BBC audiences still not getting news of Palestinian politics

The last few weeks have seen some interesting developments in the world of Palestinian politics, although those getting their news from the BBC will of course be unaware of that because – as often noted on these pages – the corporation largely avoids that subject.

BBC’s Knell omits back stories in portrayal of PA succession

BBC News continues to under-report internal Palestinian politics

Abbas’ Fatah reelection ignored by the BBC – in English

BBC News ignores the story of the new Fatah vice-chair

Internal Palestinian politics again off the BBC’s agenda

In the second half of July listeners to BBC Radio 4 heard Yolande Knell make the following unexplained statement:

“On this trip I meet some Gazans clinging to rumours of political solutions involving the return of exiled figures or improved relations with Egypt.” 

The day after that programme was broadcast, one of those mysterious “exiled figures” – Mohammad Dahlan – gave an interview to AP in which he claimed that his talks with Hamas and Egypt will, among other things, bring about the opening of the Rafah crossing. On the same day, BBC Arabic produced a report concerning that topic, but without any mention of Dahlan.

Four days later, on July 27th, an unusual event took place in Gaza.

“Rival Palestinian lawmakers came together for the first time in a decade on Thursday in Gaza’s parliament, the latest sign that an emerging Gaza power-sharing deal between the territory’s Hamas rulers and a former Gaza strongman is moving forward.

Mohammed Dahlan, a former Gaza security chief and Hamas rival, praised the new partnership, addressing the gathering by video conference from his exile in the United Arab Emirates.

“We have made mutual efforts with our brothers in Hamas to restore hope for Gaza’s heroic people,” Dahlan told the lawmakers.

The gathering included dozens of legislators from Hamas, several Dahlan backers from the Fatah movement of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and independents.

Fatah legislators loyal to Abbas stayed away from the meeting, underscoring the deepening rift in the movement. Dahlan fell out with Abbas in 2010.

The legislature has been idled since Hamas routed pro-Abbas forces, then under Dahlan’s command, and took over Gaza in 2007.

Over the past decade, only Hamas lawmakers met in parliament to pass resolutions concerning Gaza.”

On August 1st local media reported that PA president Mahmoud Abbas was making his own overtures to Hamas which included a meeting with a Hamas delegation in Ramallah.

“Earlier this year, the PA cut its payments for Israeli-supplied electricity the Strip by 35%, and slashed salaries for government personnel in Gaza.

The feud between the two Palestinian factions — Fatah, which controls the PA in the West Bank, and Hamas, which rules Gaza — also brought about a severe shortage of medicine and medical equipment in the enclave, a rights watchdog said in June, describing a worsening humanitarian situation.

A deal to truck in fuel from Egypt to keep a power plant running was brokered by Mohammed Dahlan, a former Fatah strongman, seen as a top rival to Abbas. […]

The new framework reportedly being discussed between the two sides would enable the PA to restore electricity supplies and allow Gazan banks to trade in foreign currency again, according to the daily.

But in return, Hamas must publicly renege on its agreement with Dahlan, and dismantle its governing structures in Gaza, which, according to the PA, contravene previous agreements between the group and the PA.”

Days later, Abbas reportedly voiced his intention to keep up the financial pressure on Hamas.

“”While there is a severe electricity crisis in Gaza, Hamas provides light for its underground tunnels and the homes of its officials around the clock,” Abbas told a group of prominent visitors from East Jerusalem at his Ramallah headquarters.

Abbas’s government in the West Bank began earlier this year to scale back electricity payments and other financial support in an effort to force Hamas to cede ground in Gaza. Such cuts have exacerbated blackouts. […]

Abbas told the gathering that the PA would “continue the cuts in Gaza, gradually, unless Hamas accepts the requirements of the reconciliation.””

Meanwhile, the negotiations concerning yet another attempt at Hamas-Fatah ‘reconciliation’ apparently continue.

How this saga will play out and whether either Abbas or Dahlan will end up doing a deal with Hamas is still unclear. Nevertheless, what is obvious is that whatever the outcome – and its possible consequences – BBC audiences are already very badly placed to understand its background and context due to the corporation’s serial avoidance of the topic of internal Palestinian affairs.

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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.

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

On July 11th the United Nations released a report titled ‘Gaza Ten Years Later’ and in addition to publishing a press release on the topic, the head of the team that complied that UNSCO report also promoted it via interviews with various media outlets – including the BBC.

The early edition of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newsday‘ on July 12th included an interview (from 16:45 here) with Robert Piper – whose full job title is “UN Coordinator for Humanitarian Aid and Development Activities in the Occupied Palestinian Territory”. A clip from that interview was also promoted separately by the BBC on social media under the title “Life in Gaza reaching its limits” and with a synopsis reading:

“In 2012, the United Nations predicted that the Palestinian territory of Gaza would be “unliveable” [sic] by 2020. But in a new report, the UN has revised its calculations saying that the conditions for an estimated two million people living there are deteriorating “further and faster” than earlier predictions. Robert Piper, the UN Coordinator for Humanitarian Aid and Development Activities spoke to BBC Newsday.”

Presenter Alan Kasujja introduced the item as follows:

Kasujja: “Now let’s talk about Gaza. The living conditions of an estimated 2 million people in the Gaza Strip are deteriorating fast: further and faster than earlier predictions. So claims a new report from the United Nations which says its earlier estimation back in 2012 that Gaza would be unlivable by 2020 is wrong. Rather, Gazans have already reached their limits. And joining us now from Jerusalem is Robert Piper; the UN coordinator for the humanitarian aid and development activities. Thank you for joining us this morning. Can we just first of all start by establishing, Robert, what you mean when you say that it’s unlivable.”

Piper: “…I think essentially the conditions have deteriorated to such a degree across a number of fields that really life is increasingly untenable for Gazans in terms of access to electricity, in terms of access to reliable drinking water, in terms of prospects for jobs. Down each of these avenues, if you will, Gazans are seeing less and less possibilities.”

Kasujja: “Very interested in hearing what life is like on an ordinary day for Gazans. You talk about access to electricity; could you paint a picture for us to illustrate that?”

Piper: “Well the electricity situation in the last few months has got so serious that in the last 10 days it got down to 2 to 3 hours a day for most Gazan households. Let’s remember Gaza is a hugely dense population. It’s not far off Hong Kong in terms of population density so it’s a lot of high-rise buildings; a lot of people living over the 4th, 5th, 6th floor and onwards in high-rise buildings. Because of the electricity crisis, 2 to 3 hours a day means if you’re in this high-rise building your elevator is probably not working more than a few minutes a day in a kind of organised way. The water pressure is so low because of the electricity shortages that the actual water is not coming out of the…is not reaching floors above the 3rd floor of these buildings. If you are an elderly person say living on the 10th floor of that building, you don’t have your elevator reliably, you don’t have reliable access to water. But energy also hits so many other sectors. It hits the health sector very severely, so in hospitals…”

Kasujja: “Because of the sanitation issues, I imagine.”

Piper: “Well firstly the hospitals are so short of electricity that they’re not using their diagnostic equipment very often because it’s very energy intensive. But indeed, in a broader sense as well. Water treatment is now basically zero so pollution is going…untreated water is going straight into the Mediterranean every day; about 100,000 cubic meters. So across the board – health, water supply, sanitation services and the wider economy – having to pay diesel to turn a generator on to irrigate your farm fields means that the cost of vegetables and so forth, everything is creeping up and of course…”

Following that description of the situation, the conversation then turns to the subject of its cause. Of course as regular readers well know, the exacerbated electricity crisis in the Gaza Strip – with all its various knock-on effects such as sewage treatment – has nothing to do with Israel but is the result of a long-standing dispute between Hamas and the Palestinian Authority, both of which could solve the crisis if they so desired. As Robert Piper’s report shows, he knows that too but nevertheless, BBC audiences around the world are not informed of the real background to this story.

Kasujja: “So how do you change all this? How do you turn this around?”

Piper: “Well for us this is a 10 year trend. I think the latest crisis in Gaza around energy for us is just a wake-up call of the long-term chronic issues that have been building over 10 years. It is a function…for us really trying to make an appeal to all of the actors involved. To put people back at the centre of their policy considerations…”

Kasujja: “Actors involved including who? Because, for example, the Hamas are not considered partners by Israel.”

Piper: “Well indeed this is a 10 year…this is a 10 year report and it recognizes three events about 10 years ago. First is the violent take-over by Hamas of the Gaza Strip and Hamas is now the de facto authority in Gaza. Secondly, the increasingly tough closures that are effectively a blockade that Israel placed around Gaza. And thirdly, the ejection of the Palestinian Authority from the Gaza Strip by Hamas and division that followed in the sort of governance of Palestine. So we had these three events each of which have, you know, between them I should say has really had devastating consequences. So when you talk about who we’re speaking to, it’s all of these three but it’s also the international community, of course, which plays a very important role in Gaza.” [emphasis added]

Notably, Piper’s report specifically states (on page 8) that the counter-terrorism measures introduced by Israel after the violent Hamas coup in the Gaza Strip and the subsequent rise in missile attacks have been eased since they were first implemented. Whether or not Kasujja had actually read the report before this interview took place we do not know, but he neither challenges Piper on that false claim of “increasingly tough closures” nor bothers to inform listeners of the Hamas terrorism that is the reason why such measures had to be implemented in the first place.

Kasujja: “Is there still an appetite in trying to resolve these problems in Gaza because possible you [unintelligible] paint a very political problem because I get the sense that they need to sort out the politics first before any meaningful humanitarian work is done and the question then becomes whether there’s an appetite for that in the international community; for that sort of engagement by the international community.”

Piper: “Well I think firstly I have a problem with the sequence of events. We can’t put the humanitarian after the politics. This picture that we paint for 2 million Gazans is really an increasingly desperate, desperate picture in terms of all of these issues: access to water, to energy, to jobs. The economy is going backwards. Really I think you…our appeal above all is to say firstly let’s…let’s put people first and let’s look at some of the strategies and policies that are being deployed by Israel, by the Palestinian Authority, even by Hamas, in terms of whether they are indeed protecting the interests of civilians or not. That has got to be a starting point. That has got to come before politics in our opinion.”

Kasujja: “Really good to talk to you and thank you very much for your time, Robert Piper. Robert is from the UN. He coordinates humanitarian aid and development activities.”

The programme’s second presenter, Julian Keane, then added:

Keane: “Interesting to hear an answer: daily life in Gaza – which so often is in the headlines.”

Obviously BBC World Service listeners did not “hear an answer” at all. The word terrorism did not appear once in this item and no background information was provided concerning topics such as the missile attacks or cross-border attack tunnels that are the reason for the restrictions on movement and access introduced by Israel.

Neither were audiences given a true picture of the real cause of the electricity crisis in the Gaza Strip. Instead, uninformed listeners were steered towards the erroneous understanding that Israeli counter-terrorism measures play some part in the fact that ordinary people in Gaza only have two or three hours of electricity a day. Listeners, however, heard nothing at all about Egypt’s implementation of similar measures on its border with the Gaza Strip or its destruction of the tunnels in Rafah through which cheap fuel was once smuggled. 

It is very obvious that this was not a news item at all but merely the BBC’s uncritical contribution to a PR campaign promoting a UN report that relies heavily on political NGOs and previous partisan UN reports.

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Internal Palestinian politics again off the BBC’s agenda

Although the BBC was not among them, numerous media outlets reported last week that Hamas is building a new buffer zone along the Gaza Strip’s border with Egypt.

“The Hamas interior ministry has begun to prepare a buffer zone between the Gaza Strip and its border with Egypt. Websites associated with the Hamas posted on Wednesday photographs of bulldozers clearing ground dozens of meters in width along the border.

The ministry stated that the works were intended to bolster security and strengthen the organization’s control along the border. It also said a 12-kilometer patrol road with guard posts, lighting and cameras along it will be paved along the border.

Gaza security forces chief Tawfiq Abu Naim said the project was agreed upon during the last visit by a Hamas delegation to Egypt. The buffer zone will be 100 meters wide (approx. 320 feet), stretching into the Palestinian side of the border, he said. It will be a closed military zone and will help monitor the border and prevent infiltration and smuggling.

“The message to the Egyptian side is a calming one: Egyptian national security is part of Palestinian national security, and we will not let the peace along the southern border be disturbed,” Abu Naim said.

Sources in Gaza told Haaretz that the works will force a lot of families out of their homes. Hamas will have to either pay these families compensation or find them alternative housing.”

That recent visit by a Hamas delegation to Egypt also appears to have germinated collaboration between Egypt, Hamas and Mohammed Dahlan, as Khaled Abu Toameh explains:

“Last month, Hamas leaders traveled to Cairo for talks with Egyptian intelligence officials and representatives of Dahlan, on ways of ending the “humanitarian crisis” in the Gaza Strip. It was the first meeting of its kind between Dahlan’s men and Hamas leaders.

Mahmoud Zahar, a senior Hamas official, disclosed that the two sides reached “understandings” over a number of issues, including the reopening of the Rafah crossing between Egypt and Gaza, and allowing entry of medicine and fuel for the power plants in the Gaza Strip. […]

The unexpected rapprochement between Dahlan and Hamas has already resulted in the return of some of Dahlan’s loyalists to the Gaza Strip. Now, everyone is waiting to see if and when Dahlan himself will be permitted to return to his home in the Gaza Strip.

Sources in the Gaza Strip believe that the countdown for Dahlan’s return has begun. The sources also believe that he may be entrusted with serving as “prime minister” of a new government, while Hamas remains in charge of overall security in the Gaza Strip.”

If that is indeed the case, then Mahmoud Abbas’ recent steps designed to pressure Hamas would appear to have backfired, as Ha’aretz points out:

“Dahlan’s associates have leaked information to the Arabic-language media regarding much bigger plans. Dahlan, it is said, is about to be appointed the new prime minister of the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip, with Hamas’ consent. […]

But Israeli defense officials were skeptical about the media report. It appears that things haven’t been finalized. Dahlan is due to meet with Hamas officials shortly. […]

The Gaza initiative of Dahlan, who has deep ties with Egyptian intelligence, indicates that he, like Hamas and Egypt, also sees that Abbas is in a position of weakness. Abbas’ recent meetings with envoys for Donald Trump ended in disappointment. The extent of the U.S. president’s determination to jump-start the peace process remains to be seen, and the PA has been suffering worsening economic problems of its own amid dwindling contributions from the Gulf states.”

As has been noted here on many occasions, the topic of internal Palestinian politics in general is one that has long been under-reported by the BBC and the simmering rivalry between Abbas and Dahlan has been serially ignored. As this story develops – and despite the fact that the BBC is one of the few media organisations to have a bureau in Gaza – audiences once again lack the background information that would enable its understanding.

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BBC’s Knell promotes more Hamas messaging on Qatar crisis

On June 20th an article by Yolande Knell appeared in the ‘Features’ section of the BBC News website’s Middle East page under the headline “Qatar Gulf row threatens cash crisis for Gaza“.

The article is very similar to the audio report by Knell that was broadcast five days earlier on BBC Radio 4 and is notable for many of the same omissions.

Here too no mention is made whatsoever of issue of Hamas’ designation as a terror organisation by the EU, the US and numerous additional countries, meaning that readers are unable to put statements – such as the following – into their correct context.

“In recent years, Qatar has spent hundreds of millions of dollars on new homes, a hospital and main roads in the Gaza Strip. It has pledged about $1bn (£780m) more.

It is not yet clear how its projects will be affected by the ongoing row with Saudi Arabia and other Gulf Arab countries. They are trying to economically isolate Qatar, accusing it of fostering terrorism – a charge the emirate strongly denies.” [emphasis added]

Like the audio report, this one too gives a whitewashed portrayal of Qatar’s recent expulsion of some Hamas officials but fails to mention that Hamas operatives based in Qatar have directed terror plots against Israel in the past. 

“Many leaders of the group [Hamas] – including its former head, Khaled Meshaal, have been living in luxurious exile in Doha.

Now as Hamas seeks to ease pressure on its patron, several have reportedly left at Qatar’s request.”

Knell tells readers that:

“One of Saudi Arabia’s demands has been for Qatar to stop backing Hamas, which runs Gaza.”

However, as was also the case in her audio report, Knell does not clarify that one of Saudi Arabia’s complaints is that Qatari support for Hamas undermines the Palestinian Authority.

As in her radio report, BBC audiences find unchallenged amplification of the terror organisation’s messaging in this latest report from Knell.

“Hamas leaders insist that Qatari help to Gaza has been primarily charitable.

“The houses that were built are not for Hamas, the streets that were asphalted are not for Hamas,” one senior figure, Mahmoud Zahar, tells the BBC.

“The humanitarian institutions – hospitals and schools, they’re also for the Palestinian people. All attempts to hitch Hamas to Qatar are wrong and void.””

And:

“”Qatar is being punished for speaking freely and supporting the Arab Spring,” remarks Hamas parliamentarian, Yahya Musa, at a small rally in Sheikh Hamad City.

“It’s being punished for supporting us and the resistance. We stand with our brothers to reject US plans against Qatar and the conspiracy against the resistance.””

Readers also find the following bizarre depiction of the electricity crisis in the Gaza Strip:

“Last week, Israel agreed to a PA plan to cut power supplies to two million people in Gaza that will reduce their daily average of four hours of electricity by 45 minutes.

Hamas accuses its political rivals of plotting with the Trump administration and Israel to unseat it in Gaza.”

Anyone unfamiliar with the story would not understand from Knell’s portrayal that the ongoing electricity crisis is actually the result of a long-standing internal Palestinian disagreement that was recently exacerbated when the Palestinian Authority announced its refusal to continue footing the entire bill for electricity supplied to the Gaza Strip by Israel. Hamas too refuses to pay for that electricity, preferring instead to spend millions of dollars on its military infrastructure. Yolande Knell, however, shoehorned Israel and the US into her warped portrayal of the story – even though she knows the true background to the crisis full well.

The BBC of course has a long record of under-reporting the relevant story of Hamas’ known misappropriation of construction materials for the purpose of terrorism and in this article readers find only the following poorly composed and unnecessarily qualified statement:

Israel says Hamas has also used foreign funding to bolster its military infrastructure, which its blockade aims to keep from strengthening.” [emphasis added]

Knell also erases from audience view the root cause of both the border restrictions and past conflicts: Hamas terrorism.

“Nevertheless, Qatar’s initiatives have buoyed Hamas through difficult times – the tight border restrictions imposed by both Israel and Egypt, and three bloody conflicts with Israel.”

The very least that the BBC’s funding public would expect to find in a report concerning accusations of “fostering terrorism” by Qatar is an accurate and factual overview of the terror activities of one of its prime protégés. Both of Knell’s recent reports from the Gaza Strip fail to provide that information but do uncritically promote messaging that could just as easily be found in a Hamas press release.

According to its public purposes the BBC is supposed to provide its funding public with “accurate and impartial news, current affairs and factual programming of the highest editorial standards” in order to enhance their understanding of a particular story. In this case, that purpose is clearly not being met. 

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Superficial BBC Radio 4 reporting on Qatar funding of Hamas 

 

 

Superficial BBC Radio 4 reporting on Qatar funding of Hamas

The June 15th edition of the BBC Radio 4 programme ‘PM‘ included an item relating to the ongoing diplomatic rift between Qatar and various other Arab and Muslim majority states.

Presenter Eddie Mair introduced the item as follows: [emphasis in italics in the original]

Mair: “Qatar in the Middle East is getting the cold shoulder from many of its neighbours. They accuse Qatar of meddling in other countries’ internal affairs and of supporting terrorism. Saudi Arabia has demanded that Qatar stop supporting Hamas, which controls Gaza – all of which might have quite an effect on Palestinians in the Gaza Strip. In the past five years Qatar has spent the equivalent of hundreds of millions of pounds building homes, a school, a hospital and main roads in Gaza. Reporting for ‘PM’; our Middle East correspondent Yolande Knell now.”

One would of course expect that a report on Qatari funding of Hamas – especially within the framework of the current row between Qatar and other countries – would include clarification of Hamas’ designation as a terror organisation by the EU, the US and numerous additional countries. However, while that obviously relevant context was completely absent from this report by Yolande Knell, listeners did get to hear about the colour scheme at one of Qatar’s building projects.

Knell: “Work is still underway at Sheikh Hamad City; built with money Qatar and named after the country’s former ruler. It’s become one of the best new addresses in Gaza. The apartment blocks here are an attractive peach colour. On the grass there are children playing. They’re from some of the poorer Palestinian families who’ve already moved in here. There’s a new mosque and a new school. But residents like Baha Shalabi [phonetic] are fearful about the crisis between Qatar and other Gulf States.”

Shalabi [voiceover]: “The problems between Saudi Arabia and Qatar will affect us a lot, of course. Everything’s going to stop: the money, the support, the infrastructure. The buildings you see; all of this is going to stop. We’re going to be the victims.”

Knell: “All across this Palestinian territory you can see the effects of Qatari cash. I’m at the edge of a brand new road where cars are whizzing along the coast. Doha’s pledged well over a billion dollars to fix Gaza and while most of its help is humanitarian, it also buoys up Hamas – the Islamist group that seized control here ten years ago.”

After that tepid portrayal of the violent and bloody coup in which Hamas ousted the internationally recognised representatives of the Palestinian people from the Gaza Strip, Knell went on, failing to tell listeners that Qatar is one of the few countries to have recognised and supported Hamas’ regime in Gaza over that of the Palestinian Authority.

Knell: “Until now, the Emir of Qatar is the only head of state to have visited Gaza while Hamas has been in charge. It was a show of regional influence. But today Qatar stands accused of destabilising the Middle East by backing religious extremists – claims it denies. It’s been told to break off ties with Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood. The usually fiery Hamas leader Mahmoud Zahar is cautious in his response.”

The terror organisation then got a BBC stage for amplification of its unchallenged messaging.

Zahar [voiceover]: “Qatar was supporting the Palestinian people. The houses that were built are not for Hamas. The streets that were asphalted are not for Hamas. And the schools and hospitals, they’re also for the Palestinian people. All the efforts to hitch Hamas to Qatar are wrong and void.”

Making no effort to clarify to audiences that funding provided by Qatar has also reportedly been diverted to terrorist purposes such as the reconstruction of cross-border attack tunnels or that Qatar pledged funding for Hamas employees, Knell went on with a whitewashed portrayal of Qatar’s recent expulsion of some Hamas officials:

Knell: “Back in Sheikh Hamad City, outside the large Sheikh Hamad Bin Khalifa Mosque, there’ve been rallies in support of Qatar. Meanwhile, some top Hamas figures living in exile in Doha have moved away to ease pressure on their patron.

Knell failed to inform listeners that Hamas operatives based in Qatar have directed terror plots against Israel in the past. She went on:

Knell: “In a new policy document, Hamas tried to distance itself from the Muslim Brotherhood. So will the Qatari money keep flowing here? I asked Mushir Amar [phonetic] from the Islamic University in Gaza.”

Amar: “The situation is not really very clear. We heard some statements here and there from Saudi Arabia trying to reprimand Qatar for supporting Hamas and Hamas political leadership. They say that we’re not involved in any sort of inter-Arab conflict because this is really not in the best interest of Hamas and this is not in the best interest of the Palestinian people.”

Knell refrained from informing listeners that one of Saudi Arabia’s complaints is that Qatari support for Hamas undermines the Palestinian Authority. She closed her report with a superficial portrayal of the electricity crisis in the Gaza Strip.

Knell: “For now, the noise of bulldozers continues at Gaza’s Qatari funded building sites, providing much-needed jobs in this broken economy. But recently, when the local power plant ran out of fuel, Doha didn’t make a donation as it has previously. Palestinians here are trying not to get drawn into a damaging dispute but already they’re feeling its effects.”

Among the public purposes set out in the BBC’s constitutional document is “[t]o provide impartial news and information to help people understand and engage with the world around them”. Obviously this superficial report by Knell, with its unchallenged Hamas messaging and its failure to provide basic context and background information, does not serve that purpose.

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

While in the last couple of weeks the BBC has invested quite a lot of resources and energy in opportunistic promotion of its chosen political narrative concerning the Six Day War, it has on the other hand to date completely ignored an additional anniversary that is, to put it mildly, no less important as far as audience understanding of the reasons for the absence of a solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is concerned.

This week marks a decade since the violent take-over of the Gaza Strip by the terrorist organisation Hamas and the ousting of the body recognised by the international community as representing the Palestinian people – the Palestinian Authority – from that territory.

As Avi Issacharoff writes at the Times of Israel:

“Ten years have passed since Hamas seized control of the Gaza Strip in a violent and swift coup during which 160 members of PA chief Mahmoud Abbas’s rival Fatah party were wiped out. Within three and a half days, the Hamas military wing defeated the military units of the Fatah-dominated PA, even though Abbas’s loyalists were four times more numerous. (The most powerful PA figure in Gaza at the time was Mohammad Dahlan, but he happened to be in Germany for physiotherapy treatment on his back.)

Unemployment at the end of the Hamas decade is around 40%. Poverty is widespread. Two-thirds of the population in Gaza needs help from international aid organizations. The water isn’t fit to drink. And now the power is dwindling.

If anyone hopes that Hamas might reconsider its policies, and start to invest in the citizens of the Strip instead of its military infrastructure, they should forget it. Hamas remains the same cynical organization that exploits the distress of Gaza’s residents for political gain, both locally and internationally. Sometimes against Israel, sometimes against the Palestinian Authority.”

The topic of Gaza’s chronic electricity crisis has been covered patchily and often inaccurately by the BBC in the past (see ‘related articles’ below). In recent weeks that crisis has been exacerbated by the Palestinian Authority’s refusal to continue footing the entire bill for electricity supplied to the Gaza Strip by Israel.

“In April the PA told Israel that it would only pay NIS 25 million ($11.1 million) of the NIS 40 million ($5.6- 7 million) monthly bill. Israel currently supplies 125 megawatts to Gaza, around 30 percent of what is needed to power Gaza for 24 hours a day.”

While Israel, Egypt and the EU are reportedly trying to find solutions to the worsening crisis, Hamas continues to threaten violence.  

““The decision of the occupation to reduce the electricity to Gaza at the request of PA President Mahmoud Abbas is catastrophic and dangerous. It will accelerate the deterioration and explode the situation in the Strip,” said Hamas spokesperson Abdel Latif al-Qanua.

“Those who will bear the consequences of this decision are the Israeli enemy, who is besieging the Gaza Strip, and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas,” he added.”

According to some Gaza residents and others, Hamas is already organising violent ‘demonstrations’ against Israel.

“Since the beginning of Ramadan, Hamas have been organizing riots across the border area with Israel provoking a response that has left two Palestinians killed and several others wounded.”

However, as Avi Issacharoff  points out:

“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.

Hamas could easily step in to pay for the electricity from Israel that Abbas is no longer willing to cover. But it adamantly refuses to do so. It stubbornly insists that the PA should pay the entire bill, without clarifying why.”

Likewise, the Palestinian Authority – which reportedly has also cut medical supplies to the Gaza Strip – could foot the bill for Gaza’s electricity if it so wished. After all, it spends hundreds of millions of dollars a year on payments to convicted terrorists (including those belonging to Hamas) and the families of terrorists. However, the PA’s decision to put pressure on Hamas by means of augmented suffering for the people of the Gaza Strip goes far beyond financial – or humanitarian – considerations.

Whether or not this crisis will escalate into another round of conflict between the Gaza Strip based terror group Hamas and Israel remains to be seen. One thing, however, is already clear: if the situation does escalate, BBC audiences will once again lack the full background information necessary for understanding of its underlying causes as they watch BBC reporters produce a plethora of pathos-rich reports of suffering in Gaza.

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

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BBC’s Knell reports on Gaza power crisis – without the usual distractions

On several occasions in the past we have documented the BBC’s repeated misrepresentation of the perennial electricity crisis in the Gaza Strip as being connected to Israeli counter-terrorism measures. [emphasis added]

“The manager, Rafik Maliha, has been here since the electricity plant opened a decade ago. It was supposed to make use of the latest technology to meet rising demand. Instead, it’s faced constant challenges. It’s been caught up in previous fighting between Hamas which controls Gaza and the group’s sworn enemy Israel. Tight border restrictions limited fuel imports. Although power cuts were common in Gaza before, now they’re much worse.” (August 15th 2014 – link to source)

“More than 10 years ago, Israel destroyed a large part of the power plant located in central Gaza after the kidnapping of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit by Hamas militants.

Since then, power shortages have had an impact on almost every aspect of life in Gaza.” (January 14th 2017 – link to source)

“Gaza’s everyday problems don’t stop though with unreliable electricity; the rest of the infrastructure is shot. A lot of recent war damage lies unreconstructed. The economy is lifeless, unemployment sky-high. So whose fault is it? People here wave their arms in many directions. The Israelis first, for the stifling border closures the Israeli government says are for security, the people here say are for collective punishment.” (February 1st 2017 – link to source)

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

There are strict controls on the movement of goods and people going in and out of Gaza.” (April 18th 2017 – link to source)

“Gaza’s electricity supply has been also affected by restrictions on the import of goods imposed by Israel as part of a land, sea and air blockade that is now in its 10th year. (April 27th 2017 – link to source)

However, on May 18th an article by Yolande Knell that appeared in the ‘features’ section of the BBC News website’s Middle East page demonstrated that the BBC is entirely aware of the fact that the electricity crisis in the Gaza Strip is not caused by Israeli counter-terrorism measures at all, but by internal Palestinian disputes.

Readers of that report – titled “Gaza residents left in the dark amid Palestinian power struggle” – were informed that:

“Behind the crisis is an escalating political power struggle between the Islamist group, Hamas, and the Palestinian Authority (PA), dominated by the rival Fatah movement. […]

Now, Mr Abbas’s West Bank-based government appears to be piling on financial pressure as it tries to reassert its authority over the Strip. […]

Gaza’s only power plant, which runs on diesel, was shut down last month after the PA scrapped a tax exemption, more than doubling the price of the fuel.

The plant had been producing about 60MW of power a day, about 30% of the energy normally available.

Now, the PA says it will no longer honour any invoices for an additional 125MW of electricity supplied by Israel.”

Yolande Knell also produced an audio report on the same topic which was broadcast on the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour’ on the same date. In that report (from 17:50 here) she told listeners that:

“Behind this power crisis is an internal power struggle between the main Palestinian factions. […]

Most recently the Palestinian Authority, headed by Mr Abbas, said it will no longer pay for electricity supplied by Israel to Gaza while Hamas remains in charge.”

Listeners also heard a UN official say:

“We have warned all sides that a political solution needs to be found to this crisis and the only reasonable political solution is to in fact work on returning Gaza to the control of the legitimate Palestinian authorities – the government.”

Particularly noteworthy is the fact that in neither of these reports did Knell promote the lazy, inaccurate but previously much touted notion that Israeli security measures are to blame for the crisis.

While that adherence to accurate journalism without misleading distractions is clearly welcome, it does of course highlight the question of why promotion of that misinformation has been standard practice in so much previous BBC reporting on this topic.

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BBC News parrots inaccurate claim from a politicised UN agency

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The ToI has also noted that:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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