More uncritical amplification of a HRW report from BBC News

On September 22nd an article appeared on the BBC News website’s Middle East page under the title “Egypt ‘demolishes thousands of homes’ for Sinai buffer zone“. That article is in fact yet another piece of ‘churnalism‘, with almost its entire content being devoted to amplification of a report by one of the BBC’s most frequently quoted and promoted political NGOs – Human Rights Watch (HRW).HRW report Rafah

Despite the fact that the HRW report is based on information gathered from selected media reports, anonymous witnesses and unidentified ‘activists’, the BBC uncritically repeated its claims, with variations of the phrase “HRW says” appearing seven times throughout the article and no attempt made to provide readers with further relevant background material. Thus, for example, readers were steered towards the view that no justification exists for Egypt’s actions on its border with the Gaza Strip.

“The [Egyptian] military aims to eventually clear an area of about 79 sq km (30 sq miles) along the Gaza border, including all of the town of Rafah, which has a population of about 78,000 people, HRW says.

The government says the operation will allow the military to close smuggling tunnels it alleges are used by jihadists to receive weapons, fighters and logistical help from Palestinian militants in Gaza.

But HRW said little or no evidence had been offered to support this justification, citing statements from Egyptian and Israeli officials that suggested weapons were more likely to have been obtained from Libya or captured from the Egyptian military.”

Were the BBC’s own record of reporting on the subject of collaboration between the Sinai based Salafists and elements within the Gaza Strip less dismal, it would of course have been able to provide readers with background information crucial to their being able to put that HRW claim into context. As the Times of Israel reported in January 2015:

“Egyptian intelligence has specific information on assistance that Sinai terrorists have been receiving from the Gaza Strip. Many activists trained in Gaza, and received arms there that they have been using against Egyptian forces.

That is the source of the urgency around creating the buffer zone: the goal is to cut the jihadis off from their Gaza supply route. On Monday Egyptian media reported on a jihadist cell that enjoyed considerable help from Hamas, and tried to infiltrate Sinai through tunnels. Most of the tunnels aren’t open, but occasionally smugglers on both sides of the border manage to build a new one. The Egyptian army recently uncovered a 1,700-meter passage.”

As has been the case on many past occasions, the BBC makes no effort to inform readers of this article of HRW’s political agenda – despite the need to do so being clearly stated in the corporation’s editorial guidelines on impartiality.

That recurrent omission is all the more remarkable in light of the fact that in earlier this year, HRW (once again) took up the BBC’s case at the United Nations periodic review of Rwanda.

“The HRW’s Submission for the Universal Periodic Review March 2015 contains the following recommendations for Rwanda: […]

Allow the BBC Kinyarwanda service to resume its broadcasts in Rwanda.”

Public impressions of BBC impartiality and independence will of course not be enhanced by the appearance of articles uncritically amplifying content produced by a political NGO which just happens to have used its UN platform to promote the BBC’s interests.

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BBC fails to meet its remit in article about Rafah tunnels

BBC fails to meet its remit in article about Rafah tunnels

One of the public purposes defined in the BBC’s Charter is titled “Bringing the UK to the world and the world to the UK” and under that remit the BBC pledges to “[b]uild a global understanding of international issues”.

Clearly audience understanding of international issues can only be achieved if they are told the whole story and a recent article provides a prime example of how BBC reporting can fall short of that pledge.

On September 18th a short article appeared on the BBC News website’s Middle East page under the headline “Egypt ‘starts flooding Gaza tunnels’“. Readers are told that: [all emphasis added]Rafah tunnels art

“The Egyptian military has begun flooding tunnels used by Palestinian militants and smugglers under the border with Gaza, reports say.

It is the latest move by Egypt to destroy the tunnels, part of an offensive against insurgents. […]

Scores of Egyptian soldiers and civilians have been killed in an insurgency which has intensified, especially in the Sinai, since the overthrow of Egypt’s Islamist President Mohammed Morsi in 2013.”

So on the one hand, BBC audiences learn that Egypt is conducting “an offensive against insurgents” which includes the destruction of underground tunnels situated along its border with the Gaza Strip. On the other hand, readers are also told that the tunnels were used “by Palestinian militants and smugglers” – but no effort is made to clarify how or why those tunnels play a part in Egyptian efforts to combat that Islamist insurgency.  

Further, one aspect of the tunnels which has nothing to do with Egypt’s offensive in Sinai is highlighted. The caption to the main image illustrating the article reads: [emphasis added]

“Tunnels have been used for smuggling weapons between Gaza and Sinai, but have also been a lifeline for civilians“.

And in the body of the report readers find the following:

“The tunnels, which emerge in the Sinai Peninsula, have played a vital role in the economy of Gaza, which has been under a blockade imposed by Israel and Egypt in 2007 as a measure against the territory’s Islamist Hamas rulers.”

Clearly that portrayal’s omission of the crucial factor of terrorism from the Gaza Strip – the real reason for the measures introduced by Israel in September 2007 – actively prevents audiences from building an understanding of the issue – as does the unqualified amplification of Hamas propaganda.

“Hamas has accused Egypt of collaborating with Israel to try to further isolate Gaza.”

This article represents just one more link in a long chain of BBC failure (see related articles below) to provide its audiences with a comprehensive picture of the connections between elements in the Gaza Strip and the Islamist insurgency in the Sinai Peninsula. Hence, whilst BBC audiences may now know that Egypt is flooding tunnels in Rafah, they still have no idea why.  

Related Articles:

More selective BBC reporting on Middle East Jihadists

BBC recycles an AP inaccuracy

BBC erases Gaza Strip Salafist-Jihadists from its map

BBC’s Knell amplifies Hamas propaganda, downplays its terror designation

BBC recycles an AP inaccuracy

On October 28th an article appeared on the BBC News website’s Middle East page under the title “Egypt ‘plans buffer’ in Sinai against Gaza smugglers“.  The report appears to be based at least in part on an Associated Press article of the same date.Egypt buffer zone art

The BBC article informs readers that:

“Egyptian media accuses Gaza’s Hamas administration of aiding militants in Sinai. Hamas denies the charge.”

The AP report states:

“Egyptian media meanwhile has accused Gaza’s Hamas rulers for meddling in Egypt’s affairs, with some suggesting that the Islamic militant group is supporting fighters inside Egypt since the military overthrew Egypt’s elected President, the Islamist Mohammed Morsi, last year.

Hamas officials meanwhile deny any interference and criticize Egypt for imposing stricter border crossing rules since then.”

However, as noted here in a previous post, the accusations did not come from “Egyptian media”, but from a senior Egyptian official speaking to Asharq Al-Awsat.

“Maj. Gen. Sameeh Beshadi, who was formerly in charge of security in the North Sinai governorate where the attacks took place, said there was “no doubt that Palestinian elements had taken part in the attacks,” which killed at least 30 soldiers, according to security and medical officials.

He said the assailants had entered Sinai via the tunnels linking the region with the Palestinian territories, and that the assailants had prepared the booby-trapped vehicle which Egyptian authorities say was used to carry out one of the attacks while inside Egyptian territory. […]

“All the big terrorist operations which have taken place in North Sinai in the last few years involved well-trained Palestinian elements, including the attack on the military helicopter at the beginning of this year,” Beshadi said, referring to an attack which took place mid-January in the Kharouba area in North Sinai and which killed five soldiers.”

Clearly that AP claim was not properly fact-checked before it was recycled by the BBC.

The BBC report informs readers that:

“Tunnels linking the Gaza Strip and Sinai have also played a vital role in the economy of the Palestinian territory, which has been struggling to cope with an economic blockade imposed by Israel in its confrontation with Hamas.”

The caption to the photograph illustrating the article states:

“Goods smuggled through tunnels under the border with Egypt are a mainstay of Gaza’s economy”

In fact, as has been noted here on previous occasions, the construction of smuggling tunnels along the border between the Gaza Strip and Egypt began in 1994 – long before the introduction of border restrictions by Israel in response to Hamas terrorism. From the very beginning those tunnels were used to smuggle weapons and terror operatives into the Gaza Strip in addition to drugs and contraband: hence, rather than being a product of the partial blockade, they are actually one of its causes.

Obviously, without accurate presentation of the issues of the smuggling tunnels and their role in Palestinian involvement in the terrorism prevalent in northern Sinai (a topic the BBC has scrupulously avoided to date), BBC audiences will be incapable of reaching a proper understanding of Egypt’s policies. 



BBC’s Abualouf promotes Hamas “fishermen” PR line

Here is a Tweet sent by the BBC Gaza office’s Rushdi Abualouf on March 26th.

Tweet Abualouf fishermen

However, beyond the unqualified amplification of a statement made by a Hamas spokesman, Abualouf’s Twitter followers were not informed of the actual facts behind this story.

“Israeli naval troops in the Mediterranean Sea opened fire in the early hours of Wednesday morning on suspected Palestinian smugglers travelling in two boats from Sinai to the Gaza Strip. The Palestinians said that four people on the boats had been wounded. […]

The incident occurred at around 3 am, several hundred meters from the Gaza coastline.  

Soldiers from a nearby naval base were patrolling the area when they noticed two small boats making their way back from the Sinai coast to southern Gaza. The IDF is still unclear as to what the boats were carrying, but the secondary explosions have raised suspicions that the two vessels were carrying weapons.”

During the incident, the naval forces also came under fire from gunmen situated near Rafah:

“As the Navy was escorting the boats in question back to the Gaza shore, gunmen on the coast opened fire on the Israeli forces.”

Another similar incident took place later on the same day.

As has previously been documented here:

“Under the terms of the Oslo Accords – willingly signed by the representatives of the Palestinian people – Gaza’s coastal waters remained under Israeli responsibility. The agreements divide those waters into three different zones named K,L and M.

“Subject to the provisions of this paragraph, Zones K and M will be closed areas, in which navigation will be restricted to activity of the Israel Navy.”

Zone L was designated for “fishing, recreation and economic activities”, subject to specific provisions, including the following:

“As part of Israel’s responsibilities for safety and security within the three Maritime Activity Zones, Israel Navy vessels may sail throughout these zones, as necessary and without limitations, and may take any measures necessary against vessels suspected of being used for terrorist activities or for smuggling arms, ammunition, drugs, goods, or for any other illegal activity. The Palestinian Police will be notified of such actions, and the ensuing procedures will be coordinated through the MC.” [Emphasis added]

Following the Israeli withdrawal from the Gaza Strip, the November 15th 2005 agreement signed between Israel and the Palestinian Authority (Agreed documents on movement and access from and to Gaza) made no change to the above provisions.” 

In other words, Israeli counter-smuggling measures along the Gaza Strip coast are within the terms of an agreement signed with the internationally recognised representative of the Palestinian people – the Palestinian Authority.

Rather than being mere “fishing boats” as reported by Hamas and the BBC’s Gaza correspondent, the vessels involved in this incident appear to have been engaged in smuggling – likely as an alternative to smuggling via the cross-border tunnels in Rafah which have been rendered inoperative by the Egyptian army in recent months.

Given that the closure of those smuggling tunnels has resulted in financial crisis for Hamas with, by its own admission, 40% of its revenue (other observers put the figure much higher) previously having come from taxes imposed on goods smuggled through those tunnels, it would hardly be unexpected to see the development of an alternative sea route. It would also not be surprising to see a Hamas spokesman promoting the public relations line of smugglers caught in the act as innocent “fishermen” for Western consumption.

It should, however, be unacceptable for a BBC employee to unquestioningly amplify the PR of a terrorist organization with a vested interest in smuggling operations involving both taxable goods and weapons.




BBC’s Knell recycles inaccuracies from previous reports

In an article titled “Hamas under pressure as Gaza border tensions rise” which appeared in the ‘Features & Analysis’ section of the BBC News website’s Middle East page on October 9th the BBC Jerusalem Bureau’s Yolande Knell repeated inaccuracies previously seen in other BBC reports on the subject of the smuggling tunnels along the border between Egypt and the Gaza Strip. 

Knell smuggling tunnels

Although ostensibly about the effects on the Gaza Strip of the Egyptian military’s crack-down on terrorist groups in Sinai, Knell still manages to shoe-horn Israel into her piece.

The article states:

 “A network of hundreds of tunnels was constructed after the Islamist group Hamas overran Gaza in 2007, a year after winning parliamentary elections.”

As was previously pointed out here when the same erroneous claim was made last December by a ‘Newsnight’ reporter, smuggling tunnels in the Rafah area pre-date the 2007 violent Hamas coup by several years. 

“In fact, the smuggling tunnels have been in existence since the time of the Oslo Accords, but from the beginning of the second Intifada – i.e. for a good seven years at least before the partial blockade was introduced – they were used to smuggle weapons and terror operatives into the Gaza Strip in addition to drugs and contraband. Rather than the tunnels being a product of the partial blockade, they are actually one of its causes.”

Knell goes on:

“Israel – which considers Hamas a terrorist organisation – and Egypt tightened a blockade on the Palestinian territory.”

In a similarly themed article from August, Knell also inaccurately presented Hamas’ terror designation as an exclusively Israeli affair. As we remarked at the time:

“Knell also informs her readers that:

“Israel sees Hamas as a terrorist group.”

This reversion to the BBC’s old form is particularly jarring given that in recent months we have seen something of an improvement in compliance with editorial guidelines on accuracy with regard to the subject of Hamas’ designation as a terrorist organization.

In April  BBC audiences read that:

 ”Israel, as well as the United States and the European Union, regard Hamas as a terrorist organisation.”

In June Yolande Knell managed to write:

“Hamas is listed as a terrorist organisation by Israel, the United States, the European Union, Canada and Japan.”

Of course that is not the entire picture – for example, Australia designates Hamas’ Izz al Din Al Qassam Brigades as a terrorist organization, as does New Zealand since 2010 – but nevertheless, it is considerably more accurate than Knell’s latest offering of “Israel sees Hamas as a terrorist group”. “

Likewise, Knell once again misleads audiences on the subject of the partial blockade, and when and why it was enacted.

“The violent Hamas take-over of Gaza took place between June 5th and 15th 2007 and the Palestinian Authority – the internationally recognized representative of the Palestinian people – was forcefully ejected from power. Following that event, both Egypt and Israel largely closed their borders with the Gaza Strip due to the fact that the body charged with joint security arrangements under the terms of the Oslo Accords – the Palestinian Authority – no longer exercised any control over the territory. 

Three months later – on September 19th 2007 – in light of the escalation of terrorist rocket attacks against Israeli civilians originating in the now Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip – the Israeli government declared Gaza to be ‘hostile territory’.

“Hamas is a terrorist organization that has taken control of the Gaza Strip and turned it into hostile territory. This organization engages in hostile activity against the State of Israel and its citizens and bears responsibility for this activity.

In light of the foregoing, it has been decided to adopt the recommendations that have been presented by the security establishment, including the continuation of military and counter-terrorist operations against the terrorist organizations. Additional sanctions will be placed on the Hamas regime in order to restrict the passage of various goods to the Gaza Strip and reduce the supply of fuel and electricity. Restrictions will also be placed on the movement of people to and from the Gaza Strip. The sanctions will be enacted following a legal examination, while taking into account both the humanitarian aspects relevant to the Gaza Strip and the intention to avoid a humanitarian crisis.” “

And once again Knell also misleads her readers with regard to the entry of construction materials into the Gaza Strip by writing:

“Last month, Israel further eased its import restrictions on Gaza, allowing construction materials to enter for the private sector.”

In fact, the recent changes reflect an increase in the number of truckloads of construction materials for the private sector entering the Gaza Strip on a daily basis (from 20 truckloads to 70) – not a new policy.

The fact that there are so many breaches of BBC editorial guidelines on accuracy in this article is bad enough, but the fact that all those errors have previously appeared in BBC reports and are being recycled over and over again in subsequent articles – obviously without fresh fact checking – should clearly be a cause of concern to BBC editors.

BBC’s Knell misleads on entry of construction materials to Gaza

When was “recently” and how much are “small amounts”?

These two questions arise from Yolande Knell’s August 3rd article entitled “Damaging knock-on effects of Morsi’s downfall for Hamas” which appeared in the Features & Analysis section of the Middle East page on the BBC News website. 

Knell Hamas Morsi article

In that report, Knell finally gets round to telling BBC audiences about Egypt’s closure of smuggling tunnels running under its border with the Gaza Strip and the border itself.

“In recent weeks Egypt’s military has largely closed the Rafah border crossing with the Gaza Strip, restricting the movements of Palestinian travellers.

At the same time it has stepped up its campaign against Islamist militants in the restive Sinai region using bulldozers and dynamite to demolish smuggling tunnels along the Gaza border.

The underground passages mainly operate to transfer cheap fuel and commercial goods into the Palestinian territory from Egypt but they are also used by fighters and to move weapons.”

In this particular Gaza-related BBC article there are however no quotations of outraged condemnations of Egypt’s actions by assorted ‘human rights groups’ – because there are none to quote. But nevertheless, Knell is unable to leave Israel out of this story about Egypt and the Gaza Strip. Having described the effects of the tunnel closures on the population of the Gaza Strip, she adds: 

“While Israel has eased restrictions on the Gaza Strip, which were tightened after Hamas came to power in 2007, it is still cheaper to bring some consumer goods from Egypt, particularly petrol, which is subsidised, and some kinds of food.”

There is nothing new in Knell’s failure to properly inform BBC audiences about the reasons for those post-June-2007 “restrictions” – in fact she makes quite a habit of it. As we have had to point out here before in relation to reports by Knell:

“The violent Hamas take-over of Gaza took place between June 5th and 15th 2007 and the Palestinian Authority – the internationally recognized representative of the Palestinian people – was forcefully ejected from power. Following that event, both Egypt and Israel largely closed their borders with the Gaza Strip due to the fact that the body charged with joint security arrangements under the terms of the Oslo Accords – the Palestinian Authority – no longer exercised any control over the territory. 

Three months later – on September 19th 2007 – in light of the escalation of terrorist rocket attacks against Israeli civilians originating in the now Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip – the Israeli government declared Gaza to be ‘hostile territory’.”

Knell goes on:

“Israel has only recently allowed small amounts of construction materials to be sent to Gaza for use by the private sector. Many  Palestinian firms have continued to rely on Egyptian suppliers.”

And here arise the questions when was “recently” and how much are “small amounts”? The term “private sector” is used to describe organisations not owned and operated by governments. It includes privately owned corporations (profit or non-profit), businesses and charities.  

Between 2010 and 2012, 23,525 truck-loads of construction materials entered the Gaza Strip from Israel for use in projects approved by the Palestinian Authority and carried out by international bodies. Some of those projects were undertaken by foreign governments such as Germany, the United States or Japan, whilst others were carried out by private sector bodies such as the Red Crescent, the ICRC, or charities. 

But perhaps Knell actually means local Gazan contractors when she refers to the private sector? On that front we can see that for example that in May 2010:

“2,644 truckloads of merchandise were delivered to the Gaza Strip, including 178 truckloads of clothing and footwear, and building materials: 45 truckloads of iron, cement and aggregates; and 103 truckloads of glass, wood profiles and aluminum profiles. 85% of the merchandise was for the private sector.” [emphasis added]

In November 2011 a plan to import construction materials to the private sector in the Gaza Strip was implemented by COGAT. That plan included one very important aspect completely ignored by Knell.

“It has been agreed that building materials for the renovation and rehabilitation of 10 private sector factories will be imported, under a supervision and control mechanism designed by the international community in order to ensure that the raw materials reach their intended destinations and do not fall in to the hands of terrorist organizations.” [emphasis added] 

In order to find out more details, BBC Watch contacted COGAT and learned that since ‘Operation Pillar of Cloud’ nine months ago, up to twenty trucks of aggregates destined for the private construction sector have been entering the Gaza Strip every working day. 

So Knell’s “recently” in fact goes back several years and “small amounts” are several thousand tons, but – more importantly – she misleads by omission when she fails to inform BBC audiences why the import of certain types (rather than amounts) of construction materials classed as dual-use (i.e. items that have military as well as civilian applications) has had to be regulated.

Both of these omissions by Knell have the end result of denying BBC audiences important context which would contribute to their understanding of Israeli actions. That, coupled with the fact that the BBC insists upon euphemistically describing Hamas as a “militant group”, means that the BBC is failing once again in its mission to “build a global understanding of international issues”.

More omissions in the BBC’s Gaza reporting

As we are only too aware, the picture of the Gaza Strip which the BBC presents to its audiences uniformly includes depictions of a beleaguered population troubled by restrictions of movement and limited availability of goods and produce, with the sole  responsibility for that inevitably placed upon Israel. 

”The Israelis swiftly tightened a blockade on Gaza, restricting the transit of goods and people into and out of the territory.”

The fact that the BBC consistently fails to inform audiences of the context of Hamas executed or approved terror attacks against Israel when reporting on the Gaza Strip is bad enough, but its consistent failure to inform audiences of Hamas actions which have an effect on the local population’s access to goods and movement raises further doubts about the impartiality of its reporting. 

In January this year, Hamas banned the entry of a series of items from Israel into the Gaza Strip:

“The Ministry of Economy of Hamas announced its decision to prohibit the importation of several types of goods into the Gaza Strip, via the Israeli crossings. The list of goods includes: Office furniture, various types of food, hygienic products, gas pipes, plastic bags, plastic, and clothing.”

That move came after a previous ban by the Hamas Ministry of Agriculture on most fruit imports which proved unpopular with the local population:

“However, the ministry’s Saqqa urged Gazans to see the bigger picture. “We are people under blockade and we should have the culture of resistance,” he said. “Why should someone have all kinds of fruits on his table?” “

At the end of February, Hamas imposed a new ruling according to which residents of the Gaza Strip now have to apply for exit permits in order to enter Israel. At the beginning of March, Hamas brought about the closure of the Kerem Shalom crossing through which goods are transported into the Gaza Strip after it had already been closed for several days due to the rocket fire on Ashkelon on February 26th. 

“Over 70 trucks laden with food and other goods are currently waiting on the Israeli side of the Kerem Shalom crossing for their Palestinian counterparts.
The crossing is currently not operating, as the Palestinian contractor responsible for the Palestinian side decided not to open the crossing today.
His decision stems from attempts by Hamas to replace the current contractor with one of their choosing. Hamas has been actively trying to push the Palestinian Authority out and take charge of the management of Kerem Shalom so that they may collect revenue from goods that enter Gaza.”

Ynet explains:

“Hamas made this decision in light of their new demand that the concessionaire pay a toll of NIS 170 (about $46) for every truck that enters the Strip. The reason for this toll stems from the loss of profits from taxation from the smuggling tunnels which were mostly destroyed over the past few weeks as a result of intensive Egyptian activity.”

As previously mentioned here, the BBC failed to report on the closure of smuggling tunnels by Egypt.

None of the above moves by Hamas have been reported by the BBC, meaning that its audiences remain in the dark about Hamas actions affecting the movement and access to goods of civilian population of the Gaza Strip. That of course enables their continued perception of Israel as uniquely responsible for that population’s situation, but it is neither accurate nor impartial reporting. 


BBC silent on weapons smuggling to Gaza

On January 4th 2013 the Ma’an News Agency and Associated Press both reported the seizure of weapons on route to the Gaza Strip by the Egyptian authorities in the El Arish area of Sinai. 

“Egyptian authorities seized six U.S.-made missiles in the Sinai Peninsula Friday that security officials said were likely smuggled from Libya and bound for the Gaza Strip. […]

Security officials said that police working on a tip from local Bedouin discovered the six U.S.-made missiles hidden in a hole in the desert outside the northern Sinai city of el-Arish before dawn on Friday. They said the anti-tank and anti-aircraft missiles have a range of up to two kilometers (one mile). […]

Last month, security officials seized 17 French-made missiles near el-Arish […] before they could be smuggled through tunnels to the Gaza Strip.”

The BBC has reported nothing of this. Once again, the repeated failure to report incidents which contribute to a build up of tension means that if and when Israel is obliged to react to events resulting from terror organisations rearming themselves, BBC audiences will have no idea of their context or background.


BBC sidesteps Hamas terrorism and oppression in order to advance a narrative

Here’s a real tear-jerker of a story from BBC 2 ‘Newsnight‘ reporter Tim Whewell. Entitled “Unusual jobs highlight restricted choices of Gaza youth“, it appeared in the Middle East section of the BBC News website on December 11th

There is also a film version of the report, entitled “Life as a teenager on [sic] the Gaza Strip”, which appeared on the BBC’s flagship news programme ‘Newsnight‘.

Unfortunately, Whewell’s selective and stereotypical treatment of the subject matter ensures that his resulting story has all the essential ingredients of a Victorian-era novel. Noble, poverty-stricken young people are unable to pursue their dreams due to being forced into dangerous manual labour in order to support ageing, invalid parents and numerous siblings. In the background is a shady, oppressive, all-powerful entity which controls their lives and shatters their hopes and dreams from afar. One can almost hear Tim Whewell channelling his inner Isabella Banks.  

In Whewell’s story, a young man is forced – against his will – to work 12 hour shifts in Rafah’s smuggling tunnels. Highlighted in bold in the side bar are Mohammed Ismail’s words:

“Have you ever seen anyone dig their own grave? While you are digging, the tunnel might collapse. It could collapse any time and kill you.” 

Not only does Whewell fail to provide proper context regarding the smuggling tunnels of Rafah, but he also distorts the history and facts. Whewell states:

 “The smuggling tunnels have flourished since Israel imposed its blockade, assisted by Egypt, in 2007, after Hamas came to power in Gaza.”

In fact, the smuggling tunnels have been in existence since the time of the Oslo Accords, but from the beginning of the second Intifada – i.e. for a good seven years at least before the partial blockade was introduced – they were used to smuggle weapons and terror operatives into the Gaza Strip in addition to drugs and contraband. Rather than the tunnels being a product of the partial blockade, they are actually one of its causes.

Whewell continues: [emphasis added]

“Although travel restrictions for people crossing the Rafah border were eased in 2011, the shipment of goods into Gaza remains blocked. All building materials must be smuggled, since Israel fears Hamas might use them for military infrastructure.”

We have previously noted here – in light of one of Jon Donnison’s attempts to promote the same theme – that the notion that “all building materials must be smuggled” is entirely inaccurate and a clear breach of BBC Editorial Guidelines. As pointed out two months ago: 

“In practice, thousands of tons of building materials are transported into Gaza on a regular basis and in accordance with their having been designated for a particular project. Thus we see, for example, that in June 2012 alone, 1,142 truckloads of building materials and 476 truckloads of ceramics and plumbing entered the Gaza Strip. 

As well as monthly reports, COGAT also issues more detailed weekly reports and so, for example, we can see that in the week September 16th to 22nd 2012, 155 truckloads of aggregates, 27 truckloads of cement, 4 truckloads of iron and 10 truckloads of glass, aluminum and wood profiles entered the Gaza Strip – ie a total of 413 truckloads of construction materials in one week alone. 

For a detailed look at projects in the Gaza Strip between 2010 and 2012, see this comprehensive COGAT report which includes details of 17 approved housing projects, 17 approved clinic projects, 70 approved new schools and 24 school renovation projects, 37 approved water and sewage projects, 14 approved road projects and 39 approved infrastructure projects – all since 2010.” 

Whewell – conveniently for his emotions-targeted story which goes on to include the abuse of narcotic-like painkillers – makes absolutely no mention in the written version of the use of those same smuggling tunnels to flood the Gaza Strip with military-grade missiles and other weaponry which is later used by terrorist organisations for the purpose of committing the war crime of deliberately targeting Israeli civilians. In the filmed version, a brief throwaway line of narrative says “weapons of course must be smuggled too” and Whewell informs his audience in a derisory tone that “a few rockets from here have hit central Israel”. 

Neither does he bother to include in his story the aspect of Hamas control over and profit-making from those tunnels or their export functions. Only in the film version is a brief reference made to the fact that goods smuggle through the tunnels are “taxed by Hamas, providing much of the government’s revenue”. The written report fails to include even that brief sliver of information. 

Instead, Whewell frames the narrative to be absorbed by his audience to include only hapless, poverty-stricken Gazans who have no choice but to operate smuggling tunnels in order to survive the ravages of the completely unexplained – but obviously evil – partial blockade. The decision made by Hamas and other terrorist organisations to turn the Gaza Strip into a launching pad for non-stop terror activities against the civilians of a neighbouring country has no place in Whewell’s narrative because it is one in which Palestinians have no agency and no responsibility for their situation.

That same lack of context for the partial blockade continues in his second story, which feature a young woman named Madeline Kullab who works in fishing. Again, sad tales of a beleaguered Gazan fishing industry are told, with only a bizarre and unexplained reference to what Whewell euphemistically terms “gun-running” – as though the problem were a few dusty old carbine rifles.

“But the ceasefire has already brought a small benefit to Madeline. Before, Israel – afraid of gun-running – only allowed Gaza’s fishing boats to go up to three nautical miles offshore. Now, the limit has been extended to six miles.”

There is, however, another story here which Tim Whewell could have chosen to tell but did not. In what is almost an aside, Whewell makes a brief reference to Madeline Kullab’s difficulties with the Hamas authorities:

“She has been going out to sea almost every day since she was 14, despite attempts by Gaza’s police force, run by the Islamist movement Hamas, which governs the Gaza Strip, to stop her working in an otherwise wholly-male industry.”

Western journalists often gravitate towards the same people and stories in this region – often guided in the ‘right’ direction by their local fixers. Thus a simple internet search shows that Ms Kullab has been making headlines at least since summer 2010. 

Here is an ITN story from August 2010 and here is another one from the same month in which we learn that Madeline “has just finished her training in fashion design at Gaza’s Union of Churches”. In August 2012 Madeline Kullab was featured in a Press TV report  and a month later she was the focus of an article by Yann Renoult on the International Solidarity Movement’s French website. According to that article, it seems that the naval blockade is hardly the Kullab family’s only problem. [emphasis added and here in the original French – the link can be translated.]

“La raréfaction des ressources halieutiques, conséquence de la minuscule zone de pêche autorisée, ne lui permet de ramener beaucoup de poissons. Mais pour son père, c’est Hamas qui leur fait le plus de mal.

Au début, certains pêcheurs refusaient l’idée qu’une femme puisse être des leurs. Même si quelques uns, des amis de son père, l’ont appuyé comme des frères, d’autres refusaient son choix ou l’enviaient pour son talent. Des rumeurs nausé abondes ont été lancées sur elle. On a dit d’elle qu’elle travaillait avec des hommes n’appartenant pas à sa famille, ce qui est interdit, et pire encore. Elle s’est fait dénoncé auprès des autorités, qui ont commencé à les harceler.

Pour son père, le Hamas est un cauchemar quotidien. Insultes, intimidation, mesures coercitives et injustes… Il s’est fait arrêter plusieurs fois, et Madeline a négocier avec la police pour qu’il soit libéré. La première fois, un officier leur a dit qu’il avait un document leur interdisait d’accéder au port, à la plage et de partir en mer, tout en refusant de le leur montrer. La deuxième fois qu’ils ont arrêté son père, elle a écrit une lettre demandant sa libération et la restitution de son permis de pêche et de navigation. Elle s’est tournée vers des organisations humanitaires qui sont intervenues auprès du gouvernement, qui a fini par renvoyer l’officier de police concerné. Pour se venger, la police continue à les harceler. Elle peut maintenant partir pêcher du port de Gaza, mais pas des plages au nord de Gaza, contrôlées par la police. Mais elle a retrouvé sa licence de pêche.

Après quelques années, la famille a pu acheter un bateau à moteur, mais il a été rapidement confisqué par le Hamas qui ne le lui a jamais rendu. Elle est donc retourné à son petit bateau à fond plat. Quand elle le peut, elle emprunte ou loue le bateau d’autres pêcheurs pour ramener plus de poissons. Sa cahute de pêche a été incendiée. Le Hamas trouve moyen de lui nuire jusqu’en mer. Son père explique que pour les pêcheurs qui partent des plages, le Hamas a mis en place des couloirs de 100m ces pêcheurs peuvent travailler. Cela correspond à l’emplacement des différents îlots de cahutes sur la plage. Chaque pêcheur se voit allouer un couloir dans lequel il doit pêcher. Le Hamas a refusé de leur donner la totalité de ces 100m. Ils ont été jusqu’à retirer son filet de l’eau, parfois à le détruire.”

It seems, however, that the story of Hamas’ harassment of Ms Kullab and her father did not interest the BBC’s Tim Whewell very much. Like Hamas terrorism and Hamas weapons smuggling, that story just does not fit into the narrative he is trying to advance to his audience.

The promotion of specific politically-inspired narratives through the blatantly selective use of information and the advancement of stereotypes can never meet the standards required of the BBC on accuracy and impartiality and that should clearly be a cause for concern to Tim Whewell’s editors.

But no less disturbing to them should be the fact that a campaigning organization such as the ISM – the whole raison d’etre of which is to discredit, defame and destroy Israel – is capable of being more open and honest about Hamas oppression of women than the BBC. 

Context-free reporting from BBC’s Lyse Doucet

A report entitled “Gaza separated by destroyed bridge” by Lyse Doucet on November 21st – appearing on the BBC News website and also apparently broadcast on television news programmes – is an example of the all too prevalent phenomenon of reporting an event without placing it in the proper context. 

Doucet reports:

“We’ve come to the main coastal road in the Gaza Strip to try to find some of the evidence of last night’s intensive shelling and bombardment by the Israeli forces and look what we found. This main bridge connecting north and central Gaza with the south…. is completely destroyed and that means that people who live on the southern edge, towards the Egyptian border in refugee camps or in major towns such as Khan Yunis, are effectively cut off from the rest of the Gaza Strip.

People have been arriving here talking on their telephones to people on the other side, saying “I simply have no way to get to you” ‘cos look, look what’s left – this pile of rubble – after last night’s blistering attack.

And Gazans have seen this before. During the last Israeli invasion of 2008 and 9, the Gaza Strip was effectively cut into three and bridges like this were also destroyed then.

Which is why people here say “well, there’s all this talk of a ceasefire” while on the ground, the intensive bombardment and shelling continues. They also see rockets being fired out of Gaza into southern Israel. [Sound of unidentified explosion] There you go: another explosion here. So while there’s talk of a truce, it doesn’t look and sound different on the ground.”

It sounds awful, doesn’t it? In fact the impression Doucet gives is one of wanton destruction, solely designed to make the lives of Palestinians trying to get from A to B more difficult.

Now of course I, like Lyse Doucet, have absolutely no idea why that specific bridge was targeted, but nevertheless it would have been relevant for her to mention that – as is well known – the main point of entry for weapons to the Gaza Strip is the many smuggling tunnels located on that “southern edge” she mentions and that the bridge could therefore be on a route used to transport weaponry. 

It would also have been relevant to put that specific road in context as far as alternative routes between the south of the Gaza Strip and its centre and north are concerned, especially in light of the dramatic BBC claim that Gaza is “separated”.

But Doucet did neither. Instead she chose to ignore any context which might interfere with the over-dramatic and emotionally-targeted effect she was trying to create and the one-sided story she was trying to tell.