One very notable feature in the BBC’s coverage of the recent conflict in Israel and the Gaza Strip was the fact that the Palestinian Unity Government (PUG) suddenly disappeared from the corporation’s reporting rather like the Cheshire Cat in the Alice in Wonderland story. Concurrently, the roles played by Fatah and the Palestinian Authority in the run-up to the hostilities and throughout them were heavily censored in BBC reports.
As readers no doubt recall, the weeks preceding Operation Protective Edge saw generous, enthusiastic and yet very superficial coverage of the Hamas-Fatah reconciliation deal which was announced on April 23rd 2014 – see examples here, here and here.
On June 2nd the Palestinian Unity Government was sworn in and the previous Hamas government in the Gaza Strip stepped down. Again, BBC coverage was positive yet simplistic and it notably refrained from informing audiences of the significance of the failure to disarm Hamas as part of the reconciliation deal.
Ten days later on June 12th three Israeli teenagers were kidnapped and murdered in Gush Etzion by what we now know to be a Hamas financed terror cell from Hebron. The BBC’s coverage of the search and rescue operations between the kidnappings and the discovery of the boys’ bodies on June 30th completely ignored the aspect of Hamas calls to the local population to instigate rioting to hamper the operations as well as the many inflammatory statements made by Hamas, Fatah and the PA in support of the kidnappings.
BBC reporting on the escalation in missile fire from the Gaza Strip beginning on June 12th was patchy and what reporting there was failed to clarify to BBC audiences that the Gaza Strip was by then under the control of the PA unity government meaning that the PA’s existing agreements with Israel (with which the PA had assured the world the unity government would comply) were being breached.
After the commencement of Operation Protective Edge on July 8th the BBC erased the existence of the Palestinian Unity Government entirely from its reporting on the Gaza Strip, instead using the standard formulation “Hamas, which controls Gaza” – see examples here, here and here. Notably, not one BBC report out of the hundreds produced during the seven weeks of conflict informed BBC audiences that Fatah’s Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades had taken part in missile fire from the Gaza Strip at Israeli civilian targets and had also claimed responsibility for the use of live fire during rioting in Qalandiya.
Another topic which did not get any BBC coverage at all was the August 18th discovery of a planned Hamas coup against the Palestinian Authority. In addition, there has been no BBC follow-up regarding claims that Hamas attacked and in some cases killed members of Fatah during the conflict under the pretense of ‘collaboration’. Since the August 26th ceasefire came into effect the Palestinian Authority’s security agencies have arrested dozens of Hamas supporters and assorted public accusations have been flying in both directions.
But remarkably, after weeks of hiatus, the Palestinian Unity Government suddenly made a reappearance in BBC content in a September 7th report on the BBC News website titled “Abbas warns Hamas on unity deal“. In that article BBC audiences are told:
“Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has warned Hamas it must change the way it operates in Gaza if it wants to continue in a unity government.
Mr Abbas criticised the “shadow government of 27 deputy ministers” running Gaza, insisting that there must be “one regime”. […]
Hamas, which controls Gaza, and Fatah – Mr Abbas’s faction that dominates the West Bank-based Palestinian Authority – had been embroiled in years of bitter rivalry until signing a reconciliation deal in April.
Hamas’s government officially stepped down when the unity cabinet took office in Ramallah on 2 June, but it remains in de facto control of Gaza.
Much of the unity agreement has yet to be put into effect.”
Three months earlier on June 4th the BBC News website had reported that:
“US Secretary of State John Kerry has rejected Israeli criticism of his recognition of the new Palestinian government formed by Fatah and Hamas.
Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Tuesday that he was “deeply troubled” by the decision.
But during a visit to Lebanon, Mr Kerry noted the ministers were independent technocrats and insisted that they would be watched “very closely”.” […]
“We are going to be watching it very closely, as we have said from day one, to make absolutely ensure that it upholds each of those things that it has talked about, that it doesn’t cross the line.”
Both the UN and EU have welcomed the new government, on the basis of the assurances that it will abide by its commitments of recognition of Israel, non-violence and adherence to previous agreements.”
“Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah said his cabinet was committed to all previous agreements with Israel and would continue “programmes of peace” aimed at establishing an independent Palestinian state.”
Obviously the PUG’s commitments to “all previous agreements with Israel” have not been met during the three months of its existence and the above statements from the US Secretary of State, the UN, the EU and PUG PM Rami Hamdallah turned out to be worthless platitudes. Any serious news organization would be looking for answers from the people who voiced those commitments and engaging in a serious examination of the performance of the Palestinian Unity Government – as well as the actions of Fatah and the PA during recent weeks – rather than making the PUG intermittently appear and disappear from the picture presented to audiences according to whatever particular political message it chooses to promote at the time.