A source quoted and promoted by the BBC gets corrected

As regular readers will be aware, the BBC often uncritically quotes and promotes information and statistics – particularly Gaza casualty figures – provided by the UN agency OCHA.

On November 21st another political NGO that has appeared in BBC content – MAP – promoted UNOCHA supplied figures in a tweet.

However (unsurprisingly to those familiar with UNOCHA’s  methodology) it turned out that those statistics were not all that they were made out to be when the Coordination of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT) later replied to that tweet.

And yet UNOCHA – often presented to BBC audiences as merely ‘the UN’ – continues to be among the partisan NGOs frequently uncritically quoted and promoted by the BBC, despite the corporation’s supposed commitment to accurate and impartial reporting. 

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Revisiting the BBC’s source of 2014 Gaza casualty data

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BBC’s “Obstacles to Peace” do not hold water – part 2

BBC jumps on EU’s water politicisation bandwagon

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Politicisation of BBC World Service programme on Israeli water technology

A letter recently sent by the commander of COGAT to several international bodies suggests that the issue of water in PA controlled areas and the Gaza Strip could soon be attracting media attention once again. Ynet reports:

“According to Head of the Coordination for Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT), Maj. Gen. Yoav Mordechai, the joint Israeli-Palestinian water distribution council—which manages water infrastructure in the West Bank—hasn’t met since 2010 due to the Palestinians’ refusal to approve water infrastructure upgrades in the West Bank settlements.

The major general sent an urgent letter to the UN humanitarian aid coordinator in the West Bank, the head of the Palestinian UNRWA, the head of the Red Cross, head of USAID, and various ambassadors, including the German, UK, Italian, French and EU ambassadors to Israel.

The COGAT head said that he wants significant steps to be taken to fix the water crisis in the West Bank and Gaza, saying “the Gaza Strip almost completely relies on its aquifer, and the water quality in it has become very poor as a result of years of over-pumping and pollution.”

Regarding the West Bank, he wrote that “according to Palestinian estimates, 96% of the water drawn from the aquifer there isn’t fit to drink, and thus the Palestinians rely on water from Israel… the water infrastructure in place isn’t enough to meet the needs of the population, leading to water shortages in certain areas (of the West Bank).”

Meanwhile, he continued “waste water treatment (in the Palestinian Authority) is seriously lacking. According to official estimates, there will be huge water shortages amounting to tens of millions of cubic meters of water in the coming years.”

Israel recently approved sending 10 million cubic meters of water to Gaza and six million cubic litres to the West Bank. Yet despite Israeli efforts to help the Palestinians solve this crisis, the problem still hasn’t been resolved.

“This additional supply of water to Gaza fulfills the Palestinian request for Israeli aid, and the Palestinians have made it clear that they are not interested in more water,” Maj. Gen. Mordechai wrote. […]

… Maj. Gen. Mordechai wrote “we are warning the international community that if there is no immediate change in the water situation, we can expect a water crisis by next summer. (Israel) will continue efforts to cooperate with the Palestinian Authority on this issue, and we hope that our efforts will bear fruit.” [emphasis added]

Sadly, there is therefore all the more reason for the BBC to finally get round to presenting its audiences with an accurate, impartial and comprehensive portrayal of the water-related problems affecting the areas controlled by the PA and Hamas.

Related Articles:

Home truths on Palestinian water issues you haven’t heard from the BBC

Water, NGOs and the BBC


Another case of bizarre BBC use of term ‘pro-Palestinian’

Broadly speaking, BBC coverage of Israel-related issues which do not concern politics or the Arab-Israeli conflict is usually informative and objective. One sector which stands out for its generally accurate and impartial coverage is the BBC News Technology department.

Several reports from that department have recently appeared on the Middle East page of the BBC News website including an interesting set of diary reports by Technology correspondent Rory Cellan-Jones recording his impressions of a visit to Israel – see herehere and here.

Another report, dated January 27th, is titled “Israel defence computers hit by hack attack” and, like similar articles appearing at other outlets, appears to be largely based on a Reuters report on the same subject. The BBC’s version, however, has one notable addition.

Pro Palestinian hackers

“The attack left hackers temporarily in control of 15 computers that are part of Israel’s defence forces.

Pro-Palestinian hackers are believed to be behind the attack.” [emphasis added]

The BBC article also states:

“Mr Raff pointed the finger at Palestinian involvement because of the attack’s similarity to another incident that took place in 2012. That too involved booby-trapped messages sent to Israeli government staff.

The email messages sent in both attacks were written and formatted in a very similar style, said Mr Raff, adding that they also shared some technical commonalities.”

From other sources we learn that:

“Raff told Reuters that Palestinians were suspected to be behind the cyber attack, citing similarities to a cyber assault on Israeli computers waged more than a year ago from a server in the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip.

While the latest attack was conducted from a server in the United States, experts noticed writing and composition similarities with the earlier attack, he said.”

As the BBC article correctly points out:

“One of the computers successfully penetrated using the booby-trapped email was at Israel’s Civil Administration agency, said Mr Raff. This defence agency issues entry permits for Palestinians who work in Israel and oversees the passage of goods between the country and the West Bank and Gaza Strip.”

It is not made clear in this article why the BBC chooses to define as “pro-Palestinian” those hackers perpetrating a cyber attack on a body which organises and facilitates the daily entry of supplies and aid into the Gaza Strip, the exit of locally produced exports and persons seeking medical care from that territory and the issuing of work permits to ordinary people from Palestinian Authority controlled areas seeking higher paid employment in Israel. If anything, any attempt to disrupt activities which contribute to improving the health, welfare and financial situation of ordinary Palestinians should surely be defined as anti-Palestinian. 

This is the third time in ten days that the BBC has made dubious use of the term “pro-Palestinian”. Apparently editors have not yet got round to having a serious think about what the term actually means or when its use is – and is not – appropriate.

Related Articles:

 How does the BBC define ‘pro-Palestinian’?

BBC deems parts of Israeli right of reply statement “irrelevant”

Section 6 of the BBC Editorial Guidelines deals with the subject of the Right of Reply and states:


When our output makes allegations of wrongdoing, iniquity or incompetence or lays out a strong and damaging critique of an individual or institution the presumption is that those criticised should be given a “right of reply”, that is, given a fair opportunity to respond to the allegations.

We must ensure we have a record of any request for a response including dates, times, the name of the person approached and the key elements of the exchange.  We should normally describe the allegations in sufficient detail to enable an informed response, and set a fair and appropriate deadline by which to respond.


Any parts of the response relevant to the allegations broadcast should be reflected fairly and accurately and should normally be broadcast in the same programme, or published at the same time, as the allegation.”

Further details come in the Guidance section on ‘Right of Reply’:

“To be fair, we should include material that is relevant to the allegations. It is not necessary to include material that may be considered irrelevant to the allegations. If we choose to paraphrase material rather than use direct quotes, the meaning must be fairly represented.”

Jon Donnison’s recent report on the subject of the Bethlehem Marathon appeared to include a response from an Israeli source to the allegations made in the article:

“An Israeli military statement said: “The entrance of the Gaza Strip residents to Israeli territory, and their passage to the West Bank, is possible only in exceptional humanitarian cases, mainly urgent medical cases.”

It added that this was because Gaza was ruled by Hamas which Israel considers a “terror organisation”.”

However, BBC Watch has learned that the version published in Donnison’s article was not the complete ‘Right of Reply’ statement provided to the BBC. The full text of the response provided by COGAT appears below in Hebrew, and then in English – translated by BBC Watch.

“בקשתם של 26 תושבים מרצועת עזה להשתתף במרתון בית לחם נבחנה על ידי הרשויות המוסמכות והוחלט לסרב לפנייה מאחר ואינה עומדת בקריטריונים שנקבעו לצורך מעבר בין עזה לאיו”ש.

בעזה שולט ארגון טרור, המנהל לחימה נגד מדינת ישראל ואזרחיה. משכך, בהתאם להחלטת ממשלת ישראל, כפי שאושרה על ידי בית המשפט העליון, כניסה של תושבי רצועת לשטחה של מדינת ישראל ומעברם לאיו”ש מתאפשר רק מטעמים הומניטאריים חריגים, בדגש על מקרים רפואיים דחופים. הבקשה הנוכחית לא העלתה טעמים מסוג זה”

“The request by 26 residents of the Gaza Strip to take part in the Bethlehem Marathon was examined by the authorised authorities and it was decided to refuse the application as it does not meet the criteria established for the passage between Gaza and Judea and Samaria.

Gaza is ruled by a terrorist organisation which wages warfare against the State of Israel and its citizens. Thus, in accordance with the decision of the Government of Israel – as has been approved by the Supreme Court – the entry of residents of the [Gaza] Strip to the territory of the State of Israel and their passage to Judea and Samaria is possible only for exceptional humanitarian reasons, with emphasis on urgent medical cases. The current request did not raise such reasons.” File:Flickr - Israel Defense Forces - Humanitarian Passage through the Erez Crossings.jpg

We can therefore understand that the parts of this official response which were deemed by the BBC “not necessary to include” on the grounds of their being “irrelevant” are the fact that the specific requests made by the Gaza runners were examined and considered, together with the fact that the criteria for entry from the Gaza Strip into Israel were established by the Government of Israel and the Supreme Court, rather than by the IDF as readers of this article might well be led to understand. Additionally, the fact that Hamas wages war against Israel and its civilian citizens was apparently also deemed “irrelevant”.

The BBC’s reputation for accuracy and impartiality – together with its audiences’ understanding of the Middle East – would be much enhanced were it to publish ‘Right of Reply’ responses in full rather than resorting to manipulative censorship.