As has so often been the case in past rounds of conflict and also during ‘quieter‘ times, the southern Israeli city of Ashkelon has been under particularly heavy attack during Operation Protective Edge. Since the beginning of the operation on July 8th and as of the evening of July 16th, 102 missiles have been fired at Ashkelon alone. 64 were intercepted, 14 fell in open areas and 6 hit the city.
On July 16th BBC television news broadcast a report by James Reynolds from that battered city which was also promoted on the BBC News website under the somewhat ambitious title (considering that the city has some 120,000 residents) “Gaza-Israel conflict: BBC assesses the mood in Ashkelon“.
Distinctly less ambitious were the BBC’s efforts to meet standards of accuracy in that report’s synopsis as it appears on the website.
Thirty-seven year-old father of three Dror Hanin was actually killed near the Erez crossing whilst he was handing out food parcels to soldiers. He was a resident of the town of Beit Aryeh, which is about 90 kms away.
Three days before James Reynolds filmed this report in Ashkelon a teenager was badly wounded by missile shrapnel during one of the dozens of attacks on the city over the past ten days. Yarin Levy is hospitalized in the ICU at Barzilai Hospital in his city where, due to the missile fire from the Gaza Strip, premature babies had to be evacuated to a protected area already on the first day of the operation and the accident and emergency department was similarly evacuated on the day of Reynolds’ visit. Also on that day, one of the nineteen missiles targeting Ashkelon hit a house in the city, with a teenage girl narrowly escaping serious injury and the clinic belonging to her mother – a pediatrician sometimes practicing at home – fortunately empty at the time.
In contrast to recent filmed BBC reports produced by Reynolds’ colleagues in the Gaza Strip, however, there were no images of a child in an intensive care hospital bed, of distraught relatives, of ruined houses or of people sifting through rubble in this report. Instead, Reynolds chose to represent the situation in Ashkelon by showing viewers a shopping mall.
“I’m in the Israeli city of Ashkelon and Gaza is just a few miles to the south of there on the horizon. And so far today there’ve been three rocket warnings from Gaza. Israelis have heard sirens blare across the city. They stop whatever they’re doing and they go to find shelter.”
“Rocket warnings from Gaza”? Not rocket attacks from Gaza?
“But for the moment here they’ve decided to carry on with their lives. Now I want to show you inside this shopping centre. Have a look there at the security guard. Shalom. In all Israeli shopping centres there’s a security guard because for years the threat here was from suicide bombers. Now the threat is from rockets and if you look in here you’ll see it’s pretty empty. People here say it’s much emptier than normal but they’re continuing to follow news of the conflict from Gaza.”
So on the one hand Reynolds tells BBC audiences that the people of Ashkelon have “decided to carry on with their lives” but on the other hand the shopping mall is “pretty empty” and “much emptier than normal”. And whilst people are apparently following “news of the conflict from Gaza”, one assumes that they are also following news of the attacks on the rest of Israel which go unmentioned by Reynolds.
Reynolds then interviews three people – none of whom is a native English speaker, but nevertheless, the interviews are conducted in English rather than Hebrew with voice-over. Reynolds’ first question to the first interviewee again indicates just how Gaza-centric BBC coverage is.
“How is the offensive into Gaza affecting your life?”
Surely a more appropriate and relevant question would have been ‘how are the missile attacks from the Gaza Strip affecting your life? Notably, the message given by the first two interviewees (at least after editing) is that people get used to missile attacks.
Reynolds: “Are you scared now?”
Man: “Now less…because I got used to it.”
Woman: “I’m not afraid – I get used to that..”
“Israelis here in Ashkelon await word from their government about the future of the ground offensive into Gaza. Some ministers have called for a ground operation. The decision one way or another will be made by the entire security cabinet.”
Did BBC audiences really learn anything about “the mood” in Ashkelon or get a sense of the realities of life under missile fire in one of Israel’s most attacked cities where even premature babies in hospital have to be moved to air-raid shelters? Hardly. But the really revealing thing about this report is the way in which it contrasts so sharply with the emotional reports produced by Reynolds’ colleagues in the Gaza Strip.