BBC News ignores rockets on northern Israel but reports response

When sirens warning of rocket fire from Syria sent residents of the northern Golan Heights and Upper Galilee scurrying for shelter shortly before 5 a.m. on November 19th, the BBC did not find that story newsworthy.

“Four projectiles were fired at northern Israel from Syria in the predawn hours of Tuesday morning, the Israel Defense Forces said. All four were intercepted by the Iron Dome missile defense system.

The Israeli military believes the rockets were fired by Iran or one of its proxies.”

The Israeli response which came the next day was however considered worthy of BBC News website coverage and on the morning of November 20th a report originally confusingly headlined “Israel hits ‘dozens of Iranian and Syrian targets’” and now titled “Israel carries out ‘wide-scale strikes’ on Iranian forces in Syria” was published on its ‘Middle East’ page.

Apparently not having bothered to verify details of the previous day’s incident itself, the BBC reported it as something that ‘Israel said’ happened.

“The Israeli military says the “wide-scale strikes” responded to rockets fired by an Iranian unit into Israel. […]

On Tuesday morning, the Israeli military said it had intercepted four rockets fired from Syria towards northern Israel. It said the rockets did not hit the ground.”

As usual in coverage of such incidents, the BBC’s report uncritically amplified claims made by the infamous Syrian state news agency.

“Syria says two civilians died and that Syrian air defences shot down most of the missiles over Damascus. […]

Syria’s state news agency Sana said that the country’s “air defence confronted the heavy attack and intercepted the hostile missiles”.

It said that Syria destroyed “most” of the Israeli missiles.

The news agency added that the strikes on Syrian territory were carried out from “Lebanese and Palestinian territories”.”

Also in line with longstanding BBC editorial policy, the report presented an unnecessarily qualified account of Iran’s activities in Syria.

“Israel has carried out hundreds of strikes in Syria since the civil war broke out in 2011.

It has been trying to thwart what it calls Iran’s “military entrenchment” there and block shipments of Iranian weapons to Lebanon’s Hezbollah movement.”

Readers were told nothing of the list of Iranian attacks on Israel throughout the past two years.

Later the same day the BBC News website published an additional article by its diplomatic correspondent Jonathan Marcus titled “Israel-Iran: Risk of an all-out conflict grows after Syria strikes” and inaccurately tagged “Syrian civil war”.  

The BBC News Twitter account promoted that article with the claim that “Israel’s strikes in Syria risk broad conflict with Iran”.

So there we have it: according to BBC-think it is not Iran’s funding and arming of terrorist organisations to Israel’s south and north or Iran’s support for the establishment of Hizballah infrastructure in the Syrian Golan or even Iran’s reported deployment of missiles in south-west Syria which raise the risk of “broad conflict” but Israel’s response to Iranian aggression.

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Reviewing three BBC reports on the US statement on ‘settlements’ – part two

As we saw in part one of this post between the evening of November 18th and the evening of November 19th the BBC News website published three written reports, totalling 2,420 words, relating to a statement made by the US Secretary of State.

November 18th 2019: ‘US says Israeli settlements are no longer illegal

November 19th 2019: ‘US settlement move endorses ‘law of the jungle’ – Palestinians

November 19th 2019: ‘US settlement move reduces chances of Israeli-Palestinian peace deal’ by Barbara Plett Usher

All those articles include quotes from various Palestinian officials and/or unnamed terrorist organisations.

Article 1: “Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said the US decision was a risk to “global stability, security, and peace” and said it threatened to replace international law with “the law of the jungle”.”

Article 2: “Chief negotiator Saeb Erekat said it threatened to replace international law with the “law of the jungle”. […]

“Israeli colonial settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories, including East Jerusalem, are not only illegal under international law, they are war crimes,” said Mr Erekat. “Once the Trump administration decides to undermine international law… this constitutes a major threat to international peace and security.”

Nabil Abu Rudeina, a spokesman for Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, said: “The United States is neither qualified nor is authorised to negate international legitimacy resolutions, and it has no right to give any legitimacy to Israeli settlement.”

Palestinian militant groups also weighed in, calling it the official funeral of the Oslo peace process – which laid the foundations for Palestinian self-rule in the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza Strip – and urging stepped-up resistance to the Israeli occupation.”

Article 3: “Palestinian militants have described the US shift as the funeral of the Oslo peace process, and called for resisting the occupation.”

The second report also quoted other sources promoting the notion that the US announcement and/or ‘settlements’ threaten the ‘peace process’. [emphasis added]

Article 2: “The European Union’s foreign policy chief, Federica Mogherini, said the bloc’s position was that “all settlement activity is illegal under international law and it erodes the viability of the two-state solution and the prospects for a lasting peace“.

Ayman Safadi, Foreign Minister of Jordan – the custodian of a holy site in Jerusalem known to Muslims as al-Haram al-Sharif (the Noble Sanctuary) and to Jews as the Temple Mount – said the change would “kill” a two-state solution, calling the settlements “a blatant violation of international law”.”

The BBC’s own commentary promoted similar framing:

Article 1: “The Palestinians have long called for the removal of all settlements, arguing that their presence on land they claim for a future independent Palestinian state makes it almost impossible to make such a state a reality.”

Articles 1 & 2, analysis from Barbara Plett Usher:

“Dismissing the international legal prohibitions on Jewish settlements undermines the legal framework for the peace process, including the notion of Palestinian national rights and the principle of self-determination. […]

Palestinian analysts I have spoken with say the growth of Jewish settlements has essentially killed the potential for a viable two-state solution.”

Article 2: “The Palestinians have long called for the removal of the settlements, where about 600,000 Jews live, arguing that their presence on land they claim for a future independent Palestinian state makes it almost impossible to make such a state a reality.”

Article 3: “And it [the US statement] decreases even further the chances of a negotiated peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians. […]

…it creates problems for the rest of the world, which has been operating under an internationally accepted framework for Israeli-Palestinian peace.

The international community has focused for more than two decades on working towards a two-state solution. The European Union and United Nations have been warning that Jewish settlements are eroding that possibility. Now that a main player has withdrawn opposition, the way forward is even less clear: there is no Plan B. […]

Palestinians do not have many options.”

As we see, both the selected quotes and the BBC’s own commentary steer readers towards the view that the prime obstacle to “a negotiated peace deal” and a “two-state solution” is the Israeli communities in Judea & Samaria and parts of Jerusalem. That framing of course dovetails perfectly with the narrative long promoted by the PLO.

Notably, the BBC made no effort at all to remind audiences of other factors which might affect the chances of a “negotiated peace deal” such as Palestinian terrorism, the Palestinian refusal to recognise Israel as the Jewish state or the fact that the Palestinians are split into various irreconcilable factions and cannot even agree among themselves on a unified approach to negotiations with Israel.

Neither did the BBC bother to ask why, if this latest US statement is so detrimental to the peace process, was absolutely no progress made during the three years prior to Secretary Pompeo’s announcement.

As anyone familiar with prior efforts to bring the conflict to an end is aware, the various proposals have all included annexation of the main blocks of Israeli communities in return for land swaps. Since December 2016, however, the BBC has taken it upon itself to repeatedly amplify the PLO’s maximalist interpretation of the ‘two-state solution’. Sadly for BBC audiences hoping to gain better understanding of the issues behind this story, these three articles do not deviate from that editorial policy.

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Reviewing three BBC reports on the US statement on ‘settlements’ – part one

Reviewing three BBC reports on the US statement on ‘settlements’ – part one

Between the evening of November 18th and the evening of November 19th the BBC News website published three written reports, totalling 2,420 words, relating to a statement made by the US Secretary of State.

November 18th 2019: ‘US says Israeli settlements are no longer illegal

November 19th 2019: ‘US settlement move endorses ‘law of the jungle’ – Palestinians

November 19th 2019: ‘US settlement move reduces chances of Israeli-Palestinian peace deal’ by Barbara Plett Usher

The first article includes – albeit near its end – a reasonable portrayal of the positions held by various US administrations over the years.

“In 1978, the Jimmy Carter administration concluded that the establishment of civilian settlements was inconsistent with international law. In 1981, President Ronald Reagan disagreed with that conclusion, saying he did not believe the settlements were inherently illegal.

Since then, the US adopted a position of describing the settlements as “illegitimate” – though not “illegal” – and sheltering Israel from condemnatory resolutions on the issue at the United Nations.

However one of the last acts of the Obama administration, at the end of 2016, was to break with US practice by not vetoing a UN resolution that urged an end to illegal Israeli settlements.”

The second article opens with the erroneous claim that: [emphasis added]

“Palestinians have condemned a decision by the US to abandon its four-decades-old position that Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank are inconsistent with international law.”

In fact, as explained in the first report and indeed again towards the end of this one, Secretary Pompeo’s statement marks a return to the policy of US administrations between 1981 and December 2016. In other words, the “position” described by the BBC is three years old rather than “four-decades-old”.

The third report by Barbara Plett Usher makes no attempt to inform readers on the issue of the policies of past US administrations.

The first article promotes the BBC’s own standard but partial mantra concerning ‘international law’.

Article 1: “The issue of Jewish settlements is one of the most contentious between Israel and the Palestinians.

About 600,000 Jews live in about 140 settlements built since Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem. The settlements are widely considered illegal under international law, though Israel has always disputed this.”

In the second article readers are told that:

 Article 2: “The UN regards the settlements as being illegal under international law.”

BBC audiences are not informed that UNSC resolution 2334 dating from December 2016 was adopted under the United Nations Charter’s Chapter 6 and is hence non-binding.

The BBC chooses to describe settlements as follows:

Article 1: “Settlements are communities established by Israel on land occupied in the 1967 Middle East war.

They have long been a source of dispute between Israel and the international community, and the Palestinians.”

Article 2: “Settlements are communities established by Israel on land occupied in the 1967 Middle East war. They have long been a source of dispute between Israel and the international community, and the Palestinians.”

Article 3: “Settlements are Jewish communities built on territory occupied by Israel during the 1967 Middle East war.”

As we see, the BBC does not bother to inform its audiences of the background to that war or of the fact that in the case of Judea & Samaria, the same territory was under Jordanian occupation for 19 years. That omission enables Barbara Plett Usher to state that:

“…Americans do not make international law: that is up to bodies such as the United Nations and treaties such as the Fourth Geneva Convention, which bars an occupying power from transferring parts of its civilian population to occupied territory.”

Only in the second article do readers find any alternative view to the BBC’s standard mantra or reference to events before 1967 and that is presented as something that “Israel says”.

Article 2: “Most of the international community, including the UN and the International Court of Justice, say the settlements are illegal. The basis for this is the 1949 Fourth Geneva Convention which forbids the transfer by an occupying power of its people to occupied territory.

However, Israel says the Fourth Geneva Convention does not apply de jure to the West Bank because, it says, the territory is not technically occupied.

Israel says it is legally there as a result of a defensive war, and did not take control of the West Bank from a legitimate sovereign power. It says the legal right of Jewish settlement there, as recognised by the 1922 League of Nations Mandate for Palestine, was preserved under the UN’s charter.”

Those three paragraphs are taken from a backgrounder originally published in December 2016 and since amended several times to which a link is provided in all three reports. All three reports also promote a map titled “West Bank settlements” sourced from the foreign funded political NGOB’tselem’. As has been the case with previous maps from the same source used by the BBC, this one too portrays places such as Neve Ya’akov and Gush Etzion as ‘settlements’ despite the fact that Jews purchased land and lived in those areas long before they were ethnically cleansed by the invading Jordanian army in 1948. 

Part two of this post will review additional aspects of these three BBC reports.

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BBC’s Plett Usher does ‘ode to a reasonable Hamas’

On November 18th the BBC News website published an article by Barbara Plett Usher titled “Israel-Gaza clash: Why Hamas chose restraint”.

Plett Usher began with two inaccurate statements, one of which she later repeated.

“Last week’s surge of violence over Gaza was notably different from previous cross-border fighting: Hamas stayed out of it and Israel did not target its traditional foe. […]

Hamas, which governs Gaza, did participate in a joint operations room with other factions to discuss tactics. But it conspicuously did not launch any attacks.”

So did Hamas really ‘stay out of it’? Not exactly, according to Israeli officials:

“Hamas terror organization is responsible for the launch of two rockets at the southern city of Be’er Sheva overnight, sources in the defense establishment said Saturday. […]

Military officials estimate the launch was carried out by low-level Hamas militants on the ground, contrary to the position of the organization’s leadership that wants to put the latest flare-up behind them.”

And did Israel “not target its traditional foe”? Again, that claim is inaccurate.

“Israel struck Hamas targets in Gaza after Palestinians launched two rockets towards the southern Israeli city of Beersheba early on Saturday morning. The IDF believes Hamas was responsible for firing the rockets. […]

In retaliation the Israeli military said it struck a military camp, a compound for the group’s naval forces and underground terror infrastructure.”

Plett Usher went on to claim that the PIJ is “more radical” than Hamas.

“Paradoxically it confirmed that Israel and Hamas – Gaza’s main Islamist movement – are committed to pursuing strategic understandings to help keep the peace.

The fighting started when Israel carried out what it called the targeted killing of a top commander in the smaller, more radical Islamic Jihad group, claiming he was planning attacks that posed an imminent threat.”

Of course both the PIJ and Hamas are Islamist groups which reject Israel’s existence, strive for its eradication by means of terrorism and reject any efforts to resolve the conflict through negotiation. Plett Usher however did not trouble her readers with the finer points of either terrorist organisation’s ideology before extensively – and uncritically – quoting an official from Hamas’ ‘international relations office’. [emphasis added]

“That is because it was “in the Palestinian interest” to avoid an escalation, a senior Hamas official, Basem Naim, told the BBC. Gazans were already suffering enough due to dire conditions on the ground, he said, and “the regional and international atmosphere is not so helpful at this time”. […]

Basem Naim played down the differences between the two groups. He insisted Hamas had not abandoned its commitment to armed resistance against the Israeli occupation, what Israel and many Western countries call terrorism.

“Maybe we, based on our interests, sometimes decide to postpone or decrease our response [to Israeli strikes], but that doesn’t mean we don’t have the right to continue our struggle,” he said. “It is not our role to work as a police force for the occupation, and if we have to decide internally to stop, this is based on Palestinian dialogue, not a response to Israeli wishes or plans.””

Plett Usher of course did not bother to explain to BBC audiences that what Hamas means by “Israeli occupation” is the existence of Israel itself or that Israel withdrew every last soldier and civilian from the Gaza Strip fourteen years ago.

She did mislead readers with the claim that “Israel tightened its blockade of the Gaza Strip when Hamas reinforced its power there in 2007…” while failing to clarify that the Israeli security cabinet declared the Gaza Strip “hostile territory” in September 2007 – three months after Hamas’ violent take-over – due to a severe increase in terror attacks.

Plett Usher whitewashed twenty months of weekly violent rioting that regularly includes border infiltrations, shooting attacks, IED attacks, grenade attacks and arson attacks which have caused serious damage to thousands of acres of farmland and nature reserves in Israel as “protest marches”. She portrayed restrictions on the import of dual use goods and weapons to the Gaza Strip as “crippling” while failing to clarify that Israel facilitates the entry of thousands of tons of goods including medical supplies, food, fuel and building materials to the Gaza strip every week.

“But the trade-off is for Hamas to lower the temperature of weekly protest marches along Gaza’s border with Israel, and for Israel to ease its crippling blockade.”

Notably however, readers of this transparent amplification of Hamas’ narrative learned nothing of the long-standing tensions between Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad and the former’s failure to rein in Baha Abu al Ata which is the background to the recent round of conflict.

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What did BBC audiences learn from a PIJ leader interview?

On November 12th the BBC News website published a filmed report titled “Israel-Gaza violence: Rockets and air strikes follow militant death” on its ‘Middle East’ page.

In that film BBC audiences saw an interview (apparently filmed during the funeral proceedings for Baha Abu al Ata) with senior Palestinian Islamic Jihad leader Khader Habib in which he made the following statements:

“We are on fire and angry and that should be translated into action. These actions have started this morning after the crime was committed. Rockets were fired towards Tel Aviv, and Islamic Jihad, with all the resistance groups, will continue targeting all the occupation’s safe places.”

The BBC promoted those statements to its worldwide audiences ‘as is’, making no effort to qualify the use of the term “crime” to describe the killing of a terrorist responsible for attacks on civilians or to clarify what Habib actually meant by ‘the occupation’ (seeing as Israel withdrew from the Gaza Strip over 14 years ago) or precisely what “the resistance” is  supposedly resisting.

Like the rest of the BBC’s coverage of this story (see ‘related articles’ below), this report too failed to provide audiences with any background information about the aims and ideology of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, even while quoting its leaders.

On the same day a TV station called Alghad aired a speech by Khader Habib apparently made at the same event on the same day.

Khader Habib: “Your [Zionist] entity will disappear and we will remain, Allah willing. Palestine belongs to us, Jerusalem belongs to us, the place of the Prophet’s night journey belongs to us, the sea belongs to us, and the sky belongs to us, whereas you will have nothing but slaughter at the hands of the mujahideen, Allah willing, if you continue to occupy this land. I advise you to leave this entity, because we have sworn before Allah that we would not let you enjoy this holy and blessed land. Our Jihad and our strikes will continue until you leave, Allah willing. We will slaughter those who do not leave with our own hands, Allah willing.” (translation by MEMRI)

So who provided their audiences with the better view of the violent ideology of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad and hence more context to Israel’s actions? Was it one of the world’s biggest and most influential news organisations with its dedicated Arabic language department and one of the most frequented websites in Europe or was it a relatively new, Cairo based and Abu Dhabi funded Arabic language TV station?

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BBC doublethink on display in report on rocket attacks

An article which originally appeared on the BBC News website’s ‘Middle East’ page on the morning of November 14th under the headline “Israel-Gaza ‘ceasefire begins’ after two days of fighting” underwent numerous amendments until, some eleven hours after its initial publication, website visitors were confronted with this glaring example of BBC doublethink:

The final version of that article – “Israel-Gaza ceasefire holding despite rocket fire” – which will of course remain online as “permanent public record”, tells readers that:

“…five rockets were launched from Gaza about five hours after the ceasefire came into effect, the IDF said. Two were intercepted by the Iron Dome air defence system. […]

In the late afternoon, rocket alert sirens sounded in Israeli communities near the Gaza border and the IDF said another rocket was shot down.”

In fact:

“Late Thursday night, terrorists in Gaza fired two rockets at southern Israel, which were shot down by soldiers operating the Iron Dome air defense system, the army said. […]

Earlier in the day three separate volleys of rockets were fired at Israel from Gaza, puncturing a tense calm and leading to fears of a resumption of violence. In one case pieces of a projectile landed in the yard of a daycare in Netivot, but there were no injuries. Throughout Thursday, Israel abided by the Egypt- and UN-brokered ceasefire and refrained from launching retaliatory strikes, despite public pressure to do so.”

So what can we learn from that Orwellian BBC headline? We can deduce that as far as the BBC is concerned, a ceasefire can be described as “holding” despite multiple rocket attacks by Gaza Strip terrorist groups against Israeli civilians and hence that the BBC does not regard those attacks as constituting a breach of a ceasefire. We can therefore conclude that the BBC would only consider that ceasefire as having been breached if Israel responded to such attacks.

And indeed, after Israel did just that in the early hours of November 15th, the BBC News website replaced that ridiculously headlined report with one titled “Israel-Gaza ceasefire strained by rockets and air strikes” which similarly misleads readers with regard to the number of rockets fired by Gaza strip terrorists the previous day.

“Israel has launched fresh air strikes on militant targets after renewed rocket-fire from Gaza, as a day-old ceasefire is put under strain. […]

It comes after five rockets were fired at Israel on Thursday following the ceasefire declaration by the PIJ.”

A clearer example of the BBC’s accommodating approach to Palestinian terrorism is difficult to imagine.

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BBC News website adheres zealously to editorial guidelines

In the 48 hours during which terrorists in the Gaza Strip fired over 450 rockets and mortars at civilian targets in Israel the BBC News website produced four written reports about the events.

Although missile attacks against civilians are clearly an act of terrorism and the people responsible for such attacks are terrorists, the BBC chose not to inform its audience of that fact and instead adhered to its much criticised editorial guidelines.

Israel kills top Palestinian Islamic Jihad militant in Gaza 12/11/2019, all versions here, version 1 discussed here

The word militant or militants were used 6 times in this report in relation to the Palestinian Islamic Jihad or Hamas. The words terrorist appeared twice, exclusively in a quote from an Israeli official.

“Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called Abu al-Ata an “arch-terrorist” and said he was “the main instigator of terrorism from the Gaza Strip”.

“He initiated, planned and carried out many terrorist attacks. He fired hundreds of rockets at communities in the area adjacent to the Gaza Strip, whose suffering we have seen,” he told a news conference in Tel Aviv.”

Israel-Gaza violence spirals after killing of top Palestinian militant 12/11/2019, all versions here

The word militant or militants were used four times in this report in relation to the Palestinian Islamic Jihad or Hamas, including in paraphrasing of statements made by Israeli officials. The words terror and terrorists appeared twice, in quotes from the IDF and the Israeli prime minister.

“Among the sites the IDF said it hit was what it called a “terror tunnel”, which it said the PIJ planned to use to attack Israeli civilians.”

“We’ve proven that we can hit, surgically, wherever the terrorists hide. Whoever harms us, we will harm them.”

Israel-Gaza fighting continues for second day after militant’s death 13/11/19, all versions here

The word militant or militants were used ten times in this report in relation to the Palestinian Islamic Jihad or Hamas, including in paraphrasing of statements made by Israeli officials. The words terrorist and terrorists appeared twice, in quotes from the IDF and the Israeli prime minister.

“The IDF said “20 terrorists” were killed, most of them from Islamic Jihad.”

“Israel’s Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, described Abu al-Ata as an “arch-terrorist” and a “ticking bomb” who posed an imminent threat to the country.”

Rockets fired at Israel after Gaza ceasefire starts 14/11/19, all versions here

The word militant or militants were used six times in this report in relation to the Palestinian Islamic Jihad or Hamas. The words terrorist and terrorists appeared twice, in quotes from an IDF spokesman and the Israeli prime minister.

“The Israeli prime minister said Abu al-Ata was “responsible for most of the terror attacks in the last year from the Gaza Strip” and called him a “ticking bomb”.”

“”With a combination of military personnel from a variety of units who specialize in SIGINT [signals intelligence], HUMINT [human intelligence], we were able to attack cells and close the circle against targets very quickly. That’s what killed 25 terrorists who were in the midst of carrying out hostile activity,” he added.”

As regular readers know only too well, the BBC is considerably less zealous about its adherence to those editorial guidelines when reporting on events in other locations. Just last month an attack in Germany was appropriately described as terror on two different BBC platforms and attacks in other European locations have frequently been described in those terms.

But when millions of Israeli civilians are under relentless attack from terrorists armed with military-grade rockets and mortars, the BBC repeatedly refuses outright to describe those attacks and their perpetrators using accurate terminology.

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BBC R4’s Mishal Husain sells her listeners short with self-indulgence

Listeners to BBC Radio 4’s ‘Today’ programme on November 13th heard two items relating to the events in Israel and the Gaza Strip which began the previous day. The second of those items comprised a report from the BBC Jerusalem bureau’s Tom Bateman (which will be discussed separately) and an interview with an Israeli MK (from 2:36:32 here) which was conducted by presenter Mishal Husain in the confrontational style she so often employs when speaking to Israelis. [emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]

Husain: “On the line now is Sharren Haskel, member of the Israeli parliament for the Likud party and a member of the foreign affairs and defence committee. […] Will the airstrikes continue?”

MK Haskel explained that that depends on the Palestinian Islamic Jihad because “the more they continue to fire rockets towards Israeli civilians […] we will continue to defend our people.” Husain quickly interrupted her interviewee in order to give her own view, which is apparently that it is the Israeli response to hundreds of rocket attacks against civilians which risks escalating the conflict rather than the attacks themselves.

Husain [interrupts]: “Because the risk from what you’re saying is very great. Islamic Jihad is not the main militant group in Gaza. If these airstrikes continue – and we already know that people have…eh…have died from them – then Hamas will be further drawn in and then you have the prospect of an all-out conflict.”

Haskel: “Well until now we’ve identified 12 dead. We were able to actually identify as well particularly those people so at least seven of them are from the militants of the Islamic Jihad, three of them are from the brigade of Al Quds. All of them are military, all of them are terrorists. All of our attacks are targeted towards specific people who are terrorising the life of Israeli civilians…”

Husain [interrupts]: “What was the crime of the woman who died – the wife of the Islamic Jihad commander?”

Haskel: “Well Baha Abu al-Ata was neutralised because he was a terrorist instigator in Gaza. He conspired and planned many attacks and actually was having Israeli…”

Husain [interrupts]: “Her crimes.”

Haskel: “…civilians. Well unfortunately when there is a ticking bomb and when we know that he’s planning a major attack on Israel and we need to neutralise him, we try to minimise as much as possible…”

Husain [interrupts]: “Although you targeted him in his…although you targeted him in his home which is somewhere that he’s likely to be with his wife.”

Haskel: “I just want to finish. Unfortunately there’s a price for it and we try to minimise it as much as possible any kind of civilian casualty. When there’s one person who is a civilian casualty, with to say that this is your husband; you are participating in the exact same acts. That was the only opportunity that our defence forces had to neutralise him. So when there’s one…”

Making no effort whatsoever to inform listeners of the fact that terrorists often use their families and other civilians as human shields, Husain then proceeded to try to cast doubts on Israel’s intelligence.

Husain [interrupts]: “What was the…what was the immediate threat that he posed? You mentioned there was a ticking bomb so what was the intelligence?”

Haskel: “Well he was in the midst of planning a major attack on Israel.”

Husain: “Right. And you know that for sure, do you? Because it is rare…it is rare for…ehm…for a targeted killing these days to happen in this way.”

Haskel pointed out that Israeli intelligence is not questioned when it relates to attacks on European soil and went on:

Haskel: “But when it’s targeted towards Israelis and not Europeans then you come and you question it. I can tell you for sure; I sit in the Israeli defence committee of the parliament and from the intelligence that we gather there was a major attack planned by this person.”

Mishal Husain closed the interview at that point.

One would of course expect that the BBC would make the most of an interview with an Israeli official during a time of conflict to meet its public purpose remit of enhancing audience understanding of the story. However, as we have often witnessed in the past, one of the recurrent phenomena associated with media coverage of outbreaks of conflict between Israel and terrorists in the Gaza Strip is the proliferation of journalists who suddenly transform into self-appointed ‘experts’ in military strategy and laws of armed combat.

Obviously Mishal Husain’s aggressive yet clueless questioning concerning the PIJ commander’s wife and her efforts to cast doubts on the intelligence behind the operation were not at all intended to provide listeners with a better understanding of the background to the topic but were entirely self-serving.

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Rocket attacks on Israel prompt BBC WS interview with serial Gaza contributor

As we saw in an earlier post, in the lead item in the November 12th evening edition of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour’ presenter Paul Henley and Jerusalem based reporter Barbara Plett Usher managed to spend five minutes discussing that morning’s strike on a senior Palestinian Islamic Jihad commander and the hundreds of subsequent missile attacks against Israeli civilians while diligently avoiding the use of the words ‘terror’, ‘terrorism’ or ‘terrorists’.

Notably, the only reference to the victims of those attacks heard in that item came in the form of two very brief recorded statements from Israelis who were not identified, their locations not disclosed and what actually happened to them and their property left unexplained.

In contrast, ‘Newshour’ producers did find it appropriate to devote the item’s last four minutes of airtime to the views of an inadequately introduced “resident of Gaza”.

[emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]

Henley [from 05:42 here]: “Najla is a resident of Gaza and she gave me her reaction to the assassination of Baha Abu al-Ata and the exchange of fire that’s followed.”

Once again Henley made no effort to clarify to listeners around the world that while Israeli strikes targeted Palestinian Islamic Jihad rocket launchers and infrastructure, the rockets fired by the PIJ and other factions targeted Israeli civilians. 

Najla: “Every few weeks we have some kind of an episode of escalation but this time is quite different. I would say it started with this…the serious assassination of the Islamic Jihad leader which was perceived by people in Gaza as a major event that reminds us in Gaza with some previous wars…ah…bigger significant escalations. So it is serious and people are very concerned over…”

Henley [interrupts]: “Is he a well-known figure in Gaza this man who’s been killed?”

Najla: “He is but usually the names are not very popular because they don’t go public. They’re not on media or anything but usually within the factions they have big position, big status I would say so…”

Henley [interrupts]: “But among citizens there, among people living in Gaza, will it be a big deal that he personally has been killed?”

Najla: “I mean anyone who would be killed by Israel is an issue to…”

Henley [interrupts]: “That’s not what I’m asking though. Is this a particularly significant figure to the general population of Gaza?”

Najla: “Being who he is as part of Islamic Jihad, as a leader, yes. But the name may not be known very much by the general public.”

Henley: “And does the firing of rockets from Gaza into Israel have support among people you know?”

Najla: “To put it in a way that this is how Palestinian factions have been partially responding to such violations by Israel on such attacks but you also should remember that the situation in Gaza has been fuelling for the past years without any resolution and…”

Henley [interrupts]: “I suppose what I’m… I suppose what I’m trying to find out is whether there is generally public support in Gaza for firing more rockets into Israel in direct response to this killing.”

Najla: “People do expect that this to happen. Some agree and some disagree. I can’t give you exact figures on how popular exactly this kind of response is.”

At that point Henley abandoned his obscure line of questioning and provided his interviewee with an uninterrupted one minute and forty second platform from which to promote her unchallenged claims.

Henley: “Sure. How worried are you the situation will spiral into more violence on both sides now though?”

Najla: “We are very worried to be honest and we are waiting to see how things develop tonight. It’s been already a heavy day since 5:30 a. m. this morning but it’s been like the past hour or so kind of quiet and everyone is just watching, watching the news and waiting to see what will come out. So we are greatly worried. We’ve been through this before and unfortunately people in Gaza are…have lost hope in resolving the situation because it’s been just failing…we’ve been failed by everyone and we’ve been punished by all sides. And the situation is really dramatically deteriorating within Gaza in terms of the very basic aspects of life. We’re under blockade, we’re under serious restrictions. Two million people are not able to move, not able to work, the increase of unemployment is massive and I think that this doesn’t make news unfortunately. But people’s lives are being really compromised by the day and everyone, even those who consider themselves advantaged, they do suffer from basic rights such as movement, electricity, proper water etcetera. And the economic situation is deteriorating dramatically and people would probably know that unemployment has reached the highest around the world. So the situation has been really boiling and unfortunately people are not hopeful.”

Henley of course did not challenge the debatable claim that the Gaza Strip has the highest unemployment rate in the world (47% according to the latest figures from the World Bank as opposed to 50% in Syria and 48% in Senegal). Neither did he bother to provide any context to Najla’s claims concerning electricity and water or to explain the background to the blockade.

Najla is in fact Najla Shawa who works for Oxfam and was previously an UNRWA employee. Since 2015 she has been repeatedly interviewed by the BBC – including by Henley – more often than not without proper identification and with no information given to BBC audiences concerning her “particular viewpoints”.

And so, just as it did a year ago, while civilians in Israel were under relentless attack from rockets launched by terrorists in the Gaza Strip, the BBC found it appropriate to all but ignore their voices and instead to spend four minutes showcasing an unchallenged ‘voice from Gaza’.

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‘Quite forthcoming with the confrontational approach’: guess what the BBC is describing

As regular readers know, BBC audiences are all too used to reading and hearing whitewashed portrayals of the perpetrators of terrorism against Israelis but listeners to a report aired in the November 12th evening edition of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour’ encountered a new level of euphemistic jargon.

Titled “Israel-Gaza violence escalates”, the synopsis on the programme’s webpage tells audiences that:

“Rocket fire is exchanged after Israel’s killing of a senior Islamic Jihad commander.”

That portrayal of events of course does not clarify an important distinction: the fact that while Israel carried out strikes against purely military targets in the Gaza Strip, Palestinian terrorists carried out attacks against Israeli civilians. Neither was that point made clear during the entire nine-minute item.

The webpage is illustrated with an image described as follows:

“Picture: An image taken from CCTV video made available by Israel’s national roads authority showing the moment a rocket, apparently fired from Gaza, struck a road near the city of Ashdod, Israel, 12 November 2019. Credit: EPA / Netivei Israel.”

Although by the time the programme was aired terrorists in the Gaza Strip had fired over 190 rockets and mortars at Israeli cities, towns and villages as far north as Tel Aviv, listeners heard presenter Paul Henley claim in his introduction that “fighting” was taking place in one sole location.

[emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]

Henley: “Coming up in a moment: fighting erupts again in Gaza after Israel kills a senior militant. That’s our top story.”

Henley introduced the item itself (from 00:45) thus:

Henley: “First, the killing by Israel of a senior Islamic Jihad commander in Gaza seems to have led to a significant escalation of violence in the dispute between Israel and militants in the Palestinian territories. Baha Abu al-Ata died along with his wife in a strike on his home. More than 150 rockets were fired from Gaza in retaliation and Israeli war planes have carried out more strikes of their own.”

Once again the BBC created a false sense of equivalence by failing to clarify that while the Israeli strikes targeted Palestinian Islamic Jihad rocket launchers and infrastructure, the rockets fired by the PIJ and other factions targeted Israeli civilians. Henley went on:

Henley: “Here are some views from the Israeli side.”

Listeners then heard two people speak very briefly (one with a voiceover translation) but were not told their names, their locations – Sderot and Netivot – or what actually happened. Henley next introduced “the BBC’s Barbara Plett Usher in Jerusalem”.

Henley: “She told me more about the man whose killing had sparked this latest flare-up in violence.”

Plett Usher: “He is a commander of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad in Gaza and he has been talked about quite a lot by Israeli military officials and in the Israeli press recently because they see him as somebody who’s ready to take risks, who is ready to operate independently and who’s quite forthcoming with the confrontational approach.”

Yes, that really was apparently the best that Barbara Plett Usher could come up with to describe a senior member of a proscribed, violent, radical Islamic terrorist organisation which seeks to destroy the State of Israel.  

With the BBC having completely ignored the PIJ’s November 1st attacks on Israeli civilians, Plett Usher was then able to present an unnecessarily qualified account of the background to the story.

Plett Usher: “So they [Israeli officials] would blame him for many of the rocket attacks that have taken place in recent months and they say that he was planning more attacks imminently and therefore they had to act. They also say that…ehm…although Palestinian Islamic Jihad is backed by Iran, he has taken on that mantle more so than other such leaders and so they did see him as a threat.”

Henley then asked a rather pointless question to which he got an obvious answer.

Henley: “And when the Israeli leader Benjamin Netanyahu says that all this could prove a protracted conflict, what does he mean?”

Plett Usher: “I think he means that they were very aware when they carried out the targeted killing that Islamic Jihad would respond and that it has lots of rockets to do that and so I think he was telling the Israeli public that…to expect rocket attacks certainly over the next couple of days. That seems to have been the calculation of the Israeli Defence Forces. And then they’re hoping that it will not broaden out into a wider escalation. They have said quite clearly they do not want to escalate although they are prepared if that happens. And they have framed this very much as a strike about this man and these circumstances, that he was seen as a threat and they signalled quite strongly also to the main Islamist movement in Gaza, Hamas, which is governing Gaza, that this is a confrontation with Islamic Jihad. They…they seem to be signalling they do not want Hamas to join the conflict and they want to try and keep it focused in this narrow way.”

Henley: “And what has Hamas been saying?”

Plett Usher replied with a romanticised portrayal of Hamas’ agenda.

Plett Usher: “Hamas is in an interesting position…ahm…because it has a different strategy than Islamic Jihad. It is the governing body and it has in recent months and years been working at tacit truce arrangements with Israel in order to alleviate the humanitarian and economic suffering in Gaza. And Islamic Jihad under this commander has been disrupting that; challenging it with these rocket attacks. So what Hamas has said, so far together with Islamic Jihad, is that Israel has crossed red lines and that it will be responsible for the consequences but it’s not clear what action it will take, you know, it must be calculating whether further conflict – a wider war – is going to be something that the Gazans will be wanting at this point – I think almost certainly not – but at the same time it wouldn’t want to look like a collaborator when such a senior militant commander has been killed. So it has not made clear what action it will take.”

As readers have no doubt noticed, BBC World Service radio listeners had by this point not heard the words ‘terrorism’, ‘terror’ or ‘terrorist’ even once and had not been informed that rocket attacks on civilian targets in Israel are an act of terror. They did however hear an inaccurate portrayal of the current status of efforts to form a government in Israel and amplification of speculation.

Henley: “And what effects are likely on Israeli politics as Benjamin Netanyahu comes to the end of the period he’s allowed to form a coalition government?”

Plett Usher: “It is certainly happening at this very politically sensitive time because he twice failed to form a coalition government and now his chief challenger Benny Gantz is trying to do so and as you said his time is coming up. There have been accusations from centre-Left politicians and from Arab politicians that that’s the reason for the timing of this strike; that it was done for political reasons to bolster Mr Netanyahu’s image as Mr Security. He’s constantly said he’s the man Israel needs to keep the country safe and also as a way of dragging his opponents into a unity government saying ‘look, this is a security situation, you need to join a unity government with me in charge’ so that way he can keep his job. Mr Netanyahu has tried very hard to push against that view. He stressed that he took military advice and that the military was even pushing for this targeted killing and also the operation does seem to have a fairly wide backing from different political elements but having said that, it’s certainly not happening in a political vacuum and if it does escalate, if there does…if it does become something much bigger it would be hard to think that wouldn’t affect the political negotiations in some way.”

So as we see, in the first five minutes of this report BBC audiences were given little or no information about the size of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad faction in the Gaza Strip, the size of its arsenal, the source and scale of its funding or its agenda and ideology. They also heard nothing of significance about what was happening to Israeli civilians who had been under attack by terrorist organisations for seventeen hours by the time this programme was broadcast. The relevance of that will be discussed in a future post.  

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