On April 15th a filmed report made by Jane O’Brien and Bill McKenna for BBC World News and BBC News US was promoted on the BBC News website’s Middle East page under the headline “Palestinian doctor turns personal tragedy into dramatic play“. The synopsis tells BBC audiences that:
“The real life story of the Palestinian doctor who lost his children in Israeli air-strikes has been turned into a play.” [emphasis added]
In fact, the tragic incident in which Dr Izzeldin Abuelaish’s three daughters and niece were killed in 2009 was not the result of air-strikes at all – as the subsequent investigation showed and as the BBC itself has previously reported.
“The IDF concluded Wednesday that Israeli tank shells caused the deaths of four Palestinian girls, including three daughters of Dr. Izzeldin Abuelaish, when his house was accidentally attacked on January 16, during Operation Cast Lead. Following the investigation, the army confirmed that two shells had hit the building. […] The IDF said that a Golani Brigade force was operating near Beit Lahiya when it came under sniper and mortar fire in an area laden with explosives. After determining that the source of the fire was in a building adjacent to Abuelaish’s home, the force returned fire. While the IDF was shooting, suspicious figures were identified in the top floors of the doctor’s house, and the troops believed the figures were directing the Hamas sniper and mortar fire, the army said. Upon assessing the situation in the field while under heavy fire, the commander of the force gave the order to open fire on the suspicious figures, and it was from this fire that his three daughters were killed, said the IDF. Once the soldiers realized that civilians, and not Hamas gunmen, were in the house they ceased fire immediately, continued the army.”
However, neither the synopsis nor the report itself provides any indication to audiences that the incident took place during a period of conflict brought about by Palestinian terrorism, with Jane O’Brien telling viewers that the play:
“…chronicles his childhood in a Palestinian refugee camp, his determination to become a doctor, the death of his wife to leukemia and a few months later his three daughters – killed when Israeli missiles hit the family home in Gaza.”
That essential context is also absent from the rest of the report, in which thousands of missile attacks against Israeli civilians by terrorist organisations in the Gaza Strip are erased entirely from the one-sided picture of passive Palestinian suffering it portrays.
O’Brien: “Do you think that the Palestinian conflict has become forgotten?”
Abuelaish: “It’s not forgotten. Of course there are priorities but as long as there is a child who is suffering and Palestinian people who are alive, the conflict is alive. But when are we going to solve it? That’s the problem – and the suffering; to relieve the suffering of the Palestinian people.”
Among the obligations set out by the BBC’s public purposes remit is the commitment to “[b]uild a global understanding of international issues”. Clearly context-free reporting such as that displayed in this item not only does nothing to contribute to fulfilling that remit, but actively hinders the BBC’s supposed aim.
The synopsis appearing on the BBC News website has now been amended.