Revisiting a BBC report from November 2018

On November 13th 2018 the BBC News website published a report which included the following statements:

“…the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) carried out what it called a wide-scale attack against military targets belonging to the Hamas and Islamic Jihad groups.

It said they included Hamas’s military intelligence headquarters in northern Gaza and “a unique vessel” in a harbour in the south of the territory.

The building housing Hamas’s Al-Aqsa TV was also bombed after being evacuated. The IDF said the outlet “contributes to Hamas’s military actions”.”

A report published by the Israeli Security Agency on February 13th clarifies the background to that quoted IDF statement concerning the strike on the Al Aqsa TV building.

“The Shin Bet security service on Wednesday accused the Palestinian Al-Aqsa broadcaster and Gaza-based journalists of acting as agents of the Hamas terror group’s military wing in an effort to recruit young Palestinians with Israeli ID cards to carry out terror attacks inside Israel.

According to the security service, the Al-Aqsa television station was used to pass clandestine messages to Hamas operatives in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, using quotes from the Quran or subtle gestures by the presenters. […]

In one case, a 21-year-old from the Hebron suburb of Yatta was “asked by Hamas operatives in the [Gaza] Strip to carry out a suicide bombing with an explosive vest on a bus in the city of Lod,” the Shin Bet said. […]

The Shin Bet said the recruitment plot was a key factor in the decision made by the Israel Defense Forces to bomb Al-Aqsa TV’s headquarters in Gaza in November. […]

Shortly after the razing of the station’s building, the Hamas-affiliated outlet appeared poised to close, but was kept on air at the last minute because of an influx of money from the terror group.

Hamas political chief Ismail Haniyeh declared in a statement that Al-Aqsa TV’s broadcast would not be halted. He also said a “clear and direct decision” was made to keep the channel on air, without elaborating.”

During the November 2012 conflict BBC staff accused Israel of “targeting journalists” when a communications antenna on the roof of the building used by Al Aqsa TV (which was designated in 2010 by the US Treasury Department) was struck by the IDF.

Whether or not BBC audiences will be provided with any coverage of Hamas’ effort to recruit terror operatives with the help of journalists’ working for its TV station which is the background to the reporting it produced last November remains to be seen.  

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False equivalence in BBC News report on Gaza rocket attacks

On the morning of November 13th the BBC News website published another report about the flare-up of violence which had begun the previous afternoon.

Originally headlined “Heavy Gaza-Israel fire traded overnight” and later re-titled “Israel-Gaza: Deadly fire traded across border“, the report underwent numerous amendments in the ten hours following its initial publication.

The use of the word “traded” – i.e. exchanged – in both those headlines obviously suggests equivalence between the actions of the two sides, as do the report’s carefully ‘balanced’ opening lines.

“Eight people have been killed in a flare-up of violence between Israel and Palestinian militants in Gaza.

More than 460 rockets have been fired into Israel by militants since Monday night, while Israeli aircraft have hit 160 militant targets in response.

Seven Palestinians, several of them militants, died in the strikes on Gaza, while a Palestinian civilian was killed in a rocket attack in southern Israel.” [emphasis added]

However, this story is not about comparable actions. It is actually about an attack – unprecedented in scale – which Hamas and other terror organisations chose to launch against Israeli civilians in southern Israel. The response of Israel to that attack was not equivalent as implied by the BBC: the response struck exclusively military – not civilian – targets after advance warnings were given.

So how was that story portrayed in the report itself?

The report makes use of four photographs: two from Israel and two from the Gaza Strip. The first narrow-angle image photographed in Israel is captioned “Buildings in the southern Israeli town of Ashkelon were hit by rockets fired from Gaza”.

The original caption to that photograph however reads: [emphasis added]

“An Israeli man [apparently a property tax inspector – Ed.] inspects a house damaged by a rocket fired from the Gaza Strip, in the southern Israeli town of Ashkelon, on November 13, 2018″

In other words, the BBC chose to relabel a house as “buildings”.

The second picture photographed in Israel is captioned “Schools have been ordered to close in Israeli border communities as a precaution” and does not show any of the damage inflicted on homes and businesses on November 12th/13th.

The first of the two photographs taken in the Gaza Strip is a wide-angle shot captioned “Israeli aircraft struck the Hamas interior security headquarters in Gaza City”.

The second photograph likewise shows the result an Israeli strike and its caption tells BBC audiences that “Israel carried out air strikes when Sunday night’s firefight erupted”

In other words, readers of this report saw twice as many photographs of damage in the Gaza Strip than that in Israel and the one image which does show the results of terrorists’ rocket attack to the exterior of a house leads BBC audiences to believe that such damage occurred in one location – Ashkelon.

Civilian homes, businesses and a pre-school were also destroyed or damaged by direct hits in Netivot, Sderot and kibbutzim in Eshkol, Sha’ar HaNegev and Hof Ashkelon but that information does not appear anywhere in the BBC’s account of events in Israel. The fact that what the BBC described as “Sunday night’s violence” included the launching of 17 rockets from the Gaza Strip was erased from audience view and the BBC refrained from identifying the perpetrators of Monday’s attacks, while under-reporting the number of Israelis who needed medical care after they took place.

“After a brief lull following Sunday night’s violence, a barrage of rockets and mortars was launched towards Israel late on Monday, which Israeli medics said killed one person and injured 28.

A bus, which had reportedly been carrying troops, was hit by an anti-tank missile in the Shaar Hanegev region, seriously wounding a male soldier.

Overnight, a man was killed when a block of flats in Ashkelon was hit by a rocket. He was later identified as a Palestinian from the occupied West Bank who had been working in Israel.

Eight other people were injured in the attack, including two women who the Israeli ambulance service said were in a serious condition.” [emphasis added]

In contrast, the BBC’s portrayal of events in the Gaza Strip left readers in no doubt as to who had launched attacks. The account was not given in the BBC’s own words but paraphrased Israeli army statements and it gave details of three targets while failing to report that advance warning of the strikes was given and euphemistically describing members of terrorist organisations as “militants”.

“In response, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) carried out what it called a wide-scale attack against military targets belonging to the Hamas and Islamic Jihad groups.

It said they included Hamas’s military intelligence headquarters in northern Gaza and “a unique vessel” in a harbour in the south of the territory.

The building housing Hamas’s Al-Aqsa TV was also bombed after being evacuated. The IDF said the outlet “contributes to Hamas’s military actions”.

The Hamas-run Gaza health ministry said seven people were killed and 26 others injured in the strikes. At least four of the dead were militants; two are said to have been farmers in northern Gaza.” [emphasis added]

The BBC’s report included ‘analysis’ from Jerusalem bureau correspondent Tom Bateman reporting – readers were told – from “southern Israel”. Notably, Bateman’s reporting did not include any interviews with Israeli civilians affected by the heaviest ever barrage of rocket attacks launched by Gaza Strip terrorists and so BBC audiences went away with the mistaken impression that just one block of flats in Ashkelon was damaged in these attacks.

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US designates founder of Hamas media outlet championed by BBC staff

Last week the US State Department announced the designation of the former Hamas interior minister – and occasional BBC quoteeFathi Hamad (also spelt Hammad).

Photo credit: IDF Spokesman

Photo credit: IDF Spokesman

“As a senior Hamas official, Hammad has engaged in terrorist activity for Hamas, a U.S. State Department designated Foreign Terrorist Organization and SDGT. Hammad served as Hamas’s Interior Minister where he was responsible for security within Gaza, a position he used to coordinate terrorist cells. Hammad established Al-Aqsa TV, which is a primary Hamas media outlet with programs designed to recruit children to become Hamas armed fighters and suicide bombers upon reaching adulthood. Al-Aqsa TV was designated in March 2010 by the Department of the Treasury under E.O. 13224.”

Readers may recall that when Israeli forces carried out strikes on communications antennae on buildings housing Hamas’ TV stations (including Al-Aqsa TV) during the conflict in 2012, the Foreign Press Association – which at the time was headed by the BBC’s Jerusalem bureau chief Paul Danahar – and the then BBC Gaza correspondent Jon Donnison promoted the false accusation that Israel was “targeting journalists”.

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The true colours of a BBC quoted Hamas spokesman

Salah Bardawil is a member of the Palestinian Legislative Council as well as a senior Hamas official. Frequently acting as a spokesman for the terror group, he has been extensively quoted over the years by the Western media – including the BBC (see examples here, here, here, here and here).

Bardawil recently appeared on Hamas’ Al Aqsa TV channel and sections of the interview have been translated by MEMRI.

Not only is it remarkable that the BBC consistently refrains from telling its audiences about the not infrequent appearance of antisemitic content such as this on Hamas’ TV station, but it will also be worth remembering Bardawil’s words the next time the BBC bases news brought to its audiences on quotes from that particular “Hamas leader“.