The closing item in the July 25th edition of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour’ was introduced by presenter Tim Franks (from 45:03 here) as follows:
[emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]
Franks: “The Israeli army has instructed its snipers to shoot at the ankles of Palestinian protesters on the Gaza border in an effort to reduce deaths. A senior Israeli officer said that the policy of shooting above the knees had led to many being killed. The health authorities in Gaza say that nearly 300 Palestinians have died on the border since the weekly protests began more than a year ago. Over twenty thousand people have been injured. The demonstrations have seen Palestinians massing and marching towards the barrier that separates the Gaza Strip from Israel. We’ve spent the day trying – and failing – to get an interview or even a statement from the Israeli army.”
As we see, almost sixteen months on the BBC is still inaccurately portraying the ‘Great Return March’ violent rioting as “protests” and “demonstrations” and the participants as “protesters”, while concealing the hundreds of incidents such as shooting attacks, IED attacks, grenade attacks, petrol bomb attacks, arson attacks and infiltration attempts which have taken place during those so-called “protests”.
The fact that around 80% of the fatalities have been shown to have links to terrorist organisations continues to be ignored by the BBC, as does the fact that the “health authorities” it quotes are part of the same terrorist organisation facilitating, organising and financing the violent rioting. Franks made no effort to clarify that more than half of the 20,000 people he described as injured actually suffered temporarily from tear gas inhalation. Neither did his description of IDF “policy” give listeners an accurate account: the actual rules of engagement include firing at the lower half of the body – not just “above the knees” as claimed by Franks.
Franks then introduced the one and only interviewee heard throughout the entire seven minute and 42 second item.
Franks: “Nadav Weiman is a former member of the Israeli Defence Forces. Indeed he was with the special forces sniper team that operated in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. He’s now with the advocacy group ‘Breaking the Silence’. What does he make of the news that there’d been a change in the rules of engagement?”
The new BBC editorial guidelines which came into force ten days before this item was aired include the following:
“4.3.12 We should not automatically assume that contributors from other organisations (such as academics, journalists, researchers and representatives of charities and think-tanks) are unbiased. Appropriate information about their affiliations, funding and particular viewpoints should be made available to the audience, when relevant to the context.” [emphasis added]
Nevertheless, listeners were told nothing about the highly relevant topic of the political agenda and funding of what Franks blandly described as an “advocacy group” without explaining what it ‘advocates’ for and why. Neither were they told anything of the former Nahal reconnaissance unit soldier’s own record of reliability before the item continued on a less than ideal phone line, in less than ideal English.
Weiman: “I think it’s quite crazy that for at least a year and three or four months since the right of return marches started to happen and we sent our snipers to stop them, we at ‘Breaking the Silence’ and other organisation and international organisation questioned about those rules of engagement; shooting at unarmed protesters approaching the fence. And everybody in Israel and the IDF told that we have to do it for security, it’s a necessity. And then suddenly this message comes out – barely talked about in Israel – it means one thing: that the IDF admits that the rules of engagement that IDF snipers got on the Gaza Strip border were wrong, were wrong, were absolutely wrong. And it means that we have over 100 Palestinian families that lost their loved ones and the IDF’s answer to that is that we made a mistake. And we have almost the same number of IDF snipers nineteen, twenty years old that they have that image in their head of that bullet hitting that Palestinian man because shooting in Gaza like happen in the last year or so, it’s 60, 70, 80 meters, it is midday. And when a sniper shoot at that kind of a distance in midday you see everything. You see the impact.”
The ‘Great Return March’ events did not just ‘start to happen’: they were planned in advance by a collection of terrorist organisations in the Gaza Strip and others but Franks made no effort to clarify that to audiences or to challenge the misleading and inaccurate portrayal of the participants as “unarmed protesters”. Weiman’s claim that the story is “barely talked about in Israel” is worth noting because Franks expanded on that claim later in the item.
Franks: “But are you saying that at that sort of range…because I imagine that hitting a target below the knee, particularly one that might well be moving, is difficult and if you are fearing that you’re needing to use that level of force because there is some sort of imminent danger, presumably that just is considerably more tricky than aiming at a – to put it crudely – a greater body area.”
Weiman: “Yes and no because first of all, you know, [in] sniping course and in the army they tell you that a legitimate target is an armed [unintelligible] soldier, an armed Palestinian militant. But then our soldiers are getting a command that the legitimate target is an unarmed man or woman or child approaching the fence. And it’s not endangering Israel: it’s endangering our control over the Palestinian territories and within it the Gaza Strip. First of all that’s confusing and a moving target; yes it’s hard but again those kinds of conditions – midday – it is not that hard for a professional sniper. Me and my team when we shot people in our army service it was 400, 500 meters. That kind of a distance midday with the bullet that you have as a sniper that has a lot more gunpowder, that does a lot more damage, it means that the bullet goes right through the man that you’re shooting at. The entry wound would be like a centimetre but the exit wound would be the size of a fist. So yes, when you shoot to the legs of a man standing 60 meters away from you the injury is very severe and I’m guessing that’s why the IDF changed the rules of engagement. And again stopping a human being so close to you – this is an unarmed protester – so again, live ammunition is the last resort, not the first one.”
Again Franks made no effort to challenge the myth of the “unarmed protester” and neither did he bother to clarify to listeners that Israel does not “control” the Gaza Strip because a complete withdrawal was carried out fourteen years ago.
Franks: “We’ve heard though earlier this year, even before this came out, from the head of the Israeli military’s southern command, the man who’s in charge of the area that includes the Gaza border, Major General Herzi Halevi, saying he wishes that there were, as he put it, better non-lethal weapons which he could use in order to secure the boundary, the border, with Gaza. He says he doesn’t have those and although you say that some of the people who’ve been hit are unarmed protesters, I imagine that one of the arguments that’s been used is that just in the great crush of people who were moving towards the separation zone between Israel and Gaza, there is a fear that they could provide cover for others who do have more lethal intent.”
Franks is referring to remarks made by Maj Gen Herzi Halevi in May of this year. He did not however bother to inform audiences of additional statements made by the officer at the time.
“Halevi said the Israel Defense Forces maintains strict rules of engagement for soldiers, requiring approval of senior commanders before a shot can be fired, and performs investigations into every bullet fired.
“We don’t have results on every bullet because of the tough conditions [on the border],” he said, referring to the thick smoke, masses of people and general confusion.
“But we have not — I’m not saying not yet, I’m saying not — found even one incident of a soldier [just] deciding to shoot into the crowd, even on tough days,” Halevi said.
According to Halevi, the IDF has made use of the less-lethal weapons already at its disposal, contacted foreign countries to look into purchasing their equipment and attempted to develop new tools to respond to the riots.
These included rubber bullets, which were found to have an insufficient range; a foul-smelling spray known as the Skunk, which didn’t work well in the open fields along the border; and most recently a truck with a high-powered speaker to be used against rioters, which has not been found to be sufficiently effective.
The tear gas, which Israel continues to use along the border, is found to often be ineffective as the breeze coming from the Mediterranean blows it back into Israel.”
That information – as well as the knowledge that Israel disengaged from the Gaza Strip in 2005 – would have helped listeners put Weiman’s subsequent claims into their correct context.
Weiman: “I’ve got to say Herzi Halevi is right. An army has [a] couple of tools in its toolbox and it’s basically violent intimidation – that’s a military occupation. This is what it means. So my criticism is not against the IDF; it’s against the policy of our government. Governments for the past 52 years decided to control the Gaza Strip by military force which means basically that you don’t have a military solution to a political problem. The IDF is not equipped to stop the protests on the fence. The IDF is equipped to be a stand up army when needs to which means the solution to these kinds of problems is not supposed to be in Herzi Halevi hands. It’s supposed to be in the hand of our government and the people of Israel that’s giving the mandate to that kind of a government. And I’ve got to say that the IDF actually has other tools that they can do. You know we have a siege on Gaza since 2007. You know we are giving IDF soldiers the order to take those firearms and to go over there but there are other non-lethal means in the hands of the IDF.”
Franks did not bother to clarify to listeners that there is no such thing as “a siege” on the Gaza Strip before he went on to pick up on a claim made by Weiman near the beginning of the interview.
Franks: “This change in the rules of engagement came out a few days ago from the military reporter for Israel’s public radio station, Carmela Menashe. It didn’t get a huge amount of take-up and only belatedly did it get really any kind of attention as far as I’m aware in the Israeli media. I wonder how far that suggests to you that, I mean, although you’ve been speaking very passionately about it, whether this really registers across much of Israel.”
Carmela Menashe Tweeted about that story on July 22nd. On the same day the same information appeared in reports at Ma’ariv, Channel 13 and others following what appears to have been a tour for military journalists of a counter-terrorism training facility. The Jerusalem Post published similar report on July 25th. Channel 13 correspondent Or Heller reported that a senior officer responsible for training snipers deployed to the border with the Gaza Strip told the journalists that in relation to the conclusions drawn from investigations into the incidents along the Gaza border:
“Their [the snipers’] aim is not to kill but to wound and so one of the conclusions reached was about the direction of fire – in the beginning we told the snipers to shoot at the leg and when we saw that could result in death we told them to shoot under the knee. Later on we refined the order to hit the ankle.”
In other words, not only is this item’s claim of a change to the rules of engagement somewhat exaggerated – a more accurate description would be a refinement of orders in relation to a specific location within the general framework of the rules of engagement – but Franks’ claim that the story was not widely reported and only “belatedly” got attention in the Israeli media is completely inaccurate.
Weiman then went on to give an inaccurate portrayal of Israeli society and the Israeli media: in fact barely a day goes by without multiple media reports concerning the Gaza Strip.
Weiman: “After so much time people in Israel are not interested in what is happening over there because Gaza used to be and now and will be our back yard that Israelis don’t want to listen what is going on over there. And I think that the fact that you are interviewing me at the moment is important, you know, because we’re not talking about it in Israel. The international audience should hear about it as well. I wish the journalists inside Israel would do the same thing because this is a burning issue on the table of our government and the responsibility lies on the shoulder of every Israeli about what we’re sending our kids to do over there, our soldiers to do over there. And I’ve got to say it doesn’t really shock me that it didn’t reach the media in Israel because Gaza is such a volatile issue [in] the Israeli society that a lot of people prefer not to touch it.”
Franks closed that long item with yet another totally unsatisfactory portrayal of the political NGO ‘Breaking the Silence’.
Franks: “Nadav Weiman, formerly with the Israeli Defence Forces, eh…now with the advocacy group ‘Breaking the Silence’.”
Although the BBC has regularly provided platforms to ‘Breaking the Silence’ in the past, given Franks’ adoption of its PR talking points, his failure to challenge any of Weiman’s inaccuracies and falsehoods and the absence of any mention whatsoever of the words ‘Hamas’ and ‘terrorism’ throughout, one can only wonder whether this sympathetic interview was the result of the BBC contacting that political NGO or the other way round. Either way, BBC World Service radio listeners heard a totally partisan item replete with crucial omission which actively misled them on the topic of the ‘Great Return March’ and more.
Breaking the Silence and the British Media (CAMERA)
Breaking the Silence gets failing grade in Channel 10’s fact-check (CAMERA)