Having relocated from Israel to the Gaza Strip, Orla Guerin produced a filmed report for BBC television news on August 5th which also appears on the BBC News website under the title “Gaza conflict: Has the way Gazans view Hamas changed?” in which she joined other BBC correspondents in promoting the theme that Hamas is more popular than ever.
Her report does however include a couple of notable points, one being possibly the first recognition by the BBC in over four weeks of reporting from the Gaza Strip of the fact that terrorist organisations fire missiles from residential areas and the second being an admittance by Guerin that Hamas targets Israeli civilians – although she does also provide her Hamas interviewee with a platform from which to wriggle out and promote the usual Hamas propaganda line.
Guerin opens by resurrecting the ‘homemade rockets’ theme which had actually been in less use by the BBC in recent weeks.
“Hamas showing off their homemade rockets; this one aimed at Tel Aviv. This new video features empty terrain but they also fire rockets from within civilian areas.”
Of course that observation is of little value if audiences are not told the significance of it from a legal and operational point of view – and Guerin obviously has no intention of providing that. She continues:
“Their propaganda footage shows fighters armed for an attack, but they remain largely out of sight, some literally underground. Mohammed Shaaban was one of their local commanders in Gaza. He was a sniper and naval commando. Israel killed him in an airstrike last month. His proud father Abu Ahmed was a commander before him and told me he’s ready to sacrifice his other sons. He denies that Hamas is targeting civilians.”
Abu Ahmed: “Civilians are safe. We target soldiers and military barracks.”
Guerin: “I’ve seen kindergartens and houses in Israel that have been hit by Hamas rockets. You are targeting civilians.”
Abu Ahmed: “We can’t control where our rockets land. That is a matter of fate. They [Israelis] have sirens and shelters. We have nowhere to be safe.”
Guerin leaves it at that, passing up on the opportunity to remind viewers that Hamas’ categorisation of “soldiers and military bases” includes the civilian agricultural communities in southern Israel and has more recently been expanded to include Israel’s main international airport. She also fails to remind her audience that Hamas has demonstrated amply in the past that in fact any Israeli is a legitimate target as far as it is concerned – as the terror organisation’s rich history of suicide bombings of Israeli buses, cafes and shopping malls shows. And predictably, despite the fact that she has finally got a member of Hamas on camera, Guerin goes nowhere near the broader topic of the Hamas ideology which fuels this conflict, the ones before it and the ones to come. That subject is not of course within the frame the BBC has elected to use in its reporting of this conflict, even though BBC audiences cannot possibly fully understand what they see on their television screens without that basic information.
Guerin then moves on to one of those typical ‘reporter in the rubble’ shots so beloved by the BBC, be it in Gaza or in Lebanon.
“People here are counting the cost of four weeks of bombardment. In some places bodies are still being dug out of the rubble. Israel has been aiming to weaken Hamas militarily and to persuade Palestinians to turn against them. Have they succeeded? Or has all of this death and destruction cemented support for Hamas?”
Guerin supplies no evidence for her claim that Israel “has been aiming […] to persuade Palestinians to turn against them [Hamas]. The declared aims of Operation Protective Edge were to allow residents of Israel to live in security and quiet and to neutralize Hamas’ network of cross border attack tunnels. A change of regime in the Gaza Strip was not one of the aims. She continues:
“In Gaza’s main food market, bustling after the ceasefire began, we found only support for the militants.”
Man: “We are so proud of the Palestinian resistance that defends us so I am positive that Hamas protects us from the Israeli occupation.”
Guerin: “But there was no protection for these young boys trying to outrun Israeli missiles. They had been playing football on the beach. Four were killed. Three weeks on this bereaved family have newly embraced Hamas. The Bakas [phonetic] lost 11 year-old Mohammed. They say he was the light of the house. Little Mara keeps saying she wants to join him in heaven.”
The circumstances surrounding the incident of July 16th have of course yet to be completely clarified, but that doesn’t stop Orla Guerin from promoting her version of events as cut and dried.
” ‘I never supported Hamas a day in my life’ Mohammed’s mother Salwa told me. ‘My family had problems with them. They killed my nephew. But after what happened I support them. God protect them.’ “
Besides these anecdotal interviews, Guerin of course has no factual quantified evidence of whether support for Hamas has risen or not during the past few weeks. Revealingly, she chooses not to raise the question of whether people living under the rule of a terrorist organization are free to express their real opinions on camera. With a clearer view of Hamas’ intimidation of foreign journalists emerging every day, the pressures on the people who live in the Gaza Strip should surely be of interest to BBC audiences.
Guerin elects not to tell BBC audiences, for example, about the Egyptian reports claiming that Hamas’ spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri was attacked by angry civilians or the new Hamas call centre which encourages residents of the Gaza Strip to phone in and report those talking about Hamas’ terrorism. The reported cases of summary executions of people deemed ‘collaborators’ by Hamas throughout the last four weeks is also a topic the BBC has avoided altogether. However, the BBC does seem to have adopted as policy the promotion of the notion of increased Hamas popularity.
“Fishermen were back on the water today, grasping at normal life. Palestinians are living and dying under Israel’s military occupation. Many now see Hamas as their only hope of escape.”
There is, of course, no Israeli “military occupation” of the Gaza Strip and has not been for nine years. The legal definition of military occupation is as follows:
“Art. 42. Territory is considered occupied when it is actually placed under the authority of the hostile army.
The occupation extends only to the territory where such authority has been established and can be exercised.”
As Col. (Ret.) Pnina Sharvit Baruch explains:
“In order for effective control to exist, the foreign army must be able to impose its will on the local population whenever it so chooses while the sovereign government is unable to exercise its authority in the territory due to the effective control of the foreign army. Even according to this more flexible approach, fulfilling “effective control” usually requires the occupier to have forces present on the ground or at least to have the ability to send, within a reasonable time, forces into the area to exercise the authority therein.”
“Israel has sent ground forces back into the Gaza Strip since 2005 on a few limited missions, aimed to stop attacks against Israeli localities carried out from within the Strip, but these were all complex and dangerous military operations in which there was no attempt nor any ability to exercise effective governmental authority vis-à-vis the civilian population. The fact that notwithstanding these incursions Israel continues to be under recurring attacks from within the Gaza Strip is a further indication of the lack of any practical effective control. [emphasis added]
Moreover, it is clear that there is an already existing government in control of the Gaza Strip which is both capable and does in fact exercise exclusive governmental powers vis-à-vis the local population – the Hamas government. The fact that the Hamas is recognized as a terrorist organization and that this government is not formally accepted does not change this reality.”
“Israel’s imposition of control measures around the maritime area and airspace of Gaza are typical of situations involving armed conflict, and clearly do not enable Israel to exercise governmental powers on the ground vis-à-vis the local population, as would be required for the purposes of the law of belligerent occupation. […]
Furthermore, the fact that Israel controls its land border with the Gaza Strip cannot serve as an indication of control over the area itself. Israeli control over the Israeli side of the crossing points between Israel and the Gaza Strip is a natural reflection of Israel’s sovereignty within its own territory, which includes the prerogative to set policy for movement of people and goods from and to its own territory, and therefore cannot be regarded as proof of control over the Gaza Strip. This is similar to the right of control that any sovereign state has over its borders and border crossings.”
Orla Guerin is of course perfectly entitled to adopt the narrative of ‘occupation’ of an area which Israel evacuated nine years ago for her own personal use. It is not her prerogative however to mislead BBC audiences by promoting that inaccurate and politically motivated narrative.