Listeners to the May 6th edition of the BBC World Service programme ‘Newshour’ (from 14:04 here) heard Owen Bennett Jones make the following introduction to an item about Hamas mortar attacks on Israeli soldiers operating near the border with the Gaza Strip.
“The stand-off in Gaza follows pretty familiar patterns. Israelis have been looking for tunnels from Gaza into Israel and the response has been mortar rounds fired at Israeli forces. A Palestinian woman was killed on Thursday when her home was struck by Israeli tank fire. Well, Kevin Connolly is in Jerusalem and I asked for some context. How serious is this round of fighting?”
Context to that story would obviously cover the fact that Hamas is a designated terror organization which took control of the Gaza Strip in a violent coup. It would also include clarification of the fact that, despite Israel’s disengagement from the Gaza Strip over a decade ago, Hamas continues its terrorist activities because its ultimate goal – as laid out in its charter – is to destroy that neighbouring country. Context would also provide information concerning Hamas’ efforts to rebuild its terrorist infrastructure since the end of the 2014 conflict – not least its misappropriation of construction materials intended for the repair and rebuilding of civilian homes for the reconstruction of its network of cross-border attack tunnels.
‘Newshour’ listeners, however, got none of that relevant context from Kevin Connolly who presented a myopic view of the issue of a terrorist organization tunnelling into the territory of a sovereign country.
“It’s an uptick of tension I would say, Owen, and the attack tunnels that Hamas is trying to build out underneath Gaza into Israeli territory, they are now a crucial area of confrontation. It’s almost two years since the summer war of 2014. This is the sharpest uptick of violence and it seems to be because Israel has had some success in identifying and finding at least two major tunnels – one of them 30 meters deep stretching some way into Israel. Now, the Israeli nightmare is that those tunnels might be used to stage a kind of commando attack to either kill or abduct soldiers or civilians so they are conducting search and destroy operations. This is of vital interest for Hamas. It’s Hamas’ best strategic weapon against the Israelis so they are firing mortar rounds at the Israeli soldiers conducting these operations. Israel is responding of course with tanks and aircraft and so you can see it has the potential to escalate, even though – not for the first time – we’re told that at the moment neither side wants an escalation. But it is about these tunnels and it is possible that Israel in some way has gained the upper hand in the search for those tunnels.”
OBJ: “Can you just give us a quick example of how the tunnels have been used in the past?”
KC: “Well, during the summer war two years ago they were used on I think at least four occasions to infiltrate Hamas fighters far inside Israel. Some of these tunnels are part of an extraordinary…almost like an underground city beneath Gaza City, constructed by Hamas with great sophistication. They have electric lighting, they have concrete struts and they give Hamas the power to get its fighters onto Israeli soil when otherwise, because of the strength of Israeli border security, they would find that impossible to do.”
Connolly’s report ends there but then listeners were told by Bennett Jones:
“…and we can also hear today from Jerusalem and the West Bank….”
What followed was a repeat of the audio report by Jeremy Bowen broadcast two days earlier on BBC Radio 4 and, remarkably, Bennett Jones’ introduction included language identical to that used by the ‘Today’ presenter.
“…Israel continues to expand settlements for Jews in the occupied territories that contravene international law and there are no peace talks and really no attempt being made to revive them.”
In the past the BBC used a standard mantra whenever reporting on ‘settlements’ which went along the lines of:
“The settlements are considered illegal under international law, though Israel disputes this.”
As has been pointed out here on numerous occasions in the past, the promotion of that mantra is problematic as far as the BBC’s supposed commitment to impartial reporting is concerned because it does not inform audiences of the existence of expert legal opinions which dissent from the narrative adopted and amplified by the BBC.
Now we see – twice in two days – that the BBC has even abandoned the “Israel disputes this” part of that mantra and is promoting messaging which materially misleads audiences by blinkering them to the existence of debate around interpretation of Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention.
That is clearly not consistent with the BBC’s supposed commitment to editorial impartiality.