The context of the BBC’s promotion of ‘Breaking the Silence’

As readers no doubt recall, at the beginning of this month the BBC produced three items on various platforms promoting a collection of anonymous ‘testimonies’ issued by the foreign funded political NGO ‘Breaking the Silence’. In clear breach of BBC editorial guidelines on impartiality, none of those reports provided audiences with any meaningful information about the organisation’s political agenda.BtS written

BBC editorial guidelines flouted in promotion of ‘Breaking the Silence’ booklet

Another breach of editorial guidelines in yet more BBC promotion of ‘Breaking the Silence’

Writing at the Mosaic magazine, journalist Matti Friedman brings some crucial context not only to the issue of the claims touted by ‘Breaking the Silence’ but also to the wider – and no less important – topic of the mainstream media’s uncritical promotion and amplification of the story.

“As a reporter, you wouldn’t be able to get away with publishing purely anonymous testimony that you have collected, but it is one of the peculiarities of Israel-related journalism that you are allowed to use anonymous material if it has been pre-packaged for you by a political NGO. […]BtS audio

The vast media coverage devoted over the past week to this little piece of agit-prop from a little country—its claims parroted without proof, shorn of context and comparison, and presented as journalism to people around the world—must lead us to ask what, exactly, is going on. What is motivating all of this? No one observing our planet of violence and injustice in 2015 can claim any longer that Israel is covered the same way other countries are covered; that the coverage is proportional to the scale of events; or that the tone of moral condemnation—growing in its hysteria, and crawling from the fringes deeper and deeper into the mainstream press—is in the realm of reasonable reportage.

In all the talk purporting to be about the Gaza war, many are beginning to see more clearly the outlines of another war entirely. What is the nature of this war? That is where the real silence lies.”

Read the whole article here

 

Hamas news you won’t hear from the BBC

Last November the BBC News website reported on the arrest of Hamas operatives in Palestinian Authority controlled areas but missed out a significant part of the story.No news

“As readers may have heard, the Israeli Security Agency announced on November 27th that it had arrested some 30 Hamas operatives, including some foreign nationals, located throughout Judea & Samaria. The Hebrew announcement is available here and it notes the role of the Turkey-based Hamas official Saleh al Arouri in organizing and financing this latest terror network to be uncovered.

“As with the previous network, the man behind the terrorist grouping was Saleh al-Arouri, a Hamas leader who was deported from the West Bank to Turkey in 2010, the sources said.

Arouri, they said, built up and funded the network, and has effectively established a Hamas command post in Turkey which is leading terror efforts in the West Bank. Arouri is reportedly aided by dozens of operatives, some of whom were deported by Israel in the wake of the Gilad Shalit prisoner deal in 2011.”

As was the case when a previous network was discovered in August of this year (see here and here), BBC coverage of this story fails to adequately inform audiences of the fact that Hamas’ operations in territory under the control of the Palestinian Authority are being run from a NATO member country.”

On May 6th the Meir Amit Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center published a report which again notes Hamas’ activities in Turkey whilst highlighting the terror group’s recruitment activity in Malaysia – as exposed in the indictment of a Hebron resident.

“On February 13, 2015, Wasim Rashad Umran Qawasmeh, from Hebron, was detained at the Allenby Bridge when he returned from his studies in Malaysia via Jordan. On March 18, 2015, he was indicted by the Ofer Judea Military Court. According to the indictment he was recruited by Hamas during his studies at the International Islamic University Malaysia.” […]

“In July 2014 Sharif Abu Shamala (a Hamas activist in the Islamic University student association) proposed to Wasim Qawasmeh that he participate in a Hamas management and command course in Turkey. Qawasmeh agreed and in August 2014 he flew from Malaysia to Turkey and participated in the course, which lasted a week. Hamas financed his stay in Turkey. One of the lectures was given by Muhammad Nizal, a senior Hamas figure responsible the organization’s foreign affairs.” […]

“Hamas’ external military-terrorist headquarters is located in Turkey. Saleh Muhammad Suleiman al-Arouri, one of the founders of Hamas military-terrorist wing in Judea and Samaria, is in charge. The IDF security services’ interrogations of terrorist operatives clearly indicate the main role played by Turkey in directing Hamas terrorism. The Turkish headquarters gave the course attended by Wasim Qawasmeh.”

Another interesting Hamas connection to Malaysia is outlined in the same report.

“On the night of July 20, 2014, during Operation Protective Edge, an IDF force in the region of Qarara (Khan Yunis) detained a Hamas terrorist operative from an Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades elite unit. Interrogation revealed that he had been recruited to Hamas’ military-terrorist wing in 2007. After three years he and nine other Hamas terrorist operatives from various battalions were sent to Malaysia to train in the use of hang gliders.  

They trained in Malaysia for a week in preparation for using hang gliders to infiltrate Israel to carry out an attack. Upon his return to the Gaza Strip they were called for additional training in the Gaza Strip. They were all warned to keep their activities secret and not to mention hang gliders. Later 2014 he underwent more training in the Gaza Strip along with the other terrorist operatives who had trained in Malaysia.”

Read the whole report here.

Related Articles:

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BBC WS promotes Hamas claim of “normal right” to carry out terror attacks

BBC sticks to inaccurate narrative despite Hamas claim of June kidnappings

 

Flotilla ahoy! A refresher on the background to another anti-Israel publicity stunt

As readers may be aware, flotilla season is apparently again upon us and on May 10th the self-styled ‘Freedom Flotilla Coalition’ announced that a trawler had set sail from Sweden.Marianne

The Times of Israel reports:

“The trawler Marianne of Gothenburg will be carrying a “limited cargo of, among other things, solar cell panels and medical equipment” for use in Gaza, according to a statement by the Ship to Gaza campaign. […]

Along the way it will pick up eight other crew members, according to Israel Radio. Two other vessels are expected to join the flotilla later on.”

One of the various vessels’ passengers will apparently be Moncef Marzouki who has collaborated in the past with Hamas-linked groups in Europe and their associated personalities involved in the organization of previous flotillas.

Moncef Marzouki (3rd from left front row) with Zaher Birawi (1st on left front row) and Dror Feiler (3rd from right front row) Tunis, 30 March 2015

Moncef Marzouki (3rd from left front row) with Zaher Birawi (1st on left front row) and Dror Feiler (3rd from right front row) Tunis, 30 March 2015

According to the Jerusalem Post, passengers on the ‘Marianne’ include:

“Israeli-born Swedish citizen Dror Feiler, a musician and spokesperson of  Ship to Gaza; Henry Ascher, a professor of Public Health and pediatrician; Lennart Berggren, a filmmaker; Maria Svensson, spokesperson of the Feministiskt initiative; and Mikael Karlsson, chairperson of Ship to Gaza Sweden.”

Readers can refresh their memories regarding ‘peace activist’ Dror Feiler here and find archive background material on the organisers of previous such publicity stunts here.

The coordinator of the ‘International Committee for Breaking the Siege of Gaza’ – which partners the ‘Freedom Flotilla Coalition’ (along with ‘Miles of Smiles’ and the IHH) – is Hamas-linked UK-based activist Zaher Birawi who was also involved in the ‘Global March to Jerusalem’ in 2012. 

 

 

The Iranian cash handouts the BBC’s Gaza office isn’t reporting

As was noted here recently, the BBC is one of the few media organisations to have permanent offices in the Gaza Strip and thus – according to BBC News’ Foreign Editor – is “better placed than many to make sure that we report both sides of the story”.

Given that the BBC frequently reports on poverty in the Gaza Strip and has focused no small amounts of its energies on reporting the plight of civilians in general and the topic of reconstruction in particular since the end of last summer’s conflict between Israel and Hamas, one might have thought that the news that a ‘charity’ in the Gaza Strip with recently reconstructed headquarters was handing out millions of dollars would have been deemed worthy of one article at least.

The Meir Amit Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center informs us that:

Photo credit: ITIC

Photo credit: ITIC

“On April 12, 2015, the Al-Ansar charity association in the Gaza Strip announced that $2 million would be distributed among 5,000 families of Gazan shaheeds who had died between the beginning of the second intifada (2000) and June 31, 2014, that is, before the outbreak of Operation Protective Edge. On April 5, 2015, Al-Ansar said in a statement that the financial support was funded by the Palestinian branch of the Iranian Martyrs Foundation.

On January 18, 2015, Al-Ansar in the Gaza Strip posted a notice on its Facebook page to Gazans whose family members had been killed in Operation Protective Edge and who had not yet registered with the society. They were requested to go to the Al-Ansar offices with a death certificate, a picture of the deceased, medical reports, and similar relevant documents, so that the transfer of funds could be arranged. In ITIC assessment, based on an average payment of $400 per family, the Iranian Martyrs Foundation can be expected to transfer an additional $900,000 for the families of Gazans killed in Operation Protective Edge (for approximately 2,200 families) once registration and bureaucratic procedures have been completed. Payment will mainly be made through branches of the post office in the Gaza Strip. […]

On January 26, 2015, Al-Ansar opened its new building in Gaza City after its former offices had been attacked and destroyed by the Israeli Air Force during Operation Protective Edge. Its construction was financed by the Palestinian branch of the Iranian Martyrs Foundation.”

Read the whole report here.

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What word is missing from BBC reporting on Gaza?

BBC editorial guidelines flouted in promotion of ‘Breaking the Silence’ booklet

It is an issue which has been raised here on many occasions in the past, but on May 4th the BBC once again demonstrated that its commitment to the obligation laid down in its editorial guidelines to “clearly describe the ideology” of organisations from which stories are sourced and/or to which interviewees are linked is not only selective and blatantly lacking in consistency, but also appears to be influenced by political considerations.

As readers are no doubt already aware, the BBC’s editorial guidelines on impartiality state in section 4.4.14:

“We should not automatically assume that contributors from other organisations (such as academics, journalists, researchers and representatives of charities) are unbiased and we may need to make it clear to the audience when contributors are associated with a particular viewpoint, if it is not apparent from their contribution or from the context in which their contribution is made.”

In 2013 the BBC’s Editorial Complaints Unit reaffirmed “the importance of clearly summarising the standpoint of any interviewee where it is relevant and not immediately clear from their position or the title of their organization”.

According to the Palestine Solidarity Campaign’s Amena Saleem, the statement below appeared in a 2014 email from the BBC in response to a PSC complaint to the effect that the organization to which an interviewee on BBC News belongs was not adequately described to viewers as stipulated in the BBC’s editorial guidelines.

“We apologize for this and would like to assure you that the matter has been raised with the relevant editorial staff at the BBC News Channel, who have been reminded of the need to clearly describe the ideology of such organizations in our coverage.”

How then did the BBC News website describe the foreign funded Israeli NGO ‘Breaking the Silence’ – described by Amos Harel in Ha’aretz in 2009 as an organization which “has a clear political agenda, and can no longer be classed as a human rights organization” – when it published an article on May 4th titled “Israeli military ‘fired indiscriminately’ in Gaza” which is based entirely on a report put out by that NGO on the same day?BtS written

An Israeli activist group has accused the military of employing a “policy of indiscriminate fire” that resulted in the deaths of hundreds of Palestinian civilians during last year’s Gaza war.” [emphasis added]

Breaking the Silence, a group of serving and ex-soldiers, said its report contained interviews with more than 60 unnamed active duty and reserve Israel Defense Forces (IDF) personnel who took part in Operation Protective Edge.” [emphasis added]

Clearly those anodyne descriptions do nothing to inform BBC audiences of the political motivations and agenda behind the “viewpoint” and “ideology” which underlie this latest addition to ‘Breaking the Silence’ campaigning on the subject of last summer’s conflict between Hamas and Israel.

Similarly, listeners to the May 4th edition of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour’ (from 00:45 here) heard presenter Tim Franks introduce his ‘Breaking the Silence’ interviewee Avichai Stoller thus:BtS audio

“Today, an Israeli activist group has accused the military of using a policy of indiscriminate fire which caused the deaths of hundreds of Palestinian civilians. Indeed the group – which is called ‘Breaking the Silence’ – says that the rules of military engagement for the seven week war were – in its words – the most permissive it had seen.” [emphasis added]

Obviously that introduction – like Frank’s closing description of the organization as an “Israeli advocacy group” – fails to clarify to audiences the political aims behind ‘Breaking the Silence’ and notably Tim Franks made no effort to challenge Stoller with regard to his claim that “we are not subcontractors of anybody” despite the group’s considerable foreign funding.

Another interesting aspect to the BBC’s multi-platform promotion of the claims made by ‘Breaking the Silence’ is the fact that its booklet of testimonies was published on the same day that the two above BBC reports appeared and yet as of the morning of May 4th, the booklet was only available in Hebrew. Despite that fact, the BBC managed to produce a written report in English within a matter of hours and to arrange World Service radio interviews not only with Stoller but also with the ICC prosecutor Fatou Bensouda and with the IDF spokesman with similarly impressive alacrity.

No less remarkable was Tim Franks’ promotion of the notion of ‘war crimes’ on two occasions during the twelve-minute segment. Franks asked Stoller:

“If you’re imputing that war crimes were committed – and it sounds as if you are – isn’t that the province of the International Criminal Court?”

He later asked Bensouda:

“In terms of the allegations that have been made today, how far would they constitute war crimes if they could be substantiated?”

The BBC’s clear flouting of its own editorial guidelines on impartiality by failing to inform audiences of the underlying “ideology” of the group which supplied the source material for these two reports – as well as for further opportunistic BBC promotion of the notion that Israel committed ‘war crimes’ during the summer 2014 conflict – is yet another example of the way in which political motivations repeatedly trump editorial standards in the BBC’s coverage of Israel.

Related Articles:

Guardian amplifies Breaking the Silence’s baseless allegation of Israeli racism (UK Media Watch)

Breaking the Silence and the British Media (CAMERA)

Promoted and quoted: the BBC’s preferred NGO contributors in 2014

BBC Trust’s ruling on Hamas’ use of human shields makes for future inaccurate reporting

The BBC Trust’s latest publication of editorial appeals findings (March 2015 – published on 30/4/15) includes the result of requests for appeals concerning complaints made about a filmed report by Orla Guerin which was broadcast in August 2014 – available from page 84 here.BBC Trust

The requests for appeals were not granted and the BBC Trust Editorial Standards Committee’s response concerning one aspect of those requests is particularly worthy of note. Summarising the original complaints, the ESC states:

“A second point of complaint concerned the reporter’s assertion that there was no evidence for Israel’s claim that Palestinian militants were using their own civilians as human shields. Complainants said there was abundant evidence.”

Summarising the appeal stage, the ESC notes that complainants stated that:

“…the report inaccurately stated that “there was no evidence of the use of human shields” by Palestinian militants when there was evidence at the time of broadcast; the reporter would have been aware of it and chose to ignore it.”

Orla Guerin’s report was broadcast on BBC One’s ‘News at Ten’ on August 12th and appeared on the BBC News website on August 13th – i.e. well over a month after the commencement of Operation Protective Edge.Guerin ISM report

The ESC states:

“The [Senior Editorial Complaints] Adviser then considered the second issue raised by the complaint, that the highlighted sentence in the following section of commentary was inaccurate:

REPORTER: While there are growing claims against Israel, it claims that civilians here have been used as human shields – but so far there’s been no evidence of that. During this conflict Palestinian militants have kept a low profile, avoiding the cameras. But we know that at times they have operated from civilian areas. A rocket was fired from this waste ground about ten days ago. There was no ceasefire at the time – but you can see that just across the road, there are people living in these apartments. These images were filmed by Indian TV just up the road. They appear to show militants firing rockets near their hotel (Captions “Hamas team assembles rocket under tent” and “Hamas rocket fired from residential area”).”

In fact, Guerin said:

“While there are growing allegations against Israel, it claims civilians here have been used by militants as human shields but so far there’s been no evidence of that.” [emphasis in bold added]

The ESC continues:

“The Adviser considered first the complainants’ concerns that overwhelming evidence existed at the time that Hamas was using civilians as human shields and that to suggest otherwise was untrue. She noted that one point of dispute was how the term “human shield” was defined – and whether it meant Hamas using the proximity of civilians to deter an Israeli response to their actions or Hamas forcibly moving or keeping civilians in a location, on the basis that it would be likely to reduce the Israeli response. She noted that the ECU [Editorial Complaints Unit] had addressed this point:

“I would accept that there may not be universal agreement over the meaning of ‘human shield’ in this context – and whether this should be understood to mean the deliberate placement of civilians near combat targets (and preventing them from leaving) or simply firing from residential areas. However I am not sure this distinction is significant in this context, given that viewers were told and shown evidence of what they had done to put civilian lives at risk.”

She also noted and agreed with the ECU’s statement in response to the script line that there was “no evidence” to support claims that Hamas had used human shields:

 “To refer to the ‘evidence’ put forward by one side would not necessarily endorse their version of events and to that extent I would agree that this might have been better worded.”

The Adviser considered, however, that the issue for her to consider was whether the choice of wording would have misled the audience on a material fact. She noted the broader context in which the sentence appeared. She noted the following extract from the ECU finding to one of the complainants:

“Given the explicit references to rockets fired from civilian areas and the inclusion of this footage I can see no prospect of audiences believing that this was not happening or that the actions of Hamas were not putting civilians at risk – which seems to me to be the central charge against them. I would accept that there may not be universal agreement over the meaning of ‘human shield’ – and whether this should be understood to mean the deliberate placement of civilians near combat targets (and preventing them from leaving) or simply firing from residential areas. However given that viewers were told and shown evidence of what they could be proven to have done to put civilian lives at risk, I am not sure this distinction is significant in this context.” […]

The Adviser concluded that the audience would have been likely to have understood that there was a case for Hamas to answer in relation to the allegation that it was using civilians as human shields and that taking the section as a whole, the reporter had gone as far as she was able, with the facts that she was able to verify.

The Adviser decided neither point of complaint would have a reasonable prospect of success and the complaint should not proceed to appeal.”

In other words, one the one hand the BBC is claiming that despite Orla Guerin’s categorical statement that there was no evidence of Hamas using human shields, audiences were not misled and would have understood that in fact it was doing just that because she went on to show footage of a residential area from which missiles had been fired. On the other hand the BBC is also claiming that it is not sure that the residents of areas from which missiles were fired were actually human shields because it thinks there is a dispute regarding the definition of human shields. Obviously any reasonable viewer would have interpreted Guerin’s sequence of commentary as supporting that interpretation of the definition of human shields as applying only to people who have been actively and forcibly placed in a certain location.

The ESC then notes that:

“Two of the complainants to the consolidated appeal requested that the Trustees review the Adviser’s decision not to proceed.”

The ESC’s decision was as follows:

“The Committee acknowledged the complainants’ reference to international law. However, Trustees considered that it was clear from the report that the correspondent attached a precise meaning to her words when she said there was “no evidence” so far that civilians “had been used as human shields”.

The Committee observed that the complaints, whilst clearly made in good faith, were predicated on testing the content by isolating a single sentence rather than considering the report overall and by a misinterpretation of what the reporter had actually said. It noted, for example, the section of commentary which followed:

“During this conflict Palestinian militants have kept a low profile, avoiding the cameras. But we know that at times they have operated from civilian areas. A rocket was fired from this waste ground about ten days ago. There was no ceasefire at the time. But you can see that just across the road there are people living in these apartments.”

The Committee agreed that the subsequent sequences offered further clarification and would have accurately informed the audience that, even without actual evidence of civilians being coerced, there was substantial circumstantial evidence that Hamas had a case to answer.

The Committee therefore agreed with the Adviser that the complaint would not have a reasonable prospect of success were it to proceed to appeal.”

As we see, assorted BBC bodies state that the definition of human shields is unclear and appear to adopt a stance according to which if civilians have not been coerced, they are not acting as human shields. Those claims, however, do not stand up to scrutiny.

“The prohibition of using human shields in the Geneva Conventions, Additional Protocol I and the Statute of the International Criminal Court are couched in terms of using the presence (or movements) of civilians or other protected persons to render certain points or areas (or military forces) immune from military operations.[…]

It can be concluded that the use of human shields requires an intentional co-location of military objectives and civilians or persons hors de combat with the specific intent of trying to prevent the targeting of those military objectives.”

Likewise, as pointed out by Tali Kolesov Har-Oz and Ori Pomson:

“In international humanitarian law (IHL), the term “human shields” concerns “civilians or other protected persons, whose presence or movement is aimed or used to render military targets immune from military operations.” The use of human shields both in international armed conflicts (IACs) and in non-international armed conflicts (NIACs) is considered a violation of customary international law (von Leeb, 15 ILR 395, n.1; ICRC, Rule 97). Treaty law directly prohibits such practice in IACs (GCIV 28; API, art. 51(7)) and indirectly in NIACs (e.g., CA 3 with Category ‘C’ Claims, 109 ILR 441). […]

The specific elements relevant to the definition of the crime of using human shields in the International Criminal Court’s Elements of Crimes document are as follows:

The perpetrator moved or otherwise took advantage of the location of one or more civilians or other persons protected under the international law of armed conflict.

The perpetrator intended to shield a military objective from attack or shield, favour or impede military operations.

In order to fulfil the required actus reus in Element 1 of the crime, it is not necessary to force civilians to relocate close to a military objective. The mere placement of military assets in the vicinity of civilians fulfils this requirement. [emphasis added]

Since the actus reus of this crime is rather broad, it seems that great emphasis is placed on the mens rea. Thus, in order to be considered a crime of using human shields, the actus reus must be performed with the intention to “shield a military objective from attack or shield, favor or impede military operations.” Additionally, this crime does not require any result; rather, it focuses solely on the acts and intention of the belligerent fearing an attack.”

Whilst the ESC notes that it “considered that it was clear from the report that the correspondent attached a precise meaning to her words when she said there was “no evidence” so far that civilians “had been used as human shields””, it does not acknowledge that by the time Orla Guerin produced her report, there was in fact ample evidence of that practice [see also related articles below].

“It is widely reported that the acts of Hamas clearly fall within the actus reus of the crime, through the placement of ammunition, rocket launchers and other military assets in civilian homesmosqueshospitals and schools. While this practice has been the focus of widespread condemnation (see here a statement by the US Secretary of State), Hamas has openly and explicitly endorsed this policy. For example, a Hamas spokesperson called on Palestinians in Gaza to “oppose the Israeli occupation with their bodies alone,” explaining that this was an effective way to thwart Israel’s attacks. This was followed by other, similar statements, such as this one by Hamas’s Interior Minister. These are all examples of the ways in which Hamas “took advantage of the location of one or more civilians.” The particular intent behind these acts is also easily established. In these statements, Hamas officials admit openly and explicitly that their intention is to use the civilian population in Gaza in order to shield their rockets and operatives.”

Neither does the ESC examine the relevant question of why the BBC had not only failed to report adequately on the issue of Hamas’ use of human shields throughout the month of conflict which preceded Guerin’s report, but in some cases had broadcast content which even denied the phenomenon – a practice which one BBC editor also continued outside his organization.

The BBC Trust is charged with the task of ensuring that the BBC delivers its mission to inform, educate and entertain its funding public. Not only does the ESC’s ruling on this subject serve to compound the issue of the BBC’s self-censored reporting on Hamas’ use of human shields throughout last summer’s conflict, but it also does nothing to ensure that in relation to other or future conflicts, audiences will benefit from a higher standard of journalism which will ensure that the BBC meets its public purpose remit of building ” a global understanding of international issues”.

That, of course, does not only apply to conflicts involving Israel and Hamas: unless it intends to apply a different standard in the case of other conflicts, the ESC’s adoption of an unsourced interpretation of the definition of human shields which includes only civilians forcibly relocated close to a military objective is bound to affect the accuracy of the BBC’s reporting in Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Ukraine and elsewhere.

Related Articles:

BBC fails again to report Hamas order to civilians to act as human shields

BBC’s Bowen tries to persuade TV audiences that Hamas does not use human shields

BBC films Hamas human shields policy in action: fails to explain to audiences

The return of the template BBC response to complaints

BBC WS presenter: filmed evidence of Hamas’ misuse of hospitals is ‘rumours on the internet’

Indian TV network shows what the BBC does not

Hamas PR department invokes BBC’s Bowen

 

BBC amends inaccurate claim on Gaza mortar fire

As was noted here a couple of days ago, a BBC report from April 27th claimed that a recent UN report on last summer’s conflict between Israel and Hamas stated that Israeli forces had fired eighty-eight mortar rounds at a girls’ school in the Gaza Strip.

UN report art text

Perusal of the report summary itself showed that the claim was inaccurate.

Following communication from BBC Watch, the BBC News website has now amended that section of the article.

UN Gaza report amended text

A footnote has been appended to inform readers of the correction.

UN Gaza report correction footnoteThe BBC News website explained the source of the inaccuracy as follows:

“It was, as you point out, a mistake to say the UN inquiry summary said it found that Israeli forces had fired 88 mortars at the girls’ school. It appears the error originated in a report by AP.” [emphasis added]

Agencies such as Associated Press are obviously not subject to the same editorial standards of accuracy and impartiality as apply to BBC content and therefore any agency material should surely be subject to rigorous fact checking before it is used (in this case, without any indication) in a BBC report.

Whilst this correction is clearly very welcome, the continued lack of a dedicated corrections page on the BBC News website of course means that it is highly unlikely that those who read the original version of the report would have returned to it three days after publication and seen the appended footnote. 

 

BBC article on UN Gaza report includes inaccurate representation of its content

On April 27th the BBC News website produced an article titled “Israel struck Gaza shelters – UN report” which appeared on its Middle East page. The main photograph appearing at the head of that report is captioned:

“Israel said Palestinian militants used UN facilities as shields for their “terrorist activities”.”

UN report art first pic

The BBC’s article does not include a link to the summary of the UN report which is its subject matter but had it done so, audiences would have been able to see for themselves that the BBC’s knee-jerk insertion of the words “Israel said” is entirely superfluous given that the UN’s report establishes the exact same fact. The BBC itself even goes on to state that:UN report art main

“The inquiry also found that three empty UN schools were used by Palestinian militants to store weapons, and that in two cases they likely fired from them.”

The BBC’s article can be divided into several parts, one of which is general background information. Readers are informed that:

“The 50-day conflict claimed the lives of more than 2,260 people.

At least 2,189 were Palestinians, including more than 1,486 civilians, according to the UN. On the Israeli side, 67 soldiers were killed along with six civilians.”

BBC audiences have seen that oddly worded description before and, as was noted here at the time:

“The BBC tells its audiences that “at least” 2,189 Palestinians died, of whom “more than” 1,486 (a very precise number) were civilians. But how many more? If the BBC is sure that “more than” the 1,486 were civilians, why can it not tell audiences exactly how many of the casualties were civilians and how many were combatants? Of course what these quoted numbers also mean is that the BBC is informing audiences that at the very most, 703 of the casualties were not civilians. In other words, a maximum 32% of the casualties were, according to the BBC, combatants.”

Since the BBC began using that terminology back in December 2014, further information has come to light concerning the ratio of civilian to combatant casualties but the BBC continues to ignore those findings, instead continuing to quote the UN figures which were problematic from the onset and with nothing to suggest that the BBC has carried out any sort of independent verification of the information it promotes. 

An additional part of the BBC’s article relates to the abuse of UN facilities by terrorist organisations but notably no information is provided to audiences concerning the investigators’ conclusions as to why and how that abuse came about.

“He [the UN Secretary General] also expressed dismay that Palestinian militant groups would put UN schools at risk by using them to hide arms.

The report found that weapons were stored at three schools, although they were not being used as shelters at the time. The inquiry found that Palestinian militants had probably fired from two schools, which Mr Ban said was “unacceptable”.

“United Nations premises are inviolable and should be places of safety, particularly in a situation of armed conflict,” he warned. “I will work with all concerned and spare no effort to ensure that such incidents will never be repeated.””

A third part of the article gives the BBC’s version of the section of the report which relates to Israeli actions and remarkably all the important background information and context included in the report summary (such as the location of certain sites within the buffer zone and prior warnings to evacuate some facilities) is removed from audience view.UN report art text

“At least 44 Palestinians were killed by “Israeli actions” while sheltering at seven UN schools during last summer’s war in Gaza, a UN inquiry has found.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said he deplored the deaths and stressed that UN facilities were “inviolable”. […]

In one incident, a girls’ school was hit by 88 mortar rounds fired by the Israeli military, the summary said. Another girls’ school was struck by an anti-tank projectile, while a third was hit by a missile.

At a fourth girls’ school, the inquiry found, “no prior warning had been given by the government of Israel of the firing of 155mm high explosive projectiles on, or in the surrounding area of the school”.

“It is a matter of the utmost gravity that those who looked to them for protection and who sought and were granted shelter there had their hopes and trust denied,” Mr Ban wrote in a cover letter accompanying the summary.” [emphasis added]

The report summary deals with ten separate cases, three of which relate to the storage of weapons by terrorist groups in UN schools. Of the remaining seven cases, one relates to a boys’ school and two to co-educational facilities, meaning that the remaining four incidents at girls’ schools – the four the BBC chose to highlight – are, according to the classification used in UN’s report, Incidents a, b, d and e.

As readers can see for themselves in the summary, in none of the descriptions of incidents which took place at girls’ schools (or any others) does the UN investigating body state that a “school was hit by 88 mortar rounds fired by the Israeli military”.

The possible source of that obviously grossly inaccurate BBC representation of the report’s content may perhaps be found in the part of the summary relating to ‘Incident a’ at the UNRWA Maghazi Preparatory Girls “A/B” School (pages 5 & 6). The summary states:

“Later in the day of 21 July, UNRWA removed the school from its list of designated emergency shelters. In the morning of 22 July 2014, UNRWA and the IDF coordinated a two-hour window to allow safe passage for an UNRWA team to visit the school and investigate the previous day’s incident. The team arrived at the school during that window. They were in clearly marked United Nations vehicles and parked in full view in the middle of the school courtyard. One of the team, wearing a vest with a luminescent United Nations sign, went to the roof to examine the previous day’s strike. While there, two mortar rounds hit buildings in close proximity to the school. The team member ran from the roof. Two further mortar rounds then struck the roof of the school at the exact location where he had been standing. The UNRWA team immediately evacuated the area. No injuries resulted from this incident, but the school was damaged.”

In other words, four mortar rounds in all hit the school – after it had been removed from the list of shelters. The summary goes on:

“The Government of Israel informed the Board that, as a result of the examination that had been initiated at the request of the MAG [Military Attorney General], it had been found that, on 22 July, the IDF was engaged in mortar fire in the area of Maghazi, but that all fire was directed at open areas at least two kilometres away. Moreover, IDF munitions experts who had examined photographs of a fragment of a mortar round that had been collected by UNRWA at the scene of the incident had been unable to determine whether it was a remnant of an IDF 81 MM mortar round, as opposed, for example, to an 82 MM round, which, it was said, were in use by Hamas. Such determination would require physical examination of the remnant. The Board, however, found that the school had been hit by 81 MM mortar rounds fired by the IDF.”

“81 MM” of course relates to the caliber of the mortar round – not the number fired.

Apparently whichever member of the BBC’s staff read the UN’s summary and then wrote up this article did not understand what he or she was reading. Clearly a prominent correction needs to be made to this article.

A particularly interesting part of the UN report (pages 19 & 20) reads as follows:

“The Board found that, at times, there had been multiple channels of communication, both within the United Nations and with outside interlocutors. While this could be helpful, it could also lead to misunderstandings. The Board also found that the existence of two United Nations operations emergency rooms, one organized and coordinated by OCHA and the other by UNRWA, could lead to confusion, even though they carried out distinct functions, which were clear to United Nations actors on the ground. […]

While they were channelled [sic] by the United Nations to the IDF in a timely manner, the Board sensed a degree of confusion concerning the names and coordinates of installations, as, on occasion, the IDF and the United Nations used different mapping references and some schools have multiple names. The Board welcomed the intention of UNRWA and Israel’s Coordination and Liaison Administration (CLA) to refer to installations in the future by numbers, as opposed to names.”

Seeing as at the time the BBC provided a very generous amount of air-time and column space (see just a few examples here, here and here) for UNRWA officials to insist that the names and coordinates of buildings had been passed on to the IDF and to infer malice on Israel’s part, audiences should obviously have been informed that the UN investigation found that the system was by no means foolproof. 

More on the Law of Armed Conflict, Gaza and the BBC

As has been noted here before, less than twenty-four hours after the commencement of Operation Protective Edge in July 2014 the BBC began promoting to its audiences worldwide the notion that Israel was committing ‘war crimes’ in the Gaza Strip. That accusation – along with related ones such as ‘crimes against humanity’, ‘deliberate targeting of civilians’ and ‘collective punishment’ – continued to be a theme found in BBC coverage throughout the fifty-day conflict and since its conclusion, despite the fact that its origins were to be found in statements from politically-motivated NGOs concurrently engaged in ‘lawfare’ against Israel and in amateur speculations from BBC journalists.AI report

Of course much of that material is still available to the general public as ‘permanent public record’ on the BBC News website and no attempt was made – either at the time or since – to provide audiences with impartial professional commentary on the topic of the Law of Armed Conflict which would enable them to reach informed opinions on the topic.

Two experts on the subject of the Law of Armed Conflict recently wrote:

“Broadly speaking, we concluded that IDF positions on targeting law largely track those of the United States military. Moreover, even when they differ, the Israeli approach remains within the ambit of generally acceptable State practice. The IDF is served by a corps of highly competent and well-trained legal advisors who operate with a remarkable degree of autonomy, and its operations are subject to extensive judicial monitoring. While there are certainly Israeli legal positions that may be contentious, we found that their approach to targeting is consistent with the law and, in many cases, worthy of emulation.”

Michael Schmitt and John Merriam have also produced two new papers on the subject:

1) The Tyranny of Context: Israeli Targeting Practices in Legal Perspective

“The article examines the operational context in which Israel conducts targeting. It assesses how that context affects Israel’s approach to targeting, surveys the Israel Defense Force’s targeting process, examines the military attorney system that provides advice to Israeli Commanders on targeting matters and surveys Israeli positions on particular aspects of the law of armed conflict.”

2) Israeli Targeting: A Legal Appraisal

“This article summarizes the results of a research field study examining Israel Defense Force in December 2014. It discusses the unique operational and strategic context in which the IDF operates and discusses Israeli targeting practices. The piece also surveys and assess Israeli positions on the law of armed conflict. It concludes that such practices and positions reflect the environment in which IDF targeting takes place.”

The BBC’s continuing failure to show any interest whatsoever in bringing its audiences such professional perspectives to balance the politically motivated messaging it propagated during the conflict and in the months since its end does nothing to reassure licence fee payers that it is committed to accurate and impartial reporting.

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No BBC report on latest missile attack from Gaza Strip

With the BBC having sent at least two of its Jerusalem Bureau staff to cover the story of migrants and refugees trying to cross the Mediterranean (Quentin Sommerville has been reporting from Libya and Yolande Knell from Sicily), coverage of events in Israel has been decidedly sparse over the past two weeks.No news

One significant incident – which did not even receive coverage in the form of an agency-based report on the BBC News website – occurred on the evening of April 23rd when a missile was fired from the Gaza Strip for the first time since December.

“Sirens went off sounded in the city of Sderot and in other Gaza-bordering communities just before 10 P.M. on Thursday, and residents of the area reported hearing several explosions shortly after. Security services are scouring the area in an attempt to locate the precise landing site.

“We heard the siren, grabbed our child and rushed to the safe room,” said Adi Betan Meiri, a resident of Sderot. “At first we thought it was a false alarm, probably because the rain had messed up the siren. Then we heard a loud explosion. The child was very scared, as were we. We closed the steel shutter which had been open for months.””

Fortunately, the missile did not land in a residential area.

“The projectile exploded harmlessly in an open, uninhabited area, the IDF said, adding that security forces were searching for its remnants.

In response, the IDF struck a terror target in northern Gaza to the earlier rocket attack, the IDF Spokesperson’s Unit said on Thursday shortly before midnight.

It was not immediately clear which organization launched the attack. The assessment within the army is that a small Gazan terror group, not Hamas, fired the rocket.”

Expanding on that latter topic, Y-Net reported:

“In recent days Hamas has executed a wave of arrests of Salafists in the Strip, following a series of explosions across Gaza. Hamas’ security forces have searched relentlessly for those responsible but the identity of the mastermind behind the attacks remains unclear.

 According to Salafi sources, 13 of their members were arrested, and it is possible the rocket fire on Israel tonight was intended to embarrass Hamas over the arrests.”

The BBC has also not reported on that recent wave of explosions in the Gaza Strip – including one near the UNRWA headquarters.

Readers may recall that at the beginning of April the BBC gave multi-platform promotion to Khaled Masha’al’s bizarre claim that there are no Jihadist groups in the Gaza Strip. Five days after that interview with Jeremy Bowen was broadcast, Hamas reportedly arrested an ISIS-linked Salafist.

“Gaza’s Hamas-run security services have arrested a radical Salafist sheikh, accusing him of membership in the Islamic State (IS) group, a security source said on Monday.

“Adnan Khader Mayat from the Bureij refugee camp (in central Gaza) was arrested as part of an investigation,” the source told AFP, speaking on condition of anonymity and without giving further details.

Sources close to the Salafists said Mayat had been arrested on Sunday “by the Hamas government security services who fight mujahedeen who belong to the Salafist movement.””

Despite the fact that the BBC has a permanent office in the Gaza Strip, internal Palestinian affairs continue to be severely under-reported. That fact obviously not only detracts from audience understanding of Palestinian politics and society but also hampers their ability to comprehend Israeli responses to the attacks on its civilian population by assorted factions operating in the Gaza Strip.

That scenario is of course all too familiar. Between June 14th and July 8th 2014 (the beginning of Operation Protective Edge), two hundred and eighty-eight missiles hit Israeli territory. Not only did the BBC fail to adequately report on those attacks (which were mostly carried out by groups other than Hamas) at the time, but it has subsequently also managed to erase them from its accounts of the causes of last summer’s conflict.  

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