On January 11th 2013 the BBC ran a report in the Middle East section of its BBC News website entitled “Gaza: Palestinian farmer ‘killed by Israeli gunfire’ “. The article opens:
“A Palestinian farmer has been shot dead in northern Gaza, local medics say.
The Hamas-run health ministry said the 22-year-old man was hit by Israeli army fire near Jabaliya refugee camp.”
A handy map is provided to explain to readers where Jabaliya refugee camp is situated.
As we see from the more detailed map below, for the man to have been hit by Israeli army fire whilst he was “near” Jabaliya would have taken some rather remarkable feats of marksmanship by soldiers situated several kilometers away.
Next, however, we learn that the man was not “near Jabaliya” at all – as the BBC’s source said – but close to the border fence.
“An Israeli military spokeswoman told the BBC he had entered a “forbidden area” near the border fence, along with dozens of other Palestinians.”
The same “Hamas-run health ministry” source quoted by the BBC also informs us that the man was a farmer and that he was 22 years old.
As we already know, the BBC is very fond of stories about ‘farmers’ along the border fence between Israel and the Gaza Strip, sometimes endowing people with that vocation even when the facts do not support that claim. So let’s take a look at how the man is described by other sources.
Ma’an news agency claims that the man – Anwar Mohammed al Mamlouk – was “in an outdoor area studying for an exam when he was killed”.
According to the Hamas Al Qassam Brigades website he was 19 years old and, although he is not specifically described as a farmer, the site says:
“Eyewitnesses reported that Israeli soldiers, stationed across the border east of Jabalia, opened automatic fire at several Palestinian farmers working on the lands near the border fence, killing one and wounding another resident.”
Reuters puts al Mamlouk at 21 years old, and repeats the “studying for an exam” version of the story.
“Anwar Al-Mamlouk, 21, was in the outdoor area studying for an exam when he was killed, according to his brother Hani, who was not harmed in the incident.”
The Jerusalem Post, quoting AFP (which appears to have been the original source for the story) states that according to the Hamas-linked source, the man was a farmer.
AFP’s source is stated in numerous reports as being Ashraf al Qudra – spokesman for the Gaza Emergency Services – which, as we have pointed out in the past, is an often unreliable source of information.
So what do we have so far from the media organization which frequently touts its own record on accuracy? A man described by the BBC as being a 22 year-old farmer “near Jabaliya” was, it transpires, actually near the border fence together with a group of several dozen others, may have been anywhere between 19 and 22 years old and might have actually been a student (at least one source has him studying at Al Azhar University).
According to an IDF statement only partially quoted by the BBC, a group of several tens of Palestinians gathered in the afternoon along the border fence in the restricted area. IDF forces acted to make them leave the area several times, but when the crowd did not move away from the fence, shots were fired at the legs of one man who was causing damage to the border fence.
Interestingly, BBC chooses to omit completely from its report the fact that Anwar al Mamlouk was given a Fatah funeral, with his body wrapped in the Fatah flag, attendees carrying Fatah flags and an official Fatah poster made in his honour.
Yet again, the BBC’s reliance on Hamas sources and its failure to fact-check the information provided compromises its commitment to accuracy and causes it to tell only a partial story.