this.

      Reply to Comment
    46. Jerusalem was not within the territory allotted for a Jewish State under the partition plan accepted by the Jewish Agency. Nor was it within the sovereign extent of Israel as recognized by the International Community beginning May 15th 1948.

      Corpus separatum has never been instituted. Only Israel has been legally separated from Palestine. Jerusalem has never been legally split from Palestine

      Israel has yet to legally annex any of the territory it has acquired by war.

      UNSC res 476 encapsulates it nicely… “1. Reaffirms the overriding necessity to end the prolonged occupation of Arab territories occupied by Israel since 1967, including Jerusalem;”

      Reply to Comment
    47. CHRISTIAN MIDDLETON July 26, 2012 7:49 am

      “The UN and the World recognised the creation and existence (and right to exist) of Israel” Indeed. Within its borders…

      “It’s the inherent right of a nation to name it’s own capital” Indeed. Within its own borders. Israel has never legally annexed ANY territory to the State of Israel as it was originally recognized.

      Reply to Comment
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