BBC News continues to push inaccurate Gaza healthcare narrative

h/t SFoI, SS

The lead item on the BBC News website’s ‘Middle East’ page on the morning of April 7th was a filmed  report titled “Coronavirus: ‘Gaza has no resources to fight this virus’”.

“In Gaza, people are bracing for a coronavirus outbreak as more than 10 cases of infection have been confirmed in the small enclave.

Everything is shut, including vital food aid centres, and people are being asked to stay at home.”

The declaration the BBC chose to promote so prominently in the report’s headline and on its website in fact comes from one of the interviewees who is only identified by her ‘kunya’ teknonym. BBC audiences are not informed of her real identity or her qualification to make such a pronouncement – other than “Palestinian refugee”.

That video is based on a filmed report which was aired on April 6th in the BBC News Channel’s “BBC News Special Coronavirus Daily Update”. Presenter Clive Myrie introduced the item (from 1:57:50 in the video below) as follows: [emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]

Myrie: “In Gaza people are bracing for a Coronavirus outbreak with 12 cases confirmed so far. Everything is shut including vital food aid centres and people are being asked to stay at home. The health system in the Strip, which is home to nearly 2 million people, has been shattered by an Israeli blockade lasting more than a decade.”

While 12 cases had indeed been confirmed in the Gaza Strip as of the date of this broadcast, six had already recovered. Although UNRWA did close its food distribution centres in late March as a precautionary measure, it soon began delivering food to the homes of its clients. As we have all too often had cause to note here in the past, the state of healthcare in the Gaza Strip is not attributable to Israeli – and Egyptian – counter-terrorism measures but to the financial priorities of the ruling Hamas terror organisation and the rift between it and the Palestinian Authority which is responsible for health services in the Gaza Strip.

In other words, not one line of Myrie’s three-sentence introduction gave BBC viewers an accurate portrayal of the situation in the Gaza Strip.

The report began with the inaccurate claim that residents of the Gaza Strip live under “lockdown and isolation” – a claim which is especially interesting given that the BBC knows that the first two people in the territory diagnosed with Covid 19 had just returned from abroad.

Reporter: “There is a place where lockdown and isolation are the norm. But never before with a deadly pandemic. Gaza, a small enclave of nearly 2 million people, is bracing for an outbreak of Coronavirus. And people here know that they are far from ready for it.”

Later on viewers were once again fed the myth that the state of healthcare in the Gaza Strip is attributable to Israel’s counter-terrorism measures but with no mention of the terrorism that brought them about.

Reporter: “The World Health Organisation’s medics are warning of a catastrophe if Gaza sees wide spread of the virus. The health system is just too fragile after nearly 14 years [sic- actually since 2007] of blockade and cross-border conflict with Israel. One group, Physicians for Human Rights in Israel, warns that Gaza has only about 70 ICU beds, some of which are already occupied. A drop in the ocean of what people here would need.”

Viewers were told nothing about the agenda of the political NGO which issued the statement quoted by the BBC reporter.

Although UNRWA had already begun distribution of food aid to the homes of those classed as refugees several days prior to the broadcast of this report, viewers were once again given a false impression of the situation.

Reporter: “The pandemic has already taken its toll on other basic aspects of life in Gaza like food aid. The UN’s Palestinian refugee agency UNRWA has closed aid centres for fear of potential outbreak.”

The report closed with a reference to a “siege” which does not exist and never has.

Reporter: “People here like Um Shadi normally take it one day at a time, with worries of war, siege and dire poverty. Now a deadly pandemic that’s sneaked into their lives will add to their many woes.”

 

Since the onset of the Coronavirus pandemic the BBC has produced numerous reports about the Gaza Strip (see ‘related articles’ below) which, like this latest one, have all erased the issue of Hamas’ terrorism and mismanagement of the territory it seized in a violent coup thirteen years ago. Many of those reports have directly or indirectly blamed Israel for the state of healthcare in the Gaza Strip while failing to inform audiences of the real background to the situation. Most of those reports have completely ignored the topic of Israeli coordination of the entry of supplies – medical and other – to the territory.

It is embarrassingly obvious that the BBC is far more interested in using the pandemic to promote simplistic narratives and agendas it embraced years ago rather than in providing its audiences with accurate and impartial information about a part of the world which, fortunately, is to date not one of the locations most badly affected by the Coronavirus.

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

More Corona-hooked Gaza Strip messaging on BBC WS radio

BBC ME editor makes Gaza Strip ventilators disappear

The BBC, Coronavirus and population density

On March 31st an article by the BBC’s diplomatic correspondent Jonathan Marcus titled “Coronavirus: A ticking time-bomb for the Middle East” was published on the BBC News website’s ‘Middle East’ page.

The article is made up of comment on a number of locations in the region, including Israel, the Palestinian Authority administered territories and the Gaza Strip. [all emphasis added]

Israel:

“The virus has already arrived in the region. Israel – a country with a sophisticated Western-style health system and a significant capacity to mobilise resources – is already beginning to struggle with the potential consequences of the pandemic.

It is facing the self-same problems as experienced in Western Europe and the United States.”

Marcus did not provide any information to illustrate or substantiate his claim that Israel “is already beginning to struggle”.

“However, the Middle East has some specific problems that may exacerbate the crisis. Ways of life governed by religion, for example, play a significant part in the lives of many countries’ citizens.

Such communities may often be insular and slow to change their practices.

It is perhaps no accident that in Israel, its ultra-Orthodox Haredi community has been slow to adopt the recommended social distancing measures and has suffered disproportionately from the virus.”

While rates of infection have indeed been higher than average in some ultra-Orthodox communities, Marcus’ attribution of that solely to “ways of life governed by religion” ignores additional relevant factors such as poverty, population density and the difficulties of effective isolation for members of large families.

Interestingly, the BBC has repeatedly cited those three factors in its many reports on Coronavirus in the Gaza Strip and later on in his article Marcus himself referred to that territory’s population density.

According to the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics, population density in the Gaza Strip was 5,453 persons/km2 in mid 2019. The population density in Bnei Brak – one of the locations in Israel most seriously affected by Covid 19 – was 26,368 persons/km2 at the end of 2017 but apparently Marcus did not consider it necessary to inform readers of that fact. 

Towards the end of the article readers were told that:

“Even in democratic Israel, the pandemic has sparked a constitutional crisis with political repercussions. The need to tackle the coronavirus looks like forcing opposition leader Benny Gantz into a national unity government under Benjamin Netanyahu (something he said he would never do and a move which has split his new party asunder).

And the closure of the courts has delayed the corruption trial of Prime Minister Netanyahu, who looks like soldiering on in office.”

Israel of course has no written constitution and so the claim of a “constitutional crisis” is debatable. The political deadlock in Israel which has not been resolved by three general elections has been ongoing for a year and was not “sparked” by the pandemic.

As we have previously had cause to note, the courts in Israel have not been closed. Activity has been reduced in line with Ministry of Health instructions and the Judiciary’s website states:

The courts and employment tribunals will function under emergency measures whereby only urgent hearings will be held.”

PA controlled territories and Gaza Strip:

Marcus gave a politicised portrayal of the Gaza Strip – from which Israel disengaged in 2005 – and the areas which have been under Palestinian Authority control for two and a half decades as “Israeli-occupied”, despite going on to later contradict himself by describing the PA as a governing body and Hamas as “rulers”.

“Even in places where there is the absence of full-scale war, there are some alarming potential coronavirus crisis-points. The Israeli-occupied West Bank and the Gaza Strip are a case in point.

The Palestinian Authority, which governs in about 40% of the West Bank, is struggling with limited means to curtail the initial outbreak, with fears that close economic ties – workers travelling between Israel and the West Bank – have potentially been one vector for the spread of the virus.”

BBC audiences were not informed that the Palestinian Authority’s continued prioritisation of the payment of salaries for terrorists is one of the factors contributing to its “limited means”.

Marcus went on to give a qualified explanation of the reason for the counter-terrorism measures adopted by Israel and Egypt while whitewashing that terrorism by use of the euphemism “militants”. He failed to clarify that the Gaza Strip was transferred to Palestinian control almost 15 years ago and in theory – though not in practice since the violent Hamas coup in 2007 – is run by the Palestinian Authority.

“But the densely populated Gaza Strip presents an altogether more worrying case. The population there is isolated; the Palestinians are under effective blockade from both Israel and Egypt, who say it is a necessary security measure against militants.

There has been a long-running debate between Israel and the international community as to its abiding responsibilities for the territory. Israel’s troops have left and it insists that it is no longer responsible for events there, which is now the job of the Hamas rulers.

But if the pandemic sweeps through Gaza this may become a very difficult case to argue given the grip that Israel still retains from outside.

No wonder there have been calls from Palestinian experts and humanitarian agencies for the so-called Israeli “blockade” to be lifted, and for Palestinians in both the Gaza Strip, the West Bank and the Israelis to make common cause to fight the pandemic.”

Marcus made no effort to analyse the political motivations behind those “calls” (which, revealingly, do not appear to extend to Egypt) or to examine their validity in light of the fact that there is no restriction on the entry of medical supplies to the Gaza Strip. Neither did he bother to address the obviously relevant issue of what would happen were the blockade lifted, given that Palestinian terror factions in the Gaza Strip clearly have no intention of renouncing the terrorism which caused its implementation and indeed continue to issue threats.

“The head of Hamas in Gaza warned Israel if more ventilators for coronavirus patients were not brought into the Palestinian enclave then his terror group will “take them by force.”

“If ventilators are not brought into [Gaza], we’ll take them by force from Israel and stop the breathing of 6 million Israelis,” said Yahya Sinwar, according to Hebrew media reports.”

Marcus went on to describe well-reported (though not by the BBC) actions which have been publicly praised by the UN as “behind the scenes”.

“It would be nice to think that rivalries could be set aside for the time being during this period of global crisis. Behind the scenes Israel has been transferring some equipment to the Palestinians in the West Bank, and training courses have been running for medical personnel.”

As we see, while the BBC has repeatedly promoted the topic of population density in the Gaza Strip in its coverage of the Coronavirus pandemic, curiously that factor was completely ignored in Jonathan Marcus’ portrayal of outbreaks of Covid 19 in Israel.

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

More Corona-hooked Gaza Strip messaging on BBC WS radio

BBC News Channel grossly misleads on Israeli courts

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

BBC Radio 4 spreads inaccurate Gaza healthcare canard

The healthcare system in the Gaza Strip has suffered from shortages of medical equipment and supplies for many years because of the rivalry between Hamas and Fatah, which controls the Palestinian Authority. Under the terms of the Oslo Accords, it is the PA which is responsible for healthcare both in the areas under its control and the Gaza Strip.

Throughout that time the BBC has repeatedly steered its audiences towards an inaccurate understanding of the reasons for that chronic shortage of medical supplies by promoting the false notion that Israeli counter-terrorism measures pertaining to the movement of goods and people adversely affect medical services in the territory.

As we noted here in 2014 when Yolande Knell did precisely that, there is not – and never has been – any restriction on the entry of medical supplies to the Gaza Strip with the exception of items classed as dual use equipment which has the potential to be used for terrorism. 

“The long-standing shortage of medicines and medical supplies in Gaza emanates primarily from a dysfunctional relationship between the Palestinian Ministries of Health in Gaza and Ramallah.

The conflicts between the two offices have resulted not only in a shortage of medicines and supplies, but also in restricted access to medical treatment for patients outside of Gaza.

The healthcare system in Gaza is marked by a shortage of 400-500 varieties of medical equipment and an average shortage of 33% of desired types of drugs at any given time.

The situation is further exacerbated by the fact that medical suppliers are often reluctant to sell supplies to Gaza due to issues of non-payment.

COGAT [the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories] works to facilitate the transfer of medication and medical supplies both through the international community and the private sector, however shortages remain.”

Throughout 2019 COGAT coordinated the entry of 800 truckloads of medical supplies to the Gaza Strip.

Nevertheless, the BBC continues to promote the false narrative according to which the sorry state of affairs in the Gaza healthcare system is attributable to Israel – a narrative also promoted by Hamas.

The March 25th edition of the BBC Radio 4 programme ‘The World Tonight’ included an item promoting an appeal put out by the United Nations.

Presenter Razia Iqbal introduced the item (from 07:29 here).

Iqbal: “Life in some of the wealthiest countries in the world has been turned upside down by the Covid 19 pandemic. It’s a virus that doesn’t discriminate and in that respect a leveller. Nevertheless, it will almost certainly adversely affect those who already have so little and to address that, today the United Nations has launched a $2 billion funding drive to help vulnerable countries fight Covid 19. The UN says all of humanity is at risk. In countries already affected by conflict, natural disasters or climate change, the death toll from the virus will be higher.”

Later in that item Iqbal interviewed Mark Lowcock, the UN’s Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator and head of UNOCHA. Before that, however, she sought to illustrate the points made in her introduction. [emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]

Iqbal: “The warning comes from [sic] after the confirmation of two cases in the densely populated Gaza region – where a decade-long blockade has devastated the health services – and the first case in Syria reported on Sunday. What are the additional challenges facing crisis zones when trying to tackle the spread of the Coronavirus and are they certain to get the help they need? A short time ago I spoke to Khamis Elessy, a doctor in Gaza.”

Listeners were not informed that in addition to being a doctor, Elessy is also an associate professor at the Hamas-linked Islamic University in Gaza. Several hours after this interview his opening statement concerning two cases of Covid 19 in the Gaza Strip was no longer accurate.

Elessy: “Thanks God that we only have 2 cases confirmed out of 155 cases so we’re assisted. And those two cases were not from Gaza. They come from Pakistan. The healthcare system is barely coping with ordinary cases. Around 40% of essential drugs are lacking inside Gaza. Many of the equipments need spare parts and need repair. Throughout Gaza we have 63 ICU beds fully equipped with ventilators and respirators and the health professionals to serve on these units. But if we think of best scenario for Corona outbreak, we have to think of at least 100 beds so we need to add another 50 beds. They are not available here in Gaza because we don’t have factories or respirators, ventilators and other [unintelligible] of core equipment and we don’t have the medicines like hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine and other things that are needed. So far the two cases which were diagnosed inside Gaza their condition is stable, they’re in good health so far. And we hope that we will not have any other cases and maybe for the first time we have something out of the siege. Maybe this gave us one advantage that we’re not open to the rest of the world and that’s why there is no regular flow of people into Gaza and out of Gaza.”

Of course Iqbal had already told listeners that the counter-terrorism measures employed by Egypt and Israel are responsible for ‘devastating’ the health services in the Gaza Strip and so it was unsurprising to see that audiences received no information whatsoever concerning the real cause of the lack of essential medicines. Equally predictable was Iqbal’s failure to challenge Elessy’s promotion of the false notion of a “siege”.  

Turning to the much favoured BBC theme of population density, Iqbal went on:

Iqbal: “I wonder though if you could reflect for us on the possibility of the outbreak affecting Gaza in a bigger way. Do you think, Doctor, that it would be possible to self-isolate in a densely-populated area?”

Elessy: “No, no because unfortunately all families here belong to an extended family class. So the parents living in the same home, their sons, their grandsons. So you see in the same building around 80 or 70 people living in the same building. So self-isolation is difficult, it is impossible and this is actually the scary scenario if, God forbid, we have a huge number of cases that is infected and we need to isolate them, we can’t isolate them.”

Interestingly, in the interview with Mark Lowcock which followed on from this he noted that in relation to weak health systems:

Lowcock: “Gaza in fact is a little bit better than some of the other places we’re talking about like Syria or Yemen or Afghanistan.”

The BBC however chose not to interview a doctor from any of those places but did use the opportunity to once again promote the false and entirely context-free notion (in a programme which will remain available for over a year) that the problems affecting the Gaza Strip’s healthcare services are attributable to Israel’s counter-terrorism measures.

Related Articles:

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

Mapping BBC messaging on Gaza and Corona

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

The BBC, the Gaza Strip and medical supplies

BBC News continues to mislead on Gaza medical services

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 policy of sidelining Hamas abuse of humanitarian aid continues

Erez Crossing

We have in the past documented numerous examples of the BBC turning a blind eye to Hamas’ exploitation of the humanitarian aid provided by Israel to residents of the Gaza Strip needing medical treatment. For example:

BBC ignores another story explaining the need for Gaza border restrictions

BBC News again ignores abuse of Israeli humanitarian aid to Gaza

BBC chooses not to report Hamas abuse of medical permits yet again

As reported by the Jerusalem Post, the Israel Security Agency recently announced the arrest of an Israeli citizen who was recruited by Hamas.

“On February 17, the Shin Bet, in a joint operation with Israel Police, arrested Ayia Khatib, 31, a resident of the northwestern village of Arara. Khatib, a mother of two, was recruited by Gazan Hamas operatives Muhammed Pilpel, 29, a resident of Beit Lahiya, and Mahmoud Halua, 32, from Jabaliya.

According to the Shin Bet, Khatib, who engaged in humanitarian activities for needy Gazans, was recruited to carry out missions for Hamas including financing the group’s terrorist operations and infrastructure. She subsequently gathered intelligence to help carry out terrorist attacks against Israeli targets.

Communication between Khatib and her two handlers, agents in Hamas’s “military” wing, Izzadin al-Qassam, was carried out secretly.

The Shin Bet said Khatib provided the terrorist groups with hundreds of thousands of shekels by scamming aid organizations and innocent civilians who donated funds with the aim of helping patients and the needy and utilizing the plight of patients who were granted humanitarian permits for medical treatment and business activity in Israel for residents of the Gaza Strip.

“Part of the money Khatib transferred to Hamas operatives was for clear terrorist purposes, including helping to build tunnels, build a lathe and erect structures for Hamas’s ongoing activities,” the Shin Bet said.” [emphasis added]

BBC audiences are frequently misled on the topic of medical supplies and referrals to treatment outside the Gaza Strip. They are also repeatedly steered towards the inaccurate belief that the economic and humanitarian problems in the Gaza Strip are primarily attributable to Israeli counter-terrorism measures. It is therefore highly significant that the BBC continues to show no interest in reporting stories which clarify why such measures are necessary. 

Related Articles:

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

Haaretz corrects: Israel didn’t deny entry to Gazans whose daughter died from cancer  (CAMERA)

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

Reporting by BBC Jerusalem bureau staff on the topic of Coronavirus has so far focused mainly on Bethlehem (see ‘related articles’ below), apparently resulting in quarantine for one journalist. More recently the corporation chose to turn its attention to a location in which to date no cases of infection have been reported.

On March 13th listeners to BBC Radio 4’s ‘The World Tonight’ heard a report by Tom Bateman (from 23:34 here) which was introduced by presenter James Coomarasamy as follows:

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

Coomarasamy: “Well the World Health Organisation may have identified Europe as the current epicenter of the Coronavirus outbreak but it also has an eye on those countries and territories which have yet to be affected whose health services are far weaker than those of the developed Western world. Among them is the Gaza Strip where more than two million people live in tightly packed conditions and where the WHO believes that urgent global intervention would be necessary if cases of Covid19 are recorded. Here’s our Middle East correspondent Tom Bateman.”

On March 14th the same report was aired on the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Weekend’ (from 30:45 here) with presenter Alex Ritson telling worldwide listeners:

Ritson: “Let’s remind you of our top story: the World Health Organisation has warned that any spread of Coronavirus to the Gaza Strip would need urgent global intervention. There have been no confirmed cases there so far. The health system is already under significant pressure and more than two million people live in densely populated conditions. From Jerusalem, here’s our Middle East correspondent Tom Bateman.”

Listeners to both editions of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour’ on March 14th also heard the same report (from 14:06 here and from 19:03 here) which was introduced by Ben James thus:

James: “Now the World Health Organisation says the full extent of the Coronavirus outbreak will only become clear when places with weak, underdeveloped health services are tested. Among those is Gaza, where more than two million people live in tightly packed conditions. The BBC’s Tom Bateman begins this report in a local hospital.”

A filmed version of Bateman’s report apparently also exists.

The WHO’s latest update on the situation in the Palestinian Authority controlled territories and the Hamas controlled Gaza Strip – dated March 13th – makes no mention of “urgent global intervention”. The source of that dramatic claim promoted in two of those introductions is apparently one of Bateman’s interviewees.

As regular readers know, BBC audiences are in general very badly placed as far as understanding the underlying status of medical care in the Gaza Strip is concerned because although they are told plenty about the dire state of medical services in the Gaza Strip, they rarely hear about the PA actions which exacerbate that situation such as the longstanding insufficient supply of medications

Bateman began his report with an unrelated story.

Bateman: “Ten-year-old Mansour is having kidney dialysis in a packed children’s ward. His father can’t afford the cost of a transplant for him, which would mean travel to Egypt or Jordan. This is the story of Gaza’s hospitals: outdated, hard pressed and lacking many medicines and supplies. And now the health system must prepare for Coronavirus.”

As ever, Bateman did not bother to inform listeners why Gaza Strip hospitals lack medicine and equipment. Listeners then heard that:

“We have in Gaza barely between 50 to 60 ventilators. Serious cases would require at certain stage that they need to be on ventilators. And if we have hundreds, then you would imagine what we need to deal with these hundred cases.”

Bateman: “Dr Abdelnasr Sohob is from the World Health Organisation. There have been no confirmed cases of Coronavirus so far in Gaza but it’s on the borders and medics are warning of little capacity to cope with a sustained outbreak.”

Sohob: “Gaza with these facilities can deal with the first shock of 50 to 100 cases with the current resources. After that I think the international community has to step in to assist Gaza.”

Apparently that latter sentence is the source of those dramatic introductions.

Listeners then heard shouting before Bateman referred to a story which the BBC did not bother to report at the time. He went on to promote a much-used BBC narrative concerning population density and an entirely context-free reference to “Palestinians shot by Israeli soldiers”.

Bateman: “A protest last month near a newly-built hospital in the town of Khan Younis. Some locals burned tyres and waved banners after reports Coronavirus patients could be brought there. Anxiety is spreading. More than two million people live in one of the world’s most densely crowded places. The UN’s refugee agency for Palestinians says health workers have learned from the most recent medical crisis: the so-called March of Return protests that saw thousands of Palestinians shot by Israeli soldiers at the perimeter fence. After those emergencies, it says there are Coronavirus plans to triage patients at hospital entrances and clear public wards of non-essential cases.”

Bateman next interviewed a mother who recounted how she had cleaned the house and taught her children personal hygiene.

Bateman: “Lena Tahar is reading with one of her four children. Gaza’s schools have shut until at least the end of this month as a precaution. For her, like many Palestinians, even the hand-washing advice is hard with an unclean water supply and regular power cuts.”

Listeners were not told of the reasons for the clean water and power shortages in the Gaza Strip.

Bateman: “In Gaza City the disinfectant spray squads are out on the streets.”

Listeners heard the “head of protective health department in Gaza municipality” tell them that his team was:

“Spreading the material that kills the microbe, kills the virus. Inshallah this procedure cover all the problem and solve the problem.”

Bateman: “But it might take more than that. There’s already been disquiet at more sweeping measures – like the month-long emergency declared in the West Bank with more than 30 confirmed cases – weren’t adopted initially by Hamas in Gaza. It’s feared infection could thrive amid the Strip’s deep poverty and in the crowded refugee camps – problems that 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.”

Bateman made no effort to clarify that the “recent bouts of fighting with Israel” were the result of attacks by the Palestinian Islamic Jihad (or how they “add to the crisis”), how exactly that “deep split” between Hamas and Fatah affects healthcare, water, sewage and electricity supplies in the Gaza Strip or why there are “refugee camps” in a territory which has been under Palestinian control for fifteen years.  

Bateman: “But some residents like Ibrahim Abu Leila hope the isolation could help ward off the latest health threat.”

Abu Leila V/O: “More than 11 years of blockade by land, by sea, by sky. The people that arrive here are counted. They come one day or two days and they leave. We don’t have hotels that tourists stay at so we don’t meet them, thank God. Maybe some good can come from the bad.”

Of course hotels do exist in the Gaza Strip and while normal tourism is understandably virtually non-existent in a destination ruled by a terrorist organisation, journalists, conflict tourists, foreign delegations and UN staff certainly do visit.

Bateman closed his report:

Bateman: “Gaza has so far avoided any confirmed Coronavirus cases. People know its impact could stretch their health system to the limit.”

That same observation is of course true in many other places around the world but as we see, the BBC made the most of the Coronavirus story to widely re-promote many of its long-standing mantras concerning the Gaza Strip even though no cases have been reported there so far.

Related Articles:

BBC Radio 4 airs superficial report on Israel’s Coronavirus measures

The limits of BBC News reporting from PA controlled territories

Hamas announcement puts a BBC narrative into perspective

 

 

Hamas announcement puts a BBC narrative into perspective

Earlier this week the Times of Israel reported that:

“The Hamas-run Health Ministry has urged Palestinians in the Gaza Strip to avoid travel abroad as the coronavirus continues to spread around the world.

No cases of the virus have been reported in Gaza, where more than 2 million people live, including many in densely populated neighborhoods.

“We call on citizens to not depart the Gaza Strip — unless totally necessary — in order to preserve their well-being,” the ministry said in a statement on Saturday. […]

The ministry also said that all persons returning to Gaza via the Rafah crossing would be required to quarantine themselves in their homes for two weeks.”

That announcement may come as something of a surprise to those accustomed to the BBC’s cross-platform portrayal of the topic of travel to and from the Gaza Strip – including that sourced from Hamas officials.

“Those in Gaza have great difficulty in travelling at all. There are only two crossings out: Rafah and Erez, controlled by Egyptian and Israeli authorities respectively.” (BBC Culture, September 2019)

“… we are under siege, we can’t…we can’t leave Gaza, you know. You need to wait one year if you decide to leave to study or to attend a festival outside of Gaza. So they need their rights.” (BBC World Service radio, August 2019)

 “…it’s just another reminder of how wrong it is that we can’t travel. It’s, you know, it’s unjust.” (BBC Radio 4, August 2019)

“…many young people, I mean, have simply never left Gaza. There’s huge restrictions on freedom of movement. I mean some people you talk to describe it as like living in an open-air prison.” (BBC Radio 1, May 2019)

“It’s not easy because Gaza’s like prison. It’s closed from all sides. The gates of Gaza are controlled by the occupation.” (BBC World Service radio, BBC News channel, BBC World News, May 2019)

“More than half of Gaza’s two million inhabitants live in poverty and rely on aid. And they’re prevented from leaving what is one of the most densely populated regions on earth.” (BBC Two, May 2019)

As has been noted here before, at the Erez crossing into Israel:

“Every day an average of 1,000 Gazan residents enter Israel through Erez Crossing. The vast majority of these people are those in need of medical treatment, but it also includes businessmen, industry professionals, students, individuals going to pray on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, and others.”

The Gaza Strip of course also has a border with Egypt and the territory’s other pedestrian crossing into a neighbouring country is located on that border. The Rafah crossing into Egypt has been mostly open since November 2017 and last May Ha’aretz reported that:

“According to data compiled by aid agencies affiliated with the United Nations, 60,907 Palestinians left Gaza via Egypt in 2018…”

While travel to and from the Gaza Strip may certainly not be straightforward, the Hamas-run health ministry’s announcement clearly shows the BBC’s standard portrayal of the subject to be partial and misleading. 

BBC’s Plett Usher does ‘ode to a reasonable Hamas’

On November 18th the BBC News website published an article by Barbara Plett Usher titled “Israel-Gaza clash: Why Hamas chose restraint”.

Plett Usher began with two inaccurate statements, one of which she later repeated.

“Last week’s surge of violence over Gaza was notably different from previous cross-border fighting: Hamas stayed out of it and Israel did not target its traditional foe. […]

Hamas, which governs Gaza, did participate in a joint operations room with other factions to discuss tactics. But it conspicuously did not launch any attacks.”

So did Hamas really ‘stay out of it’? Not exactly, according to Israeli officials:

“Hamas terror organization is responsible for the launch of two rockets at the southern city of Be’er Sheva overnight, sources in the defense establishment said Saturday. […]

Military officials estimate the launch was carried out by low-level Hamas militants on the ground, contrary to the position of the organization’s leadership that wants to put the latest flare-up behind them.”

And did Israel “not target its traditional foe”? Again, that claim is inaccurate.

“Israel struck Hamas targets in Gaza after Palestinians launched two rockets towards the southern Israeli city of Beersheba early on Saturday morning. The IDF believes Hamas was responsible for firing the rockets. […]

In retaliation the Israeli military said it struck a military camp, a compound for the group’s naval forces and underground terror infrastructure.”

Plett Usher went on to claim that the PIJ is “more radical” than Hamas.

“Paradoxically it confirmed that Israel and Hamas – Gaza’s main Islamist movement – are committed to pursuing strategic understandings to help keep the peace.

The fighting started when Israel carried out what it called the targeted killing of a top commander in the smaller, more radical Islamic Jihad group, claiming he was planning attacks that posed an imminent threat.”

Of course both the PIJ and Hamas are Islamist groups which reject Israel’s existence, strive for its eradication by means of terrorism and reject any efforts to resolve the conflict through negotiation. Plett Usher however did not trouble her readers with the finer points of either terrorist organisation’s ideology before extensively – and uncritically – quoting an official from Hamas’ ‘international relations office’. [emphasis added]

“That is because it was “in the Palestinian interest” to avoid an escalation, a senior Hamas official, Basem Naim, told the BBC. Gazans were already suffering enough due to dire conditions on the ground, he said, and “the regional and international atmosphere is not so helpful at this time”. […]

Basem Naim played down the differences between the two groups. He insisted Hamas had not abandoned its commitment to armed resistance against the Israeli occupation, what Israel and many Western countries call terrorism.

“Maybe we, based on our interests, sometimes decide to postpone or decrease our response [to Israeli strikes], but that doesn’t mean we don’t have the right to continue our struggle,” he said. “It is not our role to work as a police force for the occupation, and if we have to decide internally to stop, this is based on Palestinian dialogue, not a response to Israeli wishes or plans.””

Plett Usher of course did not bother to explain to BBC audiences that what Hamas means by “Israeli occupation” is the existence of Israel itself or that Israel withdrew every last soldier and civilian from the Gaza Strip fourteen years ago.

She did mislead readers with the claim that “Israel tightened its blockade of the Gaza Strip when Hamas reinforced its power there in 2007…” while failing to clarify that the Israeli security cabinet declared the Gaza Strip “hostile territory” in September 2007 – three months after Hamas’ violent take-over – due to a severe increase in terror attacks.

Plett Usher whitewashed twenty months of weekly violent rioting that regularly includes border infiltrations, shooting attacks, IED attacks, grenade attacks and arson attacks which have caused serious damage to thousands of acres of farmland and nature reserves in Israel as “protest marches”. She portrayed restrictions on the import of dual use goods and weapons to the Gaza Strip as “crippling” while failing to clarify that Israel facilitates the entry of thousands of tons of goods including medical supplies, food, fuel and building materials to the Gaza strip every week.

“But the trade-off is for Hamas to lower the temperature of weekly protest marches along Gaza’s border with Israel, and for Israel to ease its crippling blockade.”

Notably however, readers of this transparent amplification of Hamas’ narrative learned nothing of the long-standing tensions between Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad and the former’s failure to rein in Baha Abu al Ata which is the background to the recent round of conflict.

Related Articles:

BBC News avoids the word terror in report on strike on terrorist

‘Quite forthcoming with the confrontational approach’: guess what the BBC is describing

Rocket attacks on Israel prompt BBC WS interview with serial Gaza contributor

BBC R4’s Mishal Husain sells her listeners short with self-indulgence

BBC News website adheres zealously to editorial guidelines

BBC doublethink on display in report on rocket attacks

BBC abandons independent verification in reporting on Gaza casualties

What did BBC audiences learn from a PIJ leader interview?

BBC’s Tom Bateman frames ‘background’ to PIJ attacks

BBC’s Bateman misleads WS radio listeners on Israeli ‘policy’

Follow up to a story the BBC reported in April

Over the years BBC audiences have seen several reports concerning two zoos in Khan Younis and Rafah in the Gaza Strip.

April 2012: Gaza zoo resorts to displaying stuffed animals

“Mohamed Owaida from the Khan Younis Zoo says it is proving too costly to feed his living animals, and he can not always get live specimens through the Israeli blockade of the Gaza strip.”

August 2016: The last tiger to leave Gaza zoo

“He [the tiger] has lived with me through three wars. He saw disaster and terror. He lived through difficult nights. Like all of us, like me.”

“Dozens of animals died during fighting between Palestinian militants and Israel.”

August 2016: BBC Radio 4 ‘PM’, Yolande Knell

“Akram Mahali says daily life is a struggle. Neither he nor his six children have ever seen life outside Gaza and they’re not likely to any time soon. With Hamas in control of the Palestinian territory, both Israel and Egypt impose tight border restrictions and limit travel.”

“Then, just after dawn, the animals leave Gaza. Their suffering will soon be over but they leave behind Palestinians who continue to feel trapped.”

April 2019: Gaza zoo animals evacuated to Jordan by Four Paws group

“Mr Jomaa blamed the Israeli and Egyptian blockades of Gaza, which is controlled by the Palestinian militant group Hamas, and bad economic conditions for the squalid conditions in the zoo.”

Now the Times of Israel reports that the Rafah zoo has reopened.

“In April, international animal rights charity Four Paws took all the animals to sanctuaries, receiving a pledge the zoo would close forever.

But last month, it reopened with two lions and three new cubs, penned in cages only a few square meters in size.

Critics say the owners want to bully Four Paws or other animal welfare organizations into giving them thousands of dollars to free the animals into their care.

Four Paws paid the zoo’s owners more than $50,000 in the year before its closure for medical treatments, food and caretakers. […]

The newly reopened zoo’s manager, Ashraf Jumaa, from the same family that owned the old one, said they brought the new lions through tunnels from Egypt.”

Given the BBC’s previous record, should it decide to cover this latest development in the story it reported in April we can no doubt expect to see more politicised commentary blaming the conditions suffered by animals in Gaza zoos on inadequately explained Israeli counter-terrorism measures.

Related Articles:

BBC News claims Hamas rule in Gaza ended 5 years ago

BBC News corrects inaccurate ‘Palestinian unity government’ claims

 

 

 

 

 

BBC Culture promotes Palestinian pop and a political narrative

h/t AS

On September 17th BBC Culture published an article by freelancer William Ralston titled “The rise of Palestinian pop”. In among Ralston’s long portrayal of the Palestinian (and not Palestinian) music scene readers were served context-free political framing. The article opened by telling readers that: [emphasis added]

“Growing up in East Jerusalem, Bashar Murad turned to music for comfort in a life blighted by fractious political realities and the emotional pressures of being a gay man battling the conservative elements of his society. It also became a way of transcending the borders imposed on his life by the Israeli occupation; a medium to connect with the world outside.” 

As noted when he was previously featured in BBC content, despite those alleged “borders imposed on his life” Murad:

“…was educated in an American school in Jerusalem, attended Bridgewater College in Virginia [USA], and had his work sponsored by the United Nations’ Men and Women for Gender Equality program.”

None of that was however mentioned by Ralston, who went on to promote the notion of “Palestinians with an Israeli passport” even though the majority of Israeli Arabs do not self-identify as Palestinians.

“Since its launch four years ago, the spot has become a second home for Palestinians with an Israeli passport or those with documents allowing them to travel through Israel.”

Readers were told that:

“In cash-stripped [sic] Gaza, the smaller Palestinian territory, there are even fewer opportunities. Recording studios are scarce, and any equipment must be sourced from Egypt or Israel at an extraordinary premium. Hamada Nasrallah, vocalist for Sol, a seven-piece folk outfit from Gaza, explains that he had to sell off his possessions just to afford a guitar, only for it to be destroyed in the August 2018 Israeli bomb attacks on the Said al-Mishal Centre.”

Not only does that promoted link lead to a politicised and partisan report from the Guardian but readers were not informed that the ‘cultural centre’ was located in a building also used by Hamas’ interior security unit or that the strike came in response to over 180 missile attacks from the Gaza Strip against Israeli civilians.

The article failed to inform audiences that the reason why the population of the Gaza Strip suffers from a lack of electricity and clean water is internal feuding between Palestinian factions.

“The electricity shortages and lack of drinking water make it “hard to focus on music” because “we don’t have the basics to live”, MC Gaza, a local rapper, says. “

The writer’s failure to mention the decades of terrorism perpetrated by Hamas – which he euphemistically described as “the Islamist organization that governs the territory” – means that readers are unable to put his subsequent descriptions of restrictions on movement into their correct and full context – including the fact that in the week before this article was published 8,673 people used the Erez crossing.

“Exacerbating the problem are the restrictions on movement that Palestinians face, which means that many cannot travel abroad for gigs, or, significantly, meet with industry professionals. Special permits are required to enter Israel, which are rarely granted, especially not quickly. Palestinians have long had no access to airports in the Palestinian territories: those in Jerusalem and Gaza ceased operations around the turn of the millennium, so most Palestinians must travel to Jordan in order to fly anywhere, which costs around US$500 (£400) one-way.

Those in Gaza have great difficulty in travelling at all. There are only two crossings out: Rafah and Erez, controlled by Egyptian and Israeli authorities respectively. […] Erez, meanwhile, is also tricky, and, for reasons of security, only Israeli-defined categories of people, mainly those requiring urgent medical attention, are eligible for a permit. Permits are also granted to businessmen, students, and artists, but they are far from guaranteed…”

As is usually the case in BBC content, history in this article began in June 1967, with no mention of the fact that parts of Jerusalem were illegally occupied by Jordan in the 19 years that preceded the Six Day War or that Jordan chose to attack Israel in that conflict.  

“The position of those born in Jerusalem is uniquely complicated. After occupying and annexing East Jerusalem following the 1967 Six-Day War, Israel offered Palestinian residents Israeli citizenship but many refused, and instead took permanent residency, allowing them to live, work, and receive benefits in Israel. They have what’s called a ‘laissez-passer’, a travel document that allows them to pass through Israel, but they cannot pass into another country without a visa, which is hard to obtain because they don’t have any citizenship.”

The same lack of historical context appeared in a section in which Druze residents of the Golan Heights were described as ‘Syrian’ and the relevant factor of the closure of the Quneitra crossing because of the civil war in Syria was erased.

“Musicians in the Golan Heights face similar difficulties for the same reasons: Israel annexed the land, seized from Syria, after the Six-Day War. Although Syrian, the local musicians are considered part of the Palestinian scene because they’re subject to similar restrictions: they are not even allowed to travel to Syria, so they can pass through Israel and the West Bank only.”

Yet again Ralston failed to adequately clarify that if some of his featured musicians from Jerusalem and the Golan Heights do not have passports, that is because they have chosen to pass up the opportunity to apply for Israeli citizenship.

“All four members of TootArd, whom promoters regularly label as Palestinian, grew up in the village of Majdal Shams in the Golan area, and have permanent residency in Israel, but their official nationality is also ‘undefined’, and they have no passport.”

As we see what could have been an interesting article is seriously marred by the writer’s uncritical promotion of a politically motivated narrative which he advances by failing to provide the relevant background information and key context which would facilitate proper audience understanding of the topic.