More Corona-hooked Gaza Strip messaging on BBC WS radio

As regular readers know, since mid-March the BBC has produced several reports (see ‘related articles’ below) on the topic of the Gaza strip and the Coronavirus pandemic; some pre-emptive and some after the first cases were diagnosed. Most of those reports focused on the population density and poor healthcare services in the Gaza Strip, with some falsely claiming that Israeli counter-terrorism measures are responsible for the latter.

BBC audiences have however been told next to nothing about Hamas’ prioritisation of terror over public services for more than a decade, the Palestinian Authority’s responsibility for the shortage of medicines and equipment in hospitals in the Gaza Strip or the part played by Israel in delivering Coronavirus testing kits and medical supplies to the territory.  

In early March the Hamas terror organisation which controls the Gaza Strip told residents not to travel abroad and later closed the crossings into Israel and Egypt. Hamas also began building quarantine facilities and as of April 1st there were twelve Covid 19 cases in the Gaza Strip. Between March 22nd and March 28th, 68,275 tons of goods were delivered to the Gaza Strip including 12,423 tons of food and 145 tons of medical supplies.

The March 31st evening edition of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour’ – presented by Paul Henley – included yet another Gaza-Corona item (from 09:01 here): an interview with Najla Shawa who who works for the NGO Oxfam and was previously an UNRWA employee. Since 2015 she has been repeatedly interviewed by the BBC, more often than not without proper identification and with no information given to BBC audiences concerning her “particular viewpoints”.

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

Henley: “Let’s take a look now at the view from Gaza because the United Nations warns that poverty and a debilitated health system in the Palestinian territories would make an outbreak of Coronavirus particularly disastrous. There are only a handful of confirmed cases in Gaza so far. I’ve been talking to Najla Shawa who’s food security manager of Oxfam in Gaza.”

Shawa: “Unfortunately we are very concerned. As you know this pandemic is spreading widely around the world and in a place like Gaza, that’s a huge concern. And yes, very much so it might be a beginning and it’s very worrying for a place like Gaza.”

Henley: “You’ve Tweeted that for a start, stockpiling is not an option for people who live in Gaza, haven’t you?”

Shawa: “Actually Gaza is already in a very dire situation in terms of the very basic living. I think everybody would be following the [unintelligible]. Gaza has 37% unemployment, 62% of Gazans don’t know their next meal where is it going to come from. And you’re speaking about population that is also…it’s a very highly populated area in a very vulnerable situation to be honest. So even before the Covid 19, things were already very fragile and very, very challenging for most of the people in Gaza.”

Henley: “So the people’s resilience there has already been tested pretty much to the full.”

Shawa: “Exactly and I think now more and more I think the population have basically depleted all their resources. There’s a sense of solidarity that brings people together to support each other. However the resources are just diminishing. People already don’t have jobs, already don’t have incomes. We already locked down and there is no movement, there’s no real economy. There are no basic services and looking at the health services for example, it’s a very weak system already.”

Henley made no effort to inform listeners of the crucial context of the rift between Hamas and the Fatah-controlled Palestinian Authority in relation to that “weak system” of healthcare.

Henley: “What are people saying about the threat of the pandemic?”

Shawa: “People are very much aware of what’s going on in the world and they are very concerned. And currently like everyone is just waiting by the hour to hear the news about any new cases. So those who have some capacity to stock up some food or some essential items are doing so. However most of the population don’t have this capacity unfortunately. You know the majority of Gaza people depend on aid for life-saving assistance that is provided by humanitarian organisations.”

In light of those claims Henley could of course have raised the question of the efficacy of NGOs working in the Gaza Strip for the last decade and a half since Israel disengaged from the territory (Oxfam, for example, claims to have spent 75 million Euros in the Palestinian territories since 2014) but instead brought up another standard BBC talking point.

Henley: “And it’s well known already that people live in very close proximity to each other in Gaza.”

Shawa: “Absolutely. 5,000 persons per square kilometre. I mean you’re talking about 2 million people in this place and the number of ICU beds are hardly 87 if we count the private and the public hospitals. So this is a very worrying situation to be honest. And the extreme weakness of the system; there’s real need to very basic support to the population already from before. There are like more than 1,700 who require treatment outside of Gaza and they’re not able to access that since the lock-down. And for the lock-down I mean Gaza has been always locked down. We totally know what this means. We can empathise of course with everyone in the world and this is a moment where everyone is kind of thinking about the other in this sudden crisis. But we Palestinians have known that for many, many years unfortunately.”

The Gaza Strip has not been “always locked down”: restrictions on movement into Israel were brought into place due to the Palestinian terrorism which went completely unmentioned throughout this item. Neither were listeners informed that it was Hamas which instigated the current closure of crossings.

Henley: “What about schooling for children? What’s the situation there?”

Shawa: “Schools have been closed since more than 3 weeks and universities as well. That’s definitely a problem because you have all the kids on lock-down in their homes and there is no place to go, no space, there’s no…also as I said the poverty is so dramatic that even their basic rights are not being met. More than 400 thousand children are living under poverty. And this is quite alarming too and very worrying for us as Oxfam and as all humanitarian organisations.”

Henley: “Najla Shawa in Gaza.”

As we see Henley failed to even remotely challenge any of Shawa’s talking points throughout that entire four-minute interview (an edited version of which was also posted in the ‘updates’ section of the BBC News website’s ‘Middle East’ page) and refrained from providing the background information and context which would further audience understanding of the situation in the Gaza Strip. Of course Shawa’s talking points concerning population density, poverty and the healthcare system are exactly the same as the BBC’s own long-promoted narratives and so Henley’s soft-ball interviewing comes as no surprise.

Related Articles:

BBC re-promotes the usual Gaza narratives in multiple Coronavirus reports

Mapping BBC messaging on Gaza and Corona

BBC Radio 4 spreads inaccurate Gaza healthcare canard

BBC WS isolates narrative from context in another Gaza Corona report

Density is not destiny: Economist tweet misinforms on Gaza COVID-19 woes  (UK Media Watch)

Summary of BBC News website portrayal of Israel and the Palestinians – March 2020

Throughout the month of March 2020, fourteen written or filmed reports relating to Israel and/or the Palestinians appeared on the BBC News website’s ‘Middle East’ page, some of which were also published on other pages and one of which was carried over from the previous month. Partway through the month the BBC announced changes to its coverage in light of the Coronavirus crisis.   

(dates in brackets indicate the time period during which the item was available on the ‘Middle East’ page)

One report concerned security issues:

Palestinian teenager killed in West Bank clash (11/3/20 to 16/3/20) discussed here

Two items concerned Palestinian affairs, one of which was carried over from the previous month:

Mental health: Coping with the trauma of living in Gaza (29/2/20 to 4/3/20 and 5/3/20 to 8/3/20) discussed here

Gaza: Virus fears in crowded strip  Yolande Knell (24/3/20 to 26/3/20) discussed here

One filmed report profiled an MMA fighter from Jordan living in the US:

MMA fighter: ‘I’m the pride of Palestine’ (6/3/20 to 7/3/20 and 8/3/20 to 27/3/20)

Of ten items relating to internal Israeli internal affairs, six reports concerned the general election:

Israel elections: Will the Arab Israeli vote swing the third election in a year? Tom Bateman (1/3/20 to 17/3/20) discussed here

Israelis vote in unprecedented third general election in a year (2/3/20) discussed here and here

Israel election: Netanyahu claims ‘biggest win’ amid vote count (3/3/20 to 4/3/20) discussed here

Israel election: Netanyahu seeks defectors after failing to secure majority (4/3/20 to 7/3/20) discussed here

Israel election: Gantz vows to form ‘broad’ unity government within days (16/3/20 to 19/3/20) discussed here

Israel election: Netanyahu rival Gantz ‘agrees emergency unity government’ (26/3/20 to present)

Four items related to the Coronavirus pandemic:

Coronavirus: Israel to bring in 14-day quarantine for all arrivals (9/3/20 to 11/3/20)

Coronavirus: Israel enables emergency spy powers (17/3/20 to 24/3/20) discussed here

Israel’s coronavirus patient 74 talks about her experience Tom Bateman (23/3/20 to present)

Israel’s Netanyahu tests negative for coronavirus (30/3/20 to present)

As we see over 70% of the items appearing on the BBC News website’s ‘Middle East’ page throughout March concerned Israeli affairs. As is usually the case, usual BBC audiences saw no meaningful coverage of internal Palestinian affairs.

Related Articles:

Summary of BBC News website portrayal of Israel and the Palestinians – February 2020

Reviewing BBC News website coverage of Palestinian affairs in 2019

 

 

Examining BBC reports on Corona-related cell phone tracking

On March 17th listeners to BBC Radio 4’s ‘Today’ programme heard the following report in a news bulletin (from 2:08:05 here):

Newsreader: “Israel’s government has approved measures for its security agencies to use mobile phone data to track the location of suspected Coronavirus patients. The move has led to criticism from civil rights groups. From Jerusalem, here’s our Middle East correspondent Tom Bateman.”

Bateman: “The emergency measures allow the Shin Bet, Israel’s domestic security agency, to harvest information, including location data, from the mobile phones of confirmed Coronavirus patients and those suspected of having the disease. The regulations were passed during an overnight sitting of the cabinet, bypassing parliamentary approval. The mobile phone data showing an individual’s movements will be passed to the Ministry of Health to alert others who they may have come into contact with and will also be used to enforce quarantine regulations. Israel has more than 300 confirmed cases of the virus. Civil rights groups called the move dangerous. The government said it was trying to strike a balance between health needs and people’s rights.”

On the same day the BBC News website published an article headlined “Coronavirus: Israel enables emergency spy powers”. Written by BBC Technology cyber-security reporter Joe Tidy, the report includes analysis from Tom Bateman.

“The Israeli government has approved emergency measures for its security agencies to track the mobile-phone data of people with suspected coronavirus.

The new powers will be used to enforce quarantine and warn those who may have come into contact with infected people.

The temporary laws were passed during an overnight sitting of the cabinet, bypassing parliamentary approval.

The Association for Civil Rights in Israel called the move “a dangerous precedent and a slippery slope”.

Such powers are usually reserved for counter-terrorism operations.”

On March 29th listeners to the afternoon edition of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour’ heard a report (from 37:10 here) by Krassi Twigg of BBC Monitoring about “fears that some countries are seeing new levels of intrusion which could have a damaging effect on societies”.

The report mentioned South Korea, Italy, France and (from 40:57) Israel.

Twigg: “…and Israel has ordered its domestic security agency to track the mobile phone data of suspected Coronavirus cases. The Shin Bet normally uses such surveillance methods on Palestinians suspected of planning attacks on Israelis. Joel Greenberg, BBC Monitoring’s Israel specialist, said the use of these methods against [sic] Israeli citizens has been hugely controversial.”

Greenberg: “Critics of the policy have challenged it in the Supreme Court and they argue that it’s a dangerous invasion of privacy by the government. The government has said that the use of mobile phone tracking will be strictly limited to the battle against the Coronavirus but still the critics say that there may be no going back. Once the Shin Bet has begun tracking the cell phones of ordinary Israelis, the policy may be used again.”

The story is however by no means as simple as those three BBC reports spread over a period of twelve days tell audiences. Only in the written report was it made it clear that “Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says the new powers will last for 30 days only”.

The chain of events actually began two days before the BBC picked up the story, on March 15th, as reported by the Times of Israel.

“The government on Sunday approved a proposal to allow the Shin Bet security service to perform mass surveillance on Israelis’ phones without requiring a court order in an effort to curb the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus, prompting major concerns of privacy and civil liberty violations.

The measure will require final approval from the Knesset’s subcommittee on clandestine services before it can be put into action.

The Prime Minister’s Office said the Shin Bet will be limited in what data it collects and who within the government will have access to it. In addition, under the proposal, the agency will only be able to use the information in the fight against the coronavirus, and the power is scheduled to end 30 days after it is granted by the Knesset subcommittee. […]

In recent weeks authorities in Taiwan and Singapore, among other countries, have used cellular phone data to ensure that citizens were abiding by required quarantine orders.

Those tools — the Israel Police and Health Ministry already have similar means at their disposal — are not what was approved by the government Sunday.

Instead, the Shin Bet was permitted to use phone data — notably which cell towers the device is connected to — in order to retroactively track the movements of those found to be carriers of the coronavirus in order to see with whom they interacted in the days and weeks before they were tested in order to place those people in quarantine.

The Shin Bet will relay the information to the Health Ministry, which will send a message to those who were within two meters (6.6 feet) of the infected person for 10 minutes or more, telling them to go into quarantine.

“The information will be given only to the Health Ministry, to specific people with security clearances, and it will be erased immediately after it is used,” a senior Justice Ministry official told Channel 13 news.”

However the Knesset subcommittee did not vote on the matter and on March 19th the Supreme Court ruled that the tracking could not continue for more than five days without Knesset oversight.

“In a dramatic decision, the High Court of Justice said Thursday that it would shutter the government’s new mass surveillance program if Israel’s parliament fails to establish parliamentary oversight over it within five days.”

Following a request from the State Prosecutor and the re-establishment of the subcommittee, the Supreme Court lifted the injunction on March 24th on condition that legislation concerning the surveillance measures would be put in place.

“The High Court warned that if the legislation was not advanced in the coming weeks, it would once again be forced to intervene.

The judges noted that, given the additional government restrictions expected to be approved to further curb movement, the surveillance should be used as little as possible to minimize privacy violations.”

Especially given that, as the BBC has reported, the UK is also considering the employment of technological measures to combat the pandemic, one would have expected BBC journalists – including BBC Monitoring’s “Israel specialist” – to be able to report the story more accurately and with at least some mention of the safeguards put in place rather than focusing primarily on the speculative claims promoted by inadequately presented political NGOs such as ACRI and Adalah.  

BBC News ignores rocket attack from Gaza Strip

As we have noted on several occasions of late, BBC audiences have not seen any reporting on the topic of the cooperation between Israel and the Palestinian Authority in combating the outbreak of Coronavirus in the region. The UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process recently commented on that topic:

Coronavirus testing kits being delivered to the Gaza Strip. Photo credit: COGAT

“In a statement released on Friday, the coordination and cooperation established between Israel and Palestine, with regard to tackling COVID-19, was described as “excellent”. 

The Israeli and Palestinian authorities are continuing to coordinate their responses closely and constructively, the statement said, which is a major factor in the level of disease containment achieved so far. […]

Since the beginning of the crisis, Israel has allowed the entry of critical supplies and equipment into Gaza: examples of critical supplies include swabs for collection of samples and other laboratory supplies required for COVID-19 testing, and Personal Protective Equipment to protect health workers.

The statement also noted Israel’s cooperation in allowing health workers and other personnel involved in the COVID-19 response to move in and out of the West Bank and Gaza.”

Neither have BBC audiences seen any mention of an incident which took place on the evening of March 27th.

“Terrorists in the Gaza Strip fired a rocket toward Israeli territory, triggering warning sirens in the southern town of Sderot and the surrounding area on Friday evening, the Israel Defense Forces said in a statement.

A regional spokesman said the projectile apparently fell in an open area and there were no injuries or damage.

The IDF retaliated later Friday night.”

By contrast, consumers of BBC content on both domestic and international platforms have repeatedly – but erroneously – been informed since mid-March that the reason that the Gaza Strip is badly placed to cope with the Covid 19 outbreak is “crippling” Israeli measures taken against terror organisations which the corporation cannot even bring itself to name as such.

Although the BBC consistently fails to provide its audiences with a representative portrayal of rocket attacks perpetrated against Israeli civilians by terror factions in the Gaza Strip, one would have thought that a story about civilians in lock-down and quarantine having to dash to air-raid shelters during a pandemic – and the subsequent issue of guidelines on how to respond to such a situation – would have sparked at least a bit of interest on the part of BBC journalists in Jerusalem.

Related Articles:

BBC re-promotes the usual Gaza narratives in multiple Coronavirus reports

Mapping BBC messaging on Gaza and Corona

BBC Radio 4 spreads inaccurate Gaza healthcare canard

BBC WS isolates narrative from context in another Gaza Corona report

BBC ignores PA double standards on Coronavirus related mosque closures

With BBC Jerusalem bureau coverage of the Coronavirus story having focused mainly on Bethlehem and the Gaza Strip, audiences have heard much less about the measures being taken by Israeli authorities to combat the pandemic, including at religious sites in Jerusalem.

On March 15th the director of al Aqsa Mosque announced that it would be closed in light of the Covid 19 outbreak but that prayers would continue to be held outside.

Five days later clashes erupted in Jerusalem as police sought to limit the number of people arriving for Friday prayers in accordance with Ministry of Health directives and the chairman of the Waqf was subsequently fined for allowing worshippers to gather in breach of those guidelines.

On March 22nd the Waqf decided to close the compound to all but Waqf employees.

“The administration of the Wakf Islamic religious trust announced on Sunday that it has decided to suspend prayers at the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound in Jerusalem as of Monday morning to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

The unprecedented decision came in accordance with recommendations by religious and health parties, the Jordanian-controlled Wakf said after holding an emergency meeting in Jerusalem.

The decision means that worshipers would not be permitted to enter the compound starting Monday. […]

In the past few weeks, hundreds of Muslims have been converging on the compound for prayers, ignoring warnings by the Israeli Health Ministry and other health institutions in Jerusalem.”

The Palestinian Authority had already closed mosques and other religious institutions in areas under its control on March 14th. Nevertheless, the PA’s official daily newspaper published an article on March 22nd criticising Israel for that decision taken by the Waqf.

“The lead article adorning Al-Hayat Al-Jadida’s front page detailed the Islamic Wakf Council’s criticism of Israel for fining the council’s chairman Abdul Azim Salhab NIS 5,000 for not closing the al-Aqsa Mosque on the Temple Mount on Friday. According to the article, Salhab claimed that Israel was simply taking advantage of the coronavirus outbreak, exploiting it as a means to harm Muslims by closing the mosque.”

The same edition of the paper also criticised Hamas for not closing mosques in the Gaza Strip.

Readers may recall that Salhab – who has a long record of promotion of incitement using baseless rumours about ‘threats’ to al Aqsa Mosque – was interviewed by the BBC in 2017.  

Related Articles:

BBC WS passes up the chance to tell listeners about PA incitement

Looking behind a BBC News Press Team Tweet

On March 23rd the BBC News Press Team put out this Tweet:

The article by freelance journalist Ben Bold which the BBC chose to promote states:

“The BBC has become the most-trusted news brand on coronavirus, with 64% of respondents selecting it as a reliable source of information from a list of media brands. The public-service broadcaster beat Sky News, which was voted for by 29% of participants, followed by The Guardian (15%), according to research from Havas Media Group.

The Covid-19 Media Behaviours Report, which surveyed nearly 1,500 respondents, found that more than half (53%) of Brits are using BBC News more than before Covid-19 hit the UK – more than double the proportion of people for any other channel.

Eva Grimmett, Havas Media’s chief strategy officer, said: “This study really highlights the role that trusted, meaningful media play in times of crisis. While most channels have seen an increase in consumption in response to Covid-19, our research reveals a much greater reliance on live TV and a need for trusted news brands such as the BBC. We’re looking forward to seeing how this behaviour develops as the situation evolves in the coming weeks.”” [emphasis added]

The Havas Media Group is part of the Havas Group – a multinational advertising and PR company.

Havas has long worked with the BBC and opened an office in Manchester after having been contracted to handle the corporation’s strategic media planning in 2015. That contract is apparently currently worth some £25 million according to reports from last August stating that Havas would be tendering to retain the account. Havas Media Manchester still lists the BBC among its clients.

In addition, Havas Media is listed as being contracted to provide media services to the BBC in relation to TV Licensing.

To summarise: while a UK government consultation concerning the TV license is still ongoing, a PR company contracted to provide media services to the BBC in relation to television licensing just happened to conduct research at the time of a pandemic which “reveals…a need for trusted brands such as the BBC” and a BBC press team then promoted those findings without clarification of the commercial relationship between the BBC and that PR company.    

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How the BBC outsources its complaints system

Mapping BBC messaging on Gaza and Corona

As we saw last week, the BBC Jerusalem bureau already briefed audiences on the topic of Coronavirus in the Gaza Strip over a week before the first two cases were diagnosed. Listeners to at least four programmes on different platforms heard the following long-employed talking points concerning the Gaza Strip repromoted in Tom Bateman’s preemptive reports:

  • The territory was described as “one of the world’s most densely crowded places” where “more than two million people live in tightly packed” and “densely populated conditions”.
  • The territory was portrayed as having “weak, underdeveloped health services” that are “far weaker than those of the developed Western world” and which are “already under significant pressure”. Hospitals in the Gaza Strip were described as “outdated, hard pressed and lacking many medicines and supplies” and audiences were told that an outbreak of Covid 19 “could stretch their health system to the limit.”
  • The territory was described as having “an unclean water supply and regular power cuts”.
  • Audiences heard of “deep poverty” and “crowded refugee camps”.

However when it came to explaining to audiences why health services, power supplies and water supplies in the Gaza Strip are as they are, the BBC was distinctly less forthcoming.

“…problems […] are compounded by the tangled politics here. Israel and Egypt’s crippling blockade – meant to stop weapons getting to Hamas militants – the recent bouts of fighting with Israel and the deep split between the two main Palestinian factions all add to the crisis.”

Of course the sole reason for that partially portrayed “blockade” is the terrorism perpetrated by Hamas and additional terrorist organisations since Israel disengaged from the Gaza Strip nearly a decade and a half ago. The BBC, however, provided no serious background information on that topic – including the issue of Hamas’ budgetary priorities which place terrorism over healthcare and other services – while employing its standard euphemism “militants” to describe Hamas.

Neither were audiences given any significant information on how “the deep split” between Hamas and Fatah has affected the standard of living and services such as water, power and healthcare in the Gaza Strip.

The main story on the BBC News website’s ‘Middle East’ page on March 24th was headlined “Gaza: Virus fears in crowded strip” and the sub-heading read:

“The first two cases have been reported in one of the world’s most densely populated areas”

The link led to a report by Yolande Knell which appeared on the website’s ‘Coronavirus’ live page.

Readers found many of the talking points regularly promoted in BBC content.

“Since the start of the pandemic, health officials have worried about it reaching this impoverished coastal enclave – one of the world’s most densely populated places.”

As we have noted here in the past when the BBC has promoted the same mantra about population density, there are of course many other cities in the world with a higher population density than Gaza City and other places with higher population densities than the Gaza Strip as a whole. Interestingly, a map produced by the BBC in 2018 shows a higher population density in London than in Gaza.

“Social distancing is almost impossible among large families living in Gaza’s crowded refugee camps and built-up neighbourhoods, raising fears that infection could spread fast and that overstretched hospitals could be overwhelmed.”

According to a WHO report published in May 2019:

“There are 81 hospitals in total in the occupied Palestinian territory, with 51 in the West Bank and 30 in the Gaza Strip. Bed capacity is approximately 1.7 beds per 1000 population and is the same for the West Bank and Gaza Strip.”

According to the OECD, Colombia has the same ratio of beds per 1,000 population and Mexico, Costa Rica, Indonesia and India have lower ratios.   

“Gaza has been kept under blockade by Israel and Egypt since the militant group, Hamas, took full control of the territory in 2007. Up to now, some Gazans had been commenting on the irony of how their enforced isolation appeared to be protecting them during this health crisis.”

Apparently Knell did not recognise the irony of promoting the notion of “enforced isolation” while having earlier in her report noted that the first Covid 19 patients in the Gaza Strip were “two men returning from Pakistan”. She also refrained from disclosing that according to reports “more than 2,700 people are in home isolation [in the Gaza Strip], mostly having returned from Egypt”.

As we see, the BBC’s messaging in reports about the Gaza Strip and the Coronavirus epidemic is no different from the narratives it has been promoting for years, including the inaccurate notion that the standard of healthcare stems from Israel’s counter-terrorism measures.

On the day that Knell’s report was published the Israeli journalist Hezi Simantov (a veteran Arab affairs reporter) noted that Hamas’ Khalil Al-Hayya had declared that “we will place the full responsibility on Israel in the event that the Corona virus spreads in Gaza because our ability to deal with the pandemic is lessened because of the blockade”.

The fact that the deputy head of Hamas’ political bureau in Gaza and the BBC are promoting the same talking points while both avoiding the topic of Hamas’ responsibility for the state of health services in the territory is obviously noteworthy.  

Related Articles:

BBC re-promotes the usual Gaza narratives in multiple Coronavirus reports

COGAT contradicts Guardian claim on Gaza medicine ‘restrictions’ (UK Media Watch)

 

BBC News silence on eight-month-old story continues

For the past eight months the BBC News website has totally ignored the story of allegations of ethical misconduct at the highest levels of the UN agency dedicated solely to people classed as Palestinian refugees, UNRWA, and the subsequent resignation of its commissioner-general, his deputy and the chief of staff.

BBC News stays mum on UNRWA head’s resignation

Last week a new commissioner-general was appointed.

“Swiss humanitarian relief expert Philippe Lazzarini has been appointed to head the UN agency responsible for aiding Palestinian refugees. […]

Born in 1964, Lazzarini has coordinated the work of the United Nations in Lebanon for the past five years. His career has taken him to Somalia, Iraq, Angola and the Palestinian territories. He also has had positions with the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in Africa, the Balkans and the Middle East.”

The UN post which Lazzarini held since August 2015 is that of Deputy Special Coordinator, Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator for Lebanon in the Office of the United Nations Special Coordinator for Lebanon (UNSCOL). UNSCOL was created in July 2000 “to help coordinate United Nations activities with regard to Southern Lebanon”. Those activities of course include the deployment of the UNIFIL forces which have not succeeded in implementing UN SC resolution 1701. The UN Secretary General’s most recent report on the implementation of that resolution states that:

“…no progress was achieved with respect to the disarmament of armed groups. Hizbullah continued to acknowledge publicly that it maintains precision missile and other military capabilities. The maintenance of arms outside the control of the State by Hizbullah and other groups in violation of resolution 1701 (2006) continues to restrict the State’s ability to exercise full sovereignty and authority over its territory.”

Lazzarini has also previously worked at UNOCHA.

Despite the BBC having put a considerable amount of effort into amplifying UNRWA talking points throughout 2018, members of its funding public have to date not seen any coverage of the resignation of the previous UNRWA commissioner-general or the appointment of the new one on the BBC News website or, to the best of our knowledge, on any other BBC platform.  

Related Articles:

BBC ignores UNRWA ethical abuses story

BBC News maintains its silence on the UNRWA ethical abuses story

One month on, BBC silence on UNRWA allegations persists

Documenting BBC amplification of an UNRWA campaign

Does the BBC know the difference between government and state?

A BBC News website report headlined “US museum Dead Sea Scroll collection found to be fakes” which was first published on the ‘US & Canada’ page on March 16th now also appears on the ‘Middle East’ page.

Readers of that article are told that:

“The scrolls are a set of ancient manuscripts of the Hebrew Bible.

The first of the scrolls were found in caves in Qumran on the western shore of the Dead Sea in 1947. They were reportedly first discovered by a young Bedouin shepherd searching for lost sheep. Their discovery is considered to be among the most significant archaeological finds in history.

The majority are held in a collection by the Israeli government.” [emphasis added]

As many readers will know, some of the Dead Sea Scrolls are exhibited at the Shrine of the Book at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem. As that only partly government-funded museum explains:

The first seven Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered by chance in 1947 by Bedouin of the Ta’amra tribe, in a cave (later given the name “Cave 1”) near Khirbet Qumran on the northwest shore of the Dead Sea. Three of the scrolls were immediately purchased by archaeologist Eliezer Lipa Sukenik on behalf of the Hebrew University; the others were bought by the Metropolitan of the Syrian Orthodox Church in Jerusalem, Mar Athanasius Samuel. In 1948 Samuel smuggled the four scrolls in his possession to the United States; it was only in 1954 that Sukenik’s son, Yigael Yadin, also an archaeologist, was able to return them to Israel, and they were ultimately entrusted to the Shrine of the Book Foundation. They have been on display in the Shrine of the Book at The Israel Museum, Jerusalem, since 1965.

Shrine of the Book

Over the next few years, from 1949 to 1956, additional fragments of some 950 different scrolls were discovered in ten nearby caves, both by Bedouins and by a joint archaeological expedition of the École Biblique et Archéologique Française and the Rockefeller Museum, under the direction of Professor Father Roland de Vaux. The richest yield, from Cave 4, just opposite the site of Qumran, consisted of some 15,000 fragments. The last cave, Cave 11, was discovered in 1956, and the scrolls found there were in a reasonable state of preservation. Since then, only a few small scraps of parchment have been found in the Judean Desert (though not in the close vicinity of Qumran).

Apart from the first seven scrolls, which are entrusted to the Israel Museum, the majority of the fragments found by archaeologists and Bedouin are property of the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA). Others are in the possession of institutions outside of Israel, such as the Jordan Archaeological Museum in Amman and the Bibliothèque Nationale de France in Paris, or in private hands (the Schøyen Collection, Norway).” [emphasis added]

The Israel Antiquities Authority (founded in 1990) is a partly government funded body which is classified as an independent government authority and which is responsible for implementing the 1978 Antiquities Law which states that:

“When an antiquity is discovered or found in Israel after the coming into force of this Law, it shall within boundaries fixed by the Director become the property of the State.”

So where did the BBC get the idea that “[t]he majority [of the scrolls] are held in a collection by the Israeli government” rather than by the Israel Antiquities Authority?

Perhaps the answer to that question can be found in the Wikipedia entry for the Dead Sea Scrolls which states:

“Almost all of the Dead Sea Scrolls are currently in the collection of the Government of the State of Israel…”

Apparently the BBC journalist who wrote this report does not understand the difference between government and state.

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BBC continues to snooze on Hizballah activity

On March 2nd – the day of Israel’s general election – an incident which the BBC did not find newsworthy took place in the Golan Heights.

Tel Fares from Ramtaniya

“The Israel Defense Forces bombed a Syrian vehicle that the military said was used in an attempted sniper attack on Israeli troops near the Golan border Monday.

The skirmish took place in the Quneitra region in the demilitarized buffer zone between the countries, the latest in a series of recent cross-border clashes in the area. However, this was the first of these to be acknowledged by Israel.

“A short time ago an IDF force identified an attempt at a sniping attack in the northern Golan Heights,” the military said in a statement. “The force attacked the vehicle involved in the attempted attack.””

Two weeks on, the IDF has published the results of the investigation into that incident.

“The Israel Defense Forces on Tuesday accused the Hezbollah terror group and the Syrian army of being behind an attempted sniping attack against Israeli soldiers in the Golan Heights earlier this month, which was thwarted by an Israeli strike on the suspects’ car.

The military said that in the months preceding the incident Israeli troops saw Hezbollah fighters and Syrian soldiers preparing for an attack, filming the border area with smartphones and professional cameras and measuring wind speed from different locations in the supposedly demilitarized buffer zone between the two countries — in what the IDF said appeared to be efforts to identify a target and improve snipers’ accuracy.

The military said that on March 2 fighters were seen preparing to carry out the attack from a car.

“When there was an operational opportunity, the car being used by the cell was attacked by an IDF helicopter,” the military said.” [emphasis added]

The demilitarized zone is of course intended to be exactly that: Syrian soldiers and Hizballah militia are not supposed to be present in that area. UN forces – UNDOF – are tasked with ensuring that the terms of the 1974 cease fire agreement, under which the demilitarized zone was established, are upheld. In light of the civil war in Syria UNDOF largely abandoned that mission in September 2014 but supposedly returned to oversee the DMZ in October 2018.  

Since then the BBC has failed to produce any serious reporting on the topic of Hizballah’s activities in the Syrian Golan and UNDOF’s failure to guarantee the demilitarized zone. It is hence unsurprising to see that the corporation chose to ignore this latest thwarted attack.

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