On October 8th listeners to the BBC’s ‘Today’ programme on Radio 4 heard an item by the Jerusalem Bureau’s Kevin Connolly (available here for a limited period of time from 43:58) which was introduced by presenter John Humphrys in the following flippant – and inaccurate – terms.
Humphrys: “The guns and the rockets have pretty much fallen silent in Gaza but the two sides are hardly at peace with each other in any real sense. The Palestinians accuse the Israelis of genocide. Israel sees its armed forces as the most moral in the world. Israel calls Hamas terrorists whose every operation is a war crime. Hamas sees its resistance to occupation as legitimate. Previous rounds of fighting produced controversial war crimes investigations and it’s likely that this year’s fighting will be no different. Our Middle East correspondent Kevin Connolly has been listening as each side makes its case.”
The BBC is of course well aware of the fact that no “genocide” took place in the Gaza Strip. It also knows full well that Hamas is a terrorist organization and that its designation as such is by no means exclusively an Israeli view.
“Hamas is of course defined as a terrorist organization by Israel, the United States, the European Union, Canada and Japan – as the BBC’s own profile of Hamas clearly states. In addition, Jordan and Egypt have banned Hamas and Australia designates Hamas’ Izz al Din Al Qassam Brigades as a terrorist organization, as do New Zealand and the United Kingdom.”
The BBC knows equally well that the Gaza Strip has not been under “occupation” for over nine years and that Hamas’ so-called “resistance” is aimed at ending the existence of Israel. One presumes that the BBC is also aware of the fact that the head of a prior UN HRC ‘investigation’ later stated “If I had known then what I know now, the Goldstone Report would have been a different document”.
Nevertheless, John Humphrys made no attempt whatsoever to inform listeners to Radio 4 of the actual facts behind his statements, thereby deliberately misleading listeners.
Kevin Connolly opened as follows:
Connolly: “The sounds of the summer war between Israel and the militant groups of Gaza have faded but the accusations that war crimes were committed on both sides haven’t gone away. It is a sort of second front to the bitter violence; an attempt to win the politics after an inconclusive conflict. [sound of an air-raid siren] The Israeli case against Hamas is simple: here’s an organization that hides amongst its own civilians to fire rockets at Israel’s. Two clear breaches – says Israel – of the laws of war. And here’s the senior Palestinian politician Mustafa Barghouti with his charge sheet against Israel.”
Barghouti: “Targeting civilians and targeting children and killing them. Indiscriminate destruction of very wide areas as well as using forbidden weapons like depleted uranium and other weapons that include…eh…cancerogenous [sic – carcinogenic – Ed.] materials. One very important point here was the unjustified massive destruction of whole neighbourhoods in Gaza.”
Connolly made no effort to clarify to audiences that there is no proven evidence to support any of Barghouti’s wild claims, thus deliberately leaving listeners with the inaccurate impression (for the second time in minutes) that the accusations made by that old BBC favourite may have some basis.
Listeners then heard a recording from a news bulletin: “A deafening blast. An Israeli airstrike…” after which Connolly continued:
“We all remember individual moments from the summer’s conflict. This is the American network ABC reporting the deaths of four little boys hit by Israeli missile fire as they played on a beach.”
Connolly neglected to provide listeners with any context to the simplistic account he promoted or to inform them that the circumstances of the incident are still under investigation. He continued:
“No-one would dispute that something terrible happened there, but I asked Israel’s deputy Military Attorney General Eli Baron if he thought it amounted to a war crime.”
Baron: “Basic presumption that every death has to be translated into a breach of the laws of war is just wrong because death – even of civilians – is not an unreasonable consequence of war. During war people die and it doesn’t always mean that there has been a breach of the rules. You may sometimes rely on wrong intelligence and sometimes you just make mistakes.”
The item continued with a recording of radio communications in Hebrew followed by Connolly saying:
“Israelis often describe their armed forces as the most moral in the world; a claim based on this kind of evidence. It’s a recording of a pilot aborting an attack because there are civilians in the target zone. The release of that kind of tape is meant to demonstrate Israel’s adherence to two basic laws of war: discrimination – you have to distinguish between military and civilian positions – and proportionality – any civilian casualties must be proportionate to any possible military gain. But Israel still has plenty of questions to answer. It hit UN-run schools in Gaza for a start and it targeted the homes of militant leaders, arguing they were also used to store weapons or control operations.”
Again, Connolly failed to provide necessary context such as the fact that terrorists fired missiles at Israeli civilian targets from the vicinity of UN-run schools. He went on:
“Israel’s military now says it’s conducting its own investigations. But Sarit Michaeli from the Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem says that’s not enough.”
Connolly’s introduction of Michaeli and her organization is obviously intended to give listeners the impression that a “human rights organization” is a neutral body with unbiased opinions they can take as fact. That, of course, is not the case. B’Tselem is a political NGO which has employed a ‘human rights halo’ to advance its political agenda before, throughout and since the recent conflict, collaborating with additional political NGOs engaged in political warfare against Israel.
Michaeli: “The military advocate general provided the army with legal advice both before and during the hostilities. It seems absurd that the same person; the same – you know – office will now look at the orders that he himself approved to see whether those orders could have been unlawful. Clearly there is a major conflict of interests there. It is simply unacceptable as a way to ascertain the truth and as a way to ensure accountability.”
Obviously Connolly did not bother to fact check Michaeli’s insinuations before broadcasting them to millions in the UK.
“The IDF Chief of General Staff, Lieutenant General Benjamin (Benny) Gantz, has ordered that a General Staff Mechanism for Fact-Finding Assessments (the ‘FFA Mechanism’) will examine Exceptional Incidents that occurred during Operation ‘Protective Edge’. The FFA Mechanism, headed by a Major General, was activated soon after the commencement of Operation ‘Protective Edge’, in the midst of the ongoing hostilities. […]
The FFA Mechanism is currently headed by Major General Noam Tibon and is comprised of a number of fact-finding assessment teams. Each team is led by a senior IDF officer (in active service or in the IDF reserves), with a rank ranging from Colonel to Major General. The teams are comprised primarily of high-ranking IDF reservist officers, possessing operational expertise in a range of military areas (such as artillery, intelligence and aerial operations), as well as members possessing both legal qualifications and professional experience in the field of investigations. Each team is also provided with ongoing legal advice from legal officers in the IDF Military Advocate General’s Corps, who have particular expertise and experience in international law. An additional senior officer from the IDF reserves, with expertise in international law, has also been appointed to assist the head of the FFA Mechanism. None of the fact-finding assessment teams’ members served in the chain of command during Operation ‘Protective Edge’.” [emphasis added]
“Israel and the Palestinians are engaged in negotiations to firm up the ceasefire in Gaza. It says much about the prospects for any lasting deal that these allegations of war crimes will be traded and investigated in parallel with those talks.”
Not content with the promotion of this item replete with misleading inaccuracies on BBC Radio 4, a written article on the same topic by Kevin Connolly was published on the BBC News website’s Middle East page on the same day. Titled “Israeli-Palestinian conflict: How ‘lawfare’ has become a weapon“, the article misrepresents Israel’s motives for conducting the routine investigations into the actions of its armed forces.
“Each side sees the advantage of establishing the justice and virtue of its cause over the other – seeking a clear political and diplomatic victory after an inconclusive military outcome.”
Further, Connolly later adds:
“Israel’s fear of standing condemned before an international tribunal prompted it to begin those investigations before the fighting had stopped.”
In fact the Military Attorney General (MAG) investigates all allegations as a matter of course and without any connection to external ‘tribunals’.
In this article Connolly repeats the amplification of Mustafa Barghouti’s baseless claims heard in the audio version. (Incidentally, Connolly’s “influential Palestinian politician” gained the grand total of 26,909 votes in the last PLC elections in 2006.)
“The influential Palestinian politician Mustafa Barghouti, who spent time in Gaza during the latest bombardment, gave me a kind of charge sheet for Israel.
“Their war crimes included the collective disproportional use of force, targeting civilians and targeting children and killing them.
“There’s also the indiscriminate destruction of very wide areas, as well as using forbidden weapons like depleted uranium and other weapons that include cancerous materials. One very important point here was the unjustified massive destructions of whole neighbourhoods in Gaza, including in some cases the destruction of a whole town like Shejaiya.””
No effort is made by Connolly to clarify to readers that Barghouti’s accusation of “unjustified massive destructions” in Shuja’iya is inconsistent with the fact that the neighbourhood was the site of Hamas military assets including the entrances to almost a third of the 32 cross-border attack tunnels discovered during the operation. That very serious omission is of course hardly surprising: the BBC has consistently failed to inform its audiences of what actually happened in Shuja’iya – and why – throughout the entire three months since the fighting there took place.
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In the written version, Barghouti is also quoted as saying:
“If Palestinians have a problem, they are ready to go to the court,” he explained. “But the most important thing is to hold Israel responsible in front of the ICC. Israel has enjoyed a status of impunity to international law and to international humanitarian law. This cannot be allowed to continue.
“Israel has to be held responsible for the war crimes it has committed against the Palestinian population. Not only in the last war but in many previous wars on Gaza and in many previous attacks in the West Bank”.
As Connolly correctly points out, a Palestinian Authority decision to join the ICC could well prove to be a double-edged sword.
“The United Nations Human Rights Council has already established an independent commission of enquiry under the Canadian professor of international law, William Schabas – but Israel regards the council as a kind of standing kangaroo court which is biased against it.”
He fails to inform BBC audiences of Schabas’ record of statements which are the basis for that view and that it is also shared by others.
In both these items Connolly inaccurately presents the subject of ‘lawfare’ as though it were a policy used equally by both sides and passes up on the opportunity to inform BBC audiences how ‘lawfare’ is actually used by anti-Israel organisations as a means of delegitimizing Israel.
Connolly’s amplification of Mustafa Barghouti’s baseless claims in both his written article and the audio item join numerous previous BBC reports in which unqualified promotion was given to similarly baseless accusations from Hamas spokesmen and employees of political NGOs involved in political warfare against Israel – literally from day one of the recent conflict. Once again, the BBC’s supposed commitment to accurate and impartial reporting is trumped by its self-conscription to the provision of publicity for ‘lawfare’ campaigners.
Documenting the BBC contribution to political warfare against Israel
Documenting the BBC contribution to political warfare against Israel – part two