Last year the BBC Complaints department responded to complaints concerning the lack of BBC coverage of terrorist missile fire from the Gaza Strip by claiming that “it was very hard for journalists in Gaza to get to see rockets being fired out” and by citing a filmed report by Orla Guerin from August 12th 2014 as support for the claim that it did in fact report “on allegations that Hamas and other militants put Palestinian civilian lives at risk by operating from residential areas, as well as launching rockets near schools and hospitals”.
Earlier this year the BBC Trust’s ESC produced a decidedly tortured and self-contradicting verdict rejecting complaints from members of the public about a statement made by Orla Guerin in that same filmed report from Gaza in which she said that there was “no evidence” to support the claim that civilians in the Gaza Strip were being used as human shields.
The Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz recently published an article by Polish Radio’s foreign correspondent Wojciech Cegielski in which he recounts some of his own experiences whilst in the Gaza Strip last summer.
“Yes, Israel bombed Palestinian houses in Gaza. But Hamas is also to blame for its cruel and selfish game against its own people. I do not have hard evidence, but for me, spending a month in the middle of this hell, it was obvious that they were breaking international rules of war and worst of all, were not afraid to use their own citizens as living shields.
The first incident happened late in the evening. I was in the bathroom when I’ve heard a loud rocket noise and my Spanish colleague, a journalist who was renting a flat with me near the Gaza beach, started to scream. He wanted to light a cigarette and came to one of the open windows. The moment he was using his lighter, he saw a fireball in front of his eyes and lost his hearing.
From what our neighbors told us later, a man drove up in a pickup to our tiny street. He placed a rocket launcher outside and fired. But the rocket failed to go upwards and flew along the street at ground level for a long time before destroying a building. It was a miracle that nobody was hurt or killed.
When we calmed down, we started to analyze the situation. It became obvious that the man or his supervisor wanted the Israel Defense Forces to destroy civilian houses, which our tiny street was full of. Whoever it was, Hamas, Iz al-Din al-Qassam or others, they knew that the IDF can strike back at the same place from which the rocket was fired. Fortunately for us, the rocket missed its target in Israel.
The second story happened in the middle of the day. I was sitting with other journalists in a cafe outside one of the hotels near the beach. During wartime, these hotels are occupied by foreign press and some NGOs. Every hotel is full and in its cafes many journalists spend their time discussing, writing, editing stories or just recharging the phones. Suddenly I saw a man firing a rocket from between the hotels. It was obvious that we journalists became a target. If the IDF would strike back, we all would be dead. What would Hamas do? It would not be surprising to hear about the “cruel Zionist regime killing innocent and free press.”
For me, provoking is also creating living shields.”
Mr Cegielski’s testimony joins the many others provided by foreign reporters who were working in the Gaza Strip at the same time as unprecedented numbers of BBC journalists. Curiously, the BBC would have us believe that its own staff somehow failed to witness what so many others have already described and it continues to clutch at a definition of human shields which does not stand up to scrutiny.