The curious case of a dual-identity BBC interviewee in Gaza

On July 29th a filmed report by Chris Morris which appeared on BBC television news was also posted on the BBC News website’s Middle East page under the title “Middle East crisis: BBC at Gaza mosque ruins“.Morris mosque report 29 7

Morris opens his report:

“This is a mosque in Gaza City which people who live in this area say it was hit at least twice during the night. A lot of mosques have been targeted in Gaza since this Israeli aerial campaign began. The Israelis say there were 60 airstrikes overnight and there’s certainly been more this morning. We’ve seen mosques targeted. We’ve seen security buildings. Earlier on we were just down by the Gaza port where fishermen’s huts had been hit as well.”

Morris does not provide us with the name or precise location of the mosque from which he reports and so it is impossible to check the circumstances of his story. He does, however, take care to stress no fewer than three times that mosques are being “targeted” in Gaza – but makes no attempt to explain to audiences why that might be the case.

The film below – showing the entrances to Hamas tunnels located inside a mosque – provides the type of context which Morris conceals from BBC viewers.  Mosques have also been found to be storing weapons, missiles and explosives.

Morris continues:

“And the overwhelming mood in Gaza is becoming one of defiance, even among people who don’t support Hamas, and Hamas’ political popularity was probably falling before this Israeli bombardment began. But faced with this kind of thing, people tend to come together.”

Interestingly, this theme of a supposed rise in the popularity of Hamas is being found more and more in BBC reporting from the Gaza Strip in recent days.  What BBC audiences have not seen, however, is any BBC investigation into reports of summary executions carried out by Hamas of people deemed ‘collaborators’ or any attempt to interview people who do not support Hamas.

The rest of Morris’ report is devoted to an interview with a man described in the synopsis on the website version as follows:

“Following the overnight strikes, Chris Morris met defiant citizen Nasman Al-Ashi, who said that the world was failing Gaza.”

Morris mosque report al ashi

Mr al Ashi says:

“It’s just unbelievable what they’re doing. They lost their mind. They don’t have any targets to target but worship place. And whatever claim they have is baseless. They just losing the war. Anybody who’s acting by targeting worshipping places, that mean he lost the war. And we who live in dignity and free or we all die. I mean the children. They see the children; they’re coming. They’re not accepting what’s happening. The Israelis are mad and they’re doing it with impunity. In front of the whole free world and the free world is watching and they’re approving their action by not reacting to what they’re doing; they’re approving it.”

Morris: “So the world is failing Gaza?”

Al Ashi: “It’s failing us. The world is failing and the leader of the world – even the US, England, France, Russia, all the Arab worlds – they’re just puppets. They’re following their pocket and the money. But here in Gaza as small as it is, we’re defying the world and we tell the world that we either live free or we die here.”

Morris: “But however disproportionate this is, what do you think of the argument that if Hamas stopped firing rockets into Israel…”

Al Ashi [interrupts]: “No! No! This is not an argument. We…we’ve been blockade for the last seven years. Don’t talk to me about rockets that is so tiny small. Look at this. Look at this. This is not sense argument. It’s not sense. We didn’t start it. They started it and they’ve been…In the 2008 agreement they have fulfilled nothing. 2012 they have fulfilled nothing. So why should we believe that this time ceasefire… they say – hey, let’s negotiate. Negotiation with the Israeli is waste of time.”

Viewers are not informed how Chris Morris came across the “defiant citizen Nasman Al-Ashi”, but one part of his context-free rant piqued this writer’s curiosity:

“…even the US, England, France, Russia, all the Arab worlds – they’re just puppets. They’re following their pocket and the money.”

The obvious antisemitic undertones of that comment echo another interview done by the BBC’s Paul Adams earlier on in the month in which the interviewee used a Nazi analogy. The name of that interviewee was Basman Al Ashi and he was presented as the director of Wafa hospital.

Michigan-trained Dr Basman Al Ashi has been appearing quite a lot in the Western ‘progressive’ media and blogs lately, not infrequently in efforts to try to spin the fact that after Paul Adams’ interview with him (during which Adams stressed that “Israel says rockets have been fired from Basman al-Ashi’s hospital, a charge his staff deny completely”), the hospital under his directorship was found to house the entrance to a Hamas attack tunnel leading into Israeli territory and was also used as a Hamas command and control centre, a weapons storage site, a missile launching site and a sniper post.

Here is a picture of Dr Basman Al Ashi in his hospital.

Morris mosque al ashi 2

Unless, several decades ago, Mrs Al Ashi gave birth to identical twin boys and named them Nasman and Basman, it would appear that Chris Morris’ “defiant citizen” – whom he implies in his introduction is one of the people in Gaza who “don’t support Hamas” – is actually none other than the man who allowed Hamas to spend years digging a tunnel from the hospital under his authority and to turn it into a military facility – and who is now busy giving interviews in an effort to cover up that blatant use of helpless patients as human shields.

If that is the case, then obviously the BBC has some serious questions to answer regarding the misrepresentation of Dr Al Ashi as an ordinary man in the street. It would also be interesting to know how Morris met Mr Al Ashi in the first place. Were his interview services provided to the BBC by a local stringer or by Hamas itself? Why did the BBC not notice that it had interviewed the same man under a different name and description only eleven days earlier? Or – if the BBC was aware of Al Ashi’s identity – why did Morris not take the opportunity to tell BBC audiences what really happened at Wafa hospital and to correct at long last the obviously inaccurate and misleading report put out by Paul Adams? And why did Morris not question Al Ashi about his distinctly unprofessional collaboration with Hamas in turning his severely disabled patients into human shields?  

Finally, of course, there is the not insignificant matter of the now repeated failure to edit out antisemitic remarks in BBC interviews; an issue which also clearly requires some very urgent answers. 

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