BBC News parrots inaccurate claim from a politicised UN agency

On April 27th an article titled “Palestinian Authority ‘stops paying Israel for Gaza electricity’” appeared on the BBC News website’s Middle East page.  

“The West Bank-based Palestinian Authority has told Israel that it will stop paying for electricity supplied to the Gaza Strip, Israeli officials say.

There was no confirmation from the PA. But President Mahmoud Abbas has threatened “unprecedented steps” to end the political division with the rival Hamas movement, which dominates Gaza. […]

On Thursday, the Israeli military’s Co-ordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (Cogat) announced that it had been notified by the PA that payments for electricity supplied to Gaza would stop immediately.”

The report provides readers with accurate background information relating to the chronic power crisis in the Gaza Strip.

“Israel currently provides Gaza with 125MW, which accounts for 55% of the territory’s usual electricity supply. Israeli media say the cost is about $11m a month, which Israel deducts from tax revenue collected on behalf of the PA. […]

On 17 April, the Gaza Power Plant, which produced about 30% of the territory’s electricity supply, was forced to shut down completely after exhausting its fuel reserves and being unable to replenish them due to a shortage of funds.

Days later, malfunctioning power lines coming from Egypt, which accounts for 15% of the supply, exacerbated the outages.”

However, the broader background to the article’s subject matter is less accurately portrayed.

“On 12 April, Mr Abbas said Palestinians faced a “dangerous and tough situation” and that he was “going to take unprecedented steps in the coming days to end the division [between Fatah and Hamas]”.

He did not elaborate, but the PA has already cut the salaries of civil servants based in Gaza and taxed Israeli fuel for Gaza’s sole power plant.

On Wednesday, Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah said the salary cuts would stay in place until Hamas moved towards reconciliation.

“I think there is a golden and historic chance to regain the unity of our people,” he said. “Hamas should relinquish control of Gaza.””

Those “civil servants based in Gaza” are of course the former PA employees who have been paid to stay at home for almost a decade. As for the PA’s policy of demanding payment of fuel taxes, it is not – as suggested by this report – new, having first been introduced in 2015.

The BBC’s report does not provide readers with any further information concerning the apparent reasons behind Abbas’ moves – as explained at the Times of Israel two days previously.

“Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is set to issue a dramatic ultimatum to the Gaza Strip’s terrorist Hamas rulers, demanding that they either hand over governance of the area or face a funding freeze, sources close to the Palestinian leader said. […]

Among Fatah’s leadership there is a consensus supporting the measure. More than one senior official told The Times of Israel that there is no sense in maintaining the current situation.

“This time, Abbas is serious” one official said on condition of anonymity. “He doesn’t plan to drag things out and is unwilling to allow Hamas to continue to play games and drag its feet. It can either hand over authority in Gaza to us, or take responsibility and start to pay.”

Officials said that while Hamas is collecting tens of millions of dollars in taxes from the residents of Gaza, it is in no hurry to help the PA pay to run the Strip.

“It’s incomprehensible,” one official said. “In the past 10 years Hamas’s coffers have been enriched by more than a billion dollars in taxes, and yet they never shared the [financial] burden of the Strip. They invested most of it in their military wing.””

The ToI has also noted that:

“The renewed push by the PA to regain a foothold in Gaza comes ahead of Abbas’s meeting with US President Donald Trump at the White House next week. Ahead of the Washington confab, Abbas was under pressure to show that he represents all Palestinians, including those in Gaza.

In March, Hamas announced it would form an administrative committee to further its governance in Gaza. The announcement infuriated Abbas, who immediately began taking steps to squeeze Hamas out of power.”

As usual, readers of the BBC’s article were given a toned-down portrayal of the violent coup which led to the terrorist group taking control of the Gaza Strip in 2007.

“In 2006, Hamas won Palestinian Legislative Council elections. It reinforced its power in Gaza the following year after a violent rift with Mr Abbas’ Fatah faction.”

And yet again, the BBC could not resist promoting the false notion that the chronic shortage of electricity in the Gaza Strip is in part attributable to Israeli counter-terrorism measures.

“Gaza’s electricity supply has been also affected by restrictions on the import of goods imposed by Israel as part of a land, sea and air blockade that is now in its 10th year. Egypt is meanwhile blockading Gaza’s southern border.

Israel and Egypt maintain the blockades as a measure against attacks by Islamist militants based in Gaza.”

Interestingly, an almost identical statement is to be found in a document produced by UN OCHA to which a link is provided in this article’s fifth paragraph:

“Gaza’s longstanding electricity deficit has been also affected by the restrictions on the import of goods imposed by Israel as part of a land, air and sea blockade, now in its 10th year.”

Obviously if BBC journalists conducted their own research rather than blindly parroting claims made by a highly partial and politicised UN body, their reporting would be more likely to meet the BBC’s professed standards of accuracy.

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BBC ignores another story explaining the need for Gaza border restrictions

A video currently appearing on the BBC News website’s Middle East page includes the following statements:

“There are strict controls on the movement of goods and people going in and out of Gaza.

Israel and Egypt tightened their blockade after Hamas, a militant group, took control in 2007.”

Similar messaging – often with political overtones – is frequently seen in content provided to BBC audiences.

“Israel and Egypt maintain a blockade around Gaza aimed at preventing attacks by militants there, though the measure has been condemned by rights groups as a form of collective punishment.” BBC News website, February 13th 2017.

“…the stifling border closures the Israeli government says are for security, the people here say are for collective punishment.” BBC World Service radio, February 1st 2017.

“One of the reasons Gaza’s often described as the largest open-air prison in the world is the difficulty of getting across the border with Israel.” BBC World Service radio, May 19th 2015.

However, beyond the ‘Israel says’ mantra, BBC audiences rarely hear about the reasons why restrictions placed on the border with the Gaza Strip are necessary because Hamas terrorism is consistently ignored, downplayed or erased.

On April 19th another story illustrating the need for border restrictions came to light.

“Israeli authorities on Wednesday morning intercepted material used to manufacture explosive devices hidden inside spools of medical material at the Erez Crossing, the Shin Bet announced in a statement.

According to the statement, the material was located during the security check at the crossing in the luggage of two sisters who are residents of the Gaza Strip. The two women had been approved to enter Israel for the purpose of receiving medical treatment for cancer, which one of the two sisters suffers from.

An initial Shin Bet investigation indicated that the explosives were sent by Hamas and that the group was planning to carry out terror attacks in Israel in the near future, the statement read, adding that the material was destroyed by a sapper of the Southern District police force.

“The terrorist organizations in the Gaza Strip, including Hamas, continue to exploit the humanitarian and medical assistance provided by Israel to the residents of the Gaza Strip in order to perpetrate terrorist attacks in Israel.””

Predictably, the BBC has not found that story newsworthy.

As long as it continues to avoid reporting such stories and the broader context behind them, the BBC’s omission of vital information continues to shape audience views of Israeli counter-terrorism measures in a manner clearly incompatible with its supposed commitment to accurate and impartial reporting. 

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More BBC disinformation on Gaza power crisis

The chronic shortage of electricity in the Gaza Strip is – as frequently documented on these pages – a story that is consistently badly reported by the BBC. Rather than informing its audiences of the real reasons behind that permanent crisis, the corporation’s journalists regularly promote the entirely inaccurate notion that it is connected to the restrictions on entry of certain dual-use goods to the Gaza Strip that are part of Israel’s counter-terrorism measures.

In recent days the crisis was further exacerbated.

“The Gaza Strip’s only functioning power plant was not functioning Sunday after running out of fuel, the head of the Hamas-run Palestinian enclave’s electricity provider told AFP.

Samir Metir said that all the plant’s fuel, purchased with funding from Qatar and Turkey, had been used up.

He said it was not clear when the Palestinian territory would receive more, owing to a “dispute” between the electricity authority in Gaza and Palestinian authorities in the West Bank.

The Gaza Health Ministry warned of a humanitarian crisis as a result.”

As the Jerusalem Post notes, this is yet another chapter in a long-running dispute between Hamas and the Palestinian Authority.

“Hamas appealed to Ramallah on Monday to lift an onerous fuel tax which it said would force the Gaza power plant to shut down on Tuesday for the third day in a row.[…]

“We were surprised by the decision of the government [in Ramallah] to fully reimpose the taxes on the price of fuel used for operating the power plant,” the Gaza Energy Authority said on its web page.

The authority added that it “appealed” to Ramallah to waive the taxes. It further charged that Ramallah had delayed projects that would help resolve the electricity problem in Gaza.

A similar electricity crisis in December was resolved by tax-free donations from Qatar and Turkey that ran out last week. The Palestinian Authority in Ramallah is no longer willing to allow the plant to operate on tax-free fuel.”

On April 18th the BBC News website posted a filmed report – apparently also shown on BBC television news programmes – titled “Gaza power cuts: Man shares his tricks“. The report profiles an engineer from Gaza who has developed alternatives to mains electricity and the background to that story is described as follows:

“Power cuts in Gaza typically last 8 to 12 hours a day – sometimes longer. […]

There are strict controls on the movement of goods and people going in and out of Gaza.

Israel and Egypt tightened their blockade after Hamas, a militant group, took control in 2007.

Electricity is imported from both countries and there’s only one power plant.

Demand far outstrips supply.”

Leaving aside the predictable whitewashing of Hamas’ terrorism, obviously BBC audiences would understand – wrongly – that the electricity crisis in Gaza has something to do with the “strict controls” imposed by Israel and Egypt.

Not only is that not the case but the BBC has once again erased the real reason for the crisis from audience view.

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A Gaza border closure not deemed newsworthy by BBC News

Over the years BBC audiences have been regularly exposed to descriptions of the restrictions imposed by Israel on the import of munitions and dual-use goods to the Gaza Strip and the policies on entry to Israel from that territory that include inaccurate portrayals of the measures imposed and the reasons for them in distinctly partisan language. For example:

“Israel and Egypt maintain a blockade around Gaza aimed at preventing attacks by militants there, though the measure has been condemned by rights groups as a form of collective punishment.” [emphasis added] BBC News website, February 13th 2017.

“…the stifling border closures the Israeli government says are for security, the people here say are for collective punishment.” [emphasis added] BBC World Service radio, February 1st 2017.

“Israel says the blockade is necessary to prevent Hamas receiving materials that could be used for military purposes, but the UN has long been critical of it.

Last week Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called it “collective punishment for which there must be accountability”.” [emphasis added] BBC News website, July 3rd 2016.

“Gaza’s economy is definitely not able to support a population of 1.7 million people but that’s because of the siege imposed by Israel and Egypt.” [emphasis added] BBC Radio 4, July 19th 2014.

“And I have to say – and this is one of the oddest things – from the decrepit heart of a half-destroyed city in a besieged and blockaded enclave, sometimes described as the biggest open air prison in the world, comes the best ice cream I have ever tasted.” [emphasis added] BBC Radio 4, June 18th 2015.

“One of the reasons Gaza’s often described as the largest open-air prison in the world is the difficulty of getting across the border with Israel.” [emphasis added] BBC World Service radio, May 19th 2015.

On March 26th 2017, Hamas closed the Gaza Strip’s borders.

“Hamas closed the border crossing between the Gaza Strip in Israel on Sunday morning in the wake of the assassination of one of its commanders, Mazan Fukha.

As a result of the closing, neither Palestinians nor international representatives are allowed in or out of the strip.

The crossing, which [is] controlled by Hamas and situated after the Israeli Erez Crossing, will be closed until further notice, according to a statement by the Hamas Interior Ministry.

All other exit points from the Gaza Strip have also been closed in an effort to make it harder on Fukha’s assassins or their accomplices to leave the strip.

The Rafah border crossing, which connects the strip with Egypt, will also be closed by Hamas—even if Egypt decides to open it—while fishermen are barred from going out the sea.”

Subsequently, those restrictions on movement were partially eased.

“The Hamas terror group partially reopened a key crossing between the northern Gaza Strip and Israel on Monday, a day after shuttering the checkpoint while blaming the Jewish state for the assassination of one of its terror chiefs in the Palestinian enclave.

The terror group, which is the de facto ruler of the Strip, said the Erez Crossing would be open to anyone wishing to enter Gaza, but those leaving would remain restricted to senior politicians, the sick and families of prisoners.

Men between the ages of 15 and 45 are forbidden from leaving in all cases, while women of all ages who fall into the categories would be allowed to leave.

“From Monday morning, travel through the Beit Hanoun (Erez) crossing will be permitted temporarily for some categories,” a statement from Iyad al-Bozum, a spokesman for the interior ministry in the Palestinian enclave, said.”

As noted here previously, the BBC has chosen not to report the assassination of Mazen Fuqaha on its English language services and – despite its usually extensive coverage of Gaza border restrictions implemented by Israel – Hamas’ decision to impose closures on the borders and a ban on fishing have also not been deemed newsworthy.

Updates on a Hamas story under-reported by the BBC

In June 2016 the BBC Gaza bureau’s Rushdi Abualouf produced an article for the BBC News website titled “Gazans squeezed by triple taxes as Hamas replaces lost income“.

As was noted here at the time, Abualouf’s portrayal of Hamas’ “financial crisis” skimmed over the fact that the terror organisation’s prioritisation of rearmament and tunnel building plays a key role in the creation of economic and social pressures on ordinary residents of the Gaza Strip. The BBC’s correspondent preferred to focus audience attentions elsewhere:

“It [Hamas] has also faced a crippling blockade by Israel and Egypt and financial sanctions from other countries since it won Palestinian elections in 2006.”

“And Hamas’s financial crisis is unlikely to be solved soon with Israel and Egypt continuing their border closures amid fear of attack by militants from Gaza.”

In early February of this year the BBC’s Tim Franks visited the Gaza Strip. Citing “stifling border closures […] the people here say are for collective punishment”, Franks likewise painted a monochrome picture of dire poverty and deprivation for his World Service listeners which did not include any serious reporting on the subject of the Hamas policies which exacerbate the difficult conditions for residents of the Gaza Strip.

In the nine months since Abualouf’s article was published the BBC has not revisited the topic of Hamas’ draconian taxation policies. COGAT recently published an article which includes more up to date information.

“In April 2015 Hamas promoted a new economic plan which was characterized by the imposition of a new tax called “The Solidarity Tax”. Hamas had claimed that this new tax will help the poor of the Gaza Strip, however, in practice, most of the profits from the taxes have been transferred directly to the salaries of Hamas workers. At the same time, Hamas has been imposing new taxes on the Strip’s residents, both directly and indirectly, in addition to improving and expanding old taxes as well.

The most recent burden that Hamas has imposed on the residents of Gaza, with the aim of gaining more money delivered to its own pocket, is forcing merchants to pay off their taxes and debts before being allowed to leave the Strip. In February of 2017, Hamas released a new directive regarding the exit of businessmen and merchants from the Gaza Strip through Erez and Rafah crossings. The new directive stated that it was incumbent upon these businessmen and merchants to provide official documentation stating that they had settled their payments and debts with relevant government and local authorities before leaving the Strip. In addition, Hamas recently attempted to impose new taxes on construction materials, but the move was thwarted after rising resentment by Gaza’s importers and Israel’s threat to completely halt the import of construction goods to the Gaza Strip.

These days, Hamas is in the midst of an economic plan to increase their profits from taxes with the sole intent of using the profits for salary payments. In 2016, Hamas’ average monthly earning from taxation stood at 60 Million NIS, yet in February 2017, the profits from taxes already stood at about 100 million NIS, with the vast majority of these monies going to Hamas’ pocket rather than taking care of Gaza’s people in need.”

While the BBC is clearly aware of the effects of Hamas’ policy of augmented taxation on local residents and the terror group’s priority of military rehabilitation over social and economic issues, those topics continue to be under-reported even in direct coverage from the Gaza Strip.  

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BBC amplifies Gaza ‘collective punishment’ trope yet again

On the afternoon of February 13th an article titled “Hamas hardliner Yehiya Sinwar elected as Gaza leader” appeared on the BBC News website’s Middle East page. The report opens:sinwar-art

“The Palestinian militant group Hamas has elected a hardline commander of its armed wing as the movement’s overall leader in the Gaza Strip.

Yehiya Sinwar replaces Ismail Haniyeh, a former prime minister in the territory’s Hamas-run government.

Mr Sinwar was jailed in Israel for murder but freed under a deal when Hamas released an Israeli in 2011.”

Later on readers are told that:

“Yehiya Sinwar was jailed for four life terms by Israel in 1989 for a series of offences, including murder and kidnapping.

He was freed in October 2011 under a deal in which Israel released more than 1,000 Palestinian prisoners in return for a soldier, Gilad Shalit, who was kidnapped by Hamas militants in a cross-border raid in 2006.”

However, the BBC apparently did not find it necessary to inform audiences that Sinwar’s convictions relate to the murders of Palestinians, as has been noted by other media organisations reporting the same story, including the Times of Israel.

“Sinwar, sentenced to life in 1989 for murdering Palestinian collaborators with Israel, spent 22 years in Israeli prisons before being released in the 2011 prisoner exchange deal for IDF soldier Gilad Shalit.”

And:

“He [Sinwar] has boasted more than once of the manner in which he executed collaborators. At one point he became known as “The Man of the Twelve” for the twelve Palestinians, suspected collaborators, whom he murdered with his own hands. The number has gone up since then.

Sinwar is the man who established the Al-Majd intelligence unit, which operated against collaborators from the start of the first intifada. In a report written by Amit Cohen, a reporter for Ma’ariv at the time, Sinwar recalled how Hamas’s spiritual leader Sheikh Ahmed Yassin granted him a fatwa allowing him to execute anyone who confessed to collaborating. Wonder of wonders, they all confessed.”

Neither does the BBC article make any mention of the alleged involvement of Sinwar in the execution of Hamas’ own Mahmoud Ishtiwi last year.

Nevertheless, the report does include some relevant context not found often enough in BBC articles and a link to the Hamas Charter.

“Hamas rejects Israel’s right to exist and Mr Sinwar is known to oppose any compromise with the Jewish state.

Some Hamas leaders have suggested a long truce with Israel if it completely withdraws to pre-1967 ceasefire lines and lifts its blockade of Gaza.

The movement’s charter, however, calls for Israel’s destruction and it is designated a terrorist group by Israel, the US, EU and other world powers. […]

The militia has thousands of fighters and is believed to have rebuilt a considerable arsenal of weaponry since the last war with Israel.

It has also carried out scores of attacks with suicide bombers and fired thousands of rockets and missiles across the border since the mid-1990s.”

However, the next paragraph reads:

“Israel and Egypt maintain a blockade around Gaza aimed at preventing attacks by militants there, though the measure has been condemned by rights groups as a form of collective punishment.” [emphasis added]

The BBC knows full well that restrictions – such as those on the import of munitions and dual-use goods – implemented by Israel following the violent take-over of the Gaza Strip by a terrorist organisation almost a decade ago are necessary counter-terrorism measures and not ‘collective punishment’. But nevertheless, it once again misleads its audiences by amplifying that baseless propaganda trope. 

 

BBC WS radio ‘Newshour’ special from the Gaza Strip – part two

In part one of this post we discussed the earlier section of Tim Franks’ report from the Gaza Strip which was broadcast on the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour’ on February 1st (from 14:07 here) as part of a multi-part special feature.clip-newshour-1-2-power

A section of the report – including the baseless accusation of “collective punishment” – was later promoted separately by the BBC World Service on social media. 

Following a sketchy portrayal of the electricity crisis in the Gaza Strip and the related demonstrations which took place last month, Franks went on to interview Hamas’ Ghazi Hamad

Franks: “So what does Hamas have to say about the burdens and disillusions of so many of the two million Palestinians here in Gaza? And in particular about people now taking to the streets to protest? Ghazi Hamad is the deputy foreign minister.”

Hamad: “I think this is a natural thing. It’s not the first time and I think the authority here give this demonstration full support and permission.”

Franks: “Shots were fired in the air and some of the organisers were arrested.”

Hamad: “I think that the police that accompany they have been commanded to protect and to give full freedom to criticize Hamas. Look, I think all kind of [unintelligible] but when they started to destroy the company and destroy the tools and the doors and the windows and the equipment inside the [unintelligible] the police was obligated to interfere.”

Franks: “Did that really happen or was it just a few kids throwing stones?”

Hamad: “No-one is shot. No-one is wounded and maybe some people they have been taken to the investigation but I think all of them they are freed now.”

Franks: “I’ve got a bigger question which is the reason Gaza is in such a terrible place at the moment. I know you will say it’s because of the Israeli presence on the border of Gaza. I just wonder whether, given that nothing has changed for the better over the past ten years, you would give any thought to a…perhaps a more radical change from Hamas. That maybe it is time to engage in some way with the Israelis.”

Hamad: “I think you have to ask the question to the Israeli side.”

Franks: “I ask the Israelis but I’m asking you.”

Hamad: “Our experience with the Israelis – these people don’t want peace, they don’t want any kind of political solution.”

Franks: “Why don’t you test them?”

Hamad: “No, I mean if you look to President Abbas he tested them for ten years now. I think he’s a very moderate man. He believes in peace, believe in coexistence, believe in peaceful talks. He does not believe in intifada or armed struggle. He did everything in order to make the peace process successful but they are…”

Franks: “Except the Israelis can also say to him you don’t speak on behalf of the Palestinians ‘cos look at Hamas.”

Listeners then heard a statement from Hamas which is identical to the messaging they have been hearing from the BBC for weeks: the notion that Israeli building is the prime obstacle to the two-state solution.

Hamad: “But they are refusing every day. They say that he is not a partner, they opening more settlements, they are confiscating lands in the West Bank. No place for the two-state solution. I think…”

Of course Hamas rejects the concept of the two-state solution outright, but Franks chose not to challenge Ghazi Hamad on that point. 

Franks: “But it’s also very easy for the Israelis to say look, President Abbas, you don’t speak for the Palestinians. Look how powerful Hamas is.”

Hamad: “But look on something on the ground. OK, this is maybe my ideology, is my thoughts but what are you going on the ground…”

Franks: “Listen, I hear what you’re saying about the Israelis and believe me, I ask the Israeli government lots of tough questions about what they are doing but I’m asking you and I’m asking about Hamas and I’m asking about the fact that because, for example, the Hamas charter talks about a war with Jews it’s easy…”

Hamad: “No, no…”

Franks: “No – hang on – it makes it easier for the Israeli government to say we don’t have a partner here.”

Hamad: “No, no, no. Don’t judge to the charter of Hamas. If you look there’s big a change inside Hamas.”

Franks: “It still says in the charter it’s about a Manichean war with the Jews.”

Hamad: “No, no. Look to the statements and the new vision of Hamas. Hamas has started to participated in the elections. Hamas has said frankly we accept the ’67 borders.”

Franks: “Hamas also puts out statements when, for example, four rabbis are stabbed in West Jerusalem praising a magnificent operation.”

Franks is referring to the terror attack in Har Nof in November 2014 which resulted in the deaths of six Israelis and about which the BBC found it appropriate to interview Ghazi Hamad at the time.

Hamad: “Well I think we have the right to fight against occupation because we…”

Franks: “But we’re talking about four rabbis in West Jerusalem. They were stabbed. I mean this was a couple of years ago.”

Hamad: “Every day we have people [unintelligible]. People are under the occupation. We have to use all the means against the occupation.”

Franks: “Ghazi Hamad from Hamas here in Gaza. That rhetoric – using all means against the occupation – may be familiar, as may be the idea that Gaza is a by-word for confinement, for shortages, for a confrontation with no exit. But it’s also a place that can bubble with pride and energy and later in the programme you’ll meet a woman who embodies that. We’ll ask whether there’s any chance that Gaza can escape what is pretty much a slow, suffocating decline at the moment.”newshour-gaza-1-2-franks

Franks’ subsequent interview with web developer Rana al-Qirnawi can be heard from 45:08 here. Following that, listeners heard a conversation between Franks and programme presenter Owen Bennett Jones which included promotion of the debatable notion that people are radicalised by difficult conditions. 

Bennett Jones: “Now Tim, you were talking about Hamas earlier – talking to them – can you just give us a take on where Hamas stand now, how much popular backing there is, what’s the politics at the moment?”

Franks: “Well as far as Hamas are concerned, they say that they are fully in control and there is no doubt, Owen, that this place is a lot less unstable; it feels a lot safer internally than it did for many years…ehm…and when I used to come here. But there’s…there is also no doubt that some young people in particular are drawn towards harder line Salafist and Jihadist groups and, you know, this is something that I’m aware that senior figures in the Israeli security establishment have long been worried about as well: that as conditions deteriorate here, you are going to get increasing radicalisation – it’s just bound to happen.”

Bennett Jones: “Right and I think your sort of general purpose on this trip to…ah…to the Middle East is to sort of assess the viability of the two-state solution. What are your – as you start – what are your thoughts on that?”

Franks’ answer to that question reveals that he knows full well that Hamas is opposed to the two-state solution or any other kind of peace agreement with Israel – which of course begs the question why that crucial point is not sufficiently prominent in both his own reporting and the broader coverage by the organisation he represents.

Franks: “Well I’m… you know, these are the views in terms of this programme from Gaza. We’ve looked at Jerusalem earlier in the week. We’re going elsewhere later in the week. But in terms of Gaza the truth is, Owen – I mean yes; that was the starting point for this project – no-one’s really talking about it here. They haven’t been talking about it for years and it’s partly because there’s no real incentive to talk about it…ah…in public or with a journalist. After all, the official Hamas position is that in the long-term there’s no place for a Jewish state in the land of Palestine. But there’s a more immediate point I think…ahm…which is that, you know, the people here have far more direct concerns. It’s about the next meal, when is the power going to go off, how do you make money, what’s the water supply like – answer: not terribly good. So it’s those sort of much more quotidian dreary concerns that are driving people rather than any grand thoughts about a solution to all of this.

It is of course quite remarkable that a journalist could produce such a lengthy report (nearly 14 minutes long in total) from the Gaza Strip – especially one which purports to “assess the viability of the two-state solution” and includes an interview with a representative of Hamas – without uttering the word terrorism even once, without informing audiences of Hamas’ efforts to rehabilitate its military capabilities – including cross-border attack tunnels – and without mentioning the fact that it is those priorities which play a significant role in creating the difficult conditions for the residents of the Gaza Strip which he does report widely. Tim Franks, however, managed to do just that.

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BBC WS radio ‘Newshour’ special from the Gaza Strip – part one

 

BBC WS radio ‘Newshour’ special from the Gaza Strip – part one

The BBC World Service ‘Newshour’ special feature that began on January 30th with Tim Franks producing a long report from Jerusalem (see ‘related articles’ below) continued on February 1st with – as promised – a report from the Gaza Strip.newshour-gaza-1-2-franks

The report was divided into two parts, the first of which can be found at 14:07 here and Tim Franks introduced it as follows:

Franks: “When we talk about Israel and the Palestinians – like today; the announcement about the new buildings for settlers or the evacuation of illegal outpost – it tends to be Jerusalem or the West Bank that we concentrate on. But there’s one small strip on the map where the confrontation has congealed into something darker, something heavier. Every so often it erupts into scalding violence. It’s the Gaza Strip; home to two million Palestinians, controlled by Israel on three sides, Egypt on a fourth. The UN has said that the way things are going the enclave could be unfit for human habitation by 2020.”

Oddly, Franks’ scene-setting did not include informing his listeners that Israel disengaged from the Gaza Strip well over eleven years ago or that the “scalding violence” he described is inevitably the outcome of the continuing terror attacks against Israeli civilians, including thousands of missile attacks launched since that disengagement. Franks then proceeded to a topic which has been covered – albeit very superficially – by the BBC on several occasions in the past.

Franks: “You hear that? That’s the sound of Gaza by night: generators thumping and groaning away. The electricity at the moment, it only runs for eight hours a day: eight hours on, eight hours off. Pity the factory manager, the café owner. Hamam Aliaji [phonetic] is both: he bottles Pepsi by day, runs his coffee shop by night. Not easy.

Aliaiji: “I always say, the generator is my business partner as I put money for the generator or the electricity in general more than the money I get from here. For us to run our business, I pay a lot of money. The normal people they pay maybe 25% of their salary on power. We [have] had more than enough. The electricity, the borders, the tax – everything. It’s not possible to run a business now in Gaza; it’s very difficult.”

Franks: “Qatar has given some money, Turkey has given some money. That’s probably going to run out in a few months’ time. What happens then?”

Aliaji: “We’ll get three hours electricity a day. That’s it.”

Franks: “A gloomy prognosis from Hamam Aliaji; a man with a ready smile, high political ambitions by the way – he says he’d quite like to be president of Palestine in about 15 or 20 years’ time. And an unusual treat for his shisha-smoking, football-watching, card-playing clientele: on these cold Gaza nights he serves everyone at his café free cups of thick, lemony lentil soup.”

Yet again we see that the BBC avoids telling its audiences that the real reason for the perpetual electricity shortage in the Gaza Strip is a long-running disagreement between the Palestinian Authority and Hamas over the payment of excise taxes for the fuel that is used in the power station in Gaza. So while listeners were encouraged to “pity” the residents of the Gaza Strip, they were not informed of the background to their plight, just as they were subsequently not informed that the reason why many buildings there have not repaired is because of Hamas’ hijacking of construction materials for the purpose of terrorism.  

Franks: “Gaza’s everyday problems don’t stop though with unreliable electricity; the rest of the infrastructure is shot. A lot of recent war damage lies unreconstructed. The economy is lifeless, unemployment sky-high. So whose fault is it? People here wave their arms in many directions.”

Franks went on to present a caricature portrayal of the restrictions on the import of dual-purpose goods into Gaza while failing to adequately inform listeners of the terrorism that makes them necessary, playing the “Israel says” card and even amplifying the baseless accusation of “collective punishment”.  

Franks: “The Israelis first, for the stifling border closures the Israeli government says are for security, the people here say are for collective punishment.”

He also failed to inform listeners of a factor long under-reported by the BBC: Hamas’ collaboration with ISIS terrorists in the Sinai Peninsula.

Franks: “The Egyptians who control one border and hate Hamas’ links with the Muslim Brotherhood. The Palestinian Authority in the West Bank for its rivalry with Hamas. And Hamas itself – the Islamist movement which took over the running of Gaza amid much violence back in 2007. So the frustration people feel here runs deep and a couple of weeks ago, as the power supply sputtered ever more feebly, for thousands of Gazans that frustration boiled over. Ameer Balousha [phonetic] led a protest march towards the electricity company. The security forces broke up the demonstration, Ameer was arrested.”

Balousha (voiceover): “We were continue walking towards the power company but we were surprised by the amount of force we were seen by the security forces. The amount of bullets were shot at, they were massive. We are calling for our rights. We are not calling for any chaos. We were very certain and we were very clear from the very beginning that it’s peaceful movement. Even we were shouting during the protest that it’s peaceful.”

Franks: “Is it a bit risky, you talking to the BBC?”

Balousha (voiceover): “Of course; we’re from the very beginning understand this society and we know how risky is to do something against the regime. And we’re ready from the very beginning to take this responsibility because our cause is national cause. We are calling for our humanity, for our right and this is very simple. We know that it’s risky and it will continue to be risky.”

Franks: “So what does Hamas have to say about the burdens and disillusions of so many of the two million Palestinians here in Gaza? And in particular about people now taking to the streets to protest? Ghazi Hamad is the deputy foreign minister.”

However, listeners who at this point assumed that they were going to get some information on the serially under-reported topic of Hamas’ repression of opposition to its regime in Franks’ interview with BBC regular Ghazi Hamad would have been disappointed – as we will see in part two of this post.

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Another BBC WS ‘Newshour’ Israel special – part two

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A summary of the Gaza smuggling ignored by the BBC in 2016

During 2016 we documented several incidents of attempts to smuggle terror-related equipment and goods into the Gaza Strip – none of which was considered newsworthy by the BBC.kerem-shalom

BBC silent on latest Gaza Strip smuggling attempt

Israel seizes chemicals bound for Gaza – BBC yawns

Gaza terror smuggling again not newsworthy for the BBC

BBC policy of ignoring Gaza smuggling continues

Documenting the BBC’s continuing silence on Gaza smuggling

Israel’s Ministry of Defense recently published a summary of smuggling activity in 2016.

“The number of attempt to smuggle goods from Israel into the Gaza Strip rose 165% in 2016, the Ministry of Defense Land Crossings Authority reported today.

The Land Crossings Authority’s figures show that attempts to smuggle forbidden goods and items to the Gaza Strip increased over the past year. Such items are banned due to concern about strengthening Hamas and other terrorist organizations operating in the Gaza Strip.

The goods involved include military clothing items, laser systems, metal balls, aluminum and metal pipes, snappling equipment, diving suits, model airplanes, drones, disassembled commercial vehicles, engines, etc. […]

Ministry of Defense figures show that 175,000 trucks carried goods of various kinds to the Gaza Strip in 2016, and that 1,126 smuggling attempts were stopped.”

On the one hand, BBC audiences have frequently seen or heard restrictions on the movement of people and specific categories of goods in and out of the Gaza Strip inaccurately described as “collective punishment” or a “siege”. On the other hand, since the end of the 2014 conflict between Israel and Hamas, the BBC has shown no interest whatsoever in informing its audiences of terror-related smuggling attempts.

The result is that when the BBC tells its audiences that “Israel says” the restrictions on the import of weapons and dual-use goods into the Gaza Strip are for reasons of security, they have insufficient information to be able to put that statement – and the restrictions themselves – into the correct context. 

Obviously the BBC – which claims to be impartial and is tasked with building audience understanding of “international issues” – should be reporting stories such as those above in order to help its audiences understand the real reasons for the counter-terrorism measures which include restrictions on the entry of specific items to the Gaza Strip.

BBC News passes up chance to explain why Israeli counter-terrorism measures exist

The BBC’s portrayal of the reasons for restrictions on entry to Israel from the Gaza Strip is usually at best superficial and at worst misleading and politically motivated. Two months ago, for example, Yolande Knell made opportunistic use of a story about the rescue of neglected animals from a Gaza zoo for the promotion of a deliberately incomplete representation of those travel restrictions that made no mention of the factor which necessitates them: Palestinian terrorism.

“In Khan Younis at the Mahali [phonetic] family home, the children show me their plastic zoo animals and I tell them Laziz [the tiger] is moving to South Africa.”

“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.”

Voiceover Mahali: “There is nothing nice in Gaza. Really if I could I would take them out. I wish I could. There is no money, no happy life and there is no work. There are power cuts. I see now the animals are living better than humans.”

Knell closed that radio report with the following loaded statement:

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

That report was not atypical: in the past BBC audiences have seen or heard restrictions on the movement of people and specific categories of goods in and out of the Gaza Strip inaccurately described as “collective punishment” or a “siege”.

There is therefore all the more reason for the BBC – which claims to be impartial and is tasked with building audience understanding of “international issues” – to report stories which would help its audiences understand the real reasons for the counter-terrorism measures which include restrictions on entry to Israel from the Gaza Strip. One such story was recently cleared for publication.erez

“On 21 September 2016, at Erez Crossing, the ISA, in cooperation with the Israel Police, arrested Mahmoud Yusuf Hasin Abu Taha, a resident of Khan Younis, as he sought to enter Israel via the Erez Crossing ostensibly for commercial purposes.

During his investigation it was learned that he led a terrorist cell guided by Islamic Jihad in the Gaza Strip, and had been planning to carry out a large-scale terrorist attack at an events hall in the south and to abduct and murder an IDF soldier for bargaining purposes. 
 
It was also learned that Mahmoud Yusuf Hasin Abu Taha had been recruited by Wael Sufiyan Abu Taha, a senior Islamic Jihad terrorist, who resides in Gaza, and who had directed him to establish a military infrastructure and prepare to carry out the aforementioned attacks. Mahmoud Yusuf Hasin Abu Taha, in turn, recruited three additional cohorts who have also been arrested”.

Unsurprisingly, the BBC did not find that story newsworthy.

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