Accuracy, impartiality and context lacking in BBC Two film on Gaza

BBC Two has recently been showing a four-part series titled “Mediterranean with Simon Reeve” which will be available on BBC iPlayer for the next five months.

“Simon Reeve embarks on an extraordinary four-part journey around the Mediterranean, uncovering the wild extremes that lie behind the tourist veneer.”

In episode two of the series (also available here) its writer and presenter visited Cyprus, Lebanon, Israel and the Gaza Strip.

“Travelling south, Simon’s next stop is Israel, a country that perhaps more than any other depends on the Mediterranean for its survival. With few friends in the region, Israel has to transport most of its goods by sea. Simon joins the Israeli Navy who patrol the coast and protect the country’s offshore oil reserves using the latest military weaponry and technology, including unmanned, combat-ready drone boats.

From Israel Simon crosses one of the world’s most heavily fortified borders to reach the Gaza Strip. Palestinians and Israelis have endured a seemingly endless cycle of violence and in Gaza the result has been devastating destruction. Many building materials are restricted by an Israeli blockade on Gaza, but Simon meets an inspiring young woman who has helped reconstruction efforts by inventing an ingenious method of making bricks from ash. It’s a rare ray of hope in one of the most troubled regions of the Mediterranean.”

Informed viewers may well have raised an eyebrow at Reeve’s failure to mention the relevant context of UN Security Council resolutions forbidding the presence of armed militias in the area of southern Lebanon he described as “territory controlled by Hizballah” while en route to visit the terror organisation’s ‘museum’.

In addition to a trip on a navy boat, Reeve’s trip to Israel included a desalination plant and a visit to “party town” Tel Aviv. At the end of his subsequent trip to the Gaza Strip Reeve declared:

“So much about the Arab-Israeli conflict is about picking a side and personally I refuse to. My heart breaks for the suffering of the Jewish people throughout history. My heart breaks for the suffering of the Palestinians. So many opportunities for real, lasting peace have been lost here and we see two sides that seem in many ways to be moving further apart, not closer together.”

That monologue however came after viewers have been presented (from 42:27) with a fifteen-minute context-free, politicised and, in parts, inaccurate view of the Gaza Strip.

After a brief reference to “missiles launched from Gaza” Reeve told viewers:

“I crossed one of the world’s most heavily fortified borders. So this is a long walk through a cage – a caged passageway that takes us from the very modern, pretty wealthy state of Israel to the much poorer and densely packed Gaza Strip. I’ve never been through a border quite like this. It is extraordinary in every possible sense and – my God – you look across here…look at the barrier that encircles Gaza. It’s a very forbidding, foreboding place to walk towards, quite frankly. There’s a…there’s a dehumanisation of the people who live here. The whole process makes you feel like you’re entering the cage of the wild animals.”

The concrete barrier near the Erez Crossing pointed out by Reeve of course does not ‘encircle’ Gaza at all. Reeve however did not bother to interview anyone from Israeli communities such as Netiv HaAsara which are protected from Palestinian terrorism by that barrier or make any effort to explain its purpose.

Having entered the Gaza Strip, Reeve teamed up with “our guide in Gaza” – failing to clarify that he is a BBC employee before viewers heard Rushdi Abu Alouf promote political propaganda.

Abu Alouf: “Of course they keep calling Gaza the biggest open-air prison which is true because it’s closed from four sides. So Israel is calling this strip of land is like a hostile entity.”

Viewers got no explanation as to why Israel declared the Gaza Strip a hostile entity in September 2007 and Reeve next misled BBC audiences with an inaccurate portrayal of how and when Hamas wrested control of the Gaza Strip from the Palestinian Authority.

Reeve: “Since elections in 2006 Gaza has been controlled by Hamas – a militant Islamic group considered terrorists by Israel and many Western governments.”

Viewers also heard a ‘creative’ portrayal of the purpose of a Palestinian Islamic Jihad military position.

Abu Alouf: “They operate in this area because it’s not far from the border so they always try to be ready for any Israeli escalation.”

Audiences were given an inaccurate (even according to previous problematic BBC reporting) account of civilian casualty figures during the 2014 conflict (47:55).

Reeve: “Israelis and Palestinians have endured endless cycles of violence. Here militants can fire rockets into Israel. Israel can attack with overwhelming force. Weeks of conflict here in 2014 between Israel and Palestinians left two thousand civilians dead, including an estimated 500 children.” [emphasis added]

He went on:

Reeve: “Eighteen thousand homes were destroyed. Israel restricts the supply of many building materials like cement into Gaza – Israel says to prevent Hamas building tunnels for attacks.” [emphasis in the original]

Reeve appears to have sourced the number 18,000 from UNOCHA – where that figure is presented as including partly damaged structures rather than the number (11,000 according to other UN reports) of dwellings “destroyed”.  Of course millions of tons of dual-use goods including cement have been imported into the Gaza Strip since the 2014 conflict under a UN supervised mechanism. Reeve made no effort to inform audiences of Hamas’ proven misappropriation of construction materials for terrorism purposes that include cross-border tunnels.

Failing to explain to viewers why “Gaza is under blockade” or why electricity supplies only run for four hours a day, Reeve gave audiences a simplistic view of Gaza’s economy which failed to include any mention of the relevant topics of the policies and actions of Hamas or the Palestinian Authority.

Reeve: “But the blockade here is devastating Gaza’s economy. Gaza now has among the highest unemployment rates in the world and it’s believed most of its people survive on less than $2 a day.”

Reeve: “But today Gaza’s fishing industry is in crisis. It’s thought less than half of Gaza’s fishermen are still putting out to sea. Across the Mediterranean fish numbers are in steep decline. Here fishermen face additional challenges.”

Viewers were even told by a Gaza fisherman that fish do not come any closer than nine miles from the shore – with no challenge from Reeve.

Reeve: “This part of the Mediterranean is completely empty.”

Fisherman: “Fish can only be found nine miles out. The Israeli army only allows us to go out six miles.”

Although Reeve acknowledged that he had been unable to verify an account of an incident in which the same fisherman claimed to have been shot by Israeli forces, the BBC aired it anyway. No effort was made to introduce the relevant context of arms smuggling by sea to the Gaza Strip.

With no mention having been made of Israel’s disengagement from the Gaza Strip thirteen years ago, audiences were led to believe that Israel is “the occupier”.

Abu Alouf: “Look for young people in Gaza the only thing [they] know about the Israelis is that they are the occupier who come in tanks and aeroplanes and bomb Gaza.”

Simon Reeve ended his visit to the Gaza Strip by telling viewers of this film – categorised in the credits as a “current affairs production” – that:

Reeve: “The situation here is utterly shocking and maddening.”

Significantly, BBC Two audiences heard nothing whatsoever about Hamas’ agenda of destroying the Jewish state – or whether or not Reeve finds that and the terrorism against Israeli civilians which aims to bring that agenda about “utterly shocking and maddening”.

Clearly impartiality and accuracy were not at the forefront of priorities for the makers of this context-lite (especially in comparison to Reeve’s previous efforts to explain the Cyprus conflict) segment of Simon Reeve’s film.

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BBC continues to avoid independent verification of Gaza casualty ratios

More context-free BBC portrayal of Gaza construction imports

 

 

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BBC WS News conceals crossings closure context

Listeners to the BBC World Service news on the morning of October 21st were informed by newsreader Rosemary Crick (from 04:10 here) that:

Crick: “Four days after closing the crossing for goods and people between Israel and the Gaza Strip, Israel’s defence minister Avigdor Lieberman has reopened it. A statement from his office said the decision was taken after a decrease in violence in Gaza and because of efforts to restrain Palestinian demonstrators made by Hamas – the militant group that controls the Strip.”

As readers probably know – but apparently BBC World Service news producers do not – there are two separate crossings for goods (Kerem Shalom) and people (Erez) and so Crick’s opening sentence is inaccurate and misleading.

In addition to her portrayal of violent rioters as “demonstrators” and a terrorist organisation as a “militant group”, Crick failed to inform BBC audiences around the world why the two crossings had been closed in the first place.

As the Times of Israel and others reported:

“The defense minister ordered the pedestrian Erez Crossing and Kerem Shalom goods crossing closed last Wednesday, after a rocket launched from the Gaza Strip exploded outside a home in the southern Israeli city of Beersheba and another landed in the sea off the coast of the greater Tel Aviv area.”

However, the BBC did not produce any reporting on those attacks and so as far as BBC World Service audiences are concerned, Israel’s Minister of Defence apparently just closes and opens crossings into the Gaza Strip at whim.

So much for “accurate and impartial news [..] of the highest editorial standards” at the BBC. 

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The UNRWA story the BBC chose not to tell

Since the beginning of this year BBC audiences have seen extensive coverage of the topic of US aid donations to the Palestinians and since the end of August items relating to the US administration’s decision to cease funding UNRWA have frequently featured on BBC platforms.

BBC News reporting on US aid cut to UNRWA – part one

BBC News reporting on US aid cut to UNRWA – part two

An eleven minute BBC WS report on UNRWA funding – part one

An eleven minute BBC WS report on UNRWA funding – part two

BBC WS listeners get more unchallenged UNRWA narrative

More to a BBC Radio 4 item on ‘morality’ of aid to Palestinians than meets the eye

In contrast, visitors to the BBC News website have not seen any coverage whatsoever of a story which broke on October 1st and was covered by many local and international media outlets.

“The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) had evacuated 10 of its international senior employees from Gaza to Israel on Monday, after they were threatened and harassed by UNRWA’s disgruntled local Palestinian staff following the agency’s announcement to cut more than 250 jobs.

The agency’s senior officials were rescued and transferred to Israeli territory via the Erez crossing—which remained closed throughout the Jewish holidays but was re-opened by the Israeli security officials following an official request from UNRWA.

The Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories issued an official statement, confirming the incident.

 “A number of foreign UNRWA employees have been evacuated from the Gaza Strip to Israel. This is due to the tensions as a result of the financial crisis UNRWA is facing and subsequent concern for the safety of its foreign staff,” stressed the statement.

 “The Hamas terrorist organization did not protect the agency’s staff from the violence directed against them,” the statement concluded.”

UNRWA put out a statement of its own (which it is difficult to believe the BBC did not receive) that interestingly does not mention Hamas by name but “calls upon the local authorities” to protect its staff.

Despite its record of covering stories about UNRWA operations in the Gaza Strip very generously, remarkably the BBC did not find a story about the agency’s foreign employees being threatened by local residents remotely newsworthy.

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BBC silent on Gaza crossing closure

 

BBC silent on Gaza crossing closure

Back in May the BBC failed to adequately report on three separate incidents of severe vandalism at the Kerem Shalom crossing carried out by Palestinian rioters – on the instruction of Hamas – on May 4th, May 11th and May 14th.

BBC WS audiences get distorted account of Kerem Shalom closure

On September 4th a large number of Palestinians rioted at the Erez Crossing.

“According to the IDF Spokesperson Unit, hundreds of people participated in the riots, reportedly hurling rocks at the crossing which resulted in severe damage to the infrastructure. The IDF said they responded with tear gas and live fire.”

According to AFP:

“The Palestinians were protesting against an announcement by Washington on Friday that it would cease all funding to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine refugees (UNRWA) which helps some three million needy refugees.”

The following day it was announced that the Erez Crossing – the only transit route for pedestrians and patients seeking medical care outside the Gaza Strip – would have to be closed for repairs.

“Israel announced the temporary closure of its sole pedestrian crossing with the Gaza Strip on Wednesday after the border terminal was damaged during clashes between Israeli troops and Palestinians. […]

“As a result, the crossing has been closed until the repairing of the damage caused as a result of the riot is completed,” the army said in a statement.

It did not indicate when the repairs would be completed.

The army added that the closure does not include humanitarian cases, which it said would be approved on a case-by-case basis.”

The BBC, however, did not find the fact that violent Palestinian rioters deliberately trashed facilities serving Gaza Strip residents in the least bit newsworthy.

With BBC audiences being repeatedly steered towards the inaccurate belief that all the economic and humanitarian problems in the Gaza Strip are attributable to Israeli counter-terrorism measures, it is significant that once again the corporation has shown no interest in reporting a story which conflicts its chosen narrative

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Superficial BBC reporting from Gaza recycles jaded narratives

h/t GB

Earlier this month we noted that:

“In addition to holding the remains of two Israeli soldiers killed in 2014 – Hadar Goldin and Oron Shaul – the Hamas terror group is also keeping prisoner at least two Israeli civilians – Avera Mengistu and Hisham al Sayed – who have not been the topic of any BBC reporting in the three years that their imprisonment has been publicly known.”

Listeners to BBC Radio 4’s Today programme on the morning of August 27th would therefore have been unlikely to understand what Yolande Knell was talking about when she briefly referred to “two Israelis jailed in Gaza or two soldiers’ remains”.

Presenter Justin Webb introduced that item (from 02:42:00 here) with a reference to another story about which BBC audiences had previously heard nothing: the partial closure last week of the Erez Crossing in response to Palestinian violence the previous Friday.

As is now standard in BBC reporting, Webb euphemistically described violent rioting that includes shootings, IED and grenade attacks and border infiltrations as “protests” and listeners were not told that a significant proportion of those killed during that violence were linked to terror factions.

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

Webb: “Israel is going to reopen the Eretz [sic] border crossing with the Gaza Strip today. The defence minister Avigdor Lieberman has said that it’s going to happen. It’s happening a week after it was closed, he said, because of clashes. And more than 160 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli fire since the end of March when protests began along the border with Israel. One Israeli soldier was shot dead by a Palestinian sniper. And since last month there’ve been three further violent flare-ups. The UN is warning that the Palestinian territory is close to collapse. There are severe water and power shortages. There is a broken economy. Our Middle East correspondent Yolande Knell has been looking at what can be done to fix Gaza.”

Obviously any serious examination of that question would have to include clarification of the way in which the actions of the Hamas terror group have led to a deterioration in conditions within the Gaza Strip such as its use of water piping to make missiles, its hijacking of cement intended for construction and its diversion of funds to the terrorism which forces neighbouring countries to employ counter-terrorism strategies such as restrictions on the import of dual-use goods. Likewise, that topic cannot be seriously addressed without explanation of the actions of the Palestinian Authority which have included cutting electricity supplies, medical supplies and salaries to Gaza Strip residents.

Yolande Knell, however, chose to present a picture devoid of that context.

Knell: “These children sound like they’re having fun but this is a daily task they have to do: collecting water from a stand pipe at the edge of the Khan Younis refugee camp. They get very little running water at home. What they do get isn’t drinkable. There’s no electricity. Their mother explains another problem. The power here comes on for just 3 or 4 hours a day. Umm Mustafa has only ever been able to leave Gaza once to take her sick son to a hospital. But she knows life doesn’t have to be this way.”

Voiceover woman: “I’ve seen the people outside. They don’t have a crisis like the one we live. I’ve seen how people have running water in their houses and it’s clear and clean. Mothers outside don’t organise their daily routines around when the electricity comes on. Our life is hostage to the electricity.”

The “people outside” did not elect a violent terrorist organisation to power but Yolande Knell’s account does not dwell on the connection between that choice and the current situation in the Gaza Strip.

Knell: “Over a decade ago Hamas took full control of Gaza, ousting Palestinian Authority security forces in bloody fighting a year after it had won elections. Israel and Egypt then tightened a blockade of the territory. Three armed conflicts between Hamas and Israel followed. This year saw the deadly Gaza border protests. Palestinian economist Omar Shaban says people’s desperation played a big role.”

Knell did not bother to inform listeners that in addition to being an economist, Omar Shaban is a policy advisor for Al Shabaka. Predictably for a person who three months ago wrote an article claiming “Gazans are protesting their economy, not Israel’s existence” about the pre-planned agitprop titled ‘The Great Return March’ that openly promotes the elimination of Israel by means of the so-called ‘right of return’, Shaban managed to eliminate the word ‘return’ from his account but did use the inaccurate Hamas-favoured terminology “siege” with no challenge from Knell.

Shaban: “The economy was a key decisive element on the Great March. Unemployment, the siege, the lack of business, Palestinian Authority measures against Gaza that started 2 years ago. To fix Gaza it’s about bringing hope, bringing more jobs to the people, lifting the siege, allowing export from Gaza to get out.”

Neither Shaban nor Knell bothered to ask why – if, as Shaban claims, the violence along the border was driven by the state of “the economy” – Gazans have not been demonstrating against the Hamas regime which is responsible for their “desperation”.

Knell: “Ideas have been suggested to open up Gaza. From a seaport in Cyprus with Israeli security checks to this:

Recording: The artificial island initiative is aimed at providing an answer to a reality that is bad for the Palestinians and not good for Israel.

Israeli security cabinet minister Israel Katz proposes a new multi-million dollar island off the Gaza coast with a port and power and desalination plants.”

Katz: “You solve the two main problems. The first problem is the security of Israel – not endangering the security of Israel – and the other thing; to improve the humanitarian conditions of the people in Gaza. Private companies that are not willing now to act in Gaza, to build things, will do it on the island.”

Knell: “But in the past month tensions between Israel and Hamas have flared up three times with Palestinian militants firing rockets and Israeli airstrikes. The intervention of Egypt and the UN calmed the situation. So what are the chances now for a longer term deal? Not good says Israeli defence analyst Alex Fishman. He points to the Palestinians’ own deep political rift and Hamas’ insistence that it won’t return two Israelis jailed in Gaza or two soldiers’ remains without a release of Palestinian prisoners by Israel.”

Fishman: “Hamas is a terrorist group: nobody will talk with them directly. Therefore we need to bring Palestinian Authority to this agreement otherwise nothing will work. Secondly, the problem with the Israeli missing soldiers – it’s a matter of national pride; nobody will give up. Therefore it will be only a limited agreement.”

As noted above, in the three years that it has been public knowledge that at least two Israeli civilians are being held prisoner by Hamas, BBC audiences have not seen any coverage of that story whatsoever. Knell’s brief mention obviously did nothing to contribute to audience understanding of that issue.

Knell closed her report with a reference to a “new security barrier around the Strip” by which she presumably means the underground barrier designed to thwart the cement and cash guzzling Hamas cross-border attack tunnels which she failed to mention throughout this report.

Knell: “In Gaza the lack of power means untreated sewage is discharged off the coast. Although Israel is building a new security barrier around the Strip, it’s a reminder of how its humanitarian crisis is increasingly difficult to contain. Already waste from here is washing up on southern Israeli beaches.”

There is of course nothing remotely novel about BBC audiences being steered towards the inaccurate belief that all the economic and humanitarian problems in the Gaza Strip are attributable to Israeli counter-terrorism measures while the roles of Hamas and the Palestinian Authority in creating and exacerbating the crisis are downplayed or airbrushed from the story.

In this report Yolande Knell managed to combine that politically motivated narrative with yet another dumbed down portrayal of the topic of a potential truce.

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BBC’s ‘Life in the Gaza Strip’ backgrounder not fit for purpose

When the BBC News website published its July 10th report concerning Israeli actions in light of three months of arson attacks from the Gaza Strip, it also offered readers some background reading.

Titled “Israel-Palestinian conflict: Life in the Gaza Strip“, that backgrounder first appeared in November 2012, was revamped in July 2014 and has been amended on numerous occasions since then, most recently in May 2018.

In its second paragraph the backgrounder tells BBC audiences that:

“It [the Gaza Strip] is under the control of the Palestinian Authority, and between 2007 and 2014 was ruled by the militant Islamist group Hamas. They won Palestinian legislative elections in 2006 but then had a violent rift with the rival Fatah faction.” [emphasis added]

Obviously those claims are not accurate: the PA does not exercise control over the territory and Hamas rule did not end in 2014.

Readers are then told that:

“When Hamas took over in Gaza, Israel swiftly imposed a blockade on the territory, restricting the movement of goods and people in and out. Egypt meanwhile blockaded Gaza’s southern border.”

No mention is made of the fact that the counter-terrorism measures imposed by Israel after Hamas’ violent coup in Gaza were a response to increased terror attacks against Israeli civilians.

Once again with the relevant issue of Palestinian terrorism concealed from audience view, under the sub-heading ‘Freedom of Movement’ BBC audiences find the following:

“In the north, crossings into Israel at Erez have picked up marginally this year compared with 2017, but remain well below pre-blockade levels due to new restrictions.

Fewer than 240 Palestinians left Gaza via Israel in the first half of 2017, compared with a daily average of 26,000 in September 2000.” [emphasis added]

According to UNOCHA (quoted on a different topic in the same section), during the first half of 2017, 43,009 people crossed from the Gaza Strip into Israel via the Erez Crossing. Obviously that BBC claim is inaccurate and grossly misleading. Readers are not told that the cited comparison date “September 2000” was immediately before the second Intifada and – crucially – the launching of countless terror attacks from the Gaza Strip.

The context of terrorism – and the resulting restrictions on the passage of workers from the Gaza Strip into Israel and trade – is likewise absent from the backgrounder’s section titled “Economy”.

“Gaza is significantly poorer than it was in the 1990s. Its economy grew only 0.5% in 2017 according to a World Bank report, with annual income per person falling from $2,659 in 1994 to $1,826 in 2018.”

A subsection titled “Population” informs BBC audiences that:

“Gaza has one of the highest population densities in the world. On average, some 5,479 people live on every square kilometre in Gaza. That’s expected to rise to 6,197 people per square kilometre by 2020.

The number of people living there is expected to hit 2.2 million by the end of the decade, and 3.1 million by 2030.”

There are of course many other cities in the world with a higher population density than Gaza City and other places in the world with higher population densities than the Gaza Strip as a whole. Interestingly, an accompanying map shows a higher population density in London than in Gaza.

In a section sub-titled “Health” the BBC once again disseminates inaccurate and misleading claims.

“Access to public health services has worsened due to border restrictions. […]

Exit passes through Israel have also dropped in recent years, with approvals for medical reasons dropping from 93% in 2012 to 54% in 2017.

Moreover, drugs, supplies and equipment are all restricted because of the blockade – including dialysis machines and heart monitors.”

As has been noted here on previous occasions, the restrictions placed on the import of dual-use goods (i.e. items which can be used for terrorist purposes) to the Gaza Strip do not apply to medical supplies. The party responsible for medical services in the Gaza Strip is the Palestinian Authority and it is that body which last year exacerbated the chronic crisis affecting  the healthcare system in Gaza by severely cutting medical aid and referrals for treatment in Israel.

The backgrounder goes on:

“A recent fuel shortage for generators has also affected medical services. The Palestinian Ministry of Health says three hospitals and ten medical centres have suspended services due to a lack of power.”

It is of course the Palestinian Authority which is responsible for the fuel and power shortages in the Gaza Strip that have affected medical services but the BBC’s backgrounder implies that too is attributable to “border restrictions” – i.e. Israeli counter-terrorism measures.

While a section titled “Power” includes an interestingly punctuated link to a 2017 report billed “PA ‘stops paying for Gaza electricity'”, the backgrounder itself does not clarify that in 2011 Hamas elected to discontinue the purchase of fuel from Israel for Gaza’s power plant, instead relying on an erratic supply via smuggling tunnels which were later destroyed by Egypt or that internal disagreements between the Palestinian Authority and Hamas resulted in an exacerbation of the power crisis in the Gaza Strip during 2017.

Similarly, a section titled “Water and sanitation” fails to inform BBC audiences that sewage pipes in the Gaza Strip were used to make rockets, that new supplies of pipes transported in by Israel were diverted for the same purpose rather than being used to solve the Gaza Strip’s sanitation problems or that the electricity crisis exacerbated by the dispute between the PA and Hamas has also seriously affected sewage treatment and water supply

Obviously this ‘backgrounder’ does not give BBC audiences an accurate and impartial view of the reasons why “life in the Gaza Strip” is as it is. The BBC’s failure to report impartially on Hamas’ responsibility for the deterioration of conditions in the Gaza Strip – brought about by its putting continued terrorism against Israeli civilians at a higher level of priority than taking care of the population’s welfare – clearly means that this backgrounder is not fit for purpose and does not meet the BBC’s public purpose of helping audiences understand “issues across…the world”.

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BBC amplifies Hamas default accusation in PA convoy attack report

The Times of Israel and others reported on an incident in the Gaza Strip on March 13th:

“Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah survived an apparent assassination attempt when a bomb went off next to his convoy as he visited the Gaza Strip on Tuesday, wounding several people, officials and Palestinian media reported.

The PA said Hamdallah and PA General Intelligence Chief Majed Faraj, who was accompanying him, were unhurt. However, media reports said several bystanders were injured. Their condition was not immediately clear.”

The ToI report also notes that:

“Palestinian officials contacted Israel’s military liaison in order to coordinate Hamdallah’s exit from the Gaza Strip following the assassination attempt, The Times of Israel learned.

During the conversation, Israel offered to provide medical treatment to those injured in the attack and some of the wounded were being treated by doctors at the Israeli side of the Erez crossing.”

Although known to at least one BBC journalist, that information did not appear in the BBC News website’s account of the story – “Gaza blast targets Palestinian PM Hamdallah’s convoy“.

In contrast, that report does include the following:

“Hamas condemned what it called an “ugly crime” and said it had launched an investigation.

Spokesman Fawzi Barhoum said it believed the attack was carried out by the same people who last year assassinated Mazen Fuqaha, a commander of Hamas’ military wing, and attempted to assassinate Maj Gen Tawfiq Abu Naim, the head of Gaza’s internal security forces.”

Readers may well have had difficulty understanding that somewhat cryptic portrayal of Barhoum’s press release due to the fact that the BBC did not produce any English language reporting on either the assassination of Fuqaha or the attempted assassination of Abu Naim when those incidents took place.

Seeing as Hamas executed the people it claimed had assassinated Fuqaha in May 2017, Barhoum’s quoted claim that “the same people” were responsible for the October 2017 attack on Abu Naim and this attack on Hamdallah obviously lacks logic. So what did Fawzi Barhoum actually mean?

According to the New York Times, Barhoum was in fact using Hamas’ default ‘explanation’ for just about everything that happens in the Gaza Strip.

“The Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum said, however, that Hamas had no role in the attack. He called the blast an attempt to “tamper with the security of the Gaza Strip” and to “strike any efforts to achieve unity and reconciliation,” and demanded an investigation.

Mr. Barhoum instead sought to blame Israel: He suggested those responsible were “the same hands” who had gunned down Mazen Fakha, a Hamas official responsible for a number of terrorist attacks, in March 2017, and tried to kill Tawfiq Abu Naim, the head of Hamas’s security forces in Gaza, in October.

Hamas has accused Israel of being behind the attacks on both men, who were freed from Israeli prisons in 2011 in a controversial prisoner swap for the captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit.”

Later on in the day Hamas put out a statement claiming that the PA agreed with that version of events. However, as Khaled Abu Toameh reports:

“[Ismail] Haniyeh phoned Hamdallah after the explosion and the two agreed to “blame Israel and its collaborators” for being behind the explosion, according to a statement issued by the Hamas leader’s office.

But Yusef al Mahmoud, spokesperson for the PA government, later denied that Hamdallah had received any phone call from Haniyeh.”

The BBC’s public purpose remit obliges it to “provide accurate and impartial news […] of the highest editorial standards so that all audiences can engage fully with issues across the UK and the world”. Does the corporation really consider that the uncritical repetition of unproven knee-jerk accusations from a terror organisation contributes to meeting that obligation?

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BBC Arabic film on collaborators promotes Hamas messaging – part one

BBC Arabic film on collaborators promotes Hamas messaging – part two

 

BBC Arabic film on collaborators promotes Hamas messaging – part two

In part one of this post we looked at the first half of a programme in the ‘Our World’ series that was recently broadcast on the BBC News Channel and the BBC World News Channel under the title “Working for the Enemy”.

After presenter Murad Batal Shishani had uncritically amplified Hamas’ claim that Israel was behind the assassination of one of its senior operatives last year and had been given access to a Hamas-run prison to interview a contrite collaborator, he turned to the topic of the alleged recruitment of Mazen Fuqaha’s assassin by Israel.

Shishani: “But would the Israeli security forces really recruit a jihadi – someone dedicated to the violent destruction of Israel? It seemed an extraordinary risk”.

Shishani then went to interview the former Shin Bet director and current member of the Knesset Avi Dichter, asking him:

Shishani: “Would you recruit a jihadist to kill a Hamas operative?”

Dichter: “Well everything is possible in this fight against terrorists.”

Shishani quickly moved on to his next interviewee who he described as “a reserve officer from Israeli military intelligence”. The fact that the interviewee remained anonymous and his voice unheard, together with Shishani’s claim that “he has to be careful about what he says in order to avoid arrest”, raises the unanswered question of how BBC Arabic made contact with this particular interviewee and whether or not a ‘middle-man’ such as the political NGO ‘Breaking the Silence’ was involved.

That interviewee – presented as Aaron – apparently gave Shishani the money quotes he was obviously looking for.

Voiceover: “We know so much about people’s personal lives. Their romantic affairs, their sexual affairs, their health problems, everything. So if you want to gain cooperation from people it’s obviously best if we can blackmail this person.” […]

Shishani: “But it’s not just sexual orientation that makes people targets.”

Voiceover: “If someone’s daughter has cancer, for example, and he wants to get treatment in one of the Israeli hospitals – which is no doubt better treatment than in Palestinian hospitals – and if we know about it, maybe we can stop him and tell him OK you can have this but only if you cooperate.”

That led Shishani conveniently on to his next story.

Shishani: “Salwa Saidni [phonetic] knows all about this coercion. Today she is with her grandchildren. A year ago their mother Kholoud needed urgent treatment for cancer. The Israeli authorities granted her permission to go to a hospital in Jerusalem. It was six o’clock and barely light when Salwa and her daughter Kholoud arrived here at the Erez Crossing one morning in January 2017. […] The officers wanted information about a man married to Kholoud’s cousin. She said he was an olive tree farmer.”

Salwa: “He said ‘yes but he plants rockets. He plants rockets with Hamas.’ She said ‘if you know he plants rockets what’s that got to do with me? I’m sick and need treatment. I want to be able to raise my kids.'”

Shishani: “Salwa says her daughter was not able to give any information about the man.”

Salwa: “He told her ‘there’s the bus you need’. Only a glass screen separated us from it.”

Shishani: “But the Israeli authorities did not allow Kholoud to board the bus. […] Three weeks later Kholoud died.”

After having given extensive amplification to allegations that have been used by anti-Israel activists to delegitimise Israel – and with nothing to suggest any independent verification by the BBC – Shishani once again ostensibly ticked the BBC’s impartiality box with a one-liner.

Shishani: “The Israeli authorities told us that entry to Israel is not conditional on providing information or cooperation and they denied any irregularities in their dealings with Kholoud.”

Notably, Shishani made no effort to inform BBC audiences that the party responsible for medical services in the Gaza Strip is the Palestinian Authority and it is that body which in 2017 exacerbated the chronic crisis affecting  the healthcare system in Gaza by severely cutting medical aid and referrals for treatment in Israel. 

Shishani’s next interviewee was presented as follows:

Shishani: “Some Palestinians work with Israel because they genuinely believe this is the right way to protect their own people. I have come to a tiny village in the far south of Israel. It is the home of a Bedouin community of around 20 families that were moved from Gaza, where they had devoted their lives to working with the Israeli state. […] Hassan is the community leader here – a role he inherited from his father, a Bedouin Sheikh from the Sinai desert. Hassan’s father sided with the Israeli state after Arab nations were defeated in the 1967 war and Israel occupied his land. […] How do you feel when you or your father are called a traitor or a spy?”

The programme’s last interview – once again anonymous – took place in “a provincial Israeli town” with a man described as having “worked in Gaza for the Israelis from the age of 17 – but that was before he had to get out.”

Unsurprisingly, Shishani’s final interviewee stated that “my past is haunting me” and Shishani then closed the report.

Shishani: “Normality, more than anything, is what people in Gaza crave but for most here, it’s out of reach. Constant scrutiny, suspicion and human need mean that collaboration will keep shaping and poisoning lives and some will continue to work for the enemy.”

Clearly Murad Batal Shishani had a specific story to tell in this programme and nothing was going to get in its way. His uncritical amplification of the stories and interviews – in part obviously Hamas approved – that make up the bulk of the programme was not balanced by his token interview with Avi Dichter or his tepid one-liner presentations of responses from “the Israeli authorities”.

For years Hamas has periodically run campaigns targeting ‘collaborators’ and its extra-judicial executions of people branded as such are a subject only rarely covered by the BBC. Given the cooperation from Hamas that Shishani obviously enjoyed in the making of this programme, it is hardly surprising to see that Hamas’ use of the ‘collaborator’ tag as an excuse for extrajudicial executions did not get any coverage whatsoever in Shishani’s one-sided report.  

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BBC Arabic film on collaborators promotes Hamas messaging – part one

BBC audiences recently saw heavy social media promotion of a programme in the ‘Our World’ series that was broadcast on the BBC News Channel and the BBC World News Channel under the title “Working for the Enemy”.

“Collaborating with Israel can mean prison or death in Gaza. So why do people do it? Some Palestinians say they’re forced or blackmailed, others believe they’re helping to prevent attacks on innocent people. Israel says recruiting Palestinian agents helps protect its citizens. For Our World, BBC Arabic’s Murad Batal Shishani travels to Israel, and Gaza, to unravel a complex web of desperation and exploitation.”

The ‘documentary’ presented by Murad Batal Shishani (available here) literally opened with a context-free slur that has long been used by anti-Israel campaigners and BBC journalists alike.

Shishani: “It’s been called the world’s largest open prison. The Gaza Strip: penned in by walls, barbed wire and gun turrets. The 1.8 million people living here can only get into Israel with special permission. And even if their lives depend on it, they have to enter through here – the Erez Crossing – the main gateway into Israel. […] This is the story of the desperate choices people have to make. […] It’s the story of how the Israeli state seeks to protect its citizens. […] And of those who now live tortured by shame and regret. […] This is a film about Palestinians who collaborate with the Israeli state: those who work for the enemy.”

Following that introduction, the next four minutes of the film repeatedly and uncritically promoted clips from a video produced by a terrorist organisation.

Shishani: “In May 2017 the ruling Hamas government in Gaza released this video to a shocked public. Some Palestinian men had apparently been caught working for Israel in Gaza. They were explaining how they were recruited. […] Each had been cleverly targeted according to their needs and beliefs. They were then recruited by Israeli agents to kill a senior leader of the Hamas military wing – a man called Mazen Fuqaha.”

As readers may recall when Mazen Fuqaha was assassinated in March 2017, the BBC did not cover the story in English. Hamas immediately blamed Israel for the killing, at one point claiming that the assassins had arrived by sea. The BBC’s English language services also showed no interest in reporting border closures imposed by Hamas following the killing.

In April 2017 the BBC News website correctly reported that “Hamas has offered no evidence that Israel was behind Fuqaha’s death”. In May 2017 the BBC News website reported the executions of three men said by Hamas to have confessed to killing Fuqaha, quoting criticism of the process from an NGO.

“Human rights groups had called on the Islamist movement not to carry out the executions – just two weeks after it announced the arrests and aired videos of what it said were the men’s confessions. […]

Sarah Leah Whitson, executive director of the Middle East division of Human Rights Watch, said: “Rushing to put men to death based on an unreviewable decision of a special military court days after announcing their arrests, and airing videoed confessions, smacks of militia rule, not the rule of law.

“Reliance on confessions, in a system where coercion, torture and deprivation of detainee’s rights are prevalent, and other apparent due process violations further taint the court’s verdicts”.”

Nevertheless, BBC Arabic chose to take those video confessions at face value and after a brief sketch of Fuqaha’s terrorist activities during the second Intifada, his imprisonment and his release, Shishani interviewed Hamas’ Mahmoud al Zahar, describing him as someone who “had known Mazen Fuqaha for years”.

Zahar: “They [Israel] thought Fuqaha was active in the West Bank while based in Gaza. Either some Palestinian told them or they had some intelligence.”

Shishani: “And was he active?”

Zahar: “I don’t know.”

Showing no further interest in the topic of Fuqaha’s terrorist activities, Shishani went on to further amplify Hamas’ version of events.

Shishani: “But someone seemed to think Fuqaha was still active. On the 24th of March 2017 this man – Ashraf Abu Leila – received his instructions. He outlined the plan in the Hamas confession video. Hamas officials say that this is Ashraf, caught on CCTV as he walks past the hospital into the yard and towards his target’s parking lot. Fuqaha had spent a family day on the beach. He was alone in his car. The gunman followed him, knocked on his window and shot him five times. Ashraf’s job was done. Hamas had lost one of its key assets and there was an outpouring of grief at Fuqaha’s funeral. Soon after, Ashraf and his suspected accomplices were arrested. In their confessions they warned their audience not to fall for Israeli recruiters. Days after these confessions were filmed all three men were executed as traitors – and as a warning to others.”

Then – after having spent a full four minutes unquestioningly amplifying Hamas’ unproven version of the story – Shishani told viewers that:

Shishani: “We cannot verify the testimonies in the video. Hamas would not share their evidence. But collaborating with Israel is not such a rare thing here.”

With obvious approval and cooperation from Hamas, Shishani next visited a prison in the Gaza Strip where he spoke to one of the “convicted collaborators” called Ibrahim. BBC audiences were once again led towards the erroneous belief that Gaza is under “siege”.

Ibrahim: “Most people who fall into this trap, 90% or more are victims. We in Gaza are suffering from a very harsh siege. Everything is in short supply. Healthcare. Basic needs.

Shishani: “Ibrahim told me that Israeli recruiters prey on the needs of people in Gaza.”

Ibrahim: “They target young men with financial problems and put pressure on them. To start with they say they are not asking for anything serious, just a chat. And then you fall into a bigger trap.”

Shishani: “Who are they targeting?”

Ibrahim: “Firstly it’s those who need medical treatment. This is the biggest problem facing us all. Everyone suffers from this problem. Secondly, it’s people with financial problems and thirdly those who are vulnerable and they turn to drugs.”

Once again – after giving uncritical and extensive amplification to those claims – Shishani ticked the BBC’s ‘impartiality’ box with a one-liner.

Shishani: “The Israeli authorities told us they don’t try to recruit people in these vulnerable situations.”

The next part of Shishani’s film was devoted to the man executed by Hamas for the killing of Mazen Fuqaha – Ashraf Abu Laila.

Shishani: “What could have made a Palestinian like Ashraf kill a leading Hamas militant? And how might the Israeli security forces have found and recruited such a man?”

Quoting an unidentified source described as a “jihadi” – presumably one of Gaza’s Salafists – Shishani told viewers:

Shishani: “Ashraf Abu Laila approached the jihadists, claiming he is a member of the so-called Islamic State but the jihadists rejected him. As a loner, Ashraf might have been easier to control. But would the Israeli security forces really recruit a jihadi – someone dedicated to the violent destruction of Israel? It seemed an extraordinary risk”.

The rest of this programme will be discussed in part two of this post.  

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Selective BBC framing of Hamas-Fatah ‘reconciliation’ continues

The November 1st afternoon edition of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour‘ included an item (from 19:18 here) described by presenter Razia Iqbal as follows:

Iqbal: “Let’s stay with Palestinian issues now and specifically Gaza, which has been controlled for the last decade by the Islamist group Hamas. Now Hamas has begun handing control of the border crossings with Egypt and Israel back to the Palestinian Authority which controls the rest of Palestinian territory. This is part of a reconciliation deal negotiated in Cairo last month between Hamas and Fatah, which dominates the Palestinian Authority. I’ve been finding out more from our correspondent in Jerusalem Tom Bateman.”

Tom Bateman began by describing the ceremony at Rafah crossing on that day, then telling listeners that:

Bateman: “However, that crossing remains effectively completely closed and at the crossings with Egypt [sic – he apparently meant Israel] the very heavy restrictions remain in place. However, what has happened there is the dismantlement of the Hamas checkpoints there so when you cross between Israel and Gaza there is the Israeli side – the security there – and also the Hamas checkpoint. But the two sides obviously do not talk to each other so there’s always been a small PA checkpoint in between them. Now that checkpoint becomes the main checkpoint for the Palestinian Authority.”

In his response to a question from Iqbal about how the lives of people in Gaza are expected to change because of this hand-over of control of the Palestinian side of crossings from Hamas to the PA, Bateman suggested that it might lead to changes in Israeli policy.

Bateman: “But of course over time there is some hope that perhaps it may see restrictions eased and then of course that blockade on the Gaza Strip perhaps begin in some way to lift. Time will tell.”

What Bateman described as “that blockade” is of course restriction on the import to Gaza of weapons and dual-use goods that was introduced after Hamas’ violent coup in the Gaza Strip due to the need to protect Israeli citizens from Hamas terrorism.

The trouble is that nowhere in this report did either Bateman or Iqbal clarify to listeners that Hamas is a designated terror organisation that is very frank about its persistent aim to destroy the Jewish state by means of violence. Even when Bateman briefly touched on the topic of Hamas disarmament at the end of the item, he failed to inform listeners that since the announcement of the ‘reconciliation deal’ between Fatah and Hamas, various officials from the terror group have repeatedly clarified that no such step will be taken.

Bateman: “But over time the very big stumbling block – and what’s been the big problem in the past – is over the control of weapons; over Hamas’ armed wing…ah…with the Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas saying, you know, there will be one law, one authority and one gun. But of course many people doubt whether full disarmament, you know, will take place.”

Neither did Bateman bother to explain to listeners that the failure to disarm Hamas will put the Palestinian Authority in breach of both its existing agreements with Israel and the Quartet Principles.

Since the story of Hamas-Fatah reconciliation first broke in mid-September, none of the BBC’s numerous reports concerning that topic have provided its audiences with a proper explanation of why Hamas must be disarmed if the PA is to meet its existing obligations.  Neither have any of those reports on a variety of BBC platforms included coverage of statements by Hamas officials clarifying the terror group’s refusal to disarm its militias and its intention to continue attacks against Israel.

As this latest report by Bateman once again indicates, the BBC’s failure to provide its funding public with the full range of information needed to properly understand this story is obviously not a matter of chance omission but of deliberate framing.

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