The last few weeks of BBC reporting from the Gaza Strip have been characterised by a repeated pattern of much of that reporting taking place during humanitarian truces or ceasefires. One of the earliest and most striking examples of that pattern took place on July 20th in the Shuja’iya neighbourhood where, after hours of fierce fighting, Hamas requested that the ICRC broker a short ceasefire of several hours and after Israel agreed. The Western media – including the BBC – immediately moved in (with or without Hamas encouragement/facilitation) and the result was ample ‘disaster zone’ style reporting of destruction and casualties, but with details of the actual battle completely overlooked. In the weeks since then, no BBC report has properly described to audiences the battle which took place in Shuja’iya neighbourhood and no real effort has been made even to inform them of why a battle took place there.
The latest 72-hour ceasefire is now also being used by the BBC to produce yet more of its ‘aftermath’ reports and one of those – presented by James Reynolds – was aired on BBC Two’s ‘Newsnight‘ on August 6th. In that report too, Reynolds passed up on the opportunity to properly inform BBC audiences why a battle took place in Shuja’iya. He does, however, continue the prevalent BBC practice of making over-dramatic, sweeping and simplistic characterisations of complicated situations.
“Mousa has had leukemia. He still gets treatments in a hospital in Israel. His parents find themselves depending on the same country that bombs their land.” [emphasis added]
“The Shuja’iya neighbourhood was torn up by Israel’s offensive. I want to give you a sense of where we are and of what’s happened here. Israel itself is in that direction where the fields are and for almost a month the Israeli air-force and then the Israeli army carried out strikes across the border here into Gaza. This is the Shuja’iya neighbourhood and the destruction here is immense. Wherever you look buildings have been either hit or they’ve got bullet holes in them. Windows have been blown out and there is rubble all around me. Israel’s army says it went against this neighbourhood because it believed that Palestinian militants were digging tunnels from here to go across the border into Israel and that those militant groups led by Hamas were also carrying out rocket strikes from here. Of course those militants were here. But also when you stand here you realise that many, many civilians will have been hit as well. This was their home.”
From the beginning Reynolds sets the scene by subjectively characterising Israel’s actions as an “offensive”. That of course eliminates from audience view all that came before: the fact that Israeli communities in southern Israel have been under attack for fourteen years, the hundreds of missiles launched by terrorists in the Gaza Strip at Israeli civilians between June 12th and the start of Operation Protective Edge on July 8th and the efforts made by Israel to avoid a military operation, which were rejected by Hamas.
“On Thursday [July 3rd], a senior military official sent an unusual message to Hamas. “Quiet will be answered with quiet,” he told journalists hours after a rocket hit a house in Sderot. “Israel has no interest in escalation. If Hamas reins in the shooting now, we won’t act, either.” “
Notable too is Reynolds’ insertion of the following interestingly worded sentence:
“Israel’s army says it went against this neighbourhood because it believed that Palestinian militants were digging tunnels from here to go across the border into Israel and that those militant groups led by Hamas were also carrying out rocket strikes from here.” [emphasis in bold added]
But the fact is that the Israeli army did not ‘believe’ that Shuja’iya was the site of tunnels and missile launchers – it knew that for certain. Over 140 missiles were fired from Shuja’iya alone in thirteen days before July 20th and the district was the site of the entrances to no fewer than ten cross-border tunnels. That, of course, is precisely why Israeli forces had to act there.
Although he does admit the presence of terrorists in Shuja’iya neighbourhood, Reynolds makes no attempt to inform his audience of the scale of their operations and infrastructure there. He also neglects to tell viewers that the IDF advised the residents of Shuja’iya to evacuate four days before taking action there. He fails to clarify how that attempt to reduce Palestinian civilian casualties undoubtedly led to a higher Israeli death toll because – as veteran war reporter Ron Ben Yishai explains – that period of evacuation for civilians was used by terrorists to organise themselves ahead of the IDF’s entry into the district.
“Regarding the fighting in Shejaiyya: it is reasonable to assume that the main reason there was so much resistance, was the lack of surprise. Four days prior to entering Shejaiyya, the IDF demanded again and again from the residents to evacuate. Towards the entrance, the IDF started a heavy artillery attack on the outskirts of Shejaiyya. The Hamas and Islamic Jihad, therefore, had four days and a warning of a few hours that the IDF is going in. This is why – as opposed to Hamas fighters escaping to their hiding places when the IDF launched the sudden ground attack – this time they hid traps, prepared anti-tank ambushes and waited for the Golani brigade, tanks and bulldozers to come in.”
Two other themes we have seen energetically promoted in BBC reporting from the Gaza Strip in recent days also make their way into Reynolds’ report. One of those is the theme that this round of hostilities has made Hamas more popular. The BBC of course has no factual, quantified evidence upon which to base that claim, but nevertheless it is being vigorously promoted by all its reporters on the ground, mostly by means of snapshot ‘man in the street’ interviews. The BBC, however, does not make any effort to inform audiences as to how free those people are to say what they really think on camera.
Another theme we have seen promoted intensely on a variety of BBC platforms of late is the Hamas eye-view of its demand to lift restrictions imposed by Egypt and Israel on their borders with the Gaza Strip. Reynolds says:
“For the first time in almost a month people here are able to take some steps back towards a normal life. Here they’re getting money to buy things for their families. But they want so much more than that. They want the ability to come and go from Gaza. The ability to get things in from the outside world and they want Israel to end its restrictions and that is the same demand that Hamas itself is making of the Israeli government in indirect negotiations.”
Like the rest of his colleagues, Reynolds opts for inaccurate, context-free cheer-leading for Hamas’ demands but makes no effort whatsoever to clarify to viewers that the reason for the restrictions imposed by Israel (and Egypt) is terrorism and that “the ability to get things in from the outside world” crucially includes building materials for the construction of more cross-border attack tunnels and missiles from Iran.
Reynolds’ caricature portrayals of border restrictions on the Gaza Strip and the fighting in Shuja’iya hence join an already long list of BBC reports which fail to meet the BBC’s obligations to “[e]nhance UK audiences’ awareness and understanding of international issues”.