BBC News continues to promote dubiously sourced Gaza statistics

On February 28th an article appeared on the BBC News website’s Middle East page under the headline “Israel’s Netanyahu criticised over 2014 Gaza war preparations“.mevaker-report-art

Relating to a report on Operation Protective Edge published by Israel’s state comptroller, the article includes background information concerning the 2014 conflict, part of which relates to the subject of casualties.

“The 50-day war left at least 2,251 Palestinians dead, including more than 1,462 civilians, according to the UN, and 11,231 others injured. On the Israeli side, 67 soldiers and six civilians were killed, with scores more wounded.”

Since the end of that conflict the BBC has published varying accounts of casualty figures and civilian/combatant casualty ratios in the Gaza Strip, all of which cite the UN as their source. In August 2014 a graphic told BBC audiences:

“2,101 people killed in Gaza – UN estimates 70% of deaths are civilians”Graphic Op PE

In October 2014 the same graphic was amended to read:

“2,104 people killed in Gaza – UN estimates 69% of deaths are civilians”

In December 2014 the BBC told its audiences that:

“The 50-day conflict in Gaza between Israel and militant groups led by Hamas left at least 2,189 Palestinians dead, including more than 1,486 civilians, according to the UN, and 11,000 injured. On the Israeli side, 67 soldiers and six civilians were killed, with scores more wounded.”

So where has the figure 2,251 cited in this latest article come from? Its source is the controversial report commissioned by the UN Human Rights Council more than a month before the conflict ended and originally headed by William Schabas that was published in June 2015. Section V of that report states:

“In Gaza, in particular, the scale of the devastation was unprecedented. The death toll alone speaks volumes: 2,251 Palestinians were killed, including 1,462 Palestinian civilians, of whom 299 women and 551 children and 11,231 Palestinians, including 3,540 women and 3,436 children, were injured, of whom 10 per cent suffered permanent disability as a result. While the casualty figures gathered by the United Nations, Israel, the State of Palestine [sic] and non-governmental organizations differ, regardless of the exact proportion of civilians to combatants, the high incidence of loss of human life and injury in Gaza is heartbreaking.”

A footnote states that the quoted figures come from:

“Data compiled by the OCHA Protection Cluster, 31 May 2015. For its methodology, see A/HRC/28/80/Add.1, para. 24, footnote 43.”

That reference leads to a footnote which states:

footnote-43

As we see, the footnote reveals that the Hamas-run “Ministry of Health in Gaza” is one source of the report’s data, together with “the Protection Cluster”. As has been noted here previously, that “Protection Cluster” includes political NGOs, some of which also have a financial relationship with UNOCHA.

“During the 2014 Gaza war, three NGOs from the cluster – B’Tselem, Al-Mezan Center for Human Rights, and the Palestinian Center for Human Rights (PCHR) – were designated to provide casualty statistics. In turn, their statistics were repeated without question by OCHA and other UN bodies, the media, European officials, and the Schabas-Davis commission. […]

Al Mezan and PCHR are also leaders in promoting “lawfare” cases against Israelis in Europe and the International Criminal Court (ICC).Their lack of credibility is also reflected in their highly politicized agenda, including accusations that the IDF (“Israeli Occupation Forces” in NGO parlance) is responsible for “massacres,” and “war crimes,” as well as “disproportionate” and “criminal” attacks against civilians.”

Those sources are of course the same ones that produced data promoted by the BBC almost from the very beginning of the 2014 conflict – as BBC Watch revealed at the time.

Readers may also recall that last August the BBC Trust published  the findings of a review of the impartiality of the BBC’s reporting of statistics in its news and current affairs output. That report included “10 Golden Rules”, one of which is:

“Check your source. Is it likely to be someone with a vested interest in interpreting findings in a particular way?”

The UNHRC is of course notorious for its anti-Israel bias and to describe it – as well as the Hamas health ministry, UNOCHA, the PCHR, B’tselem and Al Mezan – as having “a vested interest” would be gross understatement.

Nevertheless, as we see, over thirty months since the 2014 conflict ended the BBC is still amplifying casualty figures and debatable civilian/combatant casualty ratios supplied by Hamas and NGOs involved in ‘lawfare’ campaigning against Israel that were funneled through a UN agency and subsequently promoted in a controversial and biased UNHRC report.

Related Articles:

BBC continues to avoid independent verification of Gaza casualty ratios

The BBC and the UN HRC report on last summer’s conflict – part one

The BBC and the UN HRC report on last summer’s conflict – part two

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BBC’s Gaza casualty figures source continues lawfare campaign

Last week the Israeli journalist Ben Dror Yemini published an article concerning another chapter in the anti-Israel lawfare campaign.stats

“The European Council, a body that is made up of all European countries and is wider than the European Union, has adopted a report written by Eva-Lena Jansson, a representative of Sweden’s Social Democratic Party, which accuses Israel of engaging in “an appalling pattern of apparently systematic unlawful killings” of innocent civilians.

The report is based on the Al-Mezan NGO, which is supported by Sweden, Switzerland, Denmark, Norway and the Netherlands. The NGO itself supports the BDS Movement and is part of the campaign that is based on denying Israel’s right to exist.

As always, European countries are funding bodies that issue reports, allegedly about “human rights,” while in fact waging a campaign against Israel’s actual existence.”

As readers may recall, during the summer 2014 conflict between Israel and terrorist organisations based in the Gaza Strip, the BBC quoted and promoted casualty figures based on information sourced, among others, from the NGO Al Mezan.

Two and a half years on, the BBC has still not provided its funding public with a satisfactory explanation as to why it uncritically amplified data – which had not been independently verified – that was sourced from organisations that make no secret of the fact that they are involved in a political campaign of lawfare against Israel or why it later rejected complaints which challenged the BBC’s use of patently partisan information from those sources.

Related Articles:

BBC content continues to mislead on Gaza casualties

BBC Radio 4’s ‘More or Less’ does damage control on Gaza casualty figures article

Lawfare agenda of BBC’s sources on Gaza casualty figures revealed once again

BBC News coy on lawfare NGOs it previously quoted and promoted

BBC News coy on lawfare NGOs it previously quoted and promoted

On July 4th the BBC News website published a report titled “Israeli politician Tzipi Livni ‘summonsed by UK police’” on its Middle East page.Livni art

One coyly worded paragraph is of particular interest:

“Correspondents say pro-Palestinian activists have filed a series of complaints against Israeli officials, including Ms Livni, in recent years.”

Who those “correspondents” are is not made clear and of course the said “activists” are more accurately described as anti-Israel than “pro-Palestinian” but remarkably, the BBC chose not to identify them for its readers.

Fortunately, NGO Monitor has background information on that subject which includes the following:

“The main NGOs behind the campaigns in the UK and beyond, including at the International Criminal Court, are Palestinian Center for Human Rights (PCHR), Al Haq, and Al Mezan. All are funded by European governments.

In the UK, they have been supported by Daniel Machover of Lawyers for Palestinian Human Rights and Hickman & Rose Solicitors, as well as Irvine, Thanvi, Natas and Imran Khan & Partners.”

If the names of those political NGOs engaged in lawfare against Israel and its public figures seem familiar to readers, that is because the BBC has quoted and promoted them extensively over the years – and in particular during its coverage of the conflict between Israel and terrorist organisations in the Gaza Strip in the summer of 2014.

Not only were the Gaza Strip casualty figures cited by the BBC based on information sourced, inter alia, from the PCHR and Al Mezan, but the corporation engaged in vigorous amplification of unsubstantiated claims of ‘war crimes’ by the PCHR literally from day two of the conflict.

Reminders of the BBC’s promotion of Al Haq can be found here, of Al Mezan here and of the PCHR here.

Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas addresses the PCHR 2006 conference

Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas addresses the PCHR 2006 conference

The BBC has never provided its funding public with a satisfactory explanation as to why it uncritically amplifies the agendas of organisations which make no secret of the fact that they are involved in a political campaign of lawfare against Israel or why it rejected complaints which challenged the BBC’s use of obviously politically partisan information from those sources.

Audience understanding of this latest lawfare stunt (and the topic in general) would of course be greatly enhanced were the corporation to name its protagonists and finally provide some accurate and impartial information concerning their political agenda. 

 

Lawfare agenda of BBC’s sources on Gaza casualty figures revealed once again

During and after the summer 2014 conflict between Israel and terrorist groups in the Gaza Strip, BBC reporting on the subject of casualty figures in general and the civilian/combatant ratio of those casualties was based on information from two main sources: the Hamas-run Gaza Health Ministry and the UN.

As BBC Watch pointed out at the time, the UN figures were themselves based on information provided, amongst others, by Hamas and NGOs active in the lawfare campaign against Israel.

“Katleen Maes informed us that UN OCHA’s three primary sources are B’Tselemthe PCHR and Al Mezan – all of which are political NGOs with a less than pristine record on impartiality in Israel-related matters. Maes added that the secondary sources used by UN OCHA to arrive at its 77% civilian casualty rate figures are the Hamas-run health ministry in Gaza, the Palestinian Red Crescent and the local Arabic media in Gaza, some of which is also run by Hamas and with the rest operating with Hamas consent, of course.”

Readers will also no doubt recall that the BBC complaints department defended the corporation’s use of those sources and that complaints made by members of the public on that topic have been rejected – despite the fact that since the end of the conflict, there has been no evidence of any independent BBC verification of casualty figures and/or the civilian/combatant ratio.Knell filmed PCHR

A representative from the NGO Al Mezan was interviewed on a BBC Radio 4 programme on the subject of Gaza casualty figures which was broadcast in August 2014. Throughout the summer 2014 conflict, the PCHR was showcased on numerous occasions in BBC content and allowed to make evidence-free accusations of ‘war crimes’, ‘crimes against humanity’ and ‘deliberate’ targeting of civilians.

Via NGO Monitor we now learn that:

“On November 23, 2015 four European funded Palestinian NGOs, Al-Haq, Al-Mezan Center for Human Rights, Aldameer and the Palestinian Center for Human Rights (PCHR) submitted a document to Fatou Bensouda, Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) claiming evidence and testimonies of alleged Israeli “war crimes” perpetrated during the 2014 Gaza war (Operation Protective Edge).

These four NGOs are all leaders in anti-Israel activities (including boycott, divestment and sanctions campaigns), and this submission is part of the ongoing “lawfare” campaign exploiting international institutions in general and the ICC in particular for anti-Israel campaigns. This tactic was adopted at the NGO Forum of the 2001 Durban Conference, and is an integral part of the Durban Strategy which seeks to demonize and delegitimize Israel.”

The BBC has yet to provide its funding public with a satisfactory explanation as to why its reporting on the topic of casualty figures was based on unverified information provided by organisations which make no secret of the fact that they are involved in a political campaign of lawfare against Israel or why it rejected complaints which challenged the BBC’s use of that obviously politically partisan information.

BBC Radio 4’s ‘More or Less’ does damage control on Gaza casualty figures article

On August 22nd the BBC Radio 4 programme ‘More or Less’ included an item on the topic of casualty figures from the Gaza Strip which purported to provide listeners with information pertaining to the questions “[w]hy are men over-represented in civilian death tolls and how are the statistics gathered?” The segment can be heard here and the whole programme is here with the relevant item beginning at 13:23.More or Less R4 22 8

After an introduction composed of statements from BBC news bulletins, presenter Tim Harford (also a Financial Times columnist) begins the item.

TH: “The number of civilians killed in Gaza during the conflict between Palestinian militants there and the Israeli military has raised international concern and condemnation. A UN report estimated that between the 7th of July and the 20th of August this year there were 1,999 deaths in Gaza caused by the conflict. Of those killed, the UN estimate that 70% were civilians and of those thought to be civilians, approximately 250 were women, 450 were children and 700 were men. The figures, say the United Nations, are subject to change based on verification. The same UN report states that on the Israeli side, 64 soldiers have been killed and three civilians.

Now the fact that among the Palestinian civilian casualties there are nearly three times as many men as women has been in the spotlight. Indeed an article on the BBC News website said “if the Israeli attacks have been “indiscriminate”, as the UN Human Rights Council says, it is hard to work out why they have killed so many more civilian men than women”. Well that’s a comment that attracted controversy and a number of e-mails from listeners who’ve written to ‘More or Less’ directly. It might be worth spelling out why. The comment invites people to conclude that if Israeli attacks were indiscriminate, we wouldn’t see far more men than women killed; we’d see roughly equal numbers. And joining the dots, perhaps many of the men thought to be civilians weren’t civilians at all. Now, none of that was explicitly said in the BBC article but some critics have complained to ‘More or Less’ that that’s what it was hinting at. And the Times of Israel – an online newspaper – ran an article citing the BBC’s analysis in support of these conclusions. All very sensitive stuff, needless to say. Well, Ruth Alexander’s here to help me investigate. Ruth, before we get to the issue of what’s happening in Gaza, what’s the latest on that BBC article?”

As BBC Watch readers already know, the original article by the BBC News head of statistics underwent initially unannounced changes several days after its publication – apparently because its content displeased certain parties. Four days after those changes were made a footnote acknowledging them was added to the article as it appears online.

Footnote to Reuben art

The programme’s producer Ruth Alexander then comes in:

RA: “Well that particular statement about how it’s hard to square the UN’s findings of indiscriminate attacks with the fact that more men than women had been killed….”

TH: “Yeah, that one.”

RA: “…it’s gone. The article’s been edited to remove it and a few days later the BBC added a note about a series of clarifications such as the inclusion of some possible explanations for why men were disproportionately likely to be casualties.”

TH: “I spoke about this gender imbalance to Matthias Behnke from the office of the United Nations High Commission of Human Rights on the 19th of August. Matthias was speaking from Ramallah in the West Bank.”

Indeed Matthias Behnke was in Ramallah on August 19th and obviously managed to find time to talk to the BBC either before or after he took part in a symposium at Birzeit University where he shared a platform with Sharwan Jabarin (known for his alleged ties to the PFLP) of the political NGO ‘Al Haq’ which is a leading organization on the lawfare scene. That symposium was promoted as follows:

“During the workshop, colleagues Matthias Behnke (The head of the OHCHR – Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights) and Shawan Jabareen (Al-Haq’s Director) will introduce participants to the role of the ‘Independent Commission of Inquiry´ also compared to alternative investigations and comparative experiences. There will be a discussion on expectations from the said investigation and possible next steps.”

The so-called “Independent Commission of Inquiry” was announced by the UN OHCHR on July 23rd after that body accepted a draft resolution proposed by Pakistan on behalf of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation – the same organization which claims to have been the initiator of the ‘Goldstone Report’ and has pressed the UN to introduce a “global blasphemy law”. During the ‘debate’ on whether to establish yet another of its now infamous ‘independent’ inquiries, the UN HRC heard from assorted notable champions of human rights.

Syria said that extremist gangs of settlers had been allowed to abduct a Palestinian child and burn him alive, which had led to further massacres of the innocent, particularly women and children. Israel had continuously shown utter disregard for international law. The international community had to ensure that such crimes did not go unpunished. Syria supported the legitimate resistance of the Palestinian people.

Sudan said with 650 dead, thousands wounded and many thousands more displaced, the violations committed by Israel represented a policy of racial and ethnic cleansing, a massacre and genocide at a time when mankind had rejected the racist law of the jungle and moved into a time of human dignity. The Council must recognize that Israel was an occupying power supported by a superpower that could do whatever it wanted.

Iran said the brutal use of force by Israel against the Palestinian people, including in residential areas, hospitals and schools, added to the long list of violations by Israel over the past 60 years, in systematic and flagrant breach of international law. The international community must not repeat previous mistakes; it must take some responsibly for the situation. The Council must also identify the Israeli officials who had perpetrated war crimes and crimes against humanity.”

According to BBC Editorial Guidelines on impartiality Tim Harford should have informed listeners that his supposedly objective interviewee represents a body which – even before the conflict has ended – has initiated a politically motivated and already controversial ‘inquiry’ which is part and parcel of the lawfare campaign in which the topic of civilian/combatant casualty ratios is used as a tool. Harford however failed to meet that obligation. Listeners then hear Behnke:

MB: “Men will generally be more exposed. They will move around more. Even when they are in shelters they will be staying outside; not inside the buildings but in the hallways outside. They will go back to check on their homes. They will go out to get food and water whereas children and women will usually be more sheltered and protected.”

Ruth Alexander continues by bringing in another interviewee from an organization which – as we documented here last month – is both one of the primary sources of UN casualty statistics and is also engaged in lawfare against Israel. Like her colleague, Alexander breaches BBC Editorial Guidelines by failing to clarify that fact to listeners.

RA: “Other researchers have told us that men are usually over-represented in counts of civilian casualties in war. It can be about the tasks men undertake, how they socialize, and also that they may be in general more of a target – more easily mistaken for fighters. We’ve been speaking to Mahmoud Abu Rahma from the Al Mezan Centre for Human Rights in Gaza which is a Palestinian group which has researchers on the ground gathering information and statistics on who has been killed. He gave an example of an attack that hit a beach café where people were watching a World Cup match.”

MAR: “Now in a place like this in southern Gaza Strip this café is more or less man only during the evening hours at least. So you have many explain. Our colleague was killed because he was on a motorcycle and Israelis suspected him. So many more men die because of the suspicion, I believe, than women.”

Harford goes on:

“So this idea that combatants are wrongly being counted as adult male civilian casualties – it’s not necessarily true. Or at least that high male civilian death toll isn’t strong evidence that a miscount is happening. There are several groups who are publishing casualty figures and their estimates vary. For example the UN says that about 70% of casualties are civilian. The Israeli Defence Force has been reported as saying civilian casualties are 50% but when we called the IDF they said they weren’t able to confirm that. Well the UN numbers are seen as perhaps the most authoritative but they’re not without their critics. So, how are they gathered? Here’s Matthias Behnke, the man in charge of them.”

MB: “They’re gathered in partnership with a number of organisations working in Gaza. There are Palestinian, Israeli and international organisations that gather data and we compile the information in a data base that we run which we also cross-check and verify with data provided in the public domain, whether that be the Ministry of Health, the IDF, even the armed groups sometimes provide information on websites and other social networks about their dead. On top of that we have a team on the ground also checking and cross-referencing these figures so it’s quite a comprehensive process. We by no means claim that it’s a final, perfect figure. We stress very clearly that these re subject to further verification which we do as we go along.”

TH: “Some people have criticized these figures on the basis that fundamentally the source of the numbers is the Ministry of Health and that’s basically a Palestinian organization – it’s controlled by Hamas. How would you respond to that criticism?”

MB: “I would say as I said before; that the Ministry of Health figures are one of our sources. It’s certainly not the main source. For instance the Ministry of Health does not differentiate in their figures between combatants and civilians. Furthermore, you will maybe have seen at times our figures have actually been a bit higher than the Ministry of Health because we have more sources to rely on.”

TH: “I wanted to press Matthias for further detail about how exactly his statistics are created and how these armed groups figure in the process. But he said he couldn’t give any more information. Perhaps that indicates how politically sensitive these numbers are.”

So that’s it then: listeners are not told exactly how the UN gathers its information or of the political motivations of its primary sources. Neither are they informed of the results of the ongoing work of those who take the trouble to cross-reference Hamas-supplied information with announcements on the websites of terrorist organisations such as the Meir Amit Intelligence and Information Centre. Harford goes on:

“There are several reasons the count of the dead may differ between organisations. Yes, there are of course politics but these groups are trying to make sense of what’s going on in the fog of war.”

Ruth Alexander then introduces a representative from yet another political NGO which is one of the UN’s primary sources, but does not inform listeners either of that fact or of B’Tselem’s political agenda.More or Less chapter

RA: “Hagai Elad from the Israeli human rights group B’Tselem has researchers on the ground in Gaza and he gave us a picture of how dangerous and how difficult their work is.”

HE: “For instance there would be news about the IDF ordering the evacuation of a certain Palestinian hospital in the northern Gaza Strip. Ideally we would want our own researcher to go there and independently tell us what is the situation on the ground. But sometimes trying to drive over there could be dangerous and sometimes being in a location itself could be dangerous. So the confusion and the general intensity of the numbers are, I would say, the number one difficulty in analysing the data.”

RA: “And how easy is it for researchers collecting statistics on the ground to tell who was a fighter and who wasn’t? I mean they can ask people but will they always get a straight answer? Here’s Hagai Elad again.”

HE: “Sometimes there’s a desire…it’s more courageous for someone to have died as a combater [sic] for some families. In other cases maybe there’s a desire to show that the percentage of non-combatants that died is high. So yeah – there will be pressures; no question about that.”

For more on B’Tselem’s methodology – see here. Ruth Alexander concludes the item by saying:

“This is why they and the other groups we’ve spoken to say that they do cross-checks. They don’t take what they’re told at face value. But counting the cost of war is always hard and usually controversial.”

So what did listeners to BBC Radio 4 get in this nine minute-long item? Well, they learned for a start that the BBC is ‘squeezy’: it will amend an article written by its head of statistics not because it is inaccurate, but because of pressure from people who, for political reasons, don’t like what it says. It will then alter and add to that article to present a viewpoint more in line with its critics’ agenda and will even produce a nine-minute radio item as further damage control – because this is actually what Tim Harford and Ruth Alexander’s item actually is.

Harford and Alexander have brought listeners interviewees from three organisations which are all connected but without informing audiences of their ties or of their mutual political agenda. Beyond several opaque references to “politics”, they have failed to clarify to audiences  how civilian/combatant casualty ratios are used in the campaign of lawfare against Israel and to generate a specific climate of public opinion and they have failed to make any mention of the related directives issued by Hamas instructing that all casualties should be described as civilian.

Remarkably too they have framed this issue as one concerning a civilian/combatant ratio caused by Israeli actions alone, with no information provided to listeners regarding the very significant fact that the practices of terrorist organisations in the Gaza Strip such as launching missiles (a significant proportion of which fall short) and storing weapons and explosives in residential areas and booby-trapping houses all cause civilian casualties which of course are then attributed to Israeli actions – as the BBC should know only too well.  

In addition to the fact that this programme will be available on the BBC website for the coming year, it will also be repeated on BBC Radio 4 on Sunday, August 24th at 20:00. It would of course be appropriate for its numerous failures to meet BBC Editorial Guidelines on impartiality to be corrected before that happens by means of the addition of full disclosure of the political agendas of its interviewees and their role in the lawfare campaign against Israel.

The BBC’s funding public might also be interested in some frank disclosure concerning the editorial policies behind the growing list of BBC contributions (including this programme) to that same campaign.  

Contact details for ‘More or Less’ can be found here and the programme’s e-mail address is moreorless@bbc.co.uk . 

 

BBC content continues to mislead on Gaza casualties

There is still no evidence of the BBC having carried out any independent verification of the casualty figures from the Gaza Strip which it continues to cite in its various reports. Examples of the type of phrasing currently being used in BBC content include:stats

“Close on two thousand died – nearly all civilians – and thousands more were injured, many seriously.” [‘Hardtalk‘, 18/8/14]

“Since then [July 8th], at least 2,029 people, most of them civilians, have been killed in Gaza, according to the Palestinian health ministry.” [“Gaza conflict: Israel ‘targets Hamas leader Deif’“, 20/8/14]

“Officials say 2,016 Palestinians and 66 Israelis have died since Operation Protective Edge began on 8 July.” [“Gaza conflict: Israel hits Gaza after rockets fired“, 19/8/14]

“The Palestinian health ministry says that 2,016 Palestinians have been killed since the offensive began, including 541 children and 250 women.” [“Gaza conflict: Truce ends amid fresh fighting“, 20/8/14]

As we see, the BBC continues to cite figures and civilian/combatant ratios provided the “Palestinian health ministry” but without adequate clarification to audiences that the body concerned is under the direct control of Hamas which has issued directives, via its Ministry of Information, to refrain from disclosing combatant casualties.

“The ministry of the interior and national security [in Gaza] calls on all our [Palestinian] people and the resistance factions [i.e. the terrorist organizations] to be wary of disseminating information and pictures of fatalities of the resistance, and [about] mentioning details about [the circumstances of] their deaths as martyrs and where they died. That is because the occupation is collecting all the information and reports [about the martyrs] and uses them as evidence to justify its crimes against [Palestinian] civilians and [to justify] the destruction of buildings and to take advantage [of the information] for security purposes. [We appeal] especially to social network activists and in the media belonging to the resistance factions. During the past few hours we have located many postings with sensitive information detrimental to our people and its resistance. Mention of the acts of heroism of our martyrs and of the men of our resistance should not be a reason for causing greater damage, because our people’s battle against the occupation continues.”

At no point during the last six weeks have BBC audiences been informed that the casualty figures and civilian/combatant ratios it cites are subject to such Hamas manipulation.

The Meir Amit Intelligence and Information Centre has to date issued three reports examining the names provided on Hamas casualty lists – see here, here and here. In the most recent report we see an example of the type of practice which makes independent verification of casualties essential for any reputable news organization – and in particular one supposedly committed to editorial standards of accuracy and impartiality.

“The Palestinian Health Ministry’s list included the names of two young boys aged 13 and 15, who were operatives in a Fatah terrorist network by the name of the Ahmed Abu al-Rish Battalions. The two were killed in the same incident. Our investigation revealed that the first 13-year-old “boy” was a 26-year-old operative. On the other hand, the other boy was indeed a 15-year-old terrorist operative. This shows that when boys appear in the Palestinian Health Ministry’s list, the immediate tendency is to classify them as non-involved civilians, but they may actually be operatives involved in terror.”

In addition, the BBC News website continues to promote and amplify statistics provided by UN OCHA. The inaccurate article titled “Gaza conflict: The hundreds who lost their lives” which was discussed here has now appeared prominently on the website’s Middle East page for twelve consecutive days.

As we reported here over a month ago, UN OCHA figures come from three primary sources.

“Katleen Maes informed us that UN OCHA’s three primary sources are B’Tselem, the PCHR and Al Mezan – all of which are political NGOs with a less than pristine record on impartiality in Israel-related matters. Maes added that the secondary sources used by UN OCHA to arrive at its 77% civilian casualty rate figures are the Hamas-run health ministry in Gaza, the Palestinian Red Crescent and the local Arabic media in Gaza, some of which is also run by Hamas and with the rest operating with Hamas consent, of course.”

As we have also previously noted, two of UN OCHA’s primary sources – the PCHR and Al Mezan – are actors in the current lawfare campaign against Israel with the former having been heavily promoted by the BBC in recent weeks. B’Tselem’s director was also featured in a BBC report on July 16th.

Via NGO Monitor we learn that one of the primary sources used by B’Tselem’s three field workers in the Gaza Strip to collect data on casualties is none other than Hamas itself.

“We rely on lists provided by other organizations and by the Palestinian Ministry of Health. We try to do a basic check of those lists, which is just cross-referencing them one to another, trying to get the basic data.” 

B’Tselem’s method of verification apparently involves ringing up relatives to ask if their deceased loved ones were members of terrorist organisations.

“With the current military campaign ongoing, B’Tselem is taking testimony from Gaza residents, mainly by telephone. B’Tselem verifies, to the best of its ability, the reliability and precision of the information reported; nevertheless, in these circumstances, reports may be incomplete or contain errors.”

It is of course not inconceivable that families of members of terrorist organisations would be motivated to comply with Hamas’ directives to describe all casualties as ‘innocent civilians’ and conceal their terror connections.

BBC audiences have not been told about that or any other aspects of the all-important background to casualty figures provided by UN OCHA and cited in BBC reports.

One might well have expected that an organization which purports to adhere to standards of accuracy and impartiality would take care to inform audiences that the statistics it quotes are obtained from partisan sources with a distinct political agenda enabled by presentation of those figures in a certain manner. One would certainly also expect such an organization to make audiences aware of the fact that it has not independently verified the information it provides.

Six weeks on, that is still not happening in BBC reporting.

Related Articles:

Documenting the BBC contribution to political warfare against Israel

Documenting the BBC contribution to political warfare against Israel – part two

 The BBC’s Janus-faced approach to the issue of casualties in Gaza

Vital statistics: stealth changes made to the BBC’s Gaza casualty figures article

The BBC’s Janus-faced approach to the issue of casualties in Gaza

On August 8th the BBC News website published an article in the ‘Features & Analysis’ section of its Middle East page written by the head of statistics for BBC News, Anthony Reuben, and titled “Caution needed with Gaza casualty figures“.Caution needed art

Many readers are probably asking themselves what took so long. After all, the BBC had maintained an across the board policy on all its platforms of blindly quoting casualty figures provided by Hamas and/or assorted political NGOs for a whole month before the appearance of this article and the horse definitely long since bolted before this ‘closing the stable door’ article appeared. However, Reuben’s report does make some valid points.

“Nonetheless, if the Israeli attacks have been “indiscriminate”, as the UN Human Rights Council says, it is hard to work out why they have killed so many more civilian men than women.” […]

“In conclusion, we do not yet know for sure how many of the dead in Gaza are civilians and how many were fighters. […] But it does mean that some of the conclusions being drawn from them may be premature.”

Unfortunately, the article also fails to adequately address many other crucial points.

One assumes that a fairly basic requirement of statistical analysis is that figures analysed must be accurate; after all, there is no value in carrying out analysis of faulty data. Reuben writes:

“In the Gaza conflict, most news organisations have been quoting from the office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), which leads a group of humanitarian organisations known as the Protection Cluster.”

He goes on to provide a link to UN OCHA’s report of August 6th but apparently has failed to recognize the fact that – as was reported here on July 13th – those “humanitarian organisations” which provide UN OCHA’s data are in fact NGOs with a political agenda which includes as was reported here on July 18th – a campaign of lawfare against Israel with a vested interest in the inflation of civilian casualty numbers. The very fact that a UN body works with such NGOs and amplifies and enables their agenda should be a matter of interest to discerning journalists. It isn’t, of course.

Neither does Reuben appear to make the connection between the already partisan stance taken by the office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights which – even before the hostilities have ended and the picture has become clear, has repeatedly voiced evidence-free accusations of ‘war crimes’ – and its adoption and amplification of figures promoted by political NGOs.

Reuben cites and links to the recent New York Times report on the topic of casualty figures, but fails to note that article’s inadequacies. Likewise he fails to bring to audience attention relevant issues recently noted here such as summary executions carried out by Hamas, the use of human shields, casualties from shortfall missiles and Hamas’ use of child soldiers. The ITIC has to date analysed some 450 names from the casualty lists provided by the Hamas run Gaza health ministry and their findings can be seen here and here.

Despite its shortcomings, Anthony Reuben’s article is of course a welcome – if very tardy – step in the right direction as far as the BBC is concerned. It would of course be appropriate for such information to be made available to BBC television and radio audiences in addition to website users and for a link to this article to be standard insertion into all written BBC reports citing casualty figures.Casualties 8 8 art

However, also on the morning August 8th, the BBC News website’s Middle East page published another article titled “Gaza conflict: The hundreds who lost their lives“.

Remarkably, that article is devoted entirely to largely graphical representation of the same UN OCHA statistics which the other article states must be treated with caution and it egregiously erases all mention of the crucial context of attacks by terrorists on Israeli forces operating in the Gaza Strip.

“Many took refuge in shelters run by the United Nations, including schools. However, these UN schools also came under fire, including in North Gaza, Jabaliya and Rafah.”

The article also includes some glaring inaccuracies with regard to Israeli casualties.

“Meanwhile, two Israeli civilians died in Haifa and near the Erez border crossing into northern Gaza; and a Thai farm worker was killed in Ashkelon.”

Inaccurate loctions Israeli deaths

In fact, the locations of casualties in Israel from missile fire by terrorists in the Gaza Strip are as follows:

Jul 15, 2014 – Dror Hanin, 37, of Beit Aryeh was killed near the Erez Crossing after suffering a direct hit from a mortar fired by terrorists in the Gaza Strip, while delivering food to soldiers there.

Jul 19, 2014 – Ouda Lafi al-Waj, 32, was killed and three members of his family were injured, when a rocket fired from the Gaza Strip struck a small Bedouin settlement near Dimona.

Jul 23, 2014 – Narakorn Kittiyangkul, 36, from Nan’s Pua district in Thailand was killed by a mortar fired from Gaza while working in a greenhouse in one of the Israeli communities in the Ashkelon Coast Regional Council.

Dimona is nowhere near Haifa and the Ashkelon Coast Regional Council (Hof Ashkelon) is not the city of Ashkelon.

One 70 year-old lady did die in Haifa when she collapsed due to a heart attack whilst trying to reach the safety of an air-raid shelter during a missile attack on July 12th and an American tourist in Jerusalem also died in similar circumstances. With the BBC having heavily promoted the view that rioting in Jerusalem and Judea & Samaria was a reaction to Israeli actions in the Gaza Strip, one might perhaps have expected to see the 29 year-old victim of the August 4th terror attack in Jerusalem, Avraham Walles, included on the BBC’s Israeli casualty list.

The BBC has throughout the last month frequently told audiences that Israeli casualty figures are “nothing remotely like the losses on the Palestinian side“. It would therefore not have appeared to be too difficult a task to at least report them accurately, especially as – unlike the situation on the Palestinian side – the precise information is freely available in the public domain.

The importance of casualty figures in the Gaza Strip is not just one of statistical accuracy regarding civilian and combatant deaths; it is relevant because the figures presented are used as ammunition in the lawfare campaign which complements Hamas’ armed campaign and as a means of influencing public opinion worldwide. For that reason it is vital for the BBC to present its audiences not only with numbers but – if they are truly to be able to understand this particular international issue – with factual information on the methods and political motives of the organisations gathering the statistics and insight into the ways those figures have been presented and used to frame a specific view of this conflict – including, of course, by the BBC itself.  

Documenting the BBC contribution to political warfare against Israel

On July 17th NGO Monitor informed us of the fact that:

“Following Israel’s response to hundreds of attacks launched from Gaza, the network of international, Palestinian, and Israeli-Arab NGOs have initiated a campaign to replicate the discredited “Goldstone process” of political warfare against Israel, including:

    • calling for UN and international “fact-finding missions” to investigate alleged Israeli “war crimes and crimes against humanity”;
    • lobbying for International Criminal Court (ICC) “war crimes” cases against Israeli officials;
    • promoting arms embargos against Israel

The NGOs leading this campaign include Human Rights Watch (HRW), Amnesty International, FIDH, a coalition of Palestinian NGOs (including Al-Haq, Al Mezan, Badil, Defence for Children International- Palestine Section, Palestinian Center for Human Rights), and of Israeli-Arab NGOs (such as the NIF-funded Adalah and Mossawa).” [emphasis added]

The rest of NGO Monitor’s important report can be found here.

Readers no doubt recognize the names of the two highlighted NGOs above – Al Mezan and PCHR. They are two of the “primary sources” upon which UN OCHA recently told BBC Watch it relies for casualty figures in the Gaza Strip.  Describing them as “United Nations” figures, the BBC in turn quotes and promotes those UN OCHA statistics without any independent verification of its own and fails to inform audiences that they are sourced from political NGOs.

On at least four occasions since July 9th the BBC has provided a platform for the promotion and amplification of political messaging under the guise of ‘human rights’ from the PCHR’s Raji Sourani – see here, here, here and here.  

The PCHR and Al Mezan (together with another Palestinian NGO) had already released a joint statement on July 9th which makes their engagement in ‘lawfare‘ and their campaign to delegitimize Israel on the international stage for political and military purposes perfectly clear. They have also published individual statements – see here and here. Nevertheless, despite their clearly partisan stance, UN OCHA still uses them as “primary sources” and the BBC repeatedly lends its publicly funded resources, its outreach and its reputation to the PCHR’s political campaign.

The third “primary source” for those UN OCHA Gaza casualty figures unquestioningly quoted and promoted by the BBC is B’Tselem which has also released statements on the subject of the conflict. Unsurprisingly, that organisation’s new director was featured in a video report published on the BBC News website on July 16th under the titleIsraeli air strike warnings: What the footage tells usand apparently also broadcast on BBC television news programmes.BBC Hagai Elad B'Tselem

Whilst it depicts some of the methods used by Israel to warn civilians of upcoming military actions such as leafleting, telephone calls and ‘roof-knocking’, as well as showing a strike being aborted due to the presence of a civilian, the video report also states:

“But as the Palestinian death toll rises, some say the warnings don’t always come.”

Notably, the report avoids all mention of the fact that it is a certainty that there are civilians who really are being indiscriminately targeted in this conflict – the citizens of Israel.

The report goes on:

“While human rights groups say – warning or no warning – air strikes in civilian areas are never justified.”

Footage then cuts to Hagai Elad of B’Tselem saying:

“The fact that an individual is associated with a Palestinian military group does not make the apartment of that person into a military target nor does it make the entire building with all the other apartments there into a military target.”

Once again this report quotes statements from UN OCHA which there is no evidence to suggest have been independently verified by the BBC.

“But the United Nations says the majority of those killed in Gaza have been civilians”

Notably, whilst this report promotes the claims of “human rights groups” regarding Israel’s actions, it does not make any effort to present a professional legal view on the topic or to inform audiences of the political agenda of those “human rights groups”.

The fact that the BBC is providing publicity, promotion and amplification for political NGOs engaged in anti-Israel campaigning through ‘lawfare’ to influence public opinion is one which is completely incompatible with its commitment – and obligation – to impartial reporting.

Related Articles:

Promoted and quoted: the BBC’s preferred Middle East NGOs

 

 

 

BBC Watch uncovers the sources of Jeremy Bowen’s cited casualty figures

Several readers wrote in to bring our attention to the less than impartial Tweets sent by Jeremy Bowen since his arrival in the Gaza Strip on Friday morning. A couple of examples are shown below, and readers can see more here.

Bowen tweet 1

Bowen tweet 2

In some of his reports filed since July 11th too, Bowen has promoted his own amateur opinion (and here is a professional one from a real professor of humanitarian law, for comparison) that Israel has “serious questions” to answer, with another notable recurrent feature of those reports (and his Tweets) being the citing of figures reported by the UN.

In a filmed report broadcast on BBC television news on July 11th – and also promoted on the BBC News website under the title “Israel defends Gaza military campaign” – Bowen promoted figures provided by the health ministry in Gaza, but without clarifying to viewers that the ministry is run by Hamas.

“More than half of over 100 people killed in Gaza by Israeli raids were women and children, according to the health ministry.”

In a similar report from later in the same day – also promoted on the BBC News website under the title “Gaza crisis: Death toll from Israeli strikes ‘hits 100” – Bowen tells viewers:

“Israel says it tries hard to make sure civilians don’t get killed. It says it targets Hamas and its fighters. [….] More than half of over 100 people killed in Gaza by Israeli raids so far this week were women and children, according to the health ministry. […] The UN Human Rights commissioner says there’s serious doubt Israel is complying with the laws of war that protect civilians.”

As noted here previously, Bowen’s paraphrasing of the Navi Pillay’s statement from July 11th omits her criticism of the Hamas practice of launching missiles indiscriminately at Israeli civilians from residential areas in the Gaza Strip and concealing weapons caches in such areas.

A third report from Bowen which was broadcast to viewers of BBC television news on July 12th and promoted on the BBC News website under the title “Israel-Gaza conflict: Home for disabled hit in Beit Lahiya” includes footage of a relative of one of theBowen filmed 3 casualties saying:

“How many of the people killed so far are civilians? […] and how many are terrorists? And they’re not terrorists; they’re resistance – we’re proud of them.”

Bowen goes on to cite more figures – this time from “the UN”:

“The United Nations says that 77% of the Palestinians killed in this campaign were civilians. […]

Belligerents are obliged under the laws of war to protect civilians. The UN has already asked whether Israel is working in the way that it should to fulfill those obligations. After the attack on the centre for the disabled it is clear that the Israelis have some serious questions to answer.”

Revealingly, Bowen fails to clarify to viewers that the missile launched by some terrorist organization from the vicinity of the location from which he was reporting, whilst he was reporting – as shown in the footage – could indeed be the reason for Israeli operations in the area. He closes:

“So do Hamas about their attacks. Both sides say they’re protecting their people.”

Bowen’s cursory ‘impartiality’ box-ticking with that brief mention of Hamas does not mean that his report conforms to BBC standards of accuracy and impartiality. To date, the BBC has not made any serious effort to inform audiences of Hamas’ deliberate use of human shields and its violation of the laws of war by both storing weapons in, and firing them from, residential areas. Neither has it been adequately clarified that every missile fired indiscriminately at civilians in Israel also breaches those laws.

Clearly, Bowen’s primary aim is to steer audiences towards a view that Israel is in breach of legal standards and he does that by creating false linkage between casualty figures provided by a source he fails to clarify is connected to Hamas and figures and statements from a supposedly neutral and reliable source; the UN.

That practice was repeated in written BBC reports too, such as the one titled “Gaza: Israel hits security HQ and rocket site” which appeared on the BBC News website on July 13th.

“Israel says it is targeting Hamas militants and facilities, including the homes of senior operatives. However, the United Nations has estimated that 77% of the people killed in Gaza have been civilians.”

An additional written report from July 13th – titled “UN calls for Israel-Gaza ceasefire” – leads with Bowen’s above video report which is captioned:

“The BBC’s Jeremy Bowen: “It is clear the Israelis have some serious questions to answer” “

The report also includes the following passage:

“Israel says it is targeting militants and militant facilities, including the homes of senior operatives. “Dozens of terrorists” are among those who have been killed, it says.

However, the UN has estimated that 77% of the people killed in Gaza have been civilians.”

In other words, the notion the BBC – led by Jeremy Bowen – is trying to advance here is that the proportion of civilians to combatants among the casualties is a litmus test for the legality of Israel’s actions. That notion is of course incorrect. As Col. Richard Kemp noted after Operation Cast Lead in 2008/9:

“The UN estimate that there has been an average three-to one ratio of civilian to combatant deaths in such conflicts worldwide. Three civilians for every combatant killed.

That is the estimated ratio in Afghanistan: three to one.

In Iraq, and in Kosovo, it was worse: the ratio is believed to be four-to-one. Anecdotal evidence suggests the ratios were very much higher in Chechnya and Serbia.”

But, whilst it is obviously important to appreciate that Bowen et al are deliberately misleading BBC audiences with regard to the bearing of the proportion of civilian casualties on the legality of Israeli actions, it is also important to understand the additional intent behind their repeated amplification of those figures and the reliability of the source of that information being promoted to BBC audiences.

Earlier BBC reports cited casualty figures provided by the notoriously unreliable ministry of health in Gaza. That ministry is still run by Hamas and the personalities quoted in previous conflicts and incidents have not changed. Later reports stress figures supplied by what Bowen describes as “the United Nations”. In fact he – and those other BBC reports – refers to a document put out by UN OCHA on July 11th which can be seen here. That report does indeed state:

“114 Palestinians have been killed since the beginning of the Gaza emergency, of whom 88 (77%) are civilians.” 

The question is, of course, where did UN OCHA – an organization which has itself been the subject of controversy in the past – get its information?

So – BBC Watch telephoned the person who complied that report in order to find out.

Katleen Maes informed us that UN OCHA’s three primary sources are B’Tselem, the PCHR and Al Mezan – all of which are political NGOs with a less than pristine record on impartiality in Israel-related matters. Maes added that the secondary sources used by UN OCHA to arrive at its 77% civilian casualty rate figures are the Hamas-run health ministry in Gaza, the Palestinian Red Crescent and the local Arabic media in Gaza, some of which is also run by Hamas and with the rest operating with Hamas consent, of course.

We also asked Katleen Maes if those casualty figures include civilians killed by short-falling missiles launched by terrorist organisations which land in the Gaza Strip and she replied that they do, but that so far they had no knowledge of any such incident in this particular round of conflict. In other words, UN OCHA figures for civilian casualties in Gaza – currently being used by the BBC as ‘evidence’ of Israeli ‘wrongdoing’ – would also include those killed by Palestinian terrorist organisations. 

Readers no doubt recall that the BBC’s recent repeated promotion of the lie that Israel deliberately targets civilians came from one of the sources of these UN OCHA figures – the PCHR.

In conclusion, Jeremy Bowen and his colleagues are promoting to BBC audiences figures from an ostensibly neutral and reliable source – the “United Nations” – which they have not independently verified and which in fact come from highly partisan politically motivated sources with an interest in promoting the notion of a high number of civilian casualties in order to influence world opinion. In addition to providing amplification for those figures, Bowen and colleagues then employ them to advance the mistaken notion that Israel is not adhering to the laws of war – a theme also obviously intended to influence public opinion, especially because it is based on inaccurate and amateur interpretation of those laws.

That is not accurate and impartial reporting: it is self-conscription to political campaigning, led by the man who is the gate-keeper of all the BBC’s Middle East reporting.