Revisiting BBC reporting on July 2014 Shuja’iya market incident

On July 30th 2014 the BBC News website published an article (which is still available) titled “Gaza conflict: ‘Israeli market strike kills 17′” in which audiences were told that:market written

“At least 17 people have been killed and 160 wounded in an Israeli strike that hit a fruit and vegetable market near Gaza City, Palestinian officials say.

Hundreds of people were shopping in the market in Shejaiya, a spokesman for the Gaza health ministry said.

The attack came during a four-hour truce called by the Israeli military. Hamas, which controls Gaza, had rejected the truce as meaningless. […]

Witnesses at the scene of the market strike in Shejaiya spoke of smoke billowing over the site, with ambulances racing victims to hospital.

A journalist who worked for a local news agency was reported to have been killed.

One witness, Salim Qadoum, told Associated Press: “The area now is like a bloodbath, everyone is wounded or killed. People lost their limbs and were screaming for help. It’s a massacre.”

The Palestinian al-Aqsa satellite TV channel quoted Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhum as saying that the market attack required “an earth-shattering response”.

The Israeli military had said the ceasefire would last between 15:00 (12:00 GMT) and 19:00.

However, it had warned that the truce would only apply to areas where Israeli soldiers were not currently operating, and it told residents not to return to areas they had previously been asked to evacuate.”

On the same day, Martin Patience produced a filmed report on the same incident for BBC television news which still appears on the corporation’s website under the title “Gaza conflict: ‘Israeli market strike kills 15′“. Like the written report, Patience’s account tells of civilians attacked by “an Israeli airstrike” and he informs viewers that:market filmed

“…it’s difficult to know which areas were actually covered by this partial ceasefire….but what areas are covered, I don’t think most Palestinians know.”

That incident is one of several which appear in the latest report from the Military Attorney General. Investigation into the incident shows that the BBC’s rapid and unquestioning repetition of Hamas officials’ tales of an out-of-the-blue Israeli airstrike on civilians during a cease-fire breached editorial guidelines on both accuracy and impartiality.

“In reports published in various media sources, it was alleged that on 30 July 2014, IDF forces fired upon the marketplace in Shuja’iyya, at a time when a ceasefire was in place, and as a result of these strikes, between 15 to 17 people were killed, including children, emergency services personnel, and reporters. Subsequently, and in accordance with the MAG’s investigation policy, the incident was referred to the FFA Mechanism for examination. […]

According to the factual findings collated by the FFA Mechanism and presented to the MAG, the events associated with the incident started at approximately 16:10, when an anti-tank (AT) missile was fired at IDF forces operating in an open area on the outskirts of the Shuja’iyya neighborhood. Immediately after the anti-tank missile was fired, there commenced an intense and ongoing burst of mortar fire, emanating from a built-up area in the neighborhood, targeting the forces. As a result of this fire an IDF soldier was injured and the rest of the soldiers at the scene were placed in real danger. Further, in light of this use of fire, and the situation in which the forces found themselves (including a tank that could not move due to malfunction), the conclusion drawn by the commanders in the field was that this fire could provide cover for an attempt to abduct a soldier. During this episode of mortar fire, five sites in a built-up area were identified as points from which shells had been fired at IDF forces. Nevertheless, IDF forces did not return fire towards the sources of this fire, because of their proximity to “sensitive sites” (in the IDF, “sensitive sites” are civilian sites that receive special protection from attack under the law of armed conflict (such as medical facilities), as well as other civilian sites that warrant special consideration for policy reasons, even when there is no legal obligation (such as schools); such sites are identified in advance by the IDF and integrated into IDF’s operational systems).

At approximately 16:40, when the mortar fire had not yet ceased, IDF forces fired a number of rounds of smoke-screening shells, in order to screen the troops, and frustrate the enemy fire. At approximately 17:00, as the mortar fire upon the troops from the built-up area continued, and in light of the ongoing threat to the lives of the troops, the forces were able to identify two additional sources of fire, from which most of the fire towards them was originating at that time. After it was concluded that one of these points was sufficiently distant from sensitive sites, it was decided to return a limited amount of fire, of five mortar shells, with the aim of suppressing the fire targeted at IDF forces. The IDF fire was carried out using mortars, since there was no available alternative for carrying out the strike, including aerial alternatives, which would allow the necessary operational effect to be achieved. In this context, the possibility of using 155 mm high-explosive artillery shells was also considered, in order to address the danger faced by the forces. This possibility was dismissed for the reason that the collateral damage expected from mortar shells was more limited.

Approximately 18 minutes after the initial mortar fire was carried out by the forces, towards the source of the fire, and after the fire emanating from that site had not ceased, it was decided to fire an additional ten mortars towards it. After this round of fire, the mortar fire on IDF forces ceased. Only around 40 minutes after the execution of the above-mentioned fire were reports received by the IDF regarding the hit on civilians in this area.

The FFA Mechanism’s findings further revealed that at the time of the incident, the forces had believed that the likelihood of civilians being harmed as a result of the fire was low. Before the start of the ground incursion in Shuja’iyya, a widespread warning to evacuate had been provided, which, according to the information in the force’s possession, had resulted in the evacuation of the vast majority of the civilian population in the neighborhood. An additional warning to evacuate was made two days prior to the incident, on 28 July, in order to keep the civilian population at a distance from the area of hostilities. Moreover, during the ongoing aerial surveillance carried out in the area in the period leading up to the incident, no civilian presence was identified on the roads and in the open areas of the neighborhood – which are the areas in which the danger posed by mortar shells is generally greater than the danger to those inside a building. In real time, no aerial surveillance capabilities were available to the forces. Thus, even if the possibility of civilian presence in the area had not been entirely ruled out, in consideration of the assessment that most of the population had evacuated and that no civilian presence was identified in the area prior to the incident, the understanding was that the risk of harm as a result of the limited fire was low.

After the event, by comparing the actions taken by IDF forces with the allegations contained in the complaint received by the MAG Corps, it can be concluded that one of the shells from the first round of fire carried out by IDF forces apparently struck the roof of the Al-Salak family, at a time when the family was on the roof, and killed seven family members; and that two shells from the second round of fire carried out by IDF forces apparently struck the crowd which had gathered next to the Al-Salak house in the wake of the first strike. At the same time, the possibility that the harm to civilians during this incident resulted from a misfire by a Palestinian terror organization has not been ruled out, in light of the extensive enemy mortar fire emanating from the area at the time.

In addition to the above, intelligence information indicated that six of the deceased in this incident appear to have been militants, and thus the total civilian fatalities is lower than that alleged in the complaint.

The FFA Mechanism’s findings further concluded, that the incident in question did not take place during a ceasefire in Shuja’iyya. The IDF announced a unilateral humanitarian ceasefire between the hours of 15:00 and 19:00 on that day, but clarified that this would not apply in a number of specific areas in which IDF forces were operating at that time, including Shuja’iyya (along with a number of other areas). This was transmitted in the media and in messages that were passed to the Palestinian side.” [all emphasis added]

In light of the fact that last year the BBC announced that “However long ago our online content was first published, if it’s still available, editorial complaints may legitimately be made regarding it”,  the BBC clearly needs to either remove those two reports from its website or to amend them with prominent clarification of the actual circumstances of the incident.

Related Articles:

BBC claims that Israel targeted a centre for the disabled in Gaza shown to be inaccurate

BBC reports on Wafa hospital shown to be inaccurate

Revisiting BBC reporting of civilian deaths in Gaza on July 28th 2014

Critical omission in BBC News report on PA tax revenues

On March 27th the BBC News website ran a report titled “Israel to resume tax transfers to Palestinian Authority“. One aspect of the BBC’s portrayal of that story is particularly notable.tax revenues art

The article opens:

“Israel is to stop withholding tax revenues collected on behalf of the Palestinian Authority (PA), a move that has crippled the Palestinian economy. […]

Israel’s military had reportedly warned that the policy was fuelling violence.”

Later on readers are told that:

“Defence Minister Moshe Yaalon, the Israeli military and the Shin Bet domestic security service all recommended the move.

It did not give their reasons, but Israeli media reported earlier this week that military commanders had said the policy was fuelling violence in the occupied West Bank.”

However, actual reports in the Israeli media present a decidedly less simplistic picture than the one promoted by the BBC. Israel Hayom, for example, reported that:

“Defense officials said various factors have contributed to the latest security assessments suggesting that an escalation in Judea and Samaria may be imminent, including the deadlocked Israeli-Palestinian peace process, the Palestinian Authority’s recent moves in The Hague, and the overall instability in the Middle East.

One military official said the defense establishment had recognized an increase in attempts to direct terrorist activity across Judea and Samaria by Hamas leaders in the Gaza Strip, as well as by Turkey-based Hamas commander Saleh al-Arouri.

Islamic Jihad has also increased its activity on the ground, as has the Tanzim, a Fatah militant faction.

Another defense source said the nature of the next round of violence is unknown, and the military is preparing for a number of possible scenarios in Judea and Samaria, including widespread unrest, riots, and clashes between civilians and security forces.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has a vested interest in curbing tensions on the ground, the source said, adding that Abbas’ ability to reconcile the dissonance between the relatively stable security situation and the unstable diplomatic situation is growing weaker.

Following Abbas’ application for membership in the International Criminal Court, effective April 1, Israel has suspended the transfer of tax revenue it collects on behalf of the Palestinian Authority. The IDF believes the move, which has aggravated the PA’s dire economic situation, may contribute to any potential flare-up of unrest on the ground.”

Ha’aretz reported:

“On the West Bank there has been a significant rise in recent months in Hamas attempts to activate terror squads by means of the external command headquarters in Turkey and the Gaza Strip. Both the Palestinian Authority and Israel have arrested dozens of Hamas men from the West Bank, members of various groups suspected of planning terror attacks. Islamic Jihad has also increased its military activity, mainly in the northern West Bank. Israel has also identified renewed activity, independent and unmonitored, by members of Tanzim, the popular movement of Fatah, some of whose members defy the PA. There is a fear that in the event of an escalation in terror Tanzim members will once again take part, as happened during the second intifada.”

And Ynet reported:

“Ynet has learned that IDF officials have recently presented the political echelons with the possible security ramifications for Israel’s economic sanctions. According to army officials, growing economic tensions in the Palestinian market in the West Bank served as a catalyst for riots and even terror attacks, breaking the relative calm the West Bank has enjoyed in recent years. […]

Meanwhile, the IDF are preparing for a possible escalation in the West Bank, both spontaneous and organized. The different scenarios include multi-site riots involving thousands of protesters, some armed, throughout the West Bank; simultaneous terror attacks; kidnapping and infiltration attempts; and a possible end to security coordination with the Palestinians, which they say is very unlikely, though a number of such cases have happened at a local level.

Though IDF say coordination will continue, if only because it is in the Palestinians’ interest to maintain control over its areas in the West Bank and to be able to present itself as the legal representative of the Palestinians, and not as a terror organization. The Palestinian Authority wants to avoid bolstering Hamas (currently said to be backed by roughly half of the Palestinian population).

They also fear Hamas involvement in the West Bank, and other attempts by young Tanzim – a militant offshoot of Fatah –  supporters to set up terror cells in the area. Those youths, they say, are no longer bound by the “Prisoners Commitment” which prevents PLO officials from returning to the ways of terror. In Nablus, security forces rounded up some of these youths, especially in the Lata refugee camp.”

In other words, the withholding of tax revenues is far from the sole factor – as the BBC would have its audiences believe – which is “fuelling violence” in PA controlled areas.

The rise of Hamas terrorist activity in PA controlled areas is not a new phenomenon. It is, however, one which the BBC has consistently under-reported since last summer and – as we see in this article – it continues to do so. 

One-staters get BBC WS platform for promotion of BDS, ‘resistance’ and ‘apartheid’ trope

As readers who have followed our discussion of the BBC’s coverage of the recent Israeli election will be aware, much of the material produced stubbornly focused audience attentions on a topic which was low down on voters’ lists of priorities: the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. A significant number of the BBC’s reports included commentary on an interview given by the Israeli prime minister to NRG on March 16th in which he said:

“I think that anyone today going to set up a Palestinian state – anyone going to evacuate territory – is simply giving extremist Islam territory for attacks against the State of Israel. That’s the reality which has emerged here in the recent years. Whoever does not understand that is simply putting…burying his head in the sand. The Left does that – it buries its head in the sand time after time.” 

When then asked by the interviewer if it was correct to say that “…if you are prime minister a Palestinian state will not be established”, Netanyahu replied “indeed”.

In the March 19th evening edition of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour’ (available here from thirty seconds in), presenter James Coomarasamy turned that one word into an ‘election pledge’.Newshour 19 3

Coomarasamy: “…we begin with the continuing fall-out from the Israeli election. On the domestic front the political landscape is unchanged: Binyamin Netanyahu has been reelected to a fourth term. But on the international level it’s becoming increasingly apparent that some of the pledges he made to secure that victory could have serious consequences. In particular, his suggestion that on his watch there wouldn’t be a Palestinian state has further widened the gap between him and the White House. Mr Netanyahu appeared to soften his line today, telling the American television channel MSNBC that he remains committed to Palestinian statehood – or what he called a sustainable, peaceful two state solution – provided conditions in the region improve. Well, the White House spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters that any change in Israeli policy towards a two state solution would mean that America would have to reevaluate its position.”

After hearing a recording of Earnest’s comments, listeners heard two speakers – introduced as follows:

JC: “But first – to discuss the options for Palestinians – I’ve been speaking to Yousef Munayyer, the executive director of the US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation. He’s a Palestinian citizen of Israel and holds both US and Israeli nationality. I’ve also been speaking to Mustafa Barghouti, the runner-up in the last Palestinian presidential election: was he expecting a change of approach from America?”

Notably, Coomarasamy refrained from informing listeners that the election to which he referred took place in 2005, with no election having been held since and the winner’s four-year term of office having expired six years ago. In breach of editorial guidelines on impartiality, Coomarasamy also made no effort to ‘summarise the standpoint’ of either of his interviewees or to clarify the political ideologies of the organisations with which they are involved. Worse still was Coomarasamy’s failure to challenge Barghouti’s advancement of the ‘apartheid’ trope.

Mustafa Barghouti: “I hope so, but we still have to see. It’s not enough what they said. What we need is actions and not just talks. In reality Netanyahu is trying to deceive everybody. What matters is not only what he says although he said very clearly that he is not going to allow a two state solution and all his statements were racist and practically he officially declared Israel as an apartheid state – a segregation state. Nevertheless…”

JC: “Well yeah…but he did …he said today though…he said he was committed to a two state solution provided the conditions allow it. So he has softened his stance…”

MB: “No, no, no; he is deceiving you. He’s deceiving you, deceiving the world media and deceiving everybody and that’s why I said what matters is what he does and what he does on the ground is settlement activities at a rate that is unprecedented. The settlement activities are destroying the possibility of a Palestinian state. In reality he is conducting a campaign to end the possibility of two state solution and he’s said it to win votes.”

This of course would have been the appropriate juncture for Coomarasamy to clarify to listeners that Barghouti’s claim that “settlement activities” have been “unprecedented” under the governments headed by Netanyahu are inaccurate, but he failed to correct that deliberately misleading impression.

JC: “So what’s…what should the Palestinian reaction be? What calculations are you making at the moment?”

MB: “Well first of all let me say what the United States should say – should do – as you have asked about that. I think the United States and European countries – if they are really committed to Palestinian statehood and to two state solution – they should immediately recognize the Palestinian state. They should send a very clear message to Israel that they are establishing a de facto political fact as to encounter his facts on the ground as well.”

Coomarasamy then brought in Yousef Munnayer – notably without any attempt to clarify the all-important question of the level of commitment of the assorted Palestinian factions to the two state solution.

“YM: “Well…err…I think that it’s very clear where Benjamin Netanyahu stands. Anyone who has followed the career of Benjamin Netanyahu – not just in recent years, but as he came up through the right-wing Likud party – knows exactly where his ideas lie. He is not interested in ever seeing a Palestinian state. For many years the charter of the Likud party which he leads explicitly stated that their position was to flatly reject the existence of a Palestinian state west of the Jordan River, so obviously ruling out a Palestinian state anywhere in the West Bank and Gaza. So nobody should be fooled by anything that Benjamin Netanyahu says. But I think frankly we should not put any credence into the rhetoric of a person who so agilely changes their position on matters of principle in three days.”

Coomarasamy neglected to point out to listeners that the Likud’s updated charter no longer includes such a position whilst at the same time failing to quiz Munayyer on the topic of the Hamas charter – which rejects the existence of Israel outright – and the Palestinian Authority’s continual rejection of Israel’s right to exist. In other words, his failure to ensure the introduction of that essential context – along with the failure to note the repeated rejection of a negotiated solution by the Palestinians – meant that Coomarasamy’s listeners were led to believe that the two state solution is rejected by Israel but embraced by the Palestinians.

JC: “Yes, so what then should the Palestinian position be?”

YM: “I think the Palestinian approach should be to continue to reach out to the international community to raise pressure on Israel. The power dynamics are such that the Palestinians cannot do this by themselves.”

JC: “Well it sounds as though America might be prepared to do that. What did you make of the comments from the White House today?”

YM: “Well I think the White House is now in a very, very difficult position. They have supported Israel unwaveringly for many, many years and the leader of Israel who was just elected with a fairly significant mandate to form a right-wing government spat in the face of established US policy for many years. So this is not something that they can let go quietly; they have to do something. The question is what is it that they are going to do? They’re gonna be exploring their options. I would love to see the United States take a very strong stance right at this moment: break the taboo of support for Israel and say that they are going to be changing their policy until Israel’s behavior matches international law.”

Coomarasamy then steered the conversation to the direction of promotion of the one state ‘solution’.

JC: “But what about the Palestinians? You say that you believe there has never been a realistic chance of Israel supporting a two state solution – what should Palestinians be doing then? Should they be campaigning for equal rights within Israel?”

MB: “I would like to respond to this. First of all I think if Israel kills the two states option of course the only alternative would be one state solution with full democratic rights. But what people should understand; this would be a long journey and a struggle against the system of apartheid that Netanyahu has created. And that means that we need not only Palestinian popular resistance on the ground but also boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel in the very same manner that was used against the system of apartheid in South Africa at one point in time.”

Coomarasamy made no attempt to relieve his listeners of the erroneous impression that Israel can be legitimately compared to apartheid South Africa or to clarify to them the end game of the BDS movement: the eradication of the Jewish state.

JC: “Popular resistance: do you think this makes war more likely?”

MB: “Yes. Popular resistance – popular non-violent resistance – this is what we are calling for and I think this is the least we can do in front of a government that will include Mr Liberman who speaks about beheading Palestinians and who is speaking about executing the Palestinian prisoners.”

Coomarasamy failed to put those comments into context by explaining to audiences that Avigdor Liberman’s Yisrael Beiteinu party proposed the death penalty for terrorists during its recent election campaign.

JC: “Right. Yousef Munayyer – what are your thoughts then about whether or not Palestinians should simply be campaigning for equal rights within Israel if you don’t think the two state solution is viable?”

YM: “Well I think frankly – and this is where I perhaps…I may disagree a little bit with Dr Barghouti – is that neither outcome is a short journey. Both of these are going to be significant struggles but we really do not have an alternative. The status quo is not something that is morally acceptable as we all know. And I think there will be robust support for a Palestinian civil rights movement should the leadership chose to go in that direction. If you look at American public opinion for example, if you ask Americans what they prefer be the outcome should a two state solution fail to be achievable, as I think is fairly demonstrable at this point, the vast majority say they want to see a single democratic state because these are values that resonate with Americans which have had their own visceral experience with the civil rights struggle in the United States and I think as Israel moves further into the open as an apartheid state, that clash with US values will become more apparent.”

Of course Coomarasamy refrained from reminding his listeners – and his interviewee – that the leaders of the civil rights movement in the United States never negated the rights of others to live there, never negated that country’s existence and certainly did not engage in an organised campaign of (partly foreign funded) violent indiscriminate terrorism against its population.

Regrettably, it is not rare to see context-free promotion of the ‘apartheid’ trope in BBC content. Neither is it unusual to see promotion of the anti-peace BDS campaign without any information being provided to audiences regarding that movement’s real aims. In addition to its mainstreaming of those forms of delegitimisation of Israel, we see in this programme the provision of a sympathetic BBC platform for the promotion of the one state ‘solution’ campaign to bring about the dismantling of the world’s only Jewish state and an end to the right of Jews to self-determination.

Yet again the BBC makes a mockery of its own supposed ‘impartiality’.

Related Articles:

How to Complain to the BBC

Tips on using the BBC Complaints Procedure

Revisiting BBC reporting of civilian deaths in Gaza on July 28th 2014

On page 29 of its 2014 Antisemitic Incidents report the Community Security Trust provided the following information:

“Almost half the incidents recorded in those two months [July and August 2014 – Ed.] – 258, or 48 per cent of the 542 incidents recorded in July and August – made direct or indirect reference to the conflict in Israel and Gaza that began on 8 July 2014 and concluded on 26 August. There was also a daily correlation between the number of antisemitic incidents reported to CST during this period and specific events in the conflict in Israel and Gaza. […] On 28 July, a day when media reported an explosion at the al-Shifa hospital in Gaza, CST recorded 22 antisemitic incidents in the UK.” [emphasis added]

With BBC content reaching the vast majority of the UK population and BBC One television news identified by the public as the UK’s most important source of news, the manner in which the BBC reported a story which prompted twenty-two antisemitic  incidents in that country is obviously of interest.Shifa Sahti tweet 1

Here at BBC Watch we have been tracking the BBC’s reporting of that particular story since it first emerged. On July 30th 2014 we noted that – despite information having been provided around an hour after the incidents at Shifa hospital and the Shati refugee camp occurred which showed that the cause of the civilian casualties was missiles fired by a terrorist organization – the BBC’s reporting of the story on July 28th and 29th promoted the Hamas version of the story according to which Israeli missile strikes caused the deaths of some eight children and several adults.Pannell Shati report filmed 28 7

Several days later we noted here that the BBC had produced a report on July 31st (updated on August 4th) titled “Gaza conflict: Disputed deadly incidents” which – despite the above-mentioned information – continued to encourage audiences to believe that Hamas’ version of the story was at least as credible as the information provided by Israel.

‘The BBC’s presentation of that incident, however, places data gathered from sophisticated tracking equipment on a par with the unverified verbal claims of assorted bodies all ultimately run by a proscribed terrorist organization.

“Gaza’s police, Civil Defence Directorate and health officials say Israeli air strikes caused the explosions. According to Al-Jazeera, Hamas denied it had fired any rockets from the area and said it was “categorically an Israeli air strike”. Hamas said it had collected shrapnel from the scene consistent with Israeli munitions, the channel’s website reported.

In a text message quoted by AP news agency, Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri described the incident as a “war crime” for which “the occupation” would pay the price.”’Shifa Shati Campbell tweet

On August 12th 2014 we noted that – despite a visit by the BBC’s chief international correspondent to an IDF missile tracking unit – the article defining the July 28th incident as “disputed” still stood.

On December 12th 2014 we noted that the IDF Military Attorney General’s investigation into the July 28th incidents at Shifa hospital and Shati concluded that they were caused by missiles fired by a terrorist organization. Despite that, all the five reports suggesting to BBC audiences that it was reasonable to assume that the deaths of civilians – mostly children – had been caused by Israeli missiles were still available to visitors to the BBC News website with no correction added.  

On March 26th a report appeared on the BBC News website’s Middle East page under the title “Amnesty: Hamas rocket attacks amounted to war crimes“.  The article includes the following:AI Shati report

“Amnesty said rocket fire had also endangered Palestinian civilians.

The group said an independent munitions expert had concluded that a Palestinian rocket had exploded next to a supermarket in the al-Shati refugee camp in Gaza City on 28 July, killing 13 civilians, 11 of them children aged between seven and 14.”

As we know, the BBC sets great store by any report – accurate or not – produced by Amnesty International. Perhaps then the appearance of this one will at long last prompt the corporation to append clarifications to those five reports – all of which are still accessible in their original inaccurate and misleading form on the BBC News website. It is, after all, in the BBC’s interest to do so in light of the fact that – according to its own statement from June 2014:

“…however long ago our online content was first published, if it’s still available, editorial complaints may legitimately be made regarding it”

The corporation’s continued failure to add appropriate clarifications to those five BBC reports (and any others still available to the public) risks wasting licence fee payer-provided funding on dealing with unnecessary complaints. More seriously, it also continues to provide the agar for antisemitic incidents in Britain. 

Related Articles:

How to Complain to the BBC

Tips on using the BBC Complaints Procedure

Examining Lyse Doucet’s claim that she reported new Hamas tunnels on BBC

The BBC’s chief international correspondent Lyse Doucet recently engaged in a Twitter conversation on the subject of her organisation’s reporting of the topic of Hamas’ cross-border tunnels. Some threads from that conversation can be seen here, here and here but readers will get the gist from the screenshot below.

Doucet tunnels twitter convo

Quentin Sommerville’s two reports (previously discussed here) actually related more to the subject of PIJ rearmament than to the reconstruction of tunnels. As for Doucet’s claim that she “mentioned tunnels in many live broadcasts” – that is true as long as one sticks to the dictionary definition of the word ‘mention‘.

In one of her filmed reports from February 25th Doucet said:

“Six months ago there was a welcome, there was a celebration among Gazans, among Israelis – particularly in southern Israel – that a ceasefire had been reached. But look at this now. It’s like a wasteland. You could be forgiven for thinking there’d been a natural disaster here. But this was the result of 51 days of war as Israeli forces entered on the ground and carried out airstrikes and artillery fire looking for the network of underground tunnels in what they had described as a Hamas stronghold.”

In her other filmed report from the same day Doucet said to Hamas’ Ghazi Hamad:

“But there are reports – credible reports – that Hamas is again digging tunnels, that Hamas has been test-firing missiles in preparation for the next war.”

As we noted here previously, Doucet displayed “no interest whatsoever in questioning Hamad about where the money and materials for rehabilitation of Hamas’ military capabilities are coming from”.

In an item for the February 25th edition of BBC Radio 4’s ‘Today’ programme (available here from 2:45:28) Doucet said:

“….where I’m speaking to you from – I’m essentially standing on a huge mound of rubble with slabs of concrete and twisted wire rods, fragments of children’s clothing threaded through these stones and rubble and dirt. But this is what most of Shuja’iya looks like. It still lies in ruins six months after that ceasefire was reached. It lies very close to Gaza’s border with Israel. It bore the brunt of Israeli airstrikes, artillery fire and the ground offensive as Israel said it was searching for Hamas tunnels and Hamas military targets.”

In an audio report for the February 25th edition of BBC World Service’s ‘Newshour’ (available from 30:00 here), Doucet introduced an extended version of this item as follows:

“Well there’s a warm winter sun today in Gaza after days of cold rain but I have to say it’s one of the few bright spots – the only bright spot really – you’ll find here in Gaza. I’m in Shuja’iya which lies very close to the border with Israel. And this was a place which bore the brunt of Israeli airstrikes and artillery fire as well as the ground invasion as Israeli forces came into this area to destroy the underground tunnels of Hamas and to target – they say – Hamas targets. But the devastation is all around us: the witness to what really happened here around the Gaza Strip.”

So yes: Doucet did “mention” tunnels. She did not, however, present BBC audiences with the comprehensive picture of the threat those tunnels posed to Israeli civilians in the summer of 2014 which would have enhanced their understanding of the actions taken by Israel and the scenes Doucet now reports with so much pathos. Given that most of the reporting produced by Doucet and her colleagues on that subject whilst the conflict was ongoing was similarly lacking – see examples here, here and here – that omission is obviously very significant.

But no: Doucet did not provide BBC audiences with anything which can seriously be described as meaningful reporting on Hamas’ reconstruction of tunnels since the end of the conflict in any of her many recent reports (see related articles below) from the Gaza Strip.

Related Articles:

BBC’s Lyse Doucet does ‘reporter in the rubble’ redux – part one

BBC’s Lyse Doucet does ‘reporter in the rubble’ redux – part two

BBC’s Lyse Doucet does ‘reporter in the rubble’ redux – part three

Lyse Doucet’s blatant political propaganda on BBC WS WHYS – part one

Lyse Doucet’s blatant political propaganda on BBC WS WHYS – part two

 

 

Hamas PR department invokes BBC’s Bowen

Readers may have heard about the Hamas social media campaign which recently invited Twitter users to ‘#AskHamas’. It is safe to say that the results of that PR drive did not exactly meet the terrorist organisation’s expectations and the topic was picked up by the mainstream media – see for example here, here and here.

Whilst Hamas did not answer most of the Tweets sent its way, here is one which did receive a reply:

Hamas tweet Bowen

Clearly the BBC Middle East editor’s efforts to whitewash Hamas’ use of human shields during last summer’s hostilities did not go unnoticed by that internationally recognised terrorist organisation.

The civilian population of the Gaza Strip might, however, be somewhat less appreciative of that politically motivated reporting from the man supposedly responsible for ensuring the accuracy and impartiality of the BBC’s Middle East content. 

 

Law of Armed Conflict, Gaza and the BBC

As readers know, less than 24 hours after the commencement of Operation Protective Edge on July 8th 2014, the BBC began to promote the notion that Israel was committing ‘war crimes’ in the Gaza Strip.Bowen tweet 1

That theme, along with related ones such as ‘crimes against humanity’ and ‘deliberate targeting of civilians’, continued to be advanced throughout the 50-day operation and after its conclusion, in large part by means of amplification of claims made by political NGOs such as the PCHR (see examples here and here), Human Rights Watch (see examples here and here) and Amnesty International (see examples here, here and here).

In addition, BBC audiences were fed amateur commentary from journalists with no credentials in the field of the Law of Armed Conflict, with Jeremy Bowen’s frequently proffered  ‘diagnoses’ being particularly notable.Bowen tweet 2

In a new report on last summer’s conflict written by five American Generals and commissioned by JINSA, the topic of amateur commentary on the legality of IDF operations is addressed.

“…Numerous individuals claiming to be experts in the relationship between law and military operations quickly seemed to accept Hamas’s assertions of unlawful IDF operations. On July 23, 2014, the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, stated: “There seems to be a strong possibility that international law has been violated, in a manner that could amount to war crimes.” The U.N. Human Rights Council subsequently issued a resolution condemning “in the strongest terms the widespread, systematic and gross violations of international human rights and fundamental freedoms arising from the Israeli military operations” in Gaza. In September, Human Rights Watch issued a report declaring that “three Israeli attacks that damaged Gaza schools housing displaced people caused numerous civilian casualties in violation of the laws of war.” And, in November, Amnesty International concluded that the IDF’s “use of large aerial bombs [to attack civilian homes] suggests that these attacks either were intended to cause the complete destruction of the targeted structure or a determination to ensure the killing of targeted individuals without due regard to the killing and destruction to those in their immediate vicinity,” which would constitute “prima facie evidence of serious violations of international humanitarian law.”

These condemnations were premised on premature, effects-based assessments of military operations, or on the same flawed understandings of the law that Hamas was promoting, while refusing to apply that same law to its own actions. These routine distortions of the actual law applicable to military operations produced a fundamentally false narrative of legal compliance and non-compliance during this conflict, one that misrepresented Israeli attempts to minimize civilian deaths and the legality of their targeting Hamas and other factions engaged in military operations.”

The report – which is well worth reading in full – is available here.

The speed and alacrity with which BBC correspondents adopted the theme of ‘war crimes’ within hours of the commencement of the conflict was clear indication of the existence of an underlying political agenda even before the hostilities began. The fact that the corporation has continued its unqualified amplification of the same theme on behalf of NGOs engaged in lawfare since the conflict ended – whilst failing to provide audiences with the professional background information on the topic of the Law of Armed Conflict which would enable them to put such claims into their correct context – only reinforces the unavoidable impression that the BBC has no interest in dealing with this subject accurately or impartially.

 

A side to the Gaza reconstruction story the BBC isn’t telling

As readers know only too well, the BBC’s considerable efforts to promote the topic of reconstruction in the Gaza Strip since the end of last summer’s conflict recently reached something of a climax with a series of reports by Lyse Doucet.  Those already discussed here (and there are more still to come) include a radio report broadcast on the BBC World Service, a filmed report for BBC television and another filmed report for television news programmes which, like its predecessor, also appeared on the BBC News website.Doucet Gaza twitter 2

In the third of those posts we concluded that:

“So far we have looked at three reports from Shuja’iya put out by Lyse Doucet in the last few days. All of those reports were lacking in detailed, factual information which would help BBC audiences to understand why reconstruction in Gaza is happening so slowly or to appreciate what has been done so far. All three reports placed the focus on emotive, generalized, over-dramatic, context-free descriptions more suited to a telethon appeal than to contributing to viewers’ or listeners’ fact-based knowledge and one report was replete with Hamas propaganda. The bottom line of all these reports is that Doucet avoided adequately explaining to BBC audiences that the reconstruction of housing in the Gaza Strip has been hampered primarily by the Palestinians themselves.”

On March 8th Ha’aretz carried an interesting report ($) related to the topic of reconstruction in the Gaza Strip.Doucet Gaza audio on Twitter

“The five largest European Union members – Germany, France, Britain, Italy and Spain – protested to the Palestinian Authority last week that it was not doing enough to rebuild the Gaza Strip, according to European diplomats and senior Israeli Foreign Ministry officials.

Envoys from the five nations met last Thursday with Alon Ushpiz, a senior diplomat in the Foreign Ministry, for talks focused mainly on the situation in Gaza. […]

The Europeans complimented Israel’s cooperation with the reconstruction apparatus that the United Nations is operating, Israel’s doubling of the water supply to Gaza and the ease on export restrictions from the Gaza Strip to Israel, the West Bank and abroad. The European representatives also requested to increase the scale and pace of transferring goods from Israel to the Gaza Strip through the Kerem Shalom crossing in southern Gaza. […]Doucet filmed Gaza 1

According to a senior official in the Foreign Ministry, the European diplomats remarked the consuls general of their nations held a meeting with senior PA officials several days earlier, in which they conveyed a sharp protest to the PA leadership over the lack of sufficient cooperation in everything regarding reconstruction in Gaza.

A European diplomat familiar with the details of the meetings confirmed that such protest was conveyed. He spoke on condition of anonymity. “They conveyed an unequivocal message that the PA can do more to promote reconstruction in the Strip, and that continued internal political squabbling between Fatah and Hamas are adversely affecting the humanitarian situation in Gaza and the pace and scope of reconstruction,” the European diplomat said. […]

The European diplomat said that in a meeting between representatives of the five EU states and senior officials from the Egyptian foreign ministry in Cairo, the Europeans expressed concern that Egypt is not assisting the reconstruction process in Gaza and is continuing to close the Rafah crossing for extended periods of time. […]Doucet filmed Gaza 2

Likewise, diplomats from the five EU powers held talks with a number of Gulf states, including Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Kuwait and Qatar, to complain that those countries have yet to invest the hundreds of millions of dollars pledged for Gaza reconstruction, further delaying resolution to the crisis.

“There is positive movement on the Israeli side in everything regarding Gaza,” the EU diplomat said. “While you always need more, the Israelis are removing hurdles and assisting reconstruction. At the same time, reconstruction is still stuck because of the internal fights on the Palestinian side, Egyptian behavior and failure to deliver funds pledged by the Arab states. We fear that if nothing will move on Gaza reconstruction, we will find ourselves facing another round of violence in Gaza.”” [emphasis added]

Despite the fact that Haaretz is the Israeli newspaper most frequently quoted by the BBC, we can’t seem to find a report on this topic on the corporation’s website.

 

BBC’s Sommerville showcases PIJ rearmament but refrains from asking who supplied the weapons

On February 26th the BBC’s Jerusalem Bureau’s Quentin Sommerville produced two reports – one written and one filmed – about the Palestinian Islamic Jihad in the Gaza Strip.

The filmed report – first shown on the BBC News television programme ‘Impact’ – appeared on the BBC News website’s Middle East page under the title “Palestinian Islamic Jihad have rearmed and replenished ranks“. Sommerville opens the report with the same message as that appearing in the title:Sommerville tunnels filmed

“The threat of war is looming again in Gaza. These are the men of Palestinian Islamic Jihad. Six months since their last battle, they’ve rearmed and replenished their ranks in expectation of their next confrontation with Israel.”

Notably, BBC audiences are not informed at this juncture or at any other point in this report (or in the written article) how the PIJ has been able to rearm or who has supplied those weapons.

Of course the likelihood of any future confrontation between terrorist groups in the Gaza Strip and Israel depends entirely upon the policies chosen by the former: for as long as they elect to refrain from attacking Israeli civilians, there will be no “next confrontation”. Sommerville, however, allows one of his masked interviewees to mislead viewers with the inference that Israel is the party initiating the recurrent bouts of conflict.

“We are prepared for any aggression on the Gaza Strip.”

 A short way into the report Sommerville tells audiences:

“….right by its [Israel’s] border…120 mm mortars. There’s an ample supply and there’s more inside.”

However, he refrains from commenting on the fact that the mortar marked ‘M48′ displayed by the PIJ terrorist he and his crew filmed bears a remarkable resemblance to the Iranian-made 120mm mortars intercepted by the IDF in 2009 aboard the ‘Francop and of course he makes no effort to inquire where and how his hosts obtained their “ample supply”.

Sommerville tunnels filmed M48

M48 Francop

Iranian-made 120 mm M48 mortar found on the Francop. Photo: MFA

Later on in the report viewers are shown an image of what Sommerville describes as:

“The aftermath of an explosion on Gaza’s western border …”

The Gaza Strip’s western border is of course the Mediterranean coastline. Apparently just as geographically challenged as his colleague who recently described the Golan Heights as being west of Haifa, Sommerville is actually referring to the southern border of the Gaza Strip – as can be determined from the commentary which follows.

“Egyptian soldiers are piling on the pressure. They’re tightening the border and wiping out smuggling tunnels that have been a lifeline to Gaza. Egypt blames militants from here for aiding attacks in the Sinai.”

No effort is made to explain to viewers why Egypt makes such statements.

Throughout this report the PIJ are predictably referred to as “militants” and Sommerville informs viewers that:

“They [the PIJ] and Hamas are regarded by the West as terrorists.”

Of course there are also non-Western countries which take the same approach – now including Egypt.

In the closing interview with a masked terrorist, viewers are told that the ‘achievement’ of the PIJ during last summer’s conflict was:

“…we challenged the occupier […] we are still able to say no to the occupation.”

Sommerville fails to inform BBC audiences of the fact that the Gaza Strip has not been occupied by Israel since August 2005.

In the written version of his report  – appearing in the Features & Analysis section of the BBC News website’s Middle East page under the headline “Inside Gaza’s tunnels, militants get ready for the next war” – Sommerville promotes some of the same themes.Sommerville tunnels written

“Viewed as a terrorist group in the West, Islamic Jihad is committed to Israel’s destruction.”

And:

“Egypt’s soldiers move around in armoured vehicles. Border controls have been tightened and they are using explosives to destroy homes and smuggling tunnels that have been a lifeline to Gaza.

Egyptian President Abdul Fattah al-Sisi blames Hamas and others for aiding attacks in the Sinai.”

He again makes no effort to correct the inaccurate impressions received by readers from statements made by his interviewees.

“Standing inside, his face hidden, is a fighter, with the nom de guerre, Abu Hamza.

“In the last war we noticed that every moving thing on the surface of the earth was bombed, whether it was ambulances, civilians or fighters walking on the street,” he said. [emphasis added]

And:

“Our biggest achievement is that we stood our ground, and we challenged the occupier,” said Abu Ibrahim, a commander of their Saraya al-Quds brigade.

“Unlike the whole world, we are still able to say ‘no’ to them, ‘no’ to the occupation. We are still able to resist.” [emphasis added]

Sommerville continues the practice of promoting casualty figures which have not been independently verified by the BBC.  

“The 50-day conflict in Gaza left at least 2,189 Palestinians dead, including more than 1,486 civilians, according to the UN, and 11,000 injured.”

His emotive descriptions of the Gaza Strip lack context and no effort is made to clarify to readers that the factor most hindering reconstruction in the Gaza Strip is infighting between Hamas and the Palestinian Authority.

“Large parts of neighbourhoods in Gaza are in ruins, and the Strip is in the midst of a humanitarian crisis which has left many thousands of families homeless.

Six months on, the rubble from the war lies mostly uncleared and there has been little rebuilding.” […]

“Gaza is being cornered, more isolated than ever before…”

Sommerville’s take-away message in both these reports is that the “next confrontation” between Israel and terrorist organisations in the Gaza Strip is just a matter of time. Whilst that supposition is entirely reasonable, he fails to present BBC audiences with the information they need in order to be able to properly understand why that is the case.

The fact that he refrains from accurately defining the Palestinian Islamic Jihad and Hamas as terrorist organisations, along with his overall failure to clarify to BBC audiences that any future hostilities depend entirely upon the choices made by those groups and his concurrent promotion of myths such as the non-existent “occupation”, means that readers and viewers remain none the wiser about the real causes of the war around the corner.

In addition, Sommerville’s avoidance of the issue of the PIJ’s Iranian backing and the sources of its rearmament mean that a crucial piece of the overall picture is concealed from BBC audiences and hence, what could have been informative journalism is instead disappointingly predictable and superficial, tapping into the same themes recycled by the BBC so many times before. 

 

BBC’s Lyse Doucet does ‘reporter in the rubble’ redux – part three

Lyse Doucet’s second filmed report from the Gaza Strip (the first was discussed here) seen by viewers of BBC television news on February 25th took the now well-worn ‘reporter in the rubble’ theme to its logical conclusion by having Doucet deliver a two and a half-minute monologue while standing on a pile of earth, metal and concrete in Shuja’iya.

The report also appeared on the BBC News website’s Middle East page where it was titled “Caught in a wasteland: Gaza six months after the ceasefire“.Doucet filmed Gaza 2

“Gazans, the international community, certainly didn’t expect Gaza to look like this. Six months ago there was a welcome, there was a celebration among Gazans, among Israelis – particularly in southern Israel – that a ceasefire had been reached. But look at this now. It’s like a wasteland. You could be forgiven for thinking there’d been a natural disaster here.”

Whilst Doucet made copious use of those ‘wasteland’ and ‘natural disaster’ themes in all of her latest reporting from the Gaza Strip, at no point did she bother to try to put the scenes of destruction she promoted so enthusiastically on radio, television and social media into their correct context. BBC audiences were not informed that the scenes from the neighbourhood of Shuja’iya upon which her reports focused are not representative of the situation in the entire Gaza Strip.

That same practice was already in evidence six months ago when BBC reporters likewise nudged audiences towards the mistaken belief that the isolated images of structural damage which had been selected to appear in BBC reports reflected the situation as a whole. Doucet continues:

“But this was the result of 51 days of war as Israeli forces entered on the ground and carried out airstrikes and artillery fire looking for the network of underground tunnels in what they had described as a Hamas stronghold.”

As we see, Doucet is still unwilling to tell audiences the facts about Shuja’iya without ‘Israel says’ style qualification. She goes on:

“But there was a huge human cost as well. And today you can see behind me, in the shell of that home, there’s one pneumatic drill hard at work. In most neighbourhoods we go to we see one digger, one drill. It’s not enough. And just take a closer look at these mounds of slabs of concrete and twisted wires: the white signs that have been posted. Each sign says…gives a description of what stood there once – you can hard….you don’t know what it is now – what stood there, which family lost it and a telephone number to call when aid is going to arrive.  

But unfortunately, a lot of the aid hasn’t arrived. And so people – you see clothing lines – people are living in what’s left of their houses and here – right across this crossing here – we’ve been seeing a man in the window of his home, waiting every day, hoping against hope that someone – the United Nations, the Palestinian authorities – someone will come to deliver money.”

Whether or not there is any substance to Doucet’s pathos filled suppositions about a man viewers do not hear or see, we do not know. She continues with more use of the famous ‘Israel says’ formula, which BBC audiences have been very well trained to interpret as actually meaning ‘the BBC refuses to take a position on whether or not this is true’.

“Now, Israel says it has allowed some construction materials in.”

But, as we noted in our previous post:

“In January 2015 alone, 15,205 tons of construction materials were imported into the Gaza Strip. Since the end of the conflict, 50,000 tons of building materials have entered the Strip and more than 42,000 residents have purchased them.”

There was, therefore, no reason whatsoever for Doucet to use the ‘Israel says’ formula here. She could have easily verified the exact amounts of construction materials which have been imported into the Gaza Strip over the last six months and informed her viewers accurately and impartially on that topic. Significantly, she chose not to do that. Doucet’s monologue goes on:

“The international community – the UN – says some donors have been generous and given some aid.”

Once again, Doucet avoids providing audiences  with factual information about the factors which have caused other donors to be less forthcoming and instead opts for dramatic and emotive generalisations.

“But look at the scale of this. The United Nations in the summer said that nearly 20,000 homes and schools were completely destroyed. There’s not enough aid and construction materials to rebuild these homes and certainly not enough to rebuild lives. But in Gaza nothing is ever simple. They’re caught in the politics of disunity between Hamas and the Palestinian authority. Caught in the ongoing conflict with Israel, tensions with Egypt which also keeps its border shut. The appeal of Gazans today to the aid agencies is don’t let the people suffer because of the politics.”

So far we have looked at three reports from Shuja’iya put out by Lyse Doucet in the last few days. All of those reports were lacking in detailed, factual information which would help BBC audiences to understand why reconstruction in Gaza is happening so slowly or to appreciate what has been done so far. All three reports placed the focus on emotive, generalized, over-dramatic, context-free descriptions more suited to a telethon appeal than to contributing to viewers’ or listeners’ fact-based knowledge and one report was replete with Hamas propaganda. The bottom line of all these reports is that Doucet avoided adequately explaining to BBC audiences that the reconstruction of housing in the Gaza Strip has been hampered primarily by the Palestinians themselves.

Lyse Doucet is not some rookie reporter or even a local bureau staffer: she is the chief international correspondent of the world’s biggest media organization. The fact that she appears to believe that reports of this mediocre quality contribute anything to fulfilling the BBC’s obligations to its funding public should be cause for considerable concern.

Related Articles:

BBC’s Lyse Doucet does ‘reporter in the rubble’ redux – part one

BBC’s Lyse Doucet does ‘reporter in the rubble’ redux – part two