BBC WS history show yet again promotes political narrative

The subject matter of programmes in the BBC World Service radio history series ‘Witness‘ is often tied to an anniversary on or around the time of broadcast. That, however, was not the case in the programme’s October 4th edition – titled “Israel Withdraws From Gaza“.

Unusually, presenter Mike Lanchin travelled to the Gaza Strip to make a programme less than nine minutes long and also produced a filmed version which appeared on the BBC News website’s Middle East page on October 4th under the title “‘My house was occupied by Israeli soldiers’“.

In the audio version listeners heard a substantial amount of commentary from Lanchin himself, much of which was inaccurate and failed to provide them with the full story. In his opening words, Lanchin described the Gaza Strip as “Palestinian territory” without providing any explanation of the area’s history – and not least the fact that it was included in the territory designated by the League of Nations for the creation of the Jewish homeland.

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

Lanchin: “Today we’re going back to 2005 when Israel completed its withdrawal from the Gaza Strip after nearly 40 years of occupation. Around 8,000 Jewish settlers were evicted and all Israeli military personnel were withdrawn from the tiny Palestinian territory. I’ve been hearing from one young Gazan woman who was there when the Israelis left.”

Listeners then heard archive recordings from the time of the 2005 disengagement followed by the programme’s sole interviewee, Maisoon Bashir.

Bashir: “The people in the settlement they are very upset and angry because they don’t like to leave Gaza. And we hear the sound of the people in the settlement shouting ‘no; we don’t leave’.”

After a similar archive recording, Lanchin went on to present an editorialised account of the disengagement.

Lanchin: “There’d been weeks of violent confrontations between Jewish settlers and Jewish policemen and women and soldiers; a cause of anguish and shame for many Israelis. But now Israel’s 38 year occupation of Gaza was at an end. For 12 year-old Gazan Maisoon Bashir it was a moment of celebration.”

Bashir: “I was so happy because the simple thing that I am Palestinian, this is my land and you have to leave. And yes; they did.”

Following a recording of some sort of military confrontation, Lanchin purported to provide some historical background but could not even get the date of the Six Day War right – and that inaccuracy also appeared in the programme’s synopsis.   

Revealingly, Lanchin described that war as ‘Israel’s’ war and failed to clarify to listeners that the Gaza Strip had been belligerently occupied by Egypt in 1948 and that Jordan had belligerently occupied Judea and Samaria and parts of Jerusalem during the same conflict.

Absurdly describing an area which is between 30 to 55 kilometres wide as being “on the west bank of the River Jordan”, Lanchin inaccurately suggested that the people who chose to go to live there and in the Gaza Strip were ‘moved in’ by Israel. That inaccuracy also appeared in the filmed version in archive material from Jeremy Bowen and of course the accuracy of terminology is important because it is that false account of events which is used as the basis for the claim that Israeli communities in those areas are (or were) ‘illegal’.

Lanchin: “Israel had first captured the 40 kilometre long and 10 kilometre wide Gaza Strip during its Six Day War with Egypt, Jordan and Syria in October 1967. It then began moving its own people in – both to Gaza and to the newly occupied territories on the west bank of the River Jordan.  Over the next three decades, thousands of Jewish settlers set up home in heavily populated Gaza. One of the settlements – Kfar Darom – was built opposite Maisoon Bashir’s family home.”

Lanchin made no effort to inform listeners that the community of Kfar Darom was first established as a kibbutz in 1946 on land purchased in 1930 by a Jew from Rehovot called Tuvia Miller or that a Jewish community had existed in Gaza until 1929, when it was evacuated by the British mandate administration due to Arab rioting.

Bashir: “I remember just opening the windows of my room. I see the soldier in the settlement. When I ask my father who is here in this place? They are Jewish people.”

Lanchin: “It was a sight that Maisoon grew up with just across the dusty road from her home. Jewish settlers – many of them with young families – living in large, well-built compounds with schools, synagogues and shops, protected by Israeli soldiers. Maisoon’s family had lived in that part of central Gaza for several generations and had tomato and date plantations there. Her father was an English teacher and the principal at the local school.”

Bashir: “I remember that we go to the sea with my father in vacation, play in the garden, go with my grandfather to the greenhouses – the tomato greenhouses – and I remember that my aunts they visit us, my friends. So you feel like you are a normal person.”

Nowhere in his report did Lanchin make use of the words terrorists or terrorism. Instead terrorists were described as ‘militants’ and listeners heard practically nothing about the scores of fatal and debilitating attacks (including rocket and mortar fire) against Israeli civilians living in communities in the Gaza Strip.  

Lanchin: “But for Maisoon and her family such moments of normality were rare. Militant attacks on the settlements were becoming increasingly common. In 2000 there was an upsurge in the violence both in Gaza and in the occupied West Bank.”

Following an archive recording from the time of the second Intifada, Lanchin went on to repeat an inaccurate narrative frequently promoted in BBC content.

Lanchin: “The second Intifada – or uprising – against the Israeli occupation was sparked by a visit by the then Israeli opposition leader Ariel Sharon to the holy site of Haram al Sharif – or Temple Mount – in the Old City of Jerusalem.”

After another archive recording, Lanchin allowed Bashir to promote memories of unsupported speculation.

Lanchin: “Maisoon was at home when she first heard gunfire close by.”

Bashir: “The first thing that we hear that shooting from the Israelien [sic] soldiers – very heavy – and we feel like they would kill us. We were in this room. My father was in a school and my mother ask all of my brother and sister to enter this room because it’s the most safe one.”

Lanchin: “The next day more Israeli soldiers arrived and they proceeded to tell the family that they had orders to occupy their home, claiming that it had a strategic position as the tallest building in the neighbourhood.”

Bashir: They put all my family in one room and the rest of home was the things of the soldier. And they told my father that this place is like a military place. You have to understand that no-one allowed to enter your home and you cannot use the rest of your home. Soldiers live here and there so I feel like this is not my home. I ask my mother what’s that?”

Lanchin: “Friends and relatives begged Maisoon’s father to leave.”

Bashir: “My father say no. This is my place of my grandfather and I will die here.”

Lanchin: And so for the next five years Israeli soldiers occupied the top floors of the house, using it as a look-out post, while Maisoon and her brothers, sisters, mother and father were confined to the rooms down below. The family was allowed out in the day time but had a strict night-time curfew and strict controls on who could come and go. Their land round the house was destroyed.”

Lanchin failed to clarify why a plantation of trees would likely be seen as a security risk in a location in which terrorists repeatedly attacked a nearby civilian community. He then allowed Bashir to suggest that she did not have free access to school despite bringing no evidence to support that allegation.

Bashir: “I keeping all the night dreaming the day that the Israeli soldier will leave my home, my house, so I can go freely to school and do whatever I want.”

Lanchin: “But for Israel Gaza was proving a difficult occupation to maintain. Palestinian militant attacks inside Israel – many planned from within Gaza – were on the increase. Israeli military operations in response only served to strengthen the Gazans’ hatred of the occupiers. And so, by now prime minister Ariel Sharon unveiled plans to leave Gaza and to build a wall and a fence to separate the Palestinian territories from Israel as a way of defending against further militant attacks. By September 2005 the last of the 3,000 Israeli soldiers and the 8,000 Jewish settlers had left Gaza. As they pulled out, they destroyed their former homes, schools and synagogues.”

In fact the synagogue in Kfar Darom, along with several others, was not “destroyed” by Israel but was burned down by Palestinians shortly after Israel’s withdrawal from the Gaza Strip.

Listeners then heard a conversation between Lanchin and Bashir that took place in Gaza.

Bashir: “The whole thing that we see right now here is completely change.”

Lanchin: “Yeah, there’s no sign of the settlement now. There’s some rubble in the back.”

Bashir: “I trying to remember.”

Lanchin: “Trying to remember.”

Bashir: “Yeah.”

Lanchin: “More than a decade on, I’m with Maisoon on the flat rooftop of her home which once served as a military look-out for the Israeli soldiers.”

Bashir: “And here was like the road for the Israelien [sic] jeep and the bulldozer and this place for the soldiers here.”

Lanchin’s closing remarks failed to adequately clarify to listeners that the Israeli disengagement from the Gaza Strip did not bring an end to Hamas terrorism against Israeli civilians – or why. While describing the territory as “largely closed off to the outside world” he failed to explain the role of Hamas’ policies in creating that situation and refrained from explaining that under the terms of the Oslo Accords the Gaza Strip’s coastal waters and airspace remained under Israel’s control and that no changes were made to those terms in subsequent agreements between Israel and the PA signed after Israel’s withdrawal from the Gaza Strip in 2005. 

Lanchin: “On this scorching sunny morning in central Gaza it’s hard to imagine the tension and fear that dominated the lives of people like Maisoon and her family. Yet all you have to do is look around at the half-standing buildings damaged in the repeated military confrontations that have taken place since withdrawal between Hamas militants who now rule Gaza and the Israelis and you’ll understand how little has been achieved in the intervening years. Today Gaza remains largely closed off to the outside world with its borders, airspace and waters controlled by Israel and Egypt. Hamas still threatens more attacks on Israel. Maisoon – who’s now 25 – longs to go abroad to study and although she comes across as a confident young woman brimming with energy, when she speaks there’s a sadness and a resignation underlying her words.”

Bashir: “I used to be a positive – as my father told me – but you have to look to the reality and the reality right now is a very difficult. I wish that in the future it will be like Palestinian, Jewish together to speak and doing. OK but before that, give me my rights.”

Lanchin: “Maisoon Bashir was speaking to me, Mike Lanchin, in Gaza for this edition of ‘Witness’.

This report by Mike Lanchin is not, as noted above, timed to coincide with an anniversary and its featured interviewee does not have a particularly historically important story to tell. One might therefore wonder why Lanchin travelled all the way to the Gaza Strip to interview a specific person who was a child at the time of the disengagement.

Maisoon Bashir describes herself as follows:

“I have been asked to introduce myself. I am wondering how I should, as an activist or a journalist, who tries to raise the voice of Palestine? Both are true, but I prefer to introduce myself just as a Palestinian girl, because my nationality is a testament to the authenticity of my homeland and the injustices borne by my people.”

Her activism is given a platform at a site called ‘We Are Not Numbers’ that is linked to a political NGO currently called ‘Euro Med Rights’ (which has Richard Falk as chair of its board of trustees) and which was founded by a self-described “social justice activist” called Pam Bailey who is also associated with Code Pink. Bashir’s writings have also been posted at the Hamas linked outlet MEMO.

BBC audiences, however, were not informed that they were in fact listening to a political activist (in breach of BBC editorial guidelines on impartiality) and neither were they given any insight into how Mike Lanchin was introduced to her story or why he visited the Gaza Strip (where the BBC has a staffed local office) to interview her.

Once again we see that the radio show touted by the BBC World Service as a ‘history’ programme is in fact used as a vehicle for the advancement of one-sided political narrative.

Related Articles:

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BBC exploits Sharon’s death for more promotion of second Intifada falsehood

Resources:

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The BBC World Service’s Hamas-Fatah ‘unity’ binge – part three

As documented here previously (see here and here) the afternoon edition of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour’ on September 17th devoted over a third of its airtime to coverage of a 106 word statement put out by Hamas earlier that day.

That subject was also the lead story in the evening edition of ‘Newshour‘ on the same day.

“In the Palestinian territories, Hamas – the faction that’s ruled the Gaza Strip for the past decade – says it is willing to dissolve the body that oversees the territory and to allow a unity government to sit ahead of new elections. We get reaction from an Israeli MP and a senior Hamas official.”

Presenter James Coomarasamy’s dramatically worded introduction to the first part of the twelve minute-long item (from 00:47 here) once again misled listeners by implying that the 2006 PLC election was confined to the Gaza Strip and that Hamas has ruled the territory since 2006 rather than 2007.

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

Coomarasamy: “Now we begin with a slim shaft of light piercing the darkened corners of the moribund Middle East peace process. It holds out the potential for reconciliation; not yet between the Israelis and Palestinians but within the Palestinian political family itself. Hamas – the faction that has ruled Gaza for the past decade – says it’s willing to dissolve the body that oversees the territory and allow a unity government to sit ahead of new elections. That government would be headed by the 82 year-old leader of the Palestinian Authority Mahmoud Abbas whose Fatah faction lost the election in Gaza in 2006 and whose rule has since then been confined to the West Bank. Hamas – regarded as a terrorist organisation by the United States, the European Union and Israel among others – agreed to the change at talks in Cairo. Well Gaza has long been subject to a blockade by Egypt and Israel and in recent months there’s been added pressure from the Palestinian Authority which has significantly reduced the electricity supplies to the territory. So will this agreement stick or will it quickly peel away like previous expressions of unity? The long-suffering citizens of Gaza are divided.”

After listeners had heard two ‘random man in the street’ interviews, Coomarasamy went on to present an edited version of his previous conversation with Fatah’s Nabil Shaath, including the unchallenged description of the Israeli government as “colonialist”.

Shaath: “I do not see how we can face Netanyahu and his extreme right-wing settler colonialist government and we cannot really make use of any potential changes in the world if we are not united.”

Coomarasamy then spoke to MK Sharren Haskel, finding it necessary to make a clarification at the end of their conversation:

Coomarasamy: “Sharren Haskel, that Likud party MP there, referring during the interview to Mahmoud Abbas as Abu Mazen and Judea and Samaria…eh…also…eh…known as the West Bank.”

Listeners next heard analysis from BBC Jerusalem bureau correspondent Yolande Knell which was similar to her contribution in the earlier edition of the programme and repeated the claim that:

Knell: “…Israel always accuses Mr Abbas of not representing all the Palestinian people…”

Knell also told listeners that “positive comments” from the UN’s Middle East peace process coordinator should be interpreted as “acknowledgement that Hamas must be brought into the political scene”.

Later on in the programme (from 30:08 here) Coomarasamy again returned to the same topic.

Coomarasamy: “Let’s get more now on our main news today: the news that the Palestinian group Hamas has agreed to dissolve the body which controls the Gaza Strip and to allow a unity government to oversee that territory before the first election there since 2006 takes place. Well, earlier in the programme we heard reactions to this agreement – that was announced after talks in Cairo – from the rival Palestinian faction Fatah and from an MP with the ruling party in Israel. Well, for more insight into why the decision was taken, I’ve been speaking to Ghazi Hamad who’s a senior Hamas official in Gaza.”

Throughout that interview BBC regular Ghazi Hamad made repeated references to the ‘peace process’ which of course has been completely rejected by Hamas throughout all its decades of existence – although Coomarasamy made no effort to clarify that relevant point to his listeners.

Hamad: “The Egyptians succeeded to convince them [Hamas] that now it’s a good time now to start reconciliation with Fatah factions and because the miserable situation of the region and because of the problems in the peace process. So we need now to bring the policy and together and they succeed to convince Hamas that you have to show more flexibility.”

Coomarasamy: “What’s convinced Hamas then that this is the right time? What has convinced Hamas that these are the right conditions?”

Hamad: “You know, you know before that many people involved and there were many mediations between Hamas and Fatah but Hamas was doubtful about the intention of the president Abu Mazen to implement the agreement. So they found that Egypt is a big country and Egypt could be a good guarantee. They can give some assurances that they can keep and protect the agreement.”

Coomarasamy: “What about the pressure that’s been placed on Hamas, on Gaza, by – well, obviously by years of a blockade from both Israel and Egypt – but more recently by the electricity being cut off for many hours during the day? What role has that played in this decision?”

Listeners then heard that Hamas is “suffering” and – as was the case with one of his previous interviewees – Coomarasamy failed to challenge the inaccurate depiction of counter-terrorism measures as a “siege”.

Hamad: “I don’t…I don’t deny that [the] situation in Gaza’s very, very hard. People are suffering. Hamas is also suffering because not easy now to rule Gaza and the policy of the political isolation from the international community, from the blockade and siege on Gaza from the Israeli occupation and also from some action taken by the President Abbas against Gaza, ‘specially when he cuts part of the electricity and he stop paying salaries and paying some services in Gaza. I know that Hamas is working hard in order to offer services for people but I know it’s not easy for them to continue for [a] long time.”

Predictably, Coomarasamy refrained from asking Hamad why Hamas did supply electricity to the homes of its own officials even as the ordinary people in Gaza had to make do with three hours a day or why the terror group prioritises spending on weapons and tunnels over the welfare of the civilians in Gaza.

Coomarasamy: “Why is this going to be any more successful than previous attempts to form a government of national unity that have come to nothing?”

Hamad: “For many reasons. First of all I think that President Abbas he needs to show the world that he is the president for the whole Palestinian territories and now because he’s going now to give a speech in the United Nations and to meet the President Trump and he want to show that he’s real represent for the Palestinian people. And the same time because he is suffering that the peace process is failed and now there’s no horizon for the peace process and also big division affects the ability of the Abu Mazen to achieve any achievements or goals from the Israeli side. And the same time because Hamas also the big crisis in Gaza and they need to get out from this crisis and to reduce the burdens on their shoulders because they have 2 million people who need services and health, education, sewage, water and you know the situation in Gaza is not easy. So I think both of them they need each other. They need now to work together to find a new track for struggling against the occupation and the same time for improving the services, especially in Gaza.”

Coomarasamy: “The Israelis are very sceptical that this will come to anything and this will make any difference whatsoever to the peace process.”

Hamad: “I think Israel is not interested in peace. I think that Israel will try now – they will try – to uproot all the Palestinians at terms no to be united because it’s the interest – a big interest for Israel – to keep West Bank isolated completely from the Gaza Strip and to make a split between Hamas and Fatah. This is a golden opportunity for Israel to continue its colonial project especially in the West Bank and Jerusalem. I think that it’s time now for Hamas and Abu Mazen to understand there is no other choice. We have to work together and we have to struggle against the occupation.”

Failing to challenge that additional allegation of ‘colonialism’, Coomarasamy closed the softball interview there. As we see, although he did find it necessary to clarify to listeners that Judea & Samaria is “also known as the West Bank”, Coomarasamy did not ask Hamad to clarify his use of the term ‘occupation’ or challenge Hamad’s preposterous allegations that Israel is responsible for both the lack of progress in the peace process and the Hamas-Fatah split. Most importantly, Coomarasmay avoided the all-important question of whether this particular ‘unity deal’ will mean compliance with existing agreements between the PA and Israel – including the disarmament of terror groups.

Although ‘Newshour’ devoted nearly a third of the airtime in its two September 17th editions to this one story, listeners heard little information crucial to its proper understanding. They did however hear completely unchallenged politicised messaging on a ‘siege’ and ‘colonialism’ that do not exist.  

Related Articles:

The BBC World Service’s Hamas-Fatah ‘unity’ binge – part one

The BBC World Service’s Hamas-Fatah ‘unity’ binge – part two

Superficial BBC reporting on Hamas-Fatah ‘unity’ returns

 

 

The BBC World Service’s Hamas-Fatah ‘unity’ binge – part two

As was noted in part one of this post, the lead story in the afternoon edition of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour‘ on September 17th was centred around the 106 word long statement put out by Hamas earlier that day.

Following the earlier report on that story – which was over twelve and a half minutes long – the same programme also aired an additional item on the topic which brought the total time allotted to the subject to over twenty minutes.

Presenter James Coomarsamy introduced the second item (from 45:06 here) thus:

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

Coomarasamy: “Let’s return now to our main story today: the announcement by the Palestinian group Hamas that it will dissolve the administration that runs Gaza and hold talks with its rival Fatah about forming a government of national unity and holding elections. I’ve been discussing this with the Palestinian academic Khaled Hroub – he’s a professor of Middle Eastern studies and the author of two books on Hamas – and Oliver McTernan, the director of the mediation group ‘Forward Thinking’ who’s been working on bringing the sides in the Middle East closer together. So why does he think Hamas has done this now?”

BBC audiences have heard from both Qatar-based Khaled Hroub and from the director of the UK charity ‘Forward Thinking’ on previous occasions but it would of course have been helpful to listeners trying to put the ‘analysis’ they heard into context had they been informed that McTernan is a proponent of the view that being a terror organisation committed to Israel’s destruction should not disqualify Hamas from governing the Palestinian Authority or being part of negotiations to resolve the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Unfortunately, Coomarasamy did not comply with the BBC’s editorial guidelines on impartiality which require the “particular viewpoint” of contributors to be clarified in advance.

Given McTernan’s approach, his promotion of Hamas favoured terminology by inaccurately describing the restrictions on the entry of dual-use goods into the Gaza Strip as a “siege” was not unexpected. Coomarasamy however did not challenge that inaccurate portrayal or the false linkage McTernan tried to create between Israel’s counter-terrorism measures and the electricity crisis in Gaza.

McTernan: “Of course life for ordinary people in Gaza is under tremendous pressure at the moment because it’s almost ten years of siege and that means that the flow of goods, the flow of people and in particular the current situation on electricity – where you have roughly three hours a day for the average person – is putting a lot of strain on ordinary life in Gaza.”

Neither was it much of a surprise to hear McTernan later repeat his long-held view that the international community should have embraced the terror group’s victory in the 2006 PLC election.

McTernan: “…so I think what’s needed now is a wise action by both leaderships [Hamas and Fatah] to say we move into a situation where we can share power and then we go back to the electorate and stand for election and both sides should be committed this time round to fully respecting the outcome of the election. Because 2006 was recognised as one of the most open and fair elections in the Arab world and sadly the international community were responsible greatly for not respecting that outcome.”

The very relevant fact that Hamas is a terrorist organisation that rejects recognition of Israel’s right to exist and the question of how that can possibly align with the Palestinian Authority’s existing commitments to agreements signed with Israel was not raised by Coomarasamy in this item even when McTernan pontificated on what Israel should do.

McTernan: “I think if Israel had wisdom they would see Palestinian division is in fact not in their interest. It’s both in their immediate and long-term interest first of all to see stability both in Gaza and in the West Bank and secondly to allow the Palestinian political leadership to form itself in a way that can truly represent the Palestinian cause and therefore be an effective partner.”

McTernan’s later additional inaccurate references to a “siege” likewise did not produce any challenge from Coomarasamy.

McTernan: “…the reality of the situation in the region is that Abbas or Hamas don’t control the freedom of movement so I think Israel is a big player in this. They control what goes into Gaza, who can come out, who can go in. I think what needs to be looked at is the whole siege of Gaza and I think that will require much more international determination both from the West and from the Gulf countries and Egypt to sort of say to Israel ‘look, it’s not in your interest to keep the siege going’.”

In among McTernan’s barely concealed advocacy of Hamas talking points listeners did hear some relevant points raised by Khaled Hroub, including clarification of the significance of Egypt’s closure of its border with the Gaza Strip, the relevance of Egypt’s concerns about the ISIS presence in Sinai and the fact that after ten years of unaccountable absolute power, Mahmoud Abbas might be less willing to embrace parliamentary limitations and accountability. Those topics were not however explored further.

While over twenty minutes of coverage of a 106 word statement from Hamas might seem generous or even excessive, the binge was not yet over: the later edition of ‘Newshour’ on the same day also led with the same story and that will be discussed in a future post.

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Superficial BBC reporting on Hamas-Fatah ‘unity’ returns

The BBC World Service’s Hamas-Fatah ‘unity’ binge – part one

The BBC World Service’s Hamas-Fatah ‘unity’ binge – part one

On September 17th the afternoon edition of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour‘ devoted over a third of its one hour of airtime to its lead story – billed “Hope for Unity in Palestinian Territories”.

“Hamas, who govern the Gaza strip, have agreed to steps towards ending a long feud with their rivals Fatah who govern the West Bank.”

Presenter James Coomarasamy introduced the item (from 00:11 here) with an odd portrayal of the 2006 Palestinian Legislative Council election as relating to the Gaza Strip only.

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

“And we’re going to start with a long-awaited and potentially significant political gesture in the Middle East. It’s not directly related to the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians but to the internal Palestinian struggle which has a bearing on the hopes for peace. It’s a gesture that comes from Hamas; the Palestinian faction that won control of the Gaza Strip from its rival Fatah in an election in 2006 and took full control of Gaza by force a year later. Well Hamas is still considered a banned terrorist organisation in many parts of the world and its presided over a decade of increasing desperation for its citizens. Gaza is subject to a blockade by Israel and Egypt and in recent months its citizens have faced an extra squeeze with the reduction of their electricity supply. But now, in talks presided over by Egypt, Hamas has agreed to dissolve the administration in Gaza with a view to holding a future election. We’ll discuss what lies behind that decision and what it might lead to in just a moment but first, a reminder of what daily life is like in Gaza. Najla is a mother of two young children. She was born in Gaza and has lived there all her life and she spoke to Newshour last month.”

Listeners then heard an edited version of the long monologue from the inadequately introduced Oxfam employee Najla Shawa that BBC World Service listeners had already heard on September 3rd. Repeating her claim that the Gaza Strip is “a big prison”, Shawa added to Coomarasamy’s misleading and inaccurate implied linkage between the electricity crisis in the Gaza Strip and Israeli counter-terrorism measures in the form of border controls.

Next Coomarasamy introduced Yolande Knell who presented a factual picture of the Hamas announcement previously described by him as a “gesture” – although listeners may have been surprised to hear Knell describe “the administrative committee it [Hamas] set up in March” as “really controversial” given that the BBC has not previously reported on that topic.

Following an account of Egypt’s role in the appearance of Hamas’ announcement, Knell gave an accurate portrayal of some of the methods used by Mahmoud Abbas to pressure Hamas.

“Well some people are quite surprised that they [Hamas] have made these concessions, as they’re seen, particularly for example getting rid of this administrative committee. Previously it had said that it wouldn’t take these kinds of steps until the Palestinian Authority lifted some of the measures that it’s imposed upon Gaza in recent months because we’ve really seen this political divide between Hamas and Fatah deepening recently with President Abbas trying to pile on the political pressure and now you have only four hours on, sixteen hours off when it comes to mains electricity in Gaza. There’s been a longtime energy shortage but it’s got much worse because the PA put up a fuel tax for the sole power plant in Gaza. Then it instructed Israel to reduce mains electricity that it provides to Gaza. This is having effects on hospitals, on waste water management, with sewage being pumped into the sea and it’s also having a big economic effect. It also slashed the salaries for civil servants – PA civil servants – who were still receiving their salaries in Gaza.”

Although Knell has produced one reasonable report on the topic of the Gaza electricity crisis in the past, for the most part content on that topic produced by her and other BBC journalists has encouraged audiences to mistakenly believe that there is a connection between that crisis and Israel.

Coomarasamy then introduced “a view from Fatah” given by Abbas’ advisor Nabil Shaath. However, when Shaath stated that “many of us have some hesitation about the degree to which Hamas will be willing to go to the details”, he failed to question him further, passing up the opportunity to enhance listener understanding of the potential pitfalls that have dogged previous ‘unity’ agreements.

Shaath’s propagandist portrayal of Israel’s government as “colonialist” did not prompt comment or challenge from Coomarasamy.

Shaath: “I do not see how we can face Netanyahu and his extreme right-wing settler colonialist government and we cannot really make use of any potential changes in the world if we are not united.”

BBC audiences used to hearing from journalists and Palestinian commentators alike that Israel is responsible for the humanitarian conditions in the Gaza Strip may well have been surprised by Shaath’s admission of Hamas responsibility for the situation of the people of Gaza.

Shaath: “…Hamas has done much worse. Hamas destroyed their opportunities. Hamas subjected them to risks that they couldn’t take. Hamas led them into a life of isolation…”

Following his conversation with Shaath, Coomarasamy returned to Yolande Knell and – in contrast to the BBC’s written report on the topic – listeners were told of some of the factors that will affect any ‘unity deal’.

Knell: “The devil now I think is in the detail with what happens. We’ve seen this when previous arrangements have broken down. Who are going to be the key players in a national unity government? What’s going to happen about managing the border crossings? Will PA security forces be allowed to function in Gaza once again? What will happen then to the Hamas security forces – which is what you see on the street at the moment doing everything from…eh….controlling traffic.”

Listeners also heard a very rare acknowledgement of the reason for the collapse of negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians in 2014: an outcome portrayed at the time by the BBC’s Middle East editor as being entirely attributable to Israel.

“Israel of course views Hamas as a terrorist group, as does the US, the EU and others. And we’ve had some Israeli commentators pointing out how this actually makes things very difficult for Mr Abbas because when there was a national unity government agreed more than three years ago, this was a trigger for the failure of the last round of peace talks.”

Knell did however come up with some bizarre spin on the fact that the PA president – whose elected term expired in January 2009 – has no control over – or presence in – part of the territory he supposedly heads.

Knell: “…Israel always accuses Mr Abbas of not representing all the Palestinian people; of being weak in a way.”

Although listeners did hear some important information in this item that has long been absent from BBC coverage, one aspect of the story ignored throughout the discussions on the topic of the reasons behind Hamas’ announcement is that of the public unrest that apparently prompted Hamas to make a large purchase of fuel earlier this month. As the Times of Israel’s analyst noted

“[Hamas leader] Haniyeh understands that, with little hope on the horizon, the severe economic crisis in Gaza can end in one of two ways: war with Israel, which could decimate the movement’s leadership and turn the population against it, or a “Gaza Spring” that would have similar results.

The best he can do under the circumstances is compromise, even if others say he caved in.”

The second item in this programme relating to the same topic will be discussed in part two of this post.

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Superficial BBC reporting on Hamas-Fatah ‘unity’ returns 

 

 

Gaza power crisis development unravels BBC messaging

When some residents of the Gaza Strip took to the streets last winter to protest their inadequate electricity supply, the BBC News website produced two written reports on that story and the BBC World Service programme ‘Newshour’ aired a special report by Tim Franks from Gaza that included a ‘softball’ interview with a Hamas representative.

None of those reports, however, provided BBC audiences with a clear and factual explanation of the reasons behind the Gaza Strip’s electricity crisis. Since then the BBC has produced more reports which (with few exceptions) have been similarly unhelpful (see for example here, here, here, here and here) even to the point of steering audiences towards the inaccurate impression that the crisis is connected to Israeli counter-terrorism measures along its border with Gaza.

As was noted here in June, Hamas could have paid for the Gaza Strip’s electricity supply after the Palestinian Authority exacerbated the crisis earlier this year had it wished to do so and were its priorities not focused on expanding its military capabilities.

Now, however, a report at the Times of Israel suggests that Hamas is eager to avoid a repetition of last winter’s public unrest.

“Hamas has recently bought large volumes of diesel fuel from Egypt in an effort to increase the output of the Gaza Strip’s only power station, after months of refusing to shell out money to provide electricity to the Palestinian enclave’s residents. […]

The purchase of some 30 million liters of diesel from Egypt, at a cost of NIS 90 million ($25 million), marks a change in attitude on the part of Gaza’s rulers, likely indicating a bid to stave off a repeat of street protests that roiled the enclave last winter. […]

Hamas, a terror group that is the de facto ruler of the Strip, has refused to pay for Israeli electricity, claiming the PA is responsible for funding it, while spending millions of dollars of military infrastructure. Earlier this year the PA reduced the amount of electricity it was willing to pay for, and as a result electricity supplies in Gaza were reduced from six to four hours followed by a 12-hour blackout.”

Given that this apparent development undermines previous BBC messaging suggesting that the Gaza power crisis is related to Israeli border controls (which have even been presented as “collective punishment“), it remains to be seen whether or not BBC audiences will be informed that Hamas is able to import fuel at will.

Related Articles:

BBC News again avoids telling audiences real reasons for Gaza power crisis

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

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

 

 

 

 

  

BBC WS ‘big prison’ framing of Gaza Strip misleads audiences – part two

In part one of this post we discussed the first part of an item about the Gaza Strip aired in the September 3rd edition of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Weekend‘ (from 26:30) which ended with presenter Paul Henley saying:

Henley: “Najla – a mother of two young children with impeccable English who lives in Gaza. And she paints a grim picture of a place to live, of a quality of life, Stewart.”

Studio guest Stewart Purvis for some reason responded by bringing up an unrelated BBC linked story and misleading listeners with regard to Israel’s disengagement from the Gaza Strip in 2005 during which all the communities in – rather than “around” – Gaza were of course evacuated. [emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]

Purvis: “Yes; very, very depressing to listen to and it’s actually about ten years since I was last in Gaza visiting the BBC bureau there and I came away pessimistic and I suppose my pessimism was partly confirmed when a few months later the BBC correspondent Alan Johnston was taken hostage, if you remember, and happily was later released. But I just…I mean at that point the Israelis had withdrawn from settlements around Gaza and there was some sense of momentum. But that momentum seems to have completely disappeared and there is really so little signs of anything positive happening almost on any front.”

While one might have expected the discussion to turn at that point to relevant topics such as the 2007 violent Hamas take-over of the Gaza Strip, the terror organisation’s subsequent escalation of attacks on Israeli civilians and its Israel erasing agenda or the decade-long rift between Hamas and the Fatah-dominated Palestinian Authority, instead Henley turned (at 36:03) to his other guest, Jane Kinninmont, with a topic much less helpful to audience understanding of the topic of the humanitarian crisis in Gaza. 

Henley: “The residents of Gaza have been off the news radar a bit, haven’t they Jane?”

In the eight months between January and August 2017, the BBC itself has produced at least 18 reports about the Gaza Strip on its English language services alone. In addition to its regular reporting, since the end of the summer 2014 conflict between Israel and Hamas, the BBC has broadcast a documentary on that topic and produced special ‘anniversary’ coverage both six months and twelve months after the war. How Henley reached the conclusion that Gaza is “off the news radar” is therefore unclear but his guest played along with that notion.

Kinninmont: “Absolutely; partly because it’s a story that doesn’t change. There’s coverage when there is a conflict but I think the repetitive nature of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has contributed to it really falling off the news agenda. People are much more interested in other parts of the Middle East. But there may be changes to come for Gaza.”

Henley: “Because of the new US administration or what?”

Kinninmont: “Partly and because of the row that’s been simmering in the Gulf between Qatar – which is the major donor to Gaza – and the UAE, Saudi and Egypt on the other side.”

Henley: “Go on, explain.”

Listeners then got to hear a version of a story which the BBC has been ignoring for months.

Kinninmont: “So it’s an interesting little-noticed thing that the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Egypt really want to try to rein in Qatari influence over Islamist groups throughout the region and they are trying to see if they can broker some kind of deal that would bring a Fatah strongman into power in Gaza – so someone from the same party as Mahmoud Abbas. Ah…it’s a man called Mohammed Dahlan who’s been a kind of strongman in Palestinian politics for many years – now believed to be resident in Abu Dhabi – and they are trying to cook up some kind of offer where Gaza would see more ability to trade in return for internal political changes. Now who knows; there have been many attempts to open up Gaza’s economy and solve politics through economics and none have worked so far. But there is at least some attempt going on just now.”

Clearly listeners would not understand from that portrayal that Dahlan is Abbas’ bitter rival and that some of the measures imposed by the Palestinian Authority in recent months that have contributed to the worsening humanitarian situation in the Gaza Strip have been linked to the Hamas-Dahlan overtures.

Henley then promoted another questionable notion:

Henley: “Najla sounds like an outward-looking woman interested in world affairs but she’s not particularly interested in the politics. She hasn’t got time to worry about the greater picture when she’s struggling to stop food rotting in her cupboards when the fridge is off.”

A quick look at Oxfam employee Najla Shawa’s Twitter timeline would have relieved Henley of that mistaken impression. This, for example, is a Tweet relating to the July 14th terror attack in which two Israeli policemen were murdered in Jerusalem by three Arab-Israeli terrorists from Umm el Fahm.

Jane Kinninmont closed the item with another comment that did nothing to enhance audience understanding of the stated subject matter of this item.

Kinninmont: “Absolutely. Palestinians are preoccupied with daily fire-fighting. But it is interesting they have some of the highest rates of social media usage in the world. When people can actually get online – when they have enough electricity to do so – because of the isolation and immobility many Palestinians are trying to be politically active online, trying to change opinion here in the West.”

So as we see, in this very long item the BBC World Service promoted a carefully framed picture of the humanitarian situation in the Gaza Strip which once again failed to adequately clarify its background. While excluding Hamas terrorism from audience view, the item did however steer listeners towards the erroneous belief that the crisis involving electricity, water, medical and sewage has some connection to the blockade imposed by Israel, while completely ignoring the topic of why that measure is necessary.  

Related Articles:

BBC audiences still not getting news of Palestinian politics

BBC WS ‘Newsday’ listeners get warped view of Gaza electricity crisis

Lyse Doucet’s blatant political propaganda on BBC WS WHYS – part two

BBC bows out of coverage of 10 years of Hamas rule in Gaza

BBC WS ‘big prison’ framing of Gaza Strip misleads audiences – part one

BBC WS ‘big prison’ framing of Gaza Strip misleads audiences – part one

h/t RB

An edition of the BBC World Service radio news and current affairs programme ‘Weekend‘ that was broadcast on September 3rd included an item promoting some noteworthy framing of the Gaza Strip but before that, presenter Paul Henley introduced his studio guests (from 26:30) Stewart Purvis – formerly of ITV and OFCOM – and Jane Kinninmont of Chatham House.

Leading up to the Gaza related item, listeners heard some interesting signposting (from 28:09) concerning radicalisation and terrorism which dovetails perfectly with the BBC’s chosen narrative on those topics.

Henley asked Kinninmont: [all emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]

Henley: “How much…when you’re looking at causes of instability and the endless problems that you concentrate on there [the Middle East], how much do you put down to unemployment, which seems to be the big social and economic problem?”

Kinninmont: “Absolutely. We need to look at the political economy of the region and the sense of injustice that’s created for many young people because they see corrupt people succeeding and they see so little opportunity for themselves even if they are hard-working, even if they are highly educated. These are probably more important things to look at than the ideology that the media obsesses over when thinking about terrorism; not least because you can actually address some of these economic problems.”

Henley: “And because of the interest in terrorism and…and where it comes about, do you have particular countries that you’re more interested in?”

Kinninmont: “Well we cover the whole region and we try very much in our team of analysts to speak about the 99% of people from the Middle East who have nothing to do with terrorist groups. Ah…I fear that the oxygen of publicity is still an issue; that there is a kind of media obsession with terrorism over and above all other problems.”

Following that (at 29:22) Henley turned listeners’ attentions to the topic of the UN Secretary General’s recent visit to Israel, the Gaza Strip and the PA controlled territories: a topic previously very briefly covered by BBC News in one report. While referencing Israeli and Egyptian counter-terrorism measures, Henley did not bother to inform listeners why they are necessary.

Henley: “Last week the UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres visited Israel and the Gaza Strip for the first time since he took office. Speaking at a UN run school, Mr Guterres said urgent solutions were needed to the humanitarian crisis in Gaza. A recent UN report says living conditions for the two million people who live in Gaza – which is blockaded by both Israel and Egypt – are deteriorating rapidly. Mr Guterres stressed that resolving the crisis also required political will and he called on the Palestinians to end the division between Hamas – which rules Gaza – and Fatah – which governs the West Bank. In a speech in Tel Aviv he said he’d never shied away from criticising all sides in the conflict if he felt their actions weren’t moving towards a peaceful solution.”

Guterres’ remarks at a UNRWA school in Gaza also included “an appeal for unity” between the Palestinian factions engaged in a decade-long dispute along with a call to “avoid the buildup of the militantism” that is the cause of the blockade on the Gaza Strip. Significantly – given the later framing in this item – listeners were not told of those remarks.

The “recent UN report” to which Henley referred was previously presented to BBC World Service listeners in a problematic report that failed to clarify the real reasons for the humanitarian crisis in the Gaza Strip.

Guterres’ “speech in Tel Aviv” was delivered at the Museum of the Jewish People and listeners then heard the small part of it that the BBC chose to highlight – but without being informed of the crucial fact that Hamas rejects the two state solution.

Recording Guterres: “It’s my deep belief that the two state solution is the only way forward; the only path towards the historic compromise that can settle this conflict and lead to a better future for all. That is why I have been – and will continue to be – expressing my disagreement when it’s the case with unilateral measures and facts on the ground that can or could undermine that solution, including settlement activities but also continued violence, terror and incitement.”

At 30:40 Henley gave a brief introduction to a guest who was allotted almost half the air-time of the entire item. Her unchallenged claims were also separately promoted by the BBC World Service in a related programme.

Henley: “So away from the talk of the so-called important people, what is life like for the people of Gaza? Najla is a mother of two children. She was born in Gaza and she’s lived there all her life.”

In breach of BBC editorial guidelines on impartiality, that first name only introduction clearly does not allow listeners to understand who the speaker actually is or what her affiliations and “particular viewpoint” are.

Najla Shawa appeared on the BBC World Service over two years ago and then too the introduction was inadequate with the fact that she works for the politically partisan NGO Oxfam and was previously employed in various roles by the UN left unclarified. With Shawa having studied for three years at Birzeit University near Ramallah and subsequently at George Mason University in the US, Henley’s claim that she has “lived in Gaza all her life” is obviously misleading.

Shawa began with the promotion of the ‘Gaza prison’ theme. On the last working day before this item was aired, 638 people had entered or exited the Gaza Strip, seven ambulance crossings had been facilitated and 18,157 tons of goods in 577 trucks had entered the territory on one day alone.

Shawa: “The entire population is simply living in a big prison. We are unable to move, there’s no way to travel so the restriction of movement is on everything; on people and on goods – at least from Gaza to the outside world. Gaza has some input such as food and basic items but there’s no way for any economic activity to take place.”

In fact, in June 2017, 1,304 tons of goods were exported from the Gaza Strip. Shawa continued with a presentation of the electricity crisis in the Gaza Strip which did not clarify to listeners that it is the product of the internal dispute between Fatah and Hamas and is completely unconnected to the previously mentioned “blockade”.

Shawa: “People are continually living uncertainty and challenged by different issues every day. The last few months there was the electricity situation that worsened and has really deepened the humanitarian situation in Gaza and affected everyone, and particularly affects people who have less financial ability or less ability to access things like food or basic items. You know, in Gaza unemployment is at really alarming rate: some 60% among people who are able to work; in a working age. Poverty is also at very high rates. “

Shawa appears to be passing off rounded-up youth unemployment figures as general unemployment rates: according to the World Bank, the general unemployment rate in the Gaza Strip in 2016 was 42%, with youth unemployment at 58%. The Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics has slightly different figures and notes the very low workforce participation rate among females over the age of 15. The CIA World Factbook cites a poverty rate of 30%. Shawa continued:

Shawa: “Again, electricity; this is something that we’ve been living with for many years – I would say at least 10 years. But the last few months we are getting only 3 to 4 hours of electricity every day. You can imagine people’s refrigerators are turning into closets. We joke about it but there’s no way to keep things in your fridge. And you can imagine what this means to poor people who can’t afford simply to buy things every day. We adapt to schedules; we are going to have electricity from this hour to this hour so yeah we plan for laundry, we plan to maybe go out and do whatever. I mean, you know, you simply want to get out of the house.

You can also look at like small producers, small enterprises; they have shut down. Even big, larger ones are affected; they’re having to endure large amount of money just to survive, just to keep their business going and keep their work going. If we talk about water, water is the major, major threat problem in Gaza since many years. The way we get water, you need electricity for water to be pumped. You need water to be in a good quality. We have very salty water. There’s very little infrastructure. There is very little room for even doing any solutions for water. The majority of the sea is polluted with sewage. I mean real sewage – like raw sewage – and this is another huge problem. It’s causing a real environmental problem. We simply cannot eat the fish that is from the sea because it’s only full of sewage. We’re in the summer season and the heat and humidity in Gaza is very high and living under these conditions, children – I’m thinking about health – the simple, simple daily activity of people is extremely challenging.”

Yet again, no effort was made to clarify to listeners that the issues concerning sewage and water are rooted in the internal dispute between Hamas and Fatah and the all-important issue of Hamas’ prioritisation of replenishing and expanding its military infrastructure over civilian needs was not brought to audience attention.

Henley then inserted linkage to his previous conversation with Jane Kinninmont concerning ‘reasons’ for radicalisation.

Henley: “And I know you consider yourself relatively privileged but there are an awful lot of poor people judging by the rate of unemployment.”

Shawa: “That’s correct. I mean you’re talking about 80% of the Gaza Strip depends on aid. The Palestinian internal divide is also causing an additional layer to these problems that the Gazans are facing.”

No attempt was made to explain to listeners what that passing reference to “the Palestinian internal divide” actually means or how it affects Gaza residents.

Henley: “And when the UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres comes to Gaza and calls for an end to the blockade, is he seen as an ally by people there? I mean the demonstrators were greeting him angrily.”

Henley did not clarify that the demonstrations were in support of convicted terrorists serving time in Israeli prisons.

Shawa: “Of course. I mean people here appreciate the role of the UN because it is providing basic services to the majority of the population of Gaza. I mean we know that people considers as their right because the majority of the Gazans are refugees and the services are provided by UNRWA in addition to other agencies. However, there is a great deal of anger because the UN is simply not doing much on the political level of things and this is purely a political issue and everybody knows that. Expressing concern and calling for an end of blockade is not enough and we’ve heard it again and again. And a generation – maybe after a generation now talking the blockade for the last 10 years, but you are talking about the general picture that the occupation is the issue here. That’s why people are angry because nothing is changing on the ground.”

Henley did not intervene to explain to audiences why, after nearly 70 years, the “majority of the Gazans” are still classified as refugees or how their status is different from that of refugees in the rest of the world. Neither did he remind audiences that Israel disengaged from the Gaza Strip 12 years ago and – predictably – did not clarify that the territory is not ‘occupied’. Shawa closed her unchallenged and unquestioned monologue with the promotion of claims she did not support with statistical evidence.

Shawa: “You know, this pressure will simply lead to extremely negative phenomena. Young people are committing suicide. I mean I cannot talk about rates or numbers but we are seeing this every day. We are seeing more crime. We never heard of so much crime in the last years; only a few months we’re hearing so many incidents. And this is really worrying and again, people have the right to be angry.”

Henley concluded his guest’s appearance with a description no less inadequate than the one in his introduction:

Henley: “Najla – a mother of two young children with impeccable English who lives in Gaza.”

As we see, throughout this lengthy item BBC World Service listeners heard nothing of the terrorism perpetrated by Hamas against Israeli civilians and of the link between that and Israel’s counter-terrorism measures along its border with the Gaza Strip. While they did hear long and detailed descriptions of the humanitarian situation in the Gaza Strip, the absence of any adequate explanation of how the lengthy dispute between Hamas and Fatah has adversely affected electricity, water, medical and sewage services in the territory means that listeners would be quite likely to reach the erroneous conclusion that those issues are connected to the ‘blockade’ which is mentioned repeatedly.

However, the item was not over yet and its final section will be discussed in part two of this post.

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BBC WS ‘Newsday’ listeners get warped view of Gaza electricity crisis

Lyse Doucet’s blatant political propaganda on BBC WS WHYS – part two

BBC bows out of coverage of 10 years of Hamas rule in Gaza

 

 

 

The BBC, the Gaza Strip and medical supplies

In the past BBC audiences have often been led to inaccurate conclusions concerning the reason for the chronic shortage of medical supplies in the Gaza Strip.

BBC gives one-dimensional view of shortages in Gaza hospitals

BBC’s Knell inaccurately attributes shortage of medical supplies in Gaza to Israel

BBC Radio 5 live broadcasts inaccurate claim on shortage of medicines in Gaza

BBC WS amplifies former ISM activist’s falsehoods about Gaza blockade

BBC News passes up the chance to set the record straight on Gaza shortages

BBC reporting on the ongoing dispute between Hamas and the Palestinian Authority that has resulted in reduced electricity supplies to Gaza residents has not informed audiences that the PA has also cut medical supplies to the Gaza Strip.

“According to information given to Physicians for Human Rights Israel (PHRI) by Gaza’s Hamas-run Health Ministry in June, “one-third of essential medicines and more than 270 medical equipment items for operating rooms and intensive care units can no longer be obtained in the Health Ministry’s storerooms and in Gaza hospitals.”

PHRI, quoting statistics from the Hamas-run ministry, said most cancer patients in Gaza are not able to receive proper treatment because of shortfalls.

One of the groups hardest hit by the medicine shortage is patients, mostly children, suffering from the chronic lung disease cystic fibrosis, who can’t get the pills and vitamins they need, PHRI said.”

On August 20th the Palestinian media outlet ‘Ma’an’ reported that – despite the worsening humanitarian crisis in the Gaza Strip – the PA president chose to donate medical supplies to Venezuela.

“The Palestinian Authority (PA) sent on Sunday three trucks loaded with medical supplies to be sent to Venezuela, following an order from Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

Palestinian Minister of Foreign Affairs Riad al-Malki told Ma’an the trucks were sent off on Sunday from warehouses in the northern occupied West Bank district of Nablus, adding that Abbas’ decision to donate the medications to Venezuela was made in response to requests made by the Venezuelan government.”

Although just last month BBC audiences were told that “life in Gaza is reaching its limits”, they have to date not seen any reporting on that donation of medical supplies or about the PA’s recent threats to cut off financial support to the Gaza Strip.

Related Articles:

BBC’s Knell paints a partial picture of Gaza woes

BBC audiences still not getting news of Palestinian politics

BBC bows out of coverage of 10 years of Hamas rule in Gaza 

 

 

BBC Travel yet again dishes up political narrative in a food item

August 3rd saw the appearance of yet another BBC Travel article belonging to the genre of ‘food as a hook for political messaging’ on the BBC News website’s Middle East page and – like the previous example – this one too was written by a freelancerMiriam Berger – rather than by BBC staff.

Titled “The Palestinian dessert few can enjoy“, nearly half of the article’s 1,037 words are devoted to political topics rather than the Middle Eastern sweet (confusingly presented in this piece with three different names: knafa, kunafa and knafe) that is supposedly its subject matter.

That becomes rather less surprising when one is aware that the quoted ‘culinary expert’ Laila el Haddad is in fact a long-time anti-Israel activist who has used food for the promotion of her political narrative in the past – including at the BBC

“Today you need a hard-to-procure permit to enter or exit Gaza. […]

“[Knafa Arabiya] reflects Gaza itself,” said Laila El-Haddad, author of The Gaza Kitchen. “It’s a more rustic dessert that’s richly spiced.”

She added, “In modern times, as it’s [Gaza] become more closed off, these flavours have become relatively unknown, even to other Palestinians.”

In fact, today most people physically can’t access the dessert. After decades of rule by the Turks, Brits and Egyptians, Israel then occupied Gaza from 1967 to 2005; two years later Hamas, a designated terror group, violently seized power from its rival, the more moderate Palestinian Authority (PA) based in the West Bank. Israel and Egypt then imposed travel and trade blockades on Gaza. Over the last nine years, Israel and Hamas have fought three devastating wars; many in Gaza have still not recovered from the last one three years ago. 

Today, Israel restricts most border crossings. At the Erez crossing in southern Israel, the only point of entry and exit for people between Gaza, Israel and the Palestinian West Bank, “Food is not permitted to be exported from Gaza for regulatory purposes,” according to Israel’s Coordination of Government Activities in the Territories. Informally, however, half a kilo or a kilo of sweets – or about two big plates of Knafa Arabiya – will get through.”

Of course many countries restrict the import of foodstuffs by travellers for reasons of pest and disease control but in other locations such rules do not usually prompt half-baked politicised articles.

The writer does not bother to inform readers of the Hamas terrorism that brought about not only counter-terrorism measures in the form of border restrictions but also the “three devastating wars” she mentions. The piece goes on to give an equally context-free portrayal of the Gaza electricity crisis caused by internal Palestinian feuding.

“When I visited Abu al Saoud’s shop in July, times were tough and getting tougher. Gaza was a month deep into a severe electricity crisis that left the strip’s two million people with just two to three hours of power a day – down from only eight hours in the months before. The lucky ones, like Abu al Saoud, can keep lights on longer with generators. Even at just five shekels per slice – the same price as in Nablus – the knafe is unaffordable for many in Gaza, which has some of the highest unemployment in the world.”

As we see, BBC Travel’s promotion of sub-text political messaging in ‘life-style’ articles that potentially reach audiences less familiar with the political ins and outs of the Middle East continues.

Related Articles:

BBC Travel politicises food to promote a narrative

LA Times, Gaza Kitchen Cooking Up Falsehoods  (CAMERA)  

A fishy tale of literary promotion by the BBC

 

BBC’s Knell paints a partial picture of Gaza woes

The lead item in the July 22nd edition of BBC Radio 4’s ‘From Our Own Correspondent’ was introduced by presenter Kate Adie (from 00:33 here) as follows:

Adie: “Today’s headlines from the West Bank once again tell of violence. Meanwhile in Gaza the UN has warned of increasingly unlivable conditions. The narrow strip of land has long been a place of tension: tension between Israel and the Palestinians and between the Palestinians themselves. For the past ten years the Islamist group Hamas has governed there and in the summer of 2014, over 50 days of fighting with Israeli forces caused widespread death and destruction. Yolande Knell was in Gaza during that conflict and this week she’s been back.”

 Yolande Knell begins her report on the beach before introducing an interviewee previously seen in one of her 2014 reports. [emphasis in italics in the original]

Knell: “Along the golden sand a few girls and boys squeal with delight as the waves lick their feet – much as on any other Mediterranean beach except that I’m in Gaza City where an energy crisis means that sewage treatment plants aren’t working properly. The sea is contaminated. It stinks. So as much as they’d love to plunge into the cool water to escape the sticky heat this summer, many families are avoiding it. ‘Gaza’s blessed with its long coast but I can’t take my children swimming’ says Naim al Khatib, a father of six whom I met 3 years ago during the last conflict between Hamas militants and Israel. Back then, Naim tried to keep up his kids’ spirits as they spent seven long weeks hiding in their apartment. Now, although everyone’s safe, he says every day remains a struggle. ‘The war’s over but the war-like situation is still going on’ he tells me. ‘The siege goes on, we’re still prisoners. The quality of life gets worse’.”

There is of course no “siege” on Gaza but Knell nevertheless chose to amplify that falsehood. She goes on, confusing Palestinian Legislative Council elections with “local elections”, giving a typically whitewashed portrayal of Hamas’ violent coup in 2007 and of course failing to mention that it is a terror organisation sworn to the destruction of Israel.

“It’s ten years since Hamas, having previously won local elections, ousted the Palestinian Authority – the PA – in Gaza and seized control of the small strip of land. In response Israel and Egypt ramped up restrictions on the flow of people and goods in and out to isolate the militant group and stop weapons reaching it. The blockade still cripples the economy. And now Gaza’s being squeezed even more as the PA – which controls only parts of the West Bank – piles pressure on Hamas to try to force it to hand back the territory.”

While the electricity crisis in the Gaza Strip was exacerbated in April when the PA declared that it would only foot part of the bill for power supplied by Israel, the dispute between Hamas and the PA on that issue actually goes back much further, originating in the PA’s levying of tax on fuel for the Gaza power plant. That part of the story was omitted from Knell’s report.

“Some of Gaza’s electricity supply comes from Israel with the PA footing the bill. But recently the Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas asked for this to be reduced as the PA was no longer willing to provide services for Hamas. Since last month mains electricity, already limited here, comes on for just 2 to 3 hours a day. Naim shows me how he relies on a generator and even solar panels mounted by a chirping canary’s cage on his balcony. Just maintaining a water filter and refrigerator – both essentials in Gaza – takes up a lot of his time and money. Adding to the strain, like thousands of other civil servants who had continued to collect salaries from the PA even if they weren’t actually working, he’s just had his income slashed.”

As readers may recall, the PA cut the salaries of its employees who have been paid to stay at home for a decade by 30% in April. After a quote from Khatib’s daughter, Knell goes on to mention a report previously promoted in BBC content.

“But a new UN report says Gaza is increasingly unlivable for its 2 million residents and that conditions are deteriorating further and faster than previously predicted. As the population continues to grow, there’s 40% unemployment and signs of decline in education and healthcare. At the Shifa hospital an ambulance screeches past and it transports me back once again to the bloody battles and terrible destruction of 2014.”

Notably, Knell’s recollections do not include the fact that the Hamas leadership used that hospital’s staff and patients as human shields – as she well knows.

“Back then, staff here worked around the clock to treat overwhelming numbers of casualties but when I see the familiar face of Dr Ayman al Sahbani, the head of emergencies, he looks as stressed as ever.  ‘Our state isn’t bad or very bad – it’s catastrophic’ he blurts out. ‘We lack essential drugs and supplies. The hospital is running on big generators and all the time I’m worried’. Dr al Sahbani explains that he depends on fuel donations and that there are no spare parts if generators break down. ‘If they stop we may lose patients in operation rooms, intensive care, kidney dialysis, the neo-natal unit’ he says breathlessly. On top of their usual work load, medics here are now also treating more sickness caused by poverty and bathing in the filthy sea. And it’s becoming more difficult to get Israeli permits to transfer seriously ill patients out of Gaza, partly because the PA is giving fewer guarantees it will cover their medical costs elsewhere. The doctor tells me how, days ago, he broke this news to the parents of a newborn with a congenital heart condition who went on to die. ‘How did I do this?’ he asks me. ‘I’m speaking to you not as a doctor but as a human being’.” [emphasis added]

BBC Watch checked Knell’s allegation that the acquisition of permits is “partly” attributable to PA policies with the body that coordinates those permits for patients from the Gaza Strip. COGAT told us that:

“To our regret, an internal Palestinian dispute harms the residents of Gaza – instead of the regime in Gaza helping them – but Israel has no connection to the issue. We would highlight that in cases in which the Palestinian Authority sends requests, and particularly those classified as urgent, COGAT coordinates the immediate passage of patients at any time of the day in order to save lives. This activity is carried out on a daily basis at the Erez Crossing, through which residents of Gaza enter Israel for medical treatment.” [emphasis added]

Moreover, while Knell does not give the name of the baby who died of congenital heart disease, she apparently did not check whether or not “Israeli permits” actually have any connection to that case. The local media recently covered three such stories.

“Earlier in the week three children under the age of 1, all suffering from heart disease, died in Gaza hospitals.

Gaza’s Hamas rulers on Tuesday blamed the Palestinian Authority for the deaths, saying that Ramallah had refused to give medical referrals for the babies to be treated in the West Bank. The PA then blamed Israel.

Dr. Bassam al-Badri, who heads the Palestinian Authority department responsible for authorizing treatment for Gazans outside of the Strip, claimed Israel had refused to grant exit permits to guardians of the children.

But the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT), the Defense Ministry branch that deals with Palestinian civilian affairs, said no such request had been made.

“No request was received from the Palestinian Authority to coordinate medical treatment in Israel for the three infants,” COGAT wrote in a statement to The Times of Israel.”

Knell closes her report with opaque references to a story the BBC has so far failed to cover and listeners would hence not understand.

“On this trip I meet some Gazans clinging to rumours of political solutions involving the return of exiled figures or improved relations with Egypt. But mostly there’s just frustration and despair. And there are warnings too that troubles in Gaza will spill across its borders – and not just in terms of the sewage that’s already reaching southern Israeli beaches.”

The picture of Gaza painted by Yolande Knell in this report is of course devoid of some very important context. Nowhere in her grim portrayal does she make any mention of the fact that if it wished to do so, Hamas could solve not only the electricity crisis but numerous additional issues plaguing ordinary residents of the Gaza Strip.

“Hamas could, if it wanted to, pay for enough electricity to significantly improve power supplies. But it prefers to spend tens of millions of shekels a month digging attack tunnels into Israel and manufacturing rockets.

According to various estimates by the PA and Israel, Hamas raises NIS 100 million ($28 million) every month in taxes from the residents of Gaza. A significant part of that amount covers the wages of its members. But a large portion is diverted for military purposes. Estimates say Hamas is spending some $130 million a year on its military wing and preparations for war.”

However, the terror organisation’s prioritisation of tunnels, missiles and additional types of military build-up over the welfare of Gaza’s residents has no place in Yolande Knell’s story – just as was the case in her reporting from the Gaza Strip during the 2014 conflict. 

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