BBC WS ‘OS’ presents an inverted portrayal of Gaza rocket attacks

As we saw in a previous post, the lead item in the November 13th edition of the BBC World Service radio programme OS – formerly ‘Outside Source’ – was described in its synopsis thus:

“It’s the heaviest exchange of aerial fire between Israeli soldiers and Hamas militants since the full-blown conflict in 2014. The violence follows an Israeli special forces operation inside Gaza which went wrong late on Sunday, causing the deaths of Palestinian militants and an Israeli soldier. We hear from local people living in Gaza.”

After listeners had been given some bizarre and entirely one-sided ‘context’ to that story (with no mention whatsoever of the fact that Hamas has been attacking Israeli civilians with rockets and mortars for 17 years), presenter Ben James introduced (from 04:35 here) his first inadequately identified interviewee in what he had previously described as “your guide to the important stuff happening now”.

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

James: “So let’s hear some voices from this region. In a moment we’re going to hear from Bernie who lives in the Israeli town of Ashkelon but first of all Ahmed who we’ve spoken to before on ‘OS’ about working in the IT industry in Gaza. He lives in Gaza City. He told me what it was like for him there last night.”

Ahmed: “Last night was, like, a very horrible night [laughs]. It began when Israelis were attacking, like, civilian homes and the journalists. We had that TV channel – the building for that TV channel – it’s called Al Aqsa – they destroyed it completely. In fact, like, these buildings are in the middle of civilians’ homes. The explosions was very huge. What affected me very much – at dawn, like, 4 a.m. in the morning they destroyed a civilian home near me and it was very, like, big explosion was very, very huge. My pregnant wife woke up in the, like, in the middle of the night scared and telling me ‘oh are they going to invade Gaza Strip or’…and this is not very usual to ask but I have been living for 3 Israeli attacks, like, in the 2008 and 2014 and this one – 2018.”

Israel of course did not attack either “civilian homes” or “journalists” as claimed but Ben James made no effort to challenge those blatant falsehoods. Neither did he bother to inform listeners of the very relevant issue of Hamas’ deliberate placement of military assets in built-up areas and how that turns people like Ahmed into human shields.

James: “I was going to ask how it compared to previous experiences. Has there been anything like these sorts of airstrikes recently?”

Ahmed: “This one, like, it’s, like, a new one. Has been, like, just for 24 hours. The last experience was very horrible, like, more than this. But this one, like, the kind of explosions not like what I have experienced, like, this one you feel that your home has been hit by a earthquake or something very huge, like, [laughs] you feel that the building is dancing.”

Having already failed to challenge his interviewee’s false claim of attacks on civilian targets, James actually went on to make things worse.

James: “Israel of course says that it’s attacking military targets – Hamas targets as they would see them – but you say that everyone’s just so close together in Gaza that it’s hitting not just those targets.”

Ahmed: “Like, most of these targets, it’s not, like, Hamas targets but it’s surrounded by, like, so many civilians. I went to one of these places in the morning. Houses, the windows, the doors, there was lot of rocks like thrown on this street.”

James: “What else does this mean – quite apart from the fear that you’ve been describing from last night? How is it affecting your day today? Have you been able to go out and about or are people staying at home today?”

Ahmed: “Yeah most of the people stayed at home and I didn’t go to work but I went to shop because I want to run some errands for me to, like, buy some food for the house ‘cos I am scared that this will be, like, another attack on [unintelligible], like a military operation, a war for Gaza because I am reading the news and what the [Israeli] cabinet will decide against us.”

James: “Had you become hopeful in recent times that there might be some kind of longer lasting calm or not? Had you expected something like this would happen again?”

Ahmed: “I guess this time will be calm, like it will be a truce. I don’t think, like, the both parties are not meant to go to another operation or another Israeli assault.”

James then went on to promote a theme of ‘equal narratives’:

James: “We know that in these situations both sides claim that they’re defending themselves and different people have different opinions on whether that’s right on either side. What do you think about that from the point of view of those airstrikes you’ve been living through? Israel says they’re in response to rockets being fired from Gaza into Israel.”

Ahmed: “OK. I guess you are following the news, like you know what happened Sunday night, yeah? When an Israeli military group invaded Khan Younis three kilometres and went to do some security and our resistance fighter has the right to defend us and this is a very prohibited or a very forbidden area to enter – you know what I mean. So I guess we have the right to do what the resistance fighter did last night.”

James did not bother to inform listeners that there is no such thing as a ‘right’ to deliberately attack civilians.

James: “When you in the night-time hear those planes, hear the explosions, what do you do? Do you just stay in your home and hope for the best? Is there anywhere to take shelter?”

Ahmed: “In fact there is no…there’s no safe place in Gaza. Like, everyone in Gaza is a target. So I don’t look around for a shelter because if I run for shelter, the kind of rockets or the kind of missiles that they throw is very huge, like…I don’t want you to experience this but [laughs] but I just cannot explain or cannot express how it felt or where I can go every place. You don’t know where they are going to [unintelligible]. You just don’t know.”

Ben James went on to speak to a resident of Ashkelon, with most of the conversation focusing on his personal experiences during the previous 24 hours. His final question again promoted the notion of equal narratives:

James: “And we know that…we know that each side in this describes what goes on as self-defence from both directions. What’s your take on that?”

It is the remit of the BBC – as defined in its public purposes – to “provide accurate and impartial news, current affairs and factual programming of the highest editorial standards so that all audiences can engage fully with issues across the UK and the world.”

In this programme however, BBC audiences were given a patently inaccurate impression of events. They heard that Hamas’ launching of rockets at Israeli civilians is a “right” and “self-defence” and they were told – wrongly – that Israel had attacked civilian targets.

A reporter for the Telegraph who – unlike Ben James – was actually in the Gaza Strip at the time had this to say:

Prior to these interviews with residents of Gaza City and Ashkelon, listeners to this programme had been told that unprecedented rocket and mortar attacks against Israeli civilians are rooted in poverty allegedly caused by a misrepresented blockade and an ‘occupation’ which ended over thirteen years ago – with no mention whatsoever of the fact that Hamas has been launching such attacks for the past 17 years.

Obviously the basic editorial aim behind this item – which Ben James had told listeners was “your guide to the important stuff happening now” – was to promote a sense of false equivalence between the actions of terrorist groups deliberately targeting civilians and a regular army targeting the assets of those terrorist organisations.   

In promoting that aim the producers of this programme blithely sacrificed the accuracy and impartiality to which the BBC claims to adhere as well as the first of the corporation’s public purposes.

Related Articles:

The BBC World Service’s idea of ‘context’ to rocket attacks on Israeli civilians

Terrorists and rockets disappear in BBC news reports

False equivalence in BBC News report on Gaza rocket attacks

BBC Radio 4: nothing to see in southern Israel, move along to Gaza

Sloppy BBC News report omits rocket hits on Israeli homes

BBC News website sources report on Gaza incident from Hamas

 

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The BBC World Service’s idea of ‘context’ to rocket attacks on Israeli civilians

The lead item in the November 13th edition of the BBC World Service radio programme OS – formerly ‘Outside Source’ – was described in its synopsis thus:

“It’s the heaviest exchange of aerial fire between Israeli soldiers and Hamas militants since the full-blown conflict in 2014. The violence follows an Israeli special forces operation inside Gaza which went wrong late on Sunday, causing the deaths of Palestinian militants and an Israeli soldier. We hear from local people living in Gaza.”

Presenter Ben James told listeners (from 00:11 here): [emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]

James: “We’re your guide to the important stuff happening now and the story at the beginning of our news bulletin then is certainly the one we’re going to spend a great deal of time on on this edition of the programme – what’s been happening between Israel and Gaza in the last 24 hours. You’ll have heard in the bulletin: seven people killed in a flare-up of violence between Israel and Palestinian militants. A short time ago you were just hearing that Hamas said it would agree to an Egyptian brokered cease-fire as long as Israel does. […] Just to take you back, the escalation began when this undercover Israeli Special Forces operation inside Gaza was exposed on Sunday. Since then more than 400 rockets have been fired into Israel by militants. Israeli aircraft have hit 150 militant targets in response.”

After telling listeners what would come up later on in the item (but failing to note that the majority of those killed in the Gaza Strip were terrorists), James next introduced some patently one-sided ‘context’ to a story that is actually about terrorist organisations attacking Israeli civilians with military grade rockets and mortars.

James: “…we wanted to break down some of the facts around Gaza and what happens in this region to help put this story into some context. Here’s Orla Barry and Ben Davies from the ‘OS’ team.”

Listeners then heard (from 01:29) a contrived and simplistic quasi Q&A session, beginning with a theme long popular at the BBC.

Barry: “Where is Gaza?”

Davies: “Gaza or the Gaza Strip as it’s sometimes called is bounded by the Mediterranean Sea to the west, Israel to the east and north and Egypt to the south. Although only 41 kms long and 10 kms wide, this strip of land has one of the highest population densities in the world – nearly 2 million people live there.”

As usual for the BBC, history begins in 1967, with no mention of how Egypt came to occupy the Gaza Strip or of the fact that it is included in the territory designated for the creation of the Jewish homeland by the League of Nations.

Barry: “What is its recent history?”

Davies: “Originally occupied by Egypt the territory was captured by Israel during the 1967 Middle East war. Israel withdrew its troops and around 7,000 settlers in 2005. Whilst Egypt controls the southern border, Israel controls the others and since 2007 the region has been governed by the Islamist group Hamas.”

Barry: “So who are Hamas?”

Davies: “Hamas are a Sunni Islamist organisation founded in 1987, born out of the First Intifada – a Palestinian uprising that saw over 5 years of violent conflict between Palestinians and Israelis. There is a key difference between them and the Palestinian Authority who control the West Bank – the other territory run by Palestinians on the west bank [sic] of the Jordan river. Hamas do not recognise the right of Israel to exist and furthermore they advocate the use of violence against it. Hamas is regarded either in whole or in part as a terrorist organisation by several countries – most notably Israel, the United States and the European Union. But not everyone agrees. Russia, China and Turkey are among countries who do not regard it as such.”

Those two last sentences are virtually identical to the Wikipedia entry for Hamas. Hamas of course does not just “advocate” the use of violence in its quest to eradicate the Jewish state – it actively engages in violence. Notably, BBC World Service listeners did not hear about Hamas’ Muslim Brotherhood links

Barry: “What are the roots of this latest conflict?”

Davies: “When Hamas took control of Gaza following regional elections in 2006 in which they ousted the then ruling Palestinian Authority, Israel and Egypt were quick to impose a blockade, restricting the movement of goods and people in and out. The blockade is ongoing. The Israeli government say [sic] that millions of its population live in daily fear of rockets fired by Hamas from Gaza – rockets they say are smuggled into the region through secret tunnels. Hamas accuses Israel of indiscriminate airstrikes and an ongoing occupation of their land. They say that the blockade is the central cause for the region’s high levels of poverty and deprivation.”

Hamas of course did not take “control of Gaza” as a result of the PLC elections in early 2006 but nearly 18 months later in a violent coup. In contrast to Davies’ inaccurate claim, the blockade was not introduced ‘quickly’ but following a sharp rise in terror attacks against Israelis after the Hamas coup – which he failed to mention.

Barry: “What is life in Gaza like then?”

Davies: “In 2017 the Gaza Strip had the highest unemployment rate in the World Bank’s development data base. It’s more than double the rate of the West Bank and youth unemployment is more than 60%. The growing poverty rate in the region has served only to fuel the anger of many of its residents.”

In other words, the “context” given to BBC audiences around the world in this “guide to the important stuff happening now” framed unprecedented rocket and mortar attacks against Israeli civilians as being rooted in poverty allegedly caused by a misrepresented blockade and an ‘occupation’ which ended over thirteen years ago. 

 

Mapping the BBC’s branding of declarations on Jerusalem as ‘controversial’

On December 25th the BBC News website published a report titled “Jerusalem: Guatemala follows US in planning Israel embassy move” which opened as follows:

“Guatemala is to move its embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, becoming the first country after the US to vow to do so.

It was one of only nine to vote against a UN resolution which in effect repudiated the US’ recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

Israel’s PM thanked Guatemala’s president, but Palestinians branded the decision “shameful and illegal”.

Donald Trump’s controversial declaration on Jerusalem has been widely spurned around the world.”

Under the sub-heading “Why is Guatemala doing this?” readers were told that:

“President Jimmy Morales made the announcement on Facebook, noting the “excellent relations” between Guatemala and Israel.

He did not say when the move would happen.

Guatemala, along with 12 other countries, had their embassies in Jerusalem until 1980, when they moved them to Tel Aviv after Israel annexed East Jerusalem, in a move not recognised internationally. All other countries still have their embassies in Tel Aviv.

Guatemala and Israel have a long history of political, economic and military ties. The Central American country is also a major recipient of US aid – something which Donald Trump threatened to cut to states that voted in favour of the UN resolution.”

Guatemala’s embassy in Israel is currently in Herzliya rather than Tel Aviv but the same erroneous statement also appeared in a report aired on BBC World Service radio programme ‘OS‘ on December 25th. Presenter Ben James told listeners (from 05:35 here) that:

James: “We’re going to talk more about Guatemala’s decision now to move its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, backing the US president Donald Trump’s controversial announcement that the US recognises Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, expressing that through the location of the embassy.”

James then introduced his colleague Arturo Wallace from the BBC World Service’s Spanish language service BBC Mundo.

Wallace: “A lot of it has to do with, you know, what the United States wanted and Guatemala trying to prove that they are, like, reliable allies from [of] the United States. You know it’s always been a very, very strong relationship. United States is the biggest foreign investor, you know, huge provider of foreign aid. Guatemala, I believe, is the fourth country in the whole world in terms of foreign aid from the United States.”

After telling listeners that a lot of people from Guatemala live in the United States, Wallace seemed to suggest that repercussions against those people could occur if Guatemala did not follow the US’ lead, saying:

“…policies regarding immigration from that would have a big effect on Guatemala’s economy.”

He continued:

Wallace: “But funnily enough Guatemala also has a very strong relationship with Israel. […] Guatemala was actually the second country in the world to vote for the recognition of Israel at United Nations and ever since they have had diplomatic relationships. It was the first country ever in having an embassy in Jerusalem and they kept it there till 1980.”

BBC World Service Middle East analyst Alan Johnston then joined the conversation but had little to add other than more promotion of a now well-established BBC mantra:

Johnston: “…There’s a huge amount of tension on the city [Jerusalem] as a result of President Trump’s move…”

As we see, both these BBC reports steer audiences towards the view that Guatemala’s decision was dictated by its relations with the United States. Guatemala’s foreign minister has rejected such claims.

“The United States did not pressure Guatemala into announcing it will move its embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, the Central American state’s foreign minister said Wednesday.

“There wasn’t any pressure. There wasn’t any overture from the United States to make this happen. This was a decision by the government, the state and the foreign policy of Guatemala,” the minister, Sandra Jovel, told a news conference in Guatemala City. […]

Jovel said the plan to put the embassy in Jerusalem “had been considered for the past five months, and things just lined up in a certain way and also the resolutions in the UN and everything contributed to saying that now was the right time.”

Guatemala’s assertion that it decided the move alone, without being pressed by the United States, follows criticism from the Palestinian foreign ministry and a focus on how reliant the country is on US aid and trade.”

Notably, in contrast to its copious portrayal (including in these two reports) of the December 6th US announcement recognising Jerusalem as Israel’s capital as “controversial”, the BBC did not use that term to describe the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation’s December 13th declaration of “East Jerusalem as the capital of the State of Palestine”. And when Iran’s parliament declared Jerusalem “the everlasting capital of Palestine” on December 27th, the BBC did not even report that development, let alone brand it as “controversial”.  

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BBC’s Knell skirts the issue of PA and Fatah incitement to violence

An edition of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘OS’ (formerly ‘Outside Source’) that was broadcast on December 15th led with an item (from 00:68 here) described by presenter Ben James as being about “the latest protests and clashes over Washington’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital”.

During his subsequent conversation with the BBC Jerusalem bureau’s Yolande Knell, James asked (at 02:53) an interesting question:

James: “And these protests; are they being organised by political parties? Are they spontaneous to an extent? What’s behind them?”

Anyone following the Palestinian media will be aware of numerous examples of incitement to rioting and violence that have appeared in both traditional and new media over the past couple of weeks. For example, PMW reports that:

“In anticipation of Trump’s statement, the Secretary of Fatah in Jerusalem Shadi Mattour explained that Fatah had already made plans for “escalating struggle activities” if US recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, stating that there’s “nothing left but to return to confrontation”: 

Secretary of Fatah in Jerusalem Shadi Mattour: “The Fatah Movement has always led the defenders of our Palestinian people and will not hesitate when it sees the danger surrounding our Palestinian capital Jerusalem. Yesterday we were called to a meeting of branch secretaries in the presence of [Fatah] Commissioner Jamal Muhaisen, and prepared plans for escalating struggle activities on the ground if the US makes such a decision that will blow up the peace process… When the patron of peace [the US] comes and kills the peace process and kills our dream to establish our Palestinian state whose capital is Jerusalem, we in Fatah have nothing left but to return to confrontation with this occupation.” [Official PA TV, Palestine This Morning, Dec. 5, 2017]”

A PA official conveyed a similar message – also on official PA TV:

“In his Friday sermon at the PA headquarters, Abbas’ advisor on religious affairs Mahmoud Al-Habbash incited Palestinians to religious war. Condemning US President Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital as “a crime against humanity” and “a sin,” Al-Habbash encouraged Muslims and Christians worldwide to “act.” He asked rhetorically: “How do the Muslims of the world allow this sin?” And answered later in the speech that “the Muslims will act.” “

On social media the PA president’s Fatah party has put out repeated calls for an intifada and “popular rage”.

‘”The Al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades at the Al-Fawwar refugee camp south of Hebron: ‘It is necessary to continue the intifada and escalate it, and to see days of popular rage in the coming days.'” [Facebook page of the Fatah Movement – Bethlehem Branch, Dec. 8, 2017]’

Obviously then, one would have expected Yolande Knell to inform BBC World Service audiences of such incitement from official PA sources as well as the dominant political party in both the Palestinian Authority and the PLO in her response to James’ question.

This, however, was her answer:

Knell: “I mean in most areas you have…err…young protesters who will, when there is…err…something like…err…an issue around Jerusalem, they will turn out to protest. Ahm…the Islamist group Hamas has called for an intifada – a Palestinian uprising – but I have to say so far that this has not been anything like on that level…”

This is by no means the first time that we have seen Yolande Knell – and other BBC journalists – downplaying, erasing, distorting and ignoring the issue of incitement to violence from official PA and Fatah sources. 

How that practice can be said to contribute to meeting the BBC’s public purpose of providing “impartial news and information to help people understand and engage with the world around them” is of course a mystery. 

 

Mainstreaming the ‘apartheid’ trope on BBC World Service radio

As was noted here in an earlier related post, on August 18th the BBC World Service radio programme ‘World Have Your Say’ included an item (available from 38:38 here) about “the Israeli columnist who’s decided it’s time to call Israel an ‘apartheid’ society”.Burston WHYS 

The BBC’s explanation of the inclusion of that item in the programme was presented by host and WHYS producer Ben James in his introduction.

“…we reflect the big stories, the big discussions, the things you’re taking part in discussing online and for the next ten minutes or so we’re gonna talk about exactly one of those things; an article that’s been widely shared  – 24 thousand shares last time we checked. An article; a column in the Israeli news site Ha’aretz – that’s a daily liberal newspaper in Israel – with the headline ‘It’s time to admit it. Israeli policy is what it is: apartheid’.”

James’ billing of an article with 24,000 shares as one of “the big stories, the big discussions” is of course questionable. Indeed one seriously doubts that most listeners to BBC World Service radio would have ever heard of this column had the BBC not chosen to showcase and promote it. Significantly, this article is behind Ha’aretz’s paywall and so the vast majority of listeners would not even be able to read it before engaging in discussion of its content on the WHYS Facebook page – as James encourages them to do. 

That in itself raises the question of whether a BBC programme which purports to be “a global discussion show” should promote content which audiences have to pay to view and whether facilitation of ‘discussion’ of an article which the BBC must know full well most audience members will not be able to read really does anything to contribute to fulfilling the public purpose remit of building “a global understanding of international issues” which is the basis for the production of such discussion shows.

Bradley Burston’s blog post reflects the opinions of one man with a number of criticisms to level at his country’s government. Unfortunately, he chose to voice his opprobrium under the attention-grabbing click-bait headline of ‘apartheid’ even though some of the arguments he puts forward in order to justify the use of that term do not stand up to scrutiny.

One of the claims in Burston’s post, for example, was the following:

“Apartheid means Likud lawmaker and former Shin Bet chief Avi Dichter calling Sunday for separate, segregated roads and highways for Jews and Arabs in the West Bank.” (Emphasis added.)

However, as the link provided by Burston shows, Dichter did not call for separation between “Jews and Arabs” at all. [emphasis added]

“Likud MK Avi Dichter said that separating Israeli and Palestinian drivers on West Bank highways was an inevitable move. . . .

 Segregating roads, he declared, would ensure that Palestinian vehicles wouldn’t be able to enter Israeli settlements and Israel vehicles wouldn’t be able to enter Palestinian cities or villages.”

That of course is relevant given that over 20% of Israel’s population is not Jewish and Dichter’s proposal clearly relates to security issues rather than race. Ha’aretz has since amended that part of Burston’s article after being contacted by our colleagues at CAMERA’s Israel office.Burston art correctionAnother of Burston’s ‘supporting arguments’ for his use of the word ‘apartheid’ (used both in the article and the radio broadcast) is that he doesn’t like the opinions of Israel’s new ambassador to the UN.

“…the prime minister’s choice to represent all of us, all of Israel at the United Nations, is a man who proposed legislation to annex the West Bank, effectively creating Bantustans for Palestinians who would live there stateless, deprived of basic human rights.”

Burston of course neglects to mention that – as his link once again shows – the proposal in question is well over four years old and it obviously was not adopted by the government.   

Yet another claim put forward by Burston in both the article and the BBC radio interview to support his use of the term ‘apartheid’ goes as follows:

“…terrorists firebombed a West Bank Palestinian home, annihilating a family, murdering an 18-month-old boy and his father, burning his mother over 90 percent of her body – only to have Israel’s government rule the family ineligible for the financial support and compensation automatically granted Israeli victims of terrorism, settlers included.”

As the two additional guests brought into the second half of the item (Ran Bar Yoshafat and Benjamin Pogrund) pointed out, the circumstances surrounding the arson attack in Duma are not yet clear as no arrests have been announced and the Dawabshe family are not Israeli citizens (who pay national insurance contributions) and that is the real reason they are not automatically entitled to the compensation for victims of terrorism awarded to Israeli citizens of any faith or ethnic group – although they are entitled to apply. The BBC’s Ben James could of course have reminded listeners at this point that the family of Mohamed Abu Khdeir does receive such financial benefits from the state – but he did not.

Similarly, when Burston claimed that “there are two million Palestinians there who do not have the right to vote”, James should obviously have clarified that Palestinians living in Areas A & B (the overwhelming majority) certainly do have the right to vote in the Palestinian elections which are relevant to the authority under which they live. 

Of course Bradley Burston is perfectly entitled to promote his opinions – no matter how flimsily rooted in reality – even by means of the careless use of hyperbolic click-bait language on the website of an eternally wilting Israeli national newspaper. The difference between that and promotion of the same article on the BBC World Service is that Israelis have enough prior background knowledge to be capable of viewing Burston’s claims within their appropriate context whilst BBC audiences are serially deprived of such information.

Coupled with the fact that – as noted above – most listeners would not have been able to read the article at all because of its being confined behind a paywall, it is obvious that the intention behind this item was not to “reflect the big stories, the big discussions” as claimed by James, but to generate a story with the effect of mainstreaming the notion of ‘Israel as an apartheid state’ into worldwide discussion.

That, of course, has deep significance because the employment of the misnomer ‘apartheid’ to describe Israel and its policies is not a matter of chance. Behind its frequent tactical use by anti-Israel campaigners (and to be clear – Bradley Burston is not one) lie clear political motives and ideologies: the branding of Israel as an entity the existence of which right-minded people cannot tolerate. Does the BBC really want to lend its weight to the casual mainstreaming of such an ideology?