BBC News sticks to year-old formula of reporting on ‘Great Return March’

The BBC News website’s March 30th report on the day’s incidents at the border between Israel and the Gaza Strip adhered to the formula seen in coverage of similar events throughout the past year.

Headlined “Gaza protests: Thousands mark ‘Great Return’ anniversary” the BBC’s framing of the story was evident in the use of the words ‘demonstrated’, ‘demonstrators’, ‘demonstrations’, ‘protests’, ‘protesters’ and ‘protest’ no fewer than nineteen times in the 564-word report’s text, headline, sub-headings, links and photo captions. A BBC News Tweet promoting the article also used the term ‘rallies’.

The article opened: [emphasis added]

“Tens of thousands of Palestinians have demonstrated in Gaza to mark the anniversary of the start of weekly protests on the boundary with Israel.

Demonstrators threw stones and burned tyres, with Israeli troops using tear-gas and live rounds in response.”

Readers had to go down to paragraph nine to discover that participants threw more than “stones”.

“The IDF said explosive devices had been thrown over the border fence and Israeli forces had responded with “riot dispersal means” and live bullets.”

As usual the BBC quoted “health officials “without bothering to inform readers that they belong to the same terror organisation that organised the event.

“Three protesters died in the clashes, Palestinian officials say, with another killed earlier on Saturday.”

“Three Palestinian protesters, all teenage boys, have been killed and more than 300 have been wounded, Palestinian health officials say.

The health officials say another man was shot dead by Israeli troops close to the fence overnight.”

Readers were not told that the person “killed earlier on Saturday” had, as reported by the Times of Israel, been taking part in rioting at the border at the time.

“Early Saturday, Mohammed Saad, 21, was killed by Israeli army fire east of Gaza City near the perimeter fence, Gaza’s Hamas-run Health Ministry said, adding he was hit by shrapnel in the head.

A Gaza hospital worker, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to brief the media, said Saad was a member of the so-called “night disturbance unit.” Such groups routinely burn tires, flash laser lights and detonate explosives near the fence at night to distract soldiers and disturb residents of nearby Israeli communities.”

Neither were BBC audiences informed that the majority of those described as wounded were, according to the quoted “health officials”, affected by tear gas.

As has been the case throughout the past twelve months, the BBC avoided explaining the aim of the Palestinian demand for ‘right of return’ to readers while once again promoting the notion of “ancestral homes” and Palestinian refugees in a location ruled by Palestinians.

“The protests back the declared right of Palestinian refugees to return to ancestral homes in what is now Israel.”

As has repeatedly been the case since late February, the BBC uncritically amplified claims made in a UNHRC report.

“At least 189 Palestinians and one Israeli soldier were killed between March and December 2018, the UN says.

A UN inquiry says Israeli soldiers may have committed war crimes during the protest marches – a charge Israel rejects.”

“A commission of inquiry was set up by the UN Human Rights Council.

Thirty-five of the 189 Palestinian fatalities were children, three were clearly marked paramedics and two were clearly marked journalists, the commission found.

The inquiry found reasonable grounds to believe that Israeli snipers had shot at children, medics and journalists, even though they were clearly recognisable as such.

Four Israeli soldiers were injured at the demonstrations. One Israeli soldier was killed on a protest day but outside the protest sites, the commission said.

Unless undertaken lawfully in self-defence, intentionally shooting a civilian not directly participating in hostilities is a war crime.”

While failing to adequately clarify Hamas’ role in initiating, organising, funding and executing the ‘Great Return March’ events, the BBC did make a brief opaque reference to the terror group’s ability to control the level of violence according to its interests.

“Hamas had said it would try to keep the crowds a safe distance from the fence, with Egyptian and UN mediators trying to prevent further escalation.

The clashes were limited in scope and fears of a large number of deaths have not materialised. The protests quietened in the evening.”

BBC audiences were not informed that Hamas had ordered schools closed and a general strike on March 30th in order to boost participation in the event.

Hamas was misleadingly portrayed in this report as being designated only by Israel.

“The Israeli government designates Hamas a terrorist group which it says has been seeking to use the protests as a cover to cross into its territory and carry out attacks.”

The violent coup in which Hamas seized control of the Gaza Strip in 2007 was erased from audience view.

“This day of protests is a serious test of the fragile calm between Israel and Hamas, the Islamist group that runs the Palestinian-controlled Gaza Strip, says the BBC’s Yolande Knell in Jerusalem.”

The terror group’s operatives were, as usual, portrayed by the BBC as “militants”.

“They came after a tense week in which Palestinian militants fired rockets at Israel and Israel’s air force struck dozens of sites in Gaza.”

One year on, the BBC’s reporting on this story has not improved at all and it continues to promote the same jaded themes and euphemisms while denying audiences vital context. A year ago the organisers of this agitprop stated that its aim is to create photo-ops which – in their words – “the whole world and media outlets would watch” and the BBC has played its part in ensuring that would be the case.

Related Articles:

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More context-free BBC reporting on Gaza health services

Since late last July BBC audiences have seen and heard numerous reports on the topic of health services in the Gaza Strip that have focused on portraying pressures on the system. For example:

November 2018, Tom Bateman:

“This is a conflict that has changed even more lives this year. Thousands of Palestinians in Gaza have suffered bullet wounds during protests at the perimeter fence with Israel. It has put intense pressure on Gaza’s hospitals.”

January 2019, Mishal Husain:

Mohammed Abu Mughalseeb of Medecins Sans Frontiers:

“From my experience I think the…you know, from some friends and colleagues in United Kingdom and in France and United States, if they had the same number of injuries received in the emergency department the health system would collapse. No other places in the world can cope with this, with this huge number of injuries.”

On March 29th a report by Tom Bateman that was filmed at a MSF-run rehabilitation centre in the Gaza Strip which Bateman had previously visited last summer appeared on the BBC News website’s Middle East page under the title “Gaza’s disability crisis”.

“Saturday 30 March marks a year since Palestinians began protesting at Gaza’s perimeter fence with Israel.

As the anniversary looms, tensions and military activity on the boundary have been ratcheting up.

According to UN-published figures, in the last year more than 7,000 Palestinians have been shot by the Israeli military, and more than 190 killed.

Last summer, an Israeli soldier was shot dead by a Palestinian gunman.

Israel justifies the use of live ammunition saying it has defended its soldiers and civilians from violent attacks.” [emphasis added]

The report begins:

“These men are in a physical therapy clinic in Gaza.”

Bateman: “Every time you come to one of these clinics, you just get such a feel for how an entire generation has been affected by what’s gone on over the last year. There is a crisis of disability in Gaza now and this clinic where they’re treating people for long-term care, treating bullet woulds, rehabilitation, they still have 200 people coming through their doors every day.” [emphasis added]

With no effort made to clarify to BBC audiences that “what’s gone on over the last year” is the product of decisions made by Hamas and other terrorist groups in the Gaza Strip, the film goes on to showcase familiar messaging from another MSF representative.

Carla Melki: “Actually I will say there is not one of the health systems in the world even in the best, important capital of western parts that will be able to face this amount of injuries. When we get 1,200 gunshot injuries in a few hours any health system would collapse. So on top of it, yes, Gaza’s health system is already pressured. There are not, for example, enough beds for the total population. So obviously the system is not collapsing but it is really under pressure.”

Viewers are then told that:

“Some 7,000 Palestinians were hurt by Israeli bullets in the last year. More than 190 have been killed. Israel says it has acted legitimately to protect its civilians from violent attacks at the border.”

The film closes with a monologue from a person identified as Hashim Abu Maneeh.

Abu Maneeh: “They shot me, they fired an explosive bullet. It broke seven centimetres of my bone. So far I’ve had 11 surgeries, I couldn’t walk for 11 months, couldn’t stand. That can really affect someone.”

Once again we see that while the BBC readily quotes the numbers of Palestinians killed and injured in what it has for an entire year been misrepresenting as “protests”, audiences are yet again denied a view of some of the other statistics necessary for full understanding of this story.

And yet again we see Bateman making no effort to clarify to BBC audiences that the “crisis of disability” he portrays could have been avoided had Hamas (which is of course also in charge of the health system described as “already pressured”) not initiated, encouraged, facilitated and financed this particular terror project dubbed the ‘Great Return March’.

Related Articles:

A context-free ‘Today’ report from the BBC’s Paul Adams in Gaza

BBC radio audiences get whitewashed picture of youth participation in Gaza riots

BBC Gaza ‘documentary’ makes no pretence of impartiality

BBC tries to erase Hamas’ role in ‘Great Return March’ violence

More of the same Gaza framing from a BBC Jerusalem correspondent

‘News at Ten’ continues the BBC’s ‘blockade’ campaign

Former ISM activist medic reappears in BBC Radio 4 ‘Today’ show

 

Weekend long read

1) The ITIC reports on “Preparations for the mass “return march” to mark the first anniversary of the marches and Land Day”.

“With the escalation that followed the rocket fire from the Gaza Strip in the background, preparations continue to be made for the “return march” that will take place on Saturday, March 30, 2019. The events will mark one year of “return marches” as well as Land Day, affiliated with Israeli Arabs. A series of events are planned, which will be held at the usual five sites of the “return marches.” The events will be accompanied by a general strike and closed schools to increase the number of participants. The organizers are also trying to attract Palestinians in Judea and Samaria, the Israeli Arabs and Palestinians in the refugee camps in the dispersal to join the protest activities. It is unclear if and to what degree there will be a response to the calls from terrorist organizations in the Gaza Strip.”

2) Also from the ITIC: the background to the kind of Hamas propaganda uncritically recycled this week by the BBC News website.

“Instructions were posted to a Hamas forum regarding the terminology that should be used in the media. According to the instructions, media workers should avoid the use of terminology that indicates a recognition of the existence of Israel (the “Zionist entity”); care should [be] taken to designate all sites attacked by Israel as “civilian targets” and not as military targets; the cities in Israel which are attacked should be referred to as occupied Palestinian territories, and not as cities; and there is no such thing as “the residents of Israel’s south” because [the Israelis] are thieves who took the Palestinian lands by force.”

3) At the Jerusalem Post Lahav Harkov analyses “The ‘Wag The Dog’ Conspiracy That Never Happened”.

“When Palestinian terrorists shot rockets into central Israel and completely destroyed a house in Moshav Mishmeret, injuring all three generations of one family, some thought that instead of condemning Hamas for targeting infants, toddlers and their grandparents, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is the real problem here.

A conspiracy theory in the style of Wag the Dog began to be floated in news outlets of varying levels of respectability – like the UK’s Independent – and on the social media accounts of anti-Israel organizations that Netanyahu wants a war, because it’ll somehow help him ahead of the April 9 election. They claimed that Netanyahu intentionally sparks wars right before elections to help him win.”

4) To mark the fortieth anniversary of the Israel-Egypt peace agreement, Ofir Winter and Udi Dekel of the INSS assess that treaty.

“March 2019 marks the fortieth anniversary of the peace treaty between Israel and Egypt. This signed agreement affirmed peace as the strategic choice of both countries, and in turn distanced them from the danger of war. Over the years, the peace has survived challenges and upheavals, and provided tightened security cooperation around shared interests. However, relations between leaderships and security establishment are not enough, and the time has come to deepen the roots of peace between the two peoples.”

Inaccurate and misleading BBC WS radio report on Hamas rocket attack

The March 25th evening edition of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour’ purported to inform listeners “Why tensions in the Gaza Strip are rising again”.

“Hours after a rocket hit a house near Tel Aviv and injured seven people, Israel is carrying out strikes on Hamas targets in the Gaza Strip. Could this be the start of a full-scale conflict?”

While able to inform audiences who was carrying out strikes in the Gaza Strip, the ‘Newshour’ team evidently chose not to clarify who had fired the rocket that brought about those strikes.  

Presenter James Coomarasamy’s introduction at the start of the programme included the following:

Coomarasamy: “Tensions rise in the Middle East as President Trump recognises Israel’s claim to the Golan Heights and rockets are fired in both directions between Gaza and Israel.”

Not only do we see a specious suggestion of linkage between the US president’s signing of a proclamation and a rocket fired by terrorists hours earlier but Coomarasamy also promoted false equivalence with the inaccurate claim that rockets were being fired from Israel into the Gaza Strip.

Introducing the item itself (from 00:54), Coomarasamy added the topic of the upcoming election in Israel to his mix of ‘explanations’. [emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]

Coomarasamy: “First though to the Middle East and with Israel’s general election just a couple of weeks away, are we seeing the start of a major conflict in the Gaza Strip? A rocket strike from that territory injured several people and destroyed a house today in a neighbourhood [sic] north of Tel Aviv – the furthest that a rocket fired from Gaza has reached since Israel’s last war with the group – the militant group – which controls the territory, Hamas, five years ago. Spokesperson for the Israeli Defence Forces Captain Libby Weiss said there was no doubt who was to blame.”

After listeners had heard a recording of Captain Weiss explaining that the rocket in question was produced and launched by Hamas, Coomarasamy went on:

Coomarasamy: “In the past few hours Israel has closed all [sic – actually two] crossings with the Gaza Strip including access to the sea and has launched a series of retaliatory airstrikes.”

The relevant announcement from COGAT actually referred to “a reduction of the fishing zone in Gaza” rather than closure of “access to the sea” as claimed by Coomarasamy, who then changed the subject.

Coomarasamy: “Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has cut short his visit to Washington to oversee the operation but not before President Trump had officially broken with the international consensus and recognised Israel’s claim to the occupied Golan Heights. The Arab League has condemned this move as illegitimate. At the White House Mr Trump said the attack near Tel Aviv today showed how important it was for Israel to be able to defend itself.”

After listeners had heard a recording of the US president’s remarks, Coomarasamy went on to introduce the BBC Jerusalem bureau’s Tom Bateman (from 02:51) with “the latest”.

Bateman: “What’s happened tonight is that the Israeli military has carried out now numerous airstrikes in locations in the Gaza Strip. There have been powerful explosions seen and heard in Gaza City, in the centre of the Strip in Khan Younis, in the south. The Israeli military says that one of its targets has been a headquarters for Hamas, the militant group that runs Gaza, which housed, it says, its general security forces and general intelligence, also military intelligence: the place where it believes that military sites in Israel are gathered by Hamas’ intelligence forces. And it’s also now reported that the offices of Ismail Haniyeh – who is the political leader of Hamas – have been targeted in an Israeli airstrike as well.”

Did “the Israeli military” really say that it believes that those targeted Hamas headquarters are “the place” where the terror group’s military intelligence gathers information on “military sites in Israel”? Here is the relevant IDF Tweet in English, stating only that “Hamas collected intelligence for planning attacks against Israel” and with no mention of “military sites”.

Here is the equivalent Tweet in Hebrew. It states that “Hamas’ military intelligence department is responsible for gathering and studying intelligence against the State of Israel”.

Again we see no evidence to support Bateman’s claim that the IDF said that Hamas’ military intelligence gathers information exclusively about “military sites in Israel”. Moreover, another IDF statement clarified that:

“In response to the attack, the IDF has begun striking Hamas buildings which were utilized to plan and carry out terrorist attacks against Israeli citizens. The IDF has struck Hamas’ previously secret military intelligence headquarters, its Internal Security Service offices, the office of Hamas Chairman Ismail Haniyeh, and a number of other military compounds.” [emphasis added]

That unsupported claim from Bateman is particularly pernicious given that not only does the BBC refuse to use the words terror and terrorist when describing Hamas, but Bateman has now implied that its targets are – as Hamas itself often claims – exclusively military rather than predominantly civilian.

No less significant is the fact that an hour before Bateman came on air, the IDF had already reported some 30 rocket attacks from the Gaza Strip against civilian communities in the border region (with a further 30 later on through the night). Bateman however elected to erase that deliberate targeting of civilians from view.

Bateman went on to describe the rocket attack on the house in Moshav Mishmeret early the same morning before once again bringing up the topic of the April 9th election in Israel.

Bateman: “This kind of strike, which hasn’t happened since the war between Hamas and Israel of 2014 and comes at a very sensitive time because there are Israeli elections due to take place in two weeks’ time. Some of prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s rivals have been saying that he hasn’t taken a forceful enough approach in the last year or so when it comes to Gaza and so there has been political pressure on him.”

Coomarasamy: “Meanwhile, he’s been getting political support from the US president.”

Bateman once again told listeners about the US president’s recognition of Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights and “criticism” from Syria “as well as other Arab and Muslim states” before Coomarasamy asked whether the US decision is “likely to have an impact on the election”.

With Bateman having replied that “it gives prime minister Netanyahu an electoral lift” and “it does help him to some degree”, the item closed.

With a very significant proportion of this item having focused on the Israeli election and the US proclamation concerning the Golan Heights, BBC World Service radio audiences could be forgiven for arriving at the conclusion that the answer to the programme’s question of “why tensions in the Gaza Strip are rising again” (rising tensions in southern Israel were obviously considered to be of less interest) lies in those two topics rather than in the deliberate targeting of Israeli civilians by terrorist organisations armed with military grade projectiles.

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BBC R4 newsreader refers to a state the BBC knows does not exist

As we all too frequently have cause to note here, the BBC Academy’s “journalists’ guide to facts and terminology” (published in the wake of the 2006 Thomas Report on the impartiality of BBC coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict) states:

There is no independent state of Palestine today, although the stated goal of the peace process is to establish a state of Palestine alongside a state of Israel.

In November 2012 the PLO secured a vote at the UN General Assembly, upgrading its previous status as an “entity” so that the UN now recognises the territories as “non-member observer state”.

The change allows the Palestinians to participate in UN General Assembly debates. It also improves the Palestinians’ chances of joining UN agencies.

But the UN vote has not created a state of Palestine (rather, it failed in its bid to join the UN as a full member state in 2011 because of a lack of support in the Security Council).

So, in day-to-day coverage of the Middle East you should not affix the name ‘Palestine’ to Gaza or the West Bank – rather, it is still an aspiration or an historical entity.

But clearly BBC journalists should reflect the changed circumstances when reporting on the UN itself and at the Olympics, where the International Olympics Committee recognises Palestine as a competing nation.

Best practice is to use the term Palestine firmly and only in the context of the organisation in which it is applicable, just as the BBC did at the Olympics – for example: “At the UN, representatives of Palestine, which has non-member observer status…”” [emphasis added]

Listeners to BBC Radio 4’s ‘The World Tonight’ on the evening of March 25th heard an item (from 02:24 here) presented as follows by newsreader Zeb Soanes:

Soanes: “President Trump has signed a proclamation recognising Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights – a strategically important plateau which was seized from Syria in 1967. Syria’s government has described Mr Trump’s action as a blatant attack on its integrity. Israel’s prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu witnessed the signing at a ceremony in the White House. He said it was important for his country’s security.”

Following a recording of Netanyahu speaking at that ceremony, Soanes went on:

Soanes: “Mr Netanyahu cut short his visit to Washington because of escalating violence between Israel and Palestine. Israel launched airstrikes across the Gaza Strip in retaliation for a long-range rocket attack which injured 7 people near Tel Aviv. The targets included the office of the Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh. Hamas says a ceasefire has been agreed but there’s been no confirmation from Israel.” [emphasis added]

There is of course no point in having a style guide if journalists, presenters and producers – particularly it would seem at BBC Radio 4 – ignore its guidance. Given that the style guide correctly states “there is no independent state of Palestine today”, there is obviously no reason whatsoever for BBC staff to be promoting the inaccurate impression that such a state exists – and even more so when they are in fact referring to a terror organisation that violently seized power from the representatives of the Palestinians recognised by the international community.

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BBC News glosses over repeated Palestinian violence at holy site

Visitors to the BBC News website on March 20th found a report titled “Two Palestinians killed in clashes in Nablus” which opened as follows:

“Two Palestinian men have been killed in clashes with Israeli forces in the occupied West Bank.

The Israeli military said explosive devices were hurled from a car at troops guarding Jewish worshippers at Joseph’s Tomb in the city of Nablus.

The troops opened fire, killing two assailants, it added.”

The report later went on to inform readers that: [emphasis added]

“Joseph’s Tomb – which is revered by Jews and Muslims as the burial place of the son of the biblical patriarch Jacob – has been a source of friction in the past.

It is in an area under Palestinian civilian control, but Jewish pilgrims are permitted to visit several times a year under Israeli military protection.”

Also of significance to Christians, the site is in fact:

“…located inside Area A of the West Bank, under complete Palestinian Authority control. The IDF bars Israeli citizens from entering Area A without prior authorization.”

The BBC did not bother to explain to readers of this report the meaning of the phrase “a source of friction in the past”. The last time audiences saw any BBC reporting on such so-called “friction” was in October 2015 when Palestinian rioters set fire to the tomb. Since then repeated attacks on both the site itself and security forces guarding visiting worshippers have gone unreported. For example:

February 2016: “Israeli forces clashed with Palestinian protesters while Israelis prayed at Joseph’s Tomb on the outskirts of the West Bank city of Nablus late Monday night, as Jewish worshipers entered a holy site for a monthly pilgrimage.”

April 2016: “Palestinian residents of Nablus threw rocks and burning tires at IDF soldiers as they escorted hundreds of visitors to a Jewish holy site in the West Bank city overnight Wednesday-Thursday.”

June 2016: “Palestinian security forces managed to push back protesters who were advancing on the Joseph’s Tomb shrine late Saturday. According to Hebrew media reports, the protesters tried to set the site on fire. The demonstration began Saturday night after the Palestinian Health Ministry reported that a wounded Palestinian teen, said to have been hurt by IDF fire on Thursday after allegedly trying to throw a firebomb at Jews praying at the site, had taken a turn for the worse in hospital.”

August 2016: “…Palestinian residents of Nablus threw rocks and burning tires at IDF soldiers and Border Police as they escorted 24 busloads of visitors to Joseph’s Tomb near the West Bank city.”

September 2016: “An IDF soldier was shot and moderately wounded while guarding a group of religious Jews visiting the Joseph’s Tomb holy site, in the northern West Bank city of Nablus, early Thursday morning, the army said. […] Local residents also rolled burning tires and threw rocks and Molotov cocktails at troops guarding the area.”

September 2016: “Palestinian rioters clashed with IDF troops in Nablus early Thursday as hundreds of Jewish worshipers visited a pilgrimage site in the West Bank city. Youths threw rocks and Molotov cocktails at IDF troops guarding a group of religious Jews visiting the Joseph’s Tomb holy site, the army said.”

December 2016: “Rioters burned tires and threw Molotov cocktails and rocks at security forces protecting the pilgrims…”

February 2017: “A soldier was lightly wounded when an improvised explosive device was thrown at him near the West Bank city of Nablus early Thursday morning, the army said. The soldier’s unit was on patrol in the Balata refugee camp as a group of Israeli Jews visited a pilgrimage site on the outskirts of the northern West Bank city.”

December 2017: “Also overnight, the army led a group of some 500 Jewish worshipers to the Joseph’s Tomb holy site in the northern West Bank city of Nablus. During the visit, local residents clashed violently with the troops, throwing rocks and burning tires, the army said.”

January 2018: “Army sappers detonated a cellphone-operated explosive device that was apparently planted by Palestinians at the entrance to the Joseph’s Tomb holy site in the city of Nablus early Tuesday morning, ahead of a visit by approximately 1,000 Jewish worshipers, the army said.”

April 2018: “A Palestinian hurled explosives at Israeli soldiers protecting a crowd of Jewish worshipers in the West Bank city of Nablus overnight Wednesday-Thursday, causing no injuries or damage, the army said.”

September 2018: “Violent clashes broke out between Palestinians and Israeli security forces that entered Nablus late Wednesday night to secure the northern West Bank city ahead of the pilgrimage of some 1,500 Jewish worshipers to the Joseph’s Tomb holy site. […] Footage from the scene shows demonstrators hurling stones and Molotov cocktails at the Israeli convoy entering the city.”

November 2018: “Clashes broke out in the northern West Bank city of Nablus overnight Tuesday after Israeli security forces entered the city to escort Jewish worshipers to the Joseph’s Tomb holy site, the army said. According to an Israel Defense Forces statement, Palestinians hurled firebombs at security forces and shot at their armored cars, before troops drove them back with tear gas and live fire. Inside the tomb, soldiers discovered two makeshift explosive devices, the army said. Both were defused by sappers.”

As has been noted here in the past freedom of access to and worship at holy sites was supposedly guaranteed under the terms of the Oslo Accords signed by the PLO over two decades ago.  

Despite its public purpose obligation to provide audiences with “impartial news and information to help people understand and engage with the world around them” the BBC chooses to euphemistically frame regular breaches of that agreement as “friction” attributed to the site itself rather than to the Palestinians actually throwing firebombs, explosives or rocks.

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The BBC’s narrative on ‘East Jerusalem’ omits relevant context

Rafi Eitan: BBC WS radio promotes an unproven allegation

The afternoon edition of the March 24th BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour’ included a long item (from 14:04 here) relating to the death of Rafi Eitan the previous day.

Presenter James Menendez introduced the item as follows: [emphasis added]

Menendez: “Now you may not know the name Rafi Eitan but you’ll almost certainly remember his most famous achievement: the daring operation he led in 1960 to snatch the fugitive Nazi Adolf Eichmann from Argentina and smuggle him back to Israel for trial and then hanging. Eitan, who’s died in Tel Aviv at the age of 92, became one of Israel’s most renowned agents. The prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu described him as one of the heroes of Israel’s intelligence services. Indeed he had a hand in many high-profile operations including the apparent theft of uranium from a US laboratory, the attack on an Iraqi nuclear reactor and he was also the handler for Jonathan Pollard, the US Navy analyst who was caught spying for Israel.”

Later on in the item (from 18:44) while speaking with Israeli film-maker Duki Dror, Menendez said:

Menendez: “What’s also extraordinary is that he seems to have had roles in – and I guess it’s just a suggestion – that he was involved or perhaps even did it…took this pile of uranium from an American laboratory.”

Dror: “Yeah, there’s so many stories that are connected to his name and his role in the Mossad and sometimes you don’t know how to separate the reality from the myth.”

Although the vast majority of BBC World Service listeners would not know it, there is a good reason for Menendez’s use of the words “apparent” and “suggestion”.

Like ‘Newshour’, the New York Times also promoted those unproven allegations concerning the theft of uranium  – as our CAMERA colleague Tamar Sternthal documented:

“The New York Times’ obituary for Rafi Eitan states as fact that the just deceased Israeli spymaster played a key role in the theft of highly enriched uranium from an American company, though the allegation has never been proven and the disappearance remains an unsolved mystery.”

As Tamar Sternthal notes in her article, the alleged disappearance of more than 200 pounds of highly enriched uranium from a nuclear processing plant in Pennsylvania in the late 1960s has been investigated over the years by a range of US bodies and organisations without result. Moreover, it is not even clear that the material was actually stolen. 

Following communication from CAMERA, the New York Times has since corrected its report. Obviously BBC World Service radio needs to do the same in order to avoid misleading audiences by amplifying what it apparently knows – judging by Menendez’s use of qualifying language – is an entirely unproven allegation.   

BBC News framing of Iranian activity in Syria continues

As documented here at the time, earlier this month the BBC chose to ignore the release of information concerning Hizballah operations in the Syrian Golan Heights.

BBC ignores revelation of Hizballah’s Golan network

Not only have BBC audiences been given very little factual information about the efforts of Iran and its proxies to establish a foothold in south-west Syria in recent years but the BBC has on repeated occasions even steered them towards the view that Iran’s military build-up in Syria is primarily a claim touted by Israel.

That framing was again promoted by the BBC’s US State Department correspondent Barabara Plett Usher in several recent reports concerning US recognition of Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights.

In an article titled “Trump: Time to recognise Golan Heights as Israeli territory” that appeared on the BBC News website on March 21st, readers saw superfluous scare quotes attached to the phrase military entrenchment.

“Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu – who has warned about the “military entrenchment” of his country’s arch-enemy Iran in Syria and has ordered air strikes in an attempt to thwart it…”

Subsequent analysis from Plett Usher suggested to readers that the subject of the Iranian build-up of force in Syria is not only open to debate but a tactic used by Israel to advance its interests. [emphasis in bold added]

“Israel has gained traction in the White House and parts of Congress by arguing that Iran is using Syria as a base from which to target Israel, with the Golan Heights as the front line.”

The same ‘analysis’ from Plett Usher appeared in a report published on March 22nd under the title “Golan Heights: Syria condemns Donald Trump’s remarks”.

“Israel has gained traction in the White House and parts of Congress by arguing that Iran is using Syria as a base from which to target Israel, with the Golan Heights as the front line.”

In an article titled “Trumplomacy on Golan Heights: What it all means” which first appeared on March 22nd and was then posted in the ‘features’ section of the BBC News website’s ‘Middle East’ page on March 25th as well as promoted in a report titled “Golan Heights: Trump signs order recognising occupied area as Israeli” published on the same day, Plett Usher wrote:

 “…Mr Trump said he made the decision for strategic and security reasons, by which he means Iran.

His administration is convinced Iran is using Syria as a base to target Israel, and the Golan Heights are the front line.”

In the March 22nd edition of BBC Radio 4’s ‘Midnight News’ (from 12:17 here) listeners heard Plett Usher claim that:

“Mr Netanyahu had stepped up lobbying for such a move since Mr Trump took office. He’s gained traction by arguing that Iran is using Syria as a base from which to target Israel and the Golan Heights is the front line.”

The week before she produced those reports Barbara Plett Usher had been at a press briefing given by the US Secretary of State and had asked a question concerning the Golan Heights.

“MR PALLADINO: Let’s go to BBC, Barbara.

QUESTION: […] And then secondly, if I could on Golan, the human rights ambassador said on Wednesday that removing the word “occupation” or “occupied” from the Golan and the West Bank was not a policy change, but we know that Israel is afraid of Iran and Hizballah threatening Israel from the Syrian side of the Golan, so in your view, does that strengthen the Israeli case for annexing the occupied bit?

SECRETARY POMPEO: So I don’t have anything to add about the change in language that we used. It was characterized properly. There is a real risk. The proxies that are in the region, in southern Syria and in the vicinity of the Golan Heights, are presenting risk to the Israelis, and we’ve made clear the Israelis have a right to defend themselves.”

Not only did Plett Usher herself sound significantly less sceptical about “Iran and Hizballah threatening Israel from the Syrian side of the Golan” in that question but she got a very clear answer from the US Secretary of State.

Nevertheless, in her reports to BBC audiences Plett Usher’s framing includes promotion of the notion that there is room for doubt with regard to the actions and intentions of Iran and its proxies in Syria.

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BBC unquestioningly amplifies unsubstantiated Hamas claims

Early on the evening of March 25th the BBC News website published a report headlined “Israel strikes Hamas targets in Gaza after rocket hits house”. Since its initial appearance the article has undergone amendment twelve times. The latest version (at the time of writing) gives readers mostly reasonable portrayal of events but a few points are nevertheless noteworthy.

On two occasions the report refers to “Gaza’s health ministry”.

“Gaza’s health ministry said seven Palestinians were injured.”

“The IDF said, in response to the rocket fire, fighter jets and helicopters struck 15 targets in Gaza, including a Hamas military compound in the central town of Deir al-Balah. Gaza’s health ministry did not report any casualties as a result of those strikes.”

Interestingly, several previous versions of the report had accurately referred to “the Hamas-run Gaza health ministry” but the obviously relevant fact that the body reporting injuries and casualties is the same body firing the rockets and mortars was curiously erased from the final version of the article set to remain online.

While people who deliberately attack civilian targets are clearly terrorists, the BBC – as usual – could not bring itself to use that term in this report. [emphasis added]

Militants later launched a barrage of rockets towards southern Israeli towns despite reports of a ceasefire, triggering further Israeli strikes.”

“So far no Palestinian militant group has said it fired the long-range rocket that hit the house in Mishmeret, north of Tel Aviv, on Monday morning.”

“Overnight, Palestinian militants in Gaza fired more than 60 rockets and mortars towards Israel, according to the IDF.”

And so, as ever, we see the BBC using the euphemism ‘militants’ because it considers it more important to avoid making “value judgements” about terrorists who target sleeping Israeli civilians with military grade mortars and rockets than to inform its audiences by means of precise and appropriate language.

Right at the end of the final version of this report, readers find a section sub-headed “What did Israel strike in response?”.

“The targets included the office of Hamas political leader Ismail Haniya in Gaza City’s Rimal district. There was no indication that Mr Haniya was inside at the time.

The IDF also said it had bombed a five-storey building in Gaza City housing the offices of Hamas’ Internal Security Service, and a three-storey building in the eastern Sabra district that was the “secret headquarters” of Hamas’s General Security Forces, as well as its General Intelligence and Military Intelligence agencies.”

Finally, readers were told that:

“A Hamas website, The Palestinian Information Center, said blocks of flats, civilian facilities, agricultural land and “resistance sites” had been targeted.”

In other words, the BBC chose to close this report with unquestioning amplification of unsubstantiated claims of Israeli attacks on non-military targets sourced from a website run by a terrorist organisation.

Quite how that meets the BBC’s obligation to provide “accurate and impartial news…of the highest editorial standards” is of course a mystery.  

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BBC’s Knell claims Gaza IED attackers ‘demonstrate against Israeli policies’

Listeners to BBC Radio 4’s ‘Six O’Clock News’ on Friday, March 22nd heard a report (from 16:53 here) concerning the UN Human Rights Council’s adoption earlier in the day of the report submitted by the commission of inquiry it set up last May. [emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]

Newsreader: “The UN Human Rights Council has passed a resolution condemning what it calls Israel’s apparent use of unlawful and other excessive force after an inquiry into last year’s deadly protests at the Gaza border. The UK has expressed concern about anti-Israel bias and abstained from the vote. Health officials in Gaza say Israeli forces have killed two people and wounded 55 today in the latest demonstration. From Jerusalem, Yolande Knell reports.”

Audiences were not told that “health officials in Gaza” are in fact one and the same as the terrorist organisation which encourages thousands of people to riot at the border fence every week.

Knell: “Israel condemned this hard-hitting resolution, saying it was an absurd and hypocritical ritual of the council to single it out for criticism. While 23 countries voted in favour and eight against, the UK was among 15 to abstain. On Twitter the Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt had earlier written ‘it cannot be right that Israel – the world’s only Jewish state – is the only nation the UN Human Rights Council dedicates an entire agenda item to’. The resolution followed a UN inquiry which said Israeli soldiers may have committed war crimes and crimes against humanity in killing 189 Palestinians and wounding over six thousand in Gaza protests last year. Israel says its military acts only to defend its civilians. Today, Gaza’s Hamas rulers – keen to distract from recent economic protests – again encouraged locals to demonstrate against Israeli policies.”

Apparently Yolande Knell has not sufficiently studied the Commission’s report (see page 104) as she cites the number – 189 – of Palestinians it claims were killed during the rioting rather than the number it claims were killed by Israeli forces.

As we see, throughout this news bulletin the year-long rioting that has included hundreds of petrol bomb attacks, IED attacks, grenade attacks and shooting attacks as well as infiltration attempts was euphemistically portrayed (in line with BBC editorial policy from day one) as “protests” and “demonstrations”.

Knell’s portrayal of the March 22 incidents as a demonstration “against Israeli policies” clearly does not give audiences a clear understanding of what actually happened on that day.

“Several thousand Palestinians were protesting along the Gaza Strip border on Friday, throwing explosive devices and rocks at soldiers who were responding with tear gas and occasional live fire. Palestinians said two people were killed.

Also Friday, a balloon carrying an incendiary device launched from Gaza set a blaze between homes in the nearby Israeli kibbutz of Nir Am. The fire was extinguished and there were no reports of injuries. Another blaze was started near Kibbutz Be’eri.

In riots along the barrier, Palestinians tried to destroy the border fence in several places, but were pushed back by the IDF. The Hamas-run Gaza health ministry said two Palestinians, an 18-year-old and a 29-year-old, were killed by live fire and 55 wounded.”

For fifty-one weeks the BBC has been producing coverage of the ‘Great Return March’ rioting that has uniformly downplayed or erased the violent nature of the events and the role of terror groups in their organisation and execution has (until some recent but isolated clarification by Yolande Knell concerning Hamas’ involvement) been repeatedly ignored.

The BBC’s funding public has heard absolutely nothing about the airborne explosive devices employed in recent months or the night-time rioting organised by Hamas. Audiences have however heard and seen homogeneously uncritical promotion of the UNHRC commission’s report on a subject about which they have been serially under-informed.

That of course means that the BBC’s domestic audiences are – in contrast to the corporation’s public purpose obligations – not well placed to understand what their own foreign secretary means when he refers to “discrimination” and the intention of the UK to oppose Item 7 resolutions at the UNHRC.

Related Articles:

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Disproportionate focus in BBC News report on UNHRC speech

Former ISM activist medic reappears in BBC Radio 4 ‘Today’ show

A ‘Great Return March’ story BBC audiences have not been told