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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More BBC disinformation on Gaza power crisis

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

In recent days the crisis was further exacerbated.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Demand far outstrips supply.”

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

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

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Gaza Strip background the BBC does not provide

Last November we noted that the commander of COGAT, Maj. Gen. Yoav Mordechai, had written to several international bodies warning of a potential water crisis in the Gaza Strip in the summer of 2017.

In January we noted that the BBC had not reported the opening of a desalination plant (constructed by the EU and UNICEF) in the Gaza Strip.

“It is the Hamas-ruled territory’s second and largest desalination plant. While it will not solve Gaza’s water woes, officials say the project marks an important step. […]

The European Union says it invested 10 million euros, or $10.6 million, in building the plant with UNICEF. It has pledged a similar amount for a second phase meant to double capacity by 2019.”

However, it turns out that the desalination plant is not functioning and, as reported by the Times of Israel, COGAT has once again called on international bodies for help.

“In a letter sent last week to representatives of the international community in Israel and to the Foreign Ministry, Maj. Gen. Yoav Mordechai, who heads COGAT, warned that the Strip’s aquifer has been destroyed by years of excessive pumping and an estimated 96 percent of water in the enclave is now unfit to drink. It is the second such warning Mordechai has issued in the past six months.

To improve the situation, Israel supports the establishment of desalination plants, he said. In January a UNICEF team finished construction of a desalination plant in Khan Younis with a production capacity of 6,000 cubic meters of water per day — enough for 75,000 people.

However, according to Mordechai, the Hamas terror group, which rules the Strip, won’t allow the plant to be connected to the electric grid.” [emphasis added]

Only last month the BBC found it appropriate to provide unchallenged multi-platform amplification for water-related propaganda promoted by the PA’s Husam Zomlot:

Zomlot: “Steve, the whole situation here is that of a system of entitlement. These people – some people in Tel Aviv right now – the government, the Right-wing extreme government, wants to keep a system whereby there is a group that are privileged as per these numbers. It’s our own water that they consume, most of it. Some groups that are privileged and others that are disprivileged [sic] and discriminated whether by means of occupation or by means of colonisation or by means of apartheid.” [emphasis added]

Significantly, BBC audiences have not been informed of Israel’s actions to ease the water crisis in the Gaza Strip – and the lack of effort on the part of Hamas and the PA.

“A second desalination plant is in its planning stages and Israel supports the construction of a third, larger plant in Deir al-Balah, but only part of the money has been raised by the international community.

Until those plants are completed, Israel has offered to double its supply of water to Gaza, from 10 million cubic meters per year to 20 million. However, Mordechai told Army Radio that the Palestinian Authority, headed by Mahmoud Abbas, is not rushing to implement the offer.” [emphasis added]

In addition to water, the topic of the electricity supply in the Gaza Strip is also serially misrepresented in BBC reporting. From the same Times of Israel report we learn that:

“The water shortage is compounded by the ongoing electricity crisis in the Gaza Strip. The energy shortfall is an estimated 200 megawatts a day. Israel currently provides 60% of the electricity for Gaza, a power plant in the Strip provides some 30% and Egypt provides the remaining 10%. […]

Israel has approved the construction of another high-voltage power line to Gaza, which could provide an additional 100 megawatts of energy. This will take a few years to complete and is intended to provide power to the desalination plants.

Additionally, in September 2015, Israel approved construction of a natural gas pipeline to the Strip which could provide cheap, efficient energy to the Palestinian population. However, the PA has yet to sign a deal with any gas supplier.” [emphasis added]

If a serious water shortage does occur in the Gaza Strip this coming summer, BBC audiences will lack accurate and impartial background information essential for proper understanding of the causes of the crisis.

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

BBC’s sketchy reporting on Gaza power crisis highlighted

BBC reporting on the topic of the perennial electricity shortage in the Gaza Strip has long been noteworthy for its failure to inform audiences of the full background to that crisis.

The latest example of that style of reporting was seen at the beginning of this month in Tim Franks’ radio report from Gaza for the BBC World Service and it was also evident in two BBC News website reports published a couple of weeks earlier.gaza-power-crisis-2

The Times of Israel recently published an interview with the Qatari envoy to the Gaza Strip which once again highlights the fact that BBC audiences are being serially denied the full range of information necessary for understanding of this topic. 

“Qatar’s special envoy to Gaza, Muhammad al-Amadi, said that he maintains “excellent” ties with various Israeli officials, and that in some case it is Palestinian officials who are holding up efforts to better the lives of residents of the Strip. […]

Al-Amadi said he planned to meet with Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah on Sunday regarding an agreement that would help solve the Gaza energy crisis.

He said that while Israel has agreed to take part in the deal, the Palestinian Authority has been holding it up.

“We proposed the establishment of a technical committee, free of politicians, that would be responsible for handling Gaza’s energy problem. The committee would be composed of experts from Gaza, [Qatar], the UN, and UNRWA; and they would manage Gaza’s energy affairs,” said al-Amadi.

“This is a very serious matter that should help you in Israel as well, since these are your neighbors that are without regular electricity and water flowing to their homes. The Israelis understand this and are helping, but there are other parties that are not” — namely, the PA.

“We are talking about a three-staged plan: The first stage deals primarily with solving the problem of payment for fuel,” he said, noting that there’s been a longstanding dispute between Hamas and the PA on that front.

“[For] the second or intermediate stage,” al-Amadi continued, “we are talking with Israel about the construction of a power line between Israel and Gaza that would help with the power outages.

“The long-term stage concerns the supply of gas to the Strip in a manner that would increase the output of the power plant, thus allowing for more power in Gaza. Gas costs one-fifth of the price of the diesel currently operating the power plant,” al-Amadi concluded.”

And yet, the BBC continues to tell its audiences that the Gaza power shortages are rooted in Israeli actions rather than in the long-standing dispute between Hamas and the Palestinian Authority.

gaza-power-quote-1

gaza-power-quote-2

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Franks: “Why don’t you test them?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hamad: “No, no…”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Another BBC WS ‘Newshour’ Israel special – part two

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

 

 

 

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

As has been documented here on several occasions, the BBC has over the years repeatedly misinformed audiences on the topic of the causes of the chronic electricity shortage in the Gaza Strip.

That power crisis prompted demonstrations in September 2015 which went unreported by the BBC, as did Israeli efforts to ease the shortage.  

A recent exacerbation of the crisis brought about more demonstrations by Gaza Strip residents and this time the BBC News website produced two reports on the topic:gaza-power-crisis-1

Gaza electricity crisis: Hamas breaks up protest‘ – January 13th

Angry protests in Gaza over crippling power shortages‘ – Rushdi Abu Alouf, January 14th

But did the BBC finally get round to giving its audiences full and accurate background information concerning the reasons why residents in the Gaza Strip only have a few hours of electricity a day in these two reports? In the first article readers were told that:

“Locals now get just four hours of power per day, instead of eight-hour cycles.

A vital plant was badly hit in fighting with Israel in 2014, but financial troubles and inter-Palestinian tensions have also contributed to the crisis.”

In fact, (and despite several inaccurate BBC reports to that effect which have remained uncorrected for two and a half years) Gaza’s power plant in Nusseirat was not “badly hit” in 2014: a fuel tank was damaged because terror organisations placed military assets close to the plant but it was back up and running within two months. As for the “financial troubles” and “inter-Palestinian tensions”, the report does not provide readers with any further information which would clarify that opaque terminology.

In the second article audiences find the following:gaza-power-crisis-2

“On Friday, the Hamas movement held the government of the Palestinian Authority, which is based in Ramallah in the West Bank, and President Abbas responsible for the dire electricity crisis in the Gaza Strip.

Hamas spokesperson Fawzi Barhum said that the ongoing power shortage was “intentional” and aimed “to tighten the unfair siege on Gaza and create chaos and anarchy”.

Barhum demanded that Abbas, and the Fatah movement that he leads, “end this dangerous policy” and end the crisis, which has left Gaza with less than a quarter of its required electricity.

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.

Local and international organisations have suggested numerous solutions over the past decade to solve the crisis, leading to the reconstruction of the destroyed power station.”

So what is actually causing the chronic electricity shortage in the Gaza Strip? Ha’aretz recently reported that:

“Israel supplies the Strip with 122 megawatts of electricity on an ongoing basis, said Maj. Gen. Yoav (Poli) Mordechai, the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT). He added that a recent fault with one of the electricity lines had been repaired immediately.

In addition to the electricity from Israel, Egypt supplies 20-30 MW and the Gaza power station generates 60 MW, he said. […]

Mordechai blamed Hamas for the current electricity crisis in Gaza. “The leaders of Hamas enjoy electricity 24/7, while the rest of the population only gets three hours a day,” he said.

He also accused Hamas of using the funds it raises from taxing electricity for “personal interests and military equipment.” Every tunnel from Gaza has a generator beside it exclusively for the use of Hamas, Mordechai said.”

The Times of Israel provides a good overview of the background to the shortages:

“The latest crisis surrounding electricity supply in Gaza did not start overnight. It is the outcome of a long-running disagreement between the Palestinian Authority and Hamas over the payment of excise taxes for the fuel that is used in the power station in Gaza.

The Palestinian Authority purchases the gas at full cost — including the excise tax — from Israel before it is transferred to Gaza. However, the PA announced in 2015 that it is no longer prepared to bear the full burden of the excise tax and told Hamas it needs to foot its share of the costs of buying diesel fuel for the power station in Gaza. The station constitutes the main source of energy in the Gaza Strip (apart from a small amount that comes from Israel and Egypt).

While the Palestinian Authority is nominally responsible for the Gaza Strip, particularly in official dealings with Israel, in reality, Hamas has been in charge since ousting PA forces, in a bloody uprising in 2007. Several rounds of reconciliation talks between the two have failed to reach an agreement, leading to these kinds of grey areas of responsibility.

Hamas, a terrorist organization which calls for Israel’s destruction, has refused to make any payments to Israel. The PA initially continued to pay the full cost of the fuel, but the disagreement was never resolved.

As a result, the Gaza Strip has seen drastic swings in the electricity supply. Each time the PA refuses to shell out the funds for the excise tax, the electric company in Gaza buys less fuel and in turn produces less electricity. This time, it appears that the crisis has become particularly severe, in light of the decrease in electricity supply from Egypt, due to technical problems with the power lines.”

There is of course no doubt that – did it wish to do so – the BBC could have provided its audiences with a similarly clear and factual explanation of the crisis. However, the corporation instead elected to steer audiences towards a version of events which implies that Israel is to blame, recycling inaccurate information and failing to adequately explain the dispute between Hamas and the Palestinian Authority which is the real cause of the chronic electricity shortages.

However, one aspect of that second report is positive and noteworthy: BBC audiences found an extremely rare portrayal of Hamas’ intimidation of civilians and journalists and its practice of trying to silence foreign media coverage of unfavourable stories.

“Hamas’ police forces arrested dozens of people in northern Gaza for their involvement in the demonstration.

The Palestinian Centre for Human Rights said that “security personnel in the aftermath of the protest raided several houses and arrested a number of activists”.

The Associated Press said that one of its journalists was arrested, while a photographer for the French news agency AFP was reportedly hit in the face by a police officer’s gun when he refused to hand over his camera.

The foreign press had been told by Hamas not to cover the event. The photographer had to go to hospital and received stitches for a wound on his face.”

BBC audiences were not however informed that the Foreign Press Association issued a statement concerning those incidents.

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The topic of Israel’s withholding of tax revenue transfers to the Palestinian Authority has cropped up time and time again in the BBC’s Middle East coverage over the years. However, the BBC has repeatedly failed to adequately inform audiences of the relevant context of the PA’s massive debt to the Israel Electric Corporation and the reasons why that debt has accumulated.

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Last week an agreement was reached in an effort to try to solve the perennial problem of that PA debt to the IEC.pylons

“Israel and the Palestinian Authority signed an agreement on Tuesday to resolve the Palestinians’ outstanding debt of almost NIS 2 billion ($530 million) to the Israel Electric Corporation.

Under the agreement, the PA will pay Israel NIS 570 million ($132 million), putting an end to the 10-year debt crisis. The balance of NIS 1.5 billion ($397 million) will be paid in 48 installments, according to AFP, which added that a portion of the debt — likely interest accrued over the years — is expected to be waived. […]

A joint Israeli-Palestinian committee will be formed to oversee the transfer of responsibility to the PA of power lines that supply electricity to Palestinian cities in the West Bank.”

The same week also saw an additional development in the energy sector.

“Israel and the Palestinian Authority agreed to move ahead with plans to build a gas pipeline to Gaza in an effort to boost energy and water supplies to the Hamas-run Palestinian enclave. […]

A source in the PA told The Times of Israel that Palestinian officials were told the Israeli political echelon gave the go-ahead Tuesday. Israel and the Palestinians are set to jointly request funding for the pipeline from a number of donor countries. A committee comprised of representatives of such donor states is set to meet in New York later this month. […]

Earlier this month, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced that the Netherlands will help Israel build the Israel-Gaza pipeline.

“We want to help the population of Gaza and the first step is to improve the supply of energy and water… including laying a gas pipeline,” Netanyahu said during a two-day visit to The Netherlands at the beginning of this month.”

Given that the topic of the chronic electricity crisis is a regular feature in BBC reporting from the Gaza Strip (and frequently inaccurately attributed to Israel), one might have expected the corporation to report this news. However, neither of those examples of cooperation between Israel and the PA has received any BBC coverage.

Revisiting the BBC’s 2014 reports on Gaza’s power plant

Readers may recall that on July 29th 2014 the BBC devoted considerable coverage to the story of an explosion at a power plant in the Gaza Strip.

““Power plant destroyed” screamed the sub-heading in a BBC News website report on July 29th 2014.Power plant written

That article was among numerous items produced by the BBC on the same day which included content relating to what the BBC immediately concluded was an Israeli strike on Gaza’s power station. BBC journalists extensively promoted that version of the story despite the fact that Israeli sources had stated that the power plant was not deliberately targeted.

Viewers of BBC television news programmes (along with visitors to the website) saw reports by Chris MorrisIan Pannell and Martin Patience and Chris Morris. They heard statements such as the following one from Ian Pannell:

“Israel wants to weaken Hamas any way it can, which includes hitting Gaza’s only power station – adding to the misery of those who live here.”Power plant Morris and Patience 2

Listeners to BBC World Service radio’s ‘Newshour‘ on July 29th heard Chris Morris make the following baseless allegation:

“And it is Gaza’s only power plant so there are electricity cuts in Gaza City, there could be problems with water supply because many of the area’s water pumps also rely on that power plant. So if that was a deliberate Israeli attempt to cause economic pain – which is certainly how most Palestinians will see it – then it could be fairly successful.” [emphasis added]

Just over two weeks later, both television viewers and visitors to the BBC News website were again reminded of the story in filmed and written reports by Yolande Knell.”

A year later, the claims of deliberate targeting of the power plant were shown to be false but no effort was made to correct the misleading impressions and inaccurate information in those reports which still remain available online.

The Military Attorney General has now published the result of investigations into the July 29th 2014 incident and previous ones at that power plant (section 4 here).

“In media reports, in IDF operational reports, and in the reports of international and non-governmental organizations, it was alleged that over the course of the period from 22 – 29 July 2014, the Gaza Strip’s power plant facilities, located in Nusseirat, were struck a number of times, as a result of IDF operations (the different sources refer to different events, and the allegations and figures contained therein are not consistent). It was further alleged, that as a result of the strike on the power plant on 29 July 2014, the plant ceased to function for a significant amount of time. Subsequently, the incident was referred to the FFA Mechanism for examination.

The factual findings, collated by the FFA Mechanism, and presented to the MAG, indicated that the power plant in Nusseirat was designated as a “sensitive site” on the relevant operational systems of the IDF. In accordance with the IDF’s operational instructions, any military operation to be conducted in the vicinity of such sites requires the adoption of special precautions. The findings further indicated that, in the course of the military activity taking place in the area, the power plant was struck four times over the course of the period from 22-29 July 2014 (the difficulty in specifying the precise dates of the strikes results from differences between the various reports, which provide different dates for the same strikes).

In regard to the first three incidents of damage to the power plant, it was found that the damage did not occur as the result of any direct or intentional attack, aerial or otherwise, by IDF forces. The FFA Mechanism could not rule out the possibility that the power plant facilities may have been damaged by shrapnel, or artillery fire that went off course during the combat. This, in light of the considerable military activity that took place in the vicinity of the plant, between IDF forces and squads affiliated with terror organizations. As well as in light of the fact that terror organizations located a large number of terror assets adjacent to the power plant – at times at a distance of mere tens of meters (such assets included launching pits in which rockets and mortars were stored, medium range rocket launchers, the openings of combat tunnels, weapons caches and more). Evidence has also been obtained which indicates that a portion of the damage may have been caused as the result of rocket fire by Palestinian terror organizations. […]

As regards the fourth incident of damage, which occurred on 29 July 2014, the FFA Mechanism found that on the day of the incident, an IDF armored force operating in the area identified a squad of terror operatives, bearing anti-tank weaponry (“anti-tank squad”). The anti-tank squad was identified while it was close to what would later turn out to be the fuel tanks of the power plant. In light of the imminent threat posed by the squad to the armored force, the force fired, in a measured and direct manner, at the anti-tank squad, using the most precise munition the force had at its disposal. It appears, that as a result of this fire, one of the power plant’s fuel tanks was damaged (the power plant itself was not hit).It was further found, that the IDF force which carried out the fire, did not make the connection between the facilities, in proximity to which it identified the anti-tank squad, and the power plant, and was not aware that the structures in question contained flammable material.

After reviewing the factual findings and the material collated by the FFA Mechanism in regard to this incident, the MAG found that the targeting process carried out with regard to the anti-tank squad accorded with Israeli domestic law and international law requirements.

The fire which was carried out by the IDF force over the course of the incident was aimed at a military object – an anti-tank squad of the terror organizations, which posed an immediate threat to the force. The attack on the squad complied with the principle of proportionality, as at the time the decision to attack was taken, it was considered that the collateral damage expected to arise as a result of the attack would not be excessive in relation to the military advantage anticipated from it. This estimation was not unreasonable under the circumstances, when taking into consideration the immediacy of the threat posed to the force by the anti-tank squad, and in light of the fact that the force was not aware of the nature of the facilities in proximity to which they identified the squad.” [emphasis added]

Nevertheless, members of the public can still find BBC material online which inaccurately portrays the July 29th 2014 incident as a deliberate strike on that power plant. Clearly the appropriate clarifications need to be urgently added to those reports.

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As readers may recall, in late July 2014 the BBC devoted considerable coverage to the topic of an explosion at Gaza’s power plant which was inaccurately portrayed as a deliberate strike on the facility.Power plant Morris and Patience 2

The topic of the Gaza Strip’s utilities also featured in subsequent BBC reports, including one by Yolande Knell in which audiences yet again were given inaccurate information concerning the reasons for the chronic shortages of electricity in the territory.

“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.” [emphasis added]

Since the end of the summer 2014 conflict between Israel and terrorist groups in the Gaza Strip, that same power plant has again stopped functioning on several occasions. Those stories had nothing to do with Israel and were not reported by the BBC.

BBC silent on latest Gaza power plant shut down

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One result of the ongoing dispute between Hamas and the Palestinian Authority which has brought about regular power shortages and stoppages is the failure to treat sewage and the consequent flow of untreated waste into the sea.

Gaza City from Zikkim

Gaza City from Zikkim

Israel recently announced that it will increase the supply of electricity it provides to the Gaza Strip in order to enable the recently completed sewage treatment plant there to operate effectively.

“The $100 million sewage plant, built with financing from the World Bank, does not have enough electricity to fully operate. The only power plant in Gaza has periodically halted production because of disputes over fuel tax payments between Hamas, the Iran-backed terror organization that rules the territory, and Fatah, the party in charge of the Palestinian Authority. The plant now runs on reduced capacity, meaning that Gaza residents usually only have six to eight hours of electricity per day, despite assistance from Israel and Egypt. Israel already provides about 30 percent of Gaza’s electricity needs, an IDF spokesman told the Associated Press in May. […]

Yuval Steinitz, Israel’s minister of national infrastructure, energy, and water, approved the increased power supply earlier this week. The move comes amid reports that Israel’s massive desalination plant in Ashkelon has had its operations disrupted several times in recent months due to high levels of water pollution, affecting Israel’s potable water supply.”

To date BBC audiences have not seen any coverage of this particular Gaza Strip electricity story.

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