BBC’s template wording on Golan Heights fails to keep audiences abreast of events

The BBC News website’s coverage of the recent incidents involving two different groups of UNDOF personnel began on August 28th with some problematic geography.

BBC breaking tweet UNDOF

UNDOF

Just over half an hour later, someone at BBC News apparently realised that the Syrian opposition group which captured UNDOF soldiers was unlikely to be located in the part of the Golan Heights the BBC terms “disputed” and that hence the automatic reflex adjective was inaccurate.

UNDOF 2

The title of BBC’s article on the topic was amended to read “Syria conflict: UN peacekeepers held in Golan Heights” and changes to that report – originally date-stamped August 28th – can be seen here. The article states:

“It comes a day after rebels took control of a crossing into the Israeli-occupied Golan after a long battle.

Activists said the rebels included members of the al-Nusra Front, al-Qaeda’s affiliate in Syria.

During the fighting, an Israeli soldier and an Israeli civilian were wounded by stray bullets. The Israeli military said it had responded with artillery fire at two Syrian army positions.”

In fact, whilst the IDF officer was injured by a gunshot wound to the chest, the civilian from Kibbutz Ein Zivan was wounded by mortar fire. Those events on August 27th had previously been briefly and partially mentioned at the end of a report titled “Syria conflict: Islamic State ‘committed war crimes’“.

“In a separate development, Syrian rebel groups including the al-Qaeda affiliated Nusra Front have taken control of a crossing between Syria and the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights, according to a UK-based monitoring group.

“The Nusra Front and other rebel groups took the Quneitra crossing, and heavy fighting with the Syrian army is continuing in the surrounding area,” said Rami Abdel Rahman, the director of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

The Israel Defence Forces said one of its officers “was moderately injured as a result of errant fire from Syria”.

“In response, we struck 2 Syrian military positions in the Golan Heights,” an IDF spokesperson [sic]“.

The BBC News website’s second report on the UNDOF story appeared on August 29th under the title “Golan Heights: UN calls for release of Fijian peacekeepers“. On August 30th a third report appeared titled “Philippine troops ‘attacked in Syria’s Golan Heights’” and on August 31st a fourth report was published under the title “Philippine peacekeepers rescued in Syria’s Golan Heights“.

The first two articles both include the following statements taken in part from the BBC’s problematic profile of the Golan Heights which fails to make any mention of why Israel captured the area and its use by Syria prior to June 1967 as a position from which to attack Israeli civilian communities below.

“The Golan Heights, a rocky plateau in south-western Syria, has a political and strategic significance that belies its size.

Israel seized the region in the closing stages of the 1967 Six-Day War, and thwarted a Syrian attempt to retake it in 1973.

Both countries signed an armistice in 1974, after which Undof was put in place to monitor the demilitarised zone.

It has 1,224 lightly-armed military personnel from Fiji, India, Ireland, Nepal, the Netherlands and the Philippines.”

The latter two reports use the following formulation:

“Israel seized most of the Golan Heights, a strategic plateau in south-western Syria, during the 1967 Six-Day War.

The two countries signed an armistice in 1974, after which Undof was put in place to monitor the demilitarised zone.

It has 1,224 lightly-armed military personnel from Fiji, India, Ireland, Nepal, the Netherlands and the Philippines.”

UNDOF’s actual mandate includes of course rather more than the BBC’s simplistic portrayal reveals and includes ensuring that both parties to the 1974 Israel-Syria Separation of Forces Agreement keep its terms.

UNDOF mandate

In relation to clause 5 above:

“The UNDOF shall carry out inspections under the agreement, and report there on to the parties, on a regular basis, not less often that once every fifteen days, and, in addition, when requested by either party.”

Since the beginning of the civil war in Syria in 2011, conditions on the ground have changed and the demilitarized zone has long since ceased to live up to its name. UNDOF personnel are known to have ceased inspections in the area of limitation in armament and forces on the Syrian side. On its website, UNDOF itself divides its activity into two phases: 1974 to 2012 and 2013 to the present because of the change in conditions.UNDOF art 4

“A considerable escalation of the conflict in Syria in 2013 has affected the UNDOF area of operations significantly. The military operations carried out by the Syrian Arab armed forces and the armed members of the opposition in the area of separation have adversely affected the efforts of the Force to effectively carry out the mandated tasks. They have also significantly raised the potential of escalating tensions between Israel and Syria and jeopardizing the decades-long ceasefire between the two countries and the stability of the whole region. […]

By its resolution 2108 of 27 June 2013, the Security Council stressed the obligation of both Israel and the Syrian Arab Republic to scrupulously observe the 1974 Disengagement of Forces Agreement and abide by its terms. Underscoring that there should be no military forces in the area of separation, it also called on all parties to the Syrian domestic conflict to cease military actions in the UNDOF area of operation.”

Beyond moves such as the above resolution, the UN Security Council has done nothing to bring about the restoration of the designated status of the demilitarized zone which its UNDOF forces failed to keep free of military activity in accordance with their mandate. With frequent bouts of fighting between Syrian government forces and opposition groups taking place in that area often resulting in spillover fire into Israel and with tensions along the border rising as a result, UNDOF’s failure to meet its purpose is clearly an issue of significance about which BBC audiences need to be informed if they are to be able to reach informed opinions on current and future events and to understand Israeli reactions to them. That information was not provided in any of these four articles, which instead use template wording which has already been irrelevant for two years.  

Victim of Golan Heights terror attack unnamed in BBC News report

On the afternoon of June 22nd the BBC News website published a report on its Middle East page under the rather clumsy title “Israeli teen ‘killed by Syria firing’ in Golan Heights“.Golan incident main

The report states:

“A 15-year-old boy has been killed in the occupied Golan Heights by firing from Syria, Israel says.

Officials say he was with his father in a truck which took a “direct hit”.

The father and another contract worker are reported to have been injured. They were was [sic] carrying out maintenance work on the border fence,

It is unclear whether Syrian rebels or government forces were behind the incident, but Israel responded with tank shelling into Syria.

The exchange took place in the Tel Hazeka area, near the Quneitra crossing, the Israeli defence ministry said.”

Although details of the event were released for publication around half an hour after this BBC report was published, it has so far not been updated to include the victim’s name or correct age. In fact, Mohammed Karakra was thirteen years old; not 15 as initially reported and he had accompanied his father to work on the first day of his summer holidays from school. Mohammed’s father – from the village of ‘Arrabe in the Galilee – is part of a team of contractors working on the border fence in the Golan Heights on behalf of the Ministry of Defence.  He was seriously injured and is currently hospitalized in Haifa. Two other workers were also injured in the cross-border terror attack which took place at around 11 a.m. near Tel Hezeka, in the vicinity of the community of Alonei HaBashan.

Mohammed Karakra photo credit: alarab.net

Mohammed Karakra
photo credit: alarab.net

The BBC report continues:

“It is the first time an Israeli has been killed by firing from Syria in the Golan Heights since the Syrian conflict began in 2011.

Israeli military spokesman, Lt Col Peter Lerner, told AP news agency the firing from Syria was “clearly intentional” but it was unclear whether it was the result of mortar fire, a roadside bomb or shelling.”

The Israeli media reports that it is now believed that an anti-tank missile was fired at Mohammed’s father’s vehicle. Whilst the vicinity on the other side of the border where the incident took place is currently controlled by anti-regime forces, it is not yet known which of numerous organisations operating in the area – which include Hizballah – is responsible for the attack.

The BBC article then goes on to present readers with its standard insert to any report relating to the Golan Heights.

“The Golan Heights, a rocky plateau in south-western Syria, was seized by Israel from Syria in the closing stages of the 1967 Middle East War.

The two countries remain technically in a state of war, and UN observers are deployed to monitor a 70km-long (44-mile) demilitarised zone.”

Of course the BBC has done little to keep audiences informed of changes to UNDOF’s operations in recent months or of the full scale of cross-border incidents in the area. 

Off the BBC radar: an Israeli paramedic on the Syrian border

Since it became known about fifteen months ago that Israel is providing medical care to injured Syrians in a field hospital in the Golan Heights and in civilian hospitals throughout the north, the BBC has covered that story twice – see here and here – with both reports focusing on the patients.

Now, via Elder of Ziyon, we can hear the side of that story as told by IDF paramedic Staff Sgt. Noga Erez who was recently honoured by Israel’s President at the traditional Independence Day awards for outstanding soldiers.

Related Articles:

BBC throws mud over repatriation of Syrians

BBC Arabic reports on Syrian patients in Israeli hospitals – but not in Arabic

At last: an accurate and impartial BBC report on Syrian patients in Israel

Northern exposure: what the BBC isn’t reporting about the Israel-Syria border

Round-up of BBC coverage of security incidents – April 2014

With security incidents usually accounting for a significant proportion of the BBC’s coverage of Israel, it is interesting to take a look at which events are deemed newsworthy and which not. Throughout the month of April 2014, security took something of a back seat to BBC News website coverage of the Israel-PLO talks. 

In the northern sector a mortar fired from Syria – apparently errant fire – landed in the Golan Heights on April 7th. That incident was not covered by the BBC.

In the central sector a total of eighty-seven attacks took place throughout April in Judea & Samaria and Jerusalem, with the vast majority (73) being fire-bomb attacks. Two additional fire-bombings occurred within the ‘green line’. On April 14th a fatal incident took place when Baruch Mizrachi was killed by a sniper on Route 35 and two others injured. That incident was initially ignored by the BBC and when – well over a day later – it finally was covered, a grand total of thirty-four words were used to describe the incident in an article relating to another topic. Later versions of the report did not greatly improve on the initial coverage.

Other incidents ignored by the BBC – along with the above mentioned fire-bombing attacks – include the announcement of the arrest of six lawyers  from Jerusalem suspected of working for Hamas, the thwarting of a stabbing attack in Ma’ale Adumim and the prevention of another planned attack at Tapuach Junction.

In the southern sector on the evening of April 3rd air-raid sirens sounded three times in the Sderot area with four missile launches later identified. Earlier on the same day, Israeli forces patrolling the northern section of the border with the Gaza Strip came under sniper fire, with an armoured vehicle sustaining damage as a result.

Sderot train station

Sderot train station

 

On April 4th three missiles hit the Hof Ashkelon area and the IDF later responded.  On the evening of April 5th another missile landed south of Ashkelon, on April 6th a mortar fired from the Gaza Strip landed near a kibbutz in the Sha’ar HaNegev area and later the IDF again responded.

On April 7th an IED attack against Israeli forces patrolling the border fence with the Gaza Strip was prevented. On the afternoon of April 9th sirens sounded again in the Hof Ashkelon area, with the missile falling short. Later in the evening of the same day, a mortar shell hit a kibbutz in the Sha’ar HaNegev region. On April 10th IDF forces patrolling the border came under mortar fire from attackers in the Gaza Strip and a similar incident of mortar fire on an Israeli patrol also took place on April 14th, with a mortar also having been fired the previous day and sirens having sounded.

In the early hours of April 16th another round of missiles was fired from the Gaza Strip at sleeping Israeli civilians. On the evening of April 20th an IED was activated against Israeli soldiers and April 21st an RPG was fired at an army patrol. On the same morning a barrage of missiles was fired at the Sha’ar HaNegev area and the IDF later responded. As was noted here at the time, neither that incident – nor any of the prior ones mentioned above – was reported by the BBC.

On April 23rd a counter-terrorism strike was carried out by Israel near Beit Lahiya in the northern Gaza Strip and three missiles were launched at the Hof Ashkelon and Sha’ar HaNegev areas.

The BBC finally mentioned the April 21st missile attacks in an April 23rd article on the BBC News website concerning the Hamas-Fatah reconciliation deal, but failed to note the three attacks from the same day.  

“Shortly after Wednesday’s reconciliation deal was announced, five people were injured in an Israeli air strike in northern Gaza, Palestinian medics said.

Israel said it had targeted militants preparing to fire rockets. On Monday, seven rockets were launched from the territory into southern Israel.”

On April 24th another mortar was fired at an Israeli patrol in the southern part of the border area, two IEDs were discovered and an additional one was detonated near soldiers in a failed attack.

Western Negev, looking towards Gaza Strip

Western Negev, looking towards Gaza Strip

 

As the Jerusalem Post’s Yaakov Lappin has noted:

“…figures for rocket attacks for 2014 confirm what residents of the South have been feeling for months, that a major upsurge in projectile attacks has occurred this year.

More than 100 rockets, most of them fired by Islamic Jihad in heavy salvos in March, were launched at Israel since the start of this year. In 2013, during the same period, from January to April 24, nine rocket attacks were reported.”

BBC audiences, however, remain oblivious of the fact that missile attacks from the Gaza Strip have risen over ten-fold in comparison with the same period of time last year, primarily because – as we see yet again this month in which almost 70% of the total missile attacks from the Gaza Strip were ignored – the vast majority of incidents receive no BBC coverage at all and those few which are reported frequently tend to be mentioned by the way in articles on other topics. 

As for any in-depth BBC reporting on how the constant missile attacks affect the lives of Israeli civilians living in districts surrounding the Gaza Strip, nothing even vaguely related to that topic has been published on the BBC News website since Operation Pillar of Cloud in November 2012.  

Related Articles:

A round-up of BBC reporting of security incidents in March 2014

90% of missile attacks from Gaza Strip in February ignored by the BBC

75% of January terror activity on Israel’s southern borders ignored by BBC

Review of the BBC’s reporting of security incidents in Judea & Samaria in January

80% of December missile attacks from Gaza Strip ignored by BBC

One hundred and sixteen stories the BBC chose not to tell

A round-up of BBC reporting of security incidents in March 2014

Security incidents of one sort or another made up the subject matter of quite a substantial proportion of the BBC News website’s coverage of Israel throughout the month of March and so it is interesting to look at what was deemed newsworthy and what was not, as well as at the quality of those reports. 

Beginning in the north, as we noted here on March 13th, by that stage of the month the BBC had already ignored the discovery of two Katyusha rockets near Majdal Shams on March 1st and an attempt to plant an improvised explosive device on the Syrian-Israeli border on the night of March 4th/5th

Tel Fares from Ramtaniya

Tel Fares from Ramtaniya

 

On March 14th another IED was activated against an Israeli patrol in the HarDov area on the Israel-Lebanon border. That incident was not reported by the BBC until four days later when a brief mention of that attack and the one of March 4th/5th appeared in a report relating to a separate incident. Hizballah has since claimed responsibility for that attack, but that news has not been reported by the BBC to date.

On March 18th, on the Israel-Syria border, another IED was activated against an Israeli patrol. The BBC published a report titled “Israeli soldiers wounded by bomb blast in Golan Heights” which was later replaced by another eventually titled “Israeli air strikes in Golan ‘kill Syrian soldier'” after Israel responded to the attack.

On March 28th an attempted infiltration of the border between Israel and Syria took place near Kibbutz Ein Zivan, with the two armed men reportedly killed. That incident was not reported by the BBC. 

During the month of March the BBC elected to report on two incidents occurring in the central region: the March 10th incident at the Allenby Bridge border crossing (which is still under investigation) and the March 22nd incident in Jenin in which Israeli forces trying to arrest a wanted terrorism suspect were attacked and three terrorists killed in the resulting gun-battle.

Among the many other incidents in the same region which the BBC elected not to report were a stabbing attack carried out by a member of the PFLP near Petah Tikva on March 2nd, the arrest in Hebron of a Hamas operative wanted since 1998 and the arrest of a resident of Jabel Mukaber with ties to Hamas on charges of sabotaging gas pipelines in the capital with the intention of causing explosions. The man also admitted carrying out a terror attack with an axe in 2012.

Incidents in which rocks and firebombs were thrown at Israeli vehicles included that of March 20th when a bus carrying schoolchildren was attacked with a firebomb near Nablus. On March 23rd an Israeli soldier was seriously injured at Rachel’s Tomb when a concrete block was thrown at him. In all, 107 incidents were recorded in Judea & Samaria and three in Jerusalem during March, with the majority (95) involving firebombs. All of those incidents were ignored by the BBC, as is habitually the case. In fact, throughout the last nine months since the current round of talks between Israel and the PLO commenced, according to ISA statistics, 916 firebomb attacks have taken place in Judea & Samaria and Jerusalem. Only one of those attacks (in November 2013) has been reported by the BBC.

Attacks July 13 to March 14 incl

In the southern region the BBC used a report on an incident on March 1st in which a woman was shot near the border between Israel and the Gaza Strip to once again promote a flawed report by Amnesty International. On March 4th a strike against two terrorists who were in the process of firing missiles at Israeli civilian communities was the subject of a problematic BBC report. Incidents of missile fire from the Gaza Strip on the night of March 6th did not receive any BBC coverage.

On March 11th a Palestinian Islamic Jihad cell fired a mortar at an Israeli army patrol on the Gaza Strip – Israel border and the IDF responded. Later that evening a missile fired from the Gaza Strip exploded near Sderot. Neither of those incidents received coverage until the evening of the next day when the BBC produced the first of four reports (see also here and here)  concerning the subsequent heavy barrage of missiles from the Gaza Strip was fired at civilian communities in Israel over a period of two days. All those BBC reports were hallmarked by their amplification of PIJ propaganda, their absolving of Hamas of any responsibility for the attacks and the fact that they failed to clarify that some of the attacks were carried out by additional terrorist factions including Fatah’s Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade. Despite having sent a correspondent to Sderot, the BBC refrained from informing audiences of the point of view of Israeli civilians under attack. 

Gaza from Zikkim beach

Gaza City from Zikkim beach

 

Subsequent incidents on March 17th and 18th and the discovery of two improvised explosive devices on the border on March 25th were not reported. The discovery on March 21st of another cross-border tunnel prompted a BBC report which amplified Hamas propaganda.

BBC coverage of the March 5th seizure of a ship transporting weapons destined for terrorists in the Gaza Strip from Iran via Sudan included a blatant ‘smoke and mirrors’ report, the use of inaccurate maps, amplification of Iranian propaganda and the failure to inform audiences of evidence of Iranian involvement in the shipment.

Clearly a considerable proportion of security events – especially those not resulting in casualties – continue to be ignored by the BBC. Throughout March that was once again particularly notable in the central regions of Judea & Samaria and Jerusalem with the number of incidents reported by the BBC confined to two, whilst a total of 110 violent attacks against Israeli civilians and security personnel actually took place. Clearly too, BBC audiences are not able to form fact-based opinions if such a large proportion of information is consistently withheld.

Related Articles:

90% of missile attacks from Gaza Strip in February ignored by the BBC

Review of the BBC’s reporting of security incidents in Judea & Samaria in January

One hundred and sixteen stories the BBC chose not to tell

 

 

 

 

 

 

BBC reporting on Golan Heights attack passes up on providing crucial background

On the afternoon of March 18th Israeli soldiers patrolling the northern part of the border with Syria in the Golan Heights noticed something suspicious near the fence which marks the western (‘Alpha’) side of the demilitarised zone, adjacent to an area of the border currently controlled by the Syrian army. After they got out of their vehicle to investigate, an explosive device was detonated, injuring four soldiers: one lightly, two moderately and one very seriously. Israel responded with artillery fire towards Syrian army positions.

Several hours later a report appeared on the Middle East page of the BBC News website under the title “Israeli soldiers wounded by bomb blast in Golan Heights“. The incident itself is described in three short paragraphs phrased to suggest to readers that the information has not been confirmed by the BBC. IED Golan Tues 1

“Four Israeli soldiers have been hurt by a bomb blast near the demilitarised zone between the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights and Syria, Israel says.

The device was detonated as the troops approached the frontier on foot after identifying “suspicious activity”, an Israeli military spokesperson said.

Israeli artillery subsequently fired on Syrian military positions in the area.”

The only reference to the severity of the injuries sustained by the soldiers comes in the caption to the photograph chosen to illustrate the article.

“The Israeli military said one of the soldiers was seriously wounded by the explosion”.

The report goes on to mention (partially) two previous recent incidents among several ignored by the BBC at the time.

“Two weeks ago, Israeli troops shot two “Hezbollah-affiliated terrorists” attempting to plant an explosive device near the fence demarcating the demilitarised zone, the Israeli military said.

And on Friday, an explosive device was detonated near soldiers patrolling the nearby border with Lebanon. No casualties were reported after the incident in the Mount Dov area, which Israel blamed on Hezbollah.”

The article’s next four paragraphs repeat versions of information appearing in the profile of the Golan Heights which appears on the BBC News website’s Middle East page and – despite being last updated in May 2013 – still erroneously refers to “the pre-1967 border” instead of 1949 Armistice lines. [emphasis added]

“The Golan Heights, a rocky plateau in south-western Syria, has a political and strategic significance that belies its size.

Israel seized the region from Syria in the closing stages of the 1967 Middle East War, and thwarted a Syrian attempt to retake it in 1973.

The two countries remain technically in a state of war, and UN observers are deployed to monitor the 70km-long (44-mile) demilitarised zone.

Since the uprising began in Syria three years ago, both government forces and rebel fighters have repeatedly crossed into the buffer zone, and there have been several exchanges of fire with Israeli troops.”

The report fails to make clear to readers that all of those “exchanges of fire” took place after cross-border attacks – intentional or not – from the Syrian side of the fence. It also fails to clarify sufficiently to readers that the presence of armed Syrian military forces inside the demilitarised zone contravenes the ceasefire agreement of 1974. Additionally, BBC audiences are not informed that the demilitarised zone is now only partially monitored by UNDOF or that the routine weapons inspections that body is supposed to carry out (to ensure that both Israel and Syria adhere to the permitted quotas specified in the ceasefire agreement) are no longer being carried out by UNDOF on the Syrian side.

Early in the morning of March 19th Israel responded to the previous day’s attack with strikes on Syrian military facilities on the eastern side of the Golan Heights. Here is how that event was presented by one official BBC Twitter account:

tweet bbc world response

And here by another:

tweet bbc me english response

An article titled “Israel attacks Syrian army sites in Golan Heights clash” appeared on the Middle East page of the BBC News website on March 19th. The caption to the photograph chosen to illustrate the article states: Golan incident response report

“The Golan Heights, a rocky plateau in south-western Syria, has great political and strategic significance”. [emphasis added]

Earlier versions of the article opened:

“Israel says it has attacked several Syrian military sites in retaliation for a bombing that wounded four of its troops in the occupied Golan Heights.

Israel’s military said its targets included a Syrian army headquarters, a training facility and artillery units.”

Readers of the report’s initial versions were not provided with any updated information regarding the wounded soldiers (one of whom, at the time of writing, remains in a critical condition) and most of the information given was recycled from the previous day’s report in the form of a link.

“It comes after four Israeli soldiers were hurt in an explosion on Tuesday. […]

Israel said four of its soldiers were injured as they approached the demilitarized zone after identifying “suspicious activity” on Tuesday.”

In the report’s third and fourth versions (which appeared some two hours and four hours respectively after the original) the above was replaced by the following statement:

“On Tuesday, the four Israeli soldiers were wounded, one of them seriously, when an explosive device was detonated as they approached the fence demarcating the demilitarised zone.”

In the report’s two earlier versions, once again audiences were encouraged to see prior cross-border incidents in terms of equivalence rather than them being accurately described as Israeli responses to attacks from the Syrian side.

“Syrian and Israeli forces have traded fire a number of times over the ceasefire line in the Golan Heights since the uprising in Syria began.” [emphasis added]

The third and fourth versions of the report included the following:

“The Israeli air force has conducted several attacks on Syria since the uprising began three years ago.

Those air strikes are believed to have prevented the transfer of stockpiles of rockets from the Syrian government to Hezbollah, the Lebanese Shia Islamist movement that supports President Bashar al-Assad.”

Of course Israel has not given any official notification of having carried out those strikes, but yet again it appears that in this case – despite editorial guidelines on accuracy - the BBC is in no need of confirmation before turning its correspondents’ conjecture into ‘fact’. 

This report too includes general background material based on the BBC’s less than accurate Golan Heights profile. [emphasis added]

“The Golan Heights, a rocky plateau in south-western Syria, has a political and strategic significance that belies its size.

Israel seized the region from Syria in the closing stages of the 1967 Middle East War, and thwarted a Syrian attempt to retake it in 1973.

The two countries remain technically in a state of war, and UN observers are deployed to monitor the 70km-long (44-mile) demilitarised zone.”

Once again, the BBC failed in all versions of this report to adequately clarify to audiences the current situation regarding the demilitarised zone, the decline in UNDOF supervision and the presence there of armed Syrian forces in violation of the ceasefire agreement. 

The article’s fourth version (which had its title changed to “Israeli air strikes in Golan ‘kill Syrian soldier'”) included Syrian state media notification of military casualties resulting from the Wednesday morning strike and uncritically quoted a bizarre official statement from a regime which has killed hundreds of thousands of its own citizens over the last three years. Golan response art vers 4

“But the Syrian General Command of the Army and Armed Forces was quoted as saying the air strikes were an attempt to “divert attention from the successive victories” of its troops against rebel forces, particularly the recapture of the town of Yabroud, north of Damascus, over the weekend.

It also warned Israel that “such aggressive acts would jeopardise the region’s security and stability, and make it vulnerable to all options”.”

That version of the article also included the following outlandish assumption from the BBC Jerusalem Bureau’s Kevin Connolly:

“The choice of targets demonstrates that Israel is clearly blaming Syrian government forces, and not rebel fighters or units of Hezbollah, for the attack on its patrol, our correspondent says.”

In fact, whilst it has yet to be established which organisation carried out the attack, the Israeli minister of defence made it clear that “Israel viewed Syrian President Bashar Assad as the person responsible for what happens in his country”.

Earlier versions of the report  included the following:

“Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says the border with Syria has been recently “filling up” with jihadist fighters hostile to Israel and militants from the Lebanese Shia Islamist movement, Hezbollah.”

No attempt was made to provide BBC audiences with further background information on the topic of the different armed elements to be found on the Syrian side of the border.

The article ends by again mentioning the previously unreported incidents of March 4th in which an attempt was made to plant an IED in the same area and last Friday’s attack at Har Dov. It is not made clear that Tuesday’s attack took place along a stretch of the frontier controlled by Assad’s forces, in contrast to much of the rest of the border which is held by opposition militias of one description or another. 

The BBC’s coverage of incidents in the Golan Heights over the past year or so has been patchy at best.  Hence, with audiences already lacking much of the context to this latest incident, proper provision of factual information relevant to the story’s background would have enhanced readers’ understanding of events. Unfortunately however, the opportunity to inform audiences on the current state of affairs along the border and of the reasons for the growing ineffectiveness of the demilitarised zone in preventing attacks such as the one which took place on Tuesday – and any future ones – was passed up by the BBC.

Northern exposure: what the BBC isn’t reporting about the Israel-Syria border

As was noted here recently, two errant mortars fired from Syria exploded in the Golan Heights on the afternoon of February 18th. A few days later a bout of particularly heavy fighting took place south of Quneitra – which, unlike other areas proximate to the border, is still held by Assad’s troops – with the latter apparently retaking two villages from the anti-regime forces.  On March 1st the IDF found the remains of two Katyusha rockets in the northern Golan, which appear to have been fired from Syria. 

On the night of March 4th another attempt was made to place an improvised explosive device on the northern section of the border fence between Israel and Syria. Israeli forces responded with live fire. 

On the morning of March 7th Israeli Air Force jets had to be scrambled several times as Syrian aircraft came very close to the border during their attacks on an opposition-held village just beyond the ceasefire lines.

Like many other incidents which have taken place in the Golan Heights since the Syrian civil war began, none of the above was reported by the BBC, despite their staff clearly being aware of at least some of the events. 

Tweet Shuval Golan 18 Feb

Meanwhile, the flow of wounded Syrians arriving at the border to seek Israeli medical care continues. BBC Watch recently went to meet one of the doctors working at the field hospital established by the IDF in the Golan Heights to provide ‘first stop’ care for the wounded. Captain Dr S. noted that the types of injuries her team is treating – mostly gunshot wounds and injuries from explosions – are ones which are rarely seen in Israel these days and hence her generation of young doctors had little practical experience in dealing with such cases before the field hospital was set up. She also noted that the wounded Syrians arrive in a state of extreme fear seeing as they are, after all, coming to a country which they have been educated to regard as an enemy. Hence, she and her team deliberately avoid speaking Hebrew in the presence of the patients so as to try to reduce at least one stress factor, and instead converse with them in English and Arabic. 

Patients with more complex injuries are transported to one of several civilian hospitals in the north of Israel. Here is the director general of the Western Galilee hospital in Nahariya, Dr. Massad Barhoum, talking at the recent AIPAC conference about his institution’s work in helping Syrian patients. 

 

BBC silent on doubling of terror attacks since renewed ME talks

On the morning of Monday, December 2nd a mortar fired from within Syria landed about fifty meters from a house in Majdal Shams in the northern Golan Heights, luckily causing no injuries. On the same day, Israeli soldiers came under fire from Syria further south along the border and returned fire. Majdal Shams

On the afternoon of Friday, December 6th an explosive device was detonated near an Israeli army border patrol in the northern Golan Heights. Luckily once again, no injuries were sustained but the vehicle in which the patrol was travelling was damaged. Subsequent investigation indicated that the attack was deliberate and that the device was activated from inside Syria by as yet unknown parties. 

As has been the case with previous recent incidents in the Golan Heights, none of the above was reported by the BBC.

On Saturday, December 7th, three missiles were fired at Israel from the Gaza Strip. All three fell short and no injuries were caused. The attacks were once again not reported by the BBC.

On December 4th two more residents of the Sur Baher neighbourhood of Jerusalem were detained in connection with the stoning attack near Armon HaNetziv (unreported by the BBC) in which two year-old Avigail Ben Zion was injured the week before.

“We are holding five suspects,” Superintendent Yigal Elmaliach, who is heading up the investigation, said Tuesday. “Four of them were interrogated and admitted to the act and also implicated the others in the event. Some of them are still being questioned. We are talking about a planned attack. They met beforehand and planned to arrive in the evening in order to throw rocks. In the interrogation they said that the reason was hatred of Jews.”

In a recently published summary of terror attacks carried out in November 2013, the Israel Security Agency notes a rise in the number of attacks. In Judea & Samaria, 107 attacks took place (compared with 99 in October) and in Jerusalem 53 attacks occurred (compared with 32 in October).  The majority of incidents in Judea & Samaria and in Jerusalem – 135 out of a total of 160 – were attacks with fire-bombs, whilst twenty-one of the attacks involved the use of improvised explosive devices and two were small arms shootings.

A look at the statistics provided by the ISA for the months July to November 2013 shows that the number of terror attacks taking place in Judea & Samaria and Jerusalem since the renewal of direct negotiations between Israel and the PLO on July 29th has more than doubled. 

Terror Jul to Nov 13

The BBC’s consistent under-reporting of terror attacks against Israeli citizens in Judea & Samaria and Jerusalem means that BBC audiences are – in contravention of the BBC’s public purposes remit – unaware of the context of the doubling of the number of attacks in the months since the renewal of talks, just as they are also largely unaware of the continued missile attacks from the Gaza Strip and security incidents along Israel’s border with Syria for the same reason. 

At last: an accurate and impartial BBC report on Syrian patients in Israel

Nine months ago, in February of this year, it became publicly known that Syrian patients were being treated in Israeli hospitals. In all of that time the BBC has produced one rather odd article by Wyre Davies on its website and one filmed report by BBC Arabic’s Sam Farah – shown on BBC television news and on the BBC News website, but not on the BBC Arabic site.

As we have noted here on numerous occasions, besides that very sparse coverage of the story, it has remained off the BBC’s radar.

On November 3rd the Israeli media gave extensive coverage to the story of a baby boy born to a Syrian mother in Tsfat’s Rifka Ziv hospital. On November 25th an article by the BBC Jerusalem Bureau’s Kevin Connolly on that specific case and on the general subject of Syrian patients treated in Israel appeared in the ‘Features & Analysis’ section of the BBC News website’s Middle East page. The report also includes filmed footage broadcast on BBC television news programmes. 

Connolly medical care Syrians

Both the written and filmed reports are interesting, factually accurate and impartial, showing that the BBC can meet its obligations to audiences when it so wishes. 

Missiles fired into Israel not news for the BBC

Here is a Tweet sent by the BBC Middle East Bureau’s Quentin Sommerville on the morning of Wednesday, October 9th.

Tweet Sommerville missile

In fact two missiles were fired but one fell short within the Gaza Strip, endangering the local population. No news of the attack appeared on the BBC News website. 

ME pge 9 10

Early in the afternoon of the same day – October 9th – two Israeli soldiers were lightly injured when a mortar shell fired by the Syrian artillery during a battle with rebel militias exploded in the Golan Heights. Israel responded with fire at the Syrian position and lodged a complaint with the UN.

Like the episode last week in which shots were fired from Syria at workers constructing the new border fence on the Golan Heights and along with numerous other recent incidents in the area, this event also received no coverage from the BBC.