How did the BBC portray a story about an attack on Bar Mitzva hikers?

On the afternoon of November 30th the BBC News website published a report titled “Palestinian shot dead by Israeli settler in West Bank” on its Middle East page.

The incident that report purports to describe had taken place a few hours earlier when a group of 22 children and two adults on a Bar Mitzva hike in Samaria were attacked by a large group of Palestinians throwing rocks. Like the headline, the report’s opening paragraph ignored that relevant background.

“A Palestinian man has been shot and killed by an Israeli settler in the occupied West Bank, officials say.”

The report then went straight on to describe the event’s circumstances as being disputed.

“There are conflicting reports about the circumstances surrounding the incident near the village of Qusra.”

Five of the report’s seventeen paragraphs described an IDF statement concerning the incident. The word “students” – rather than pupils – was used to describe the children.

“Israel’s military said the settler had opened fired in self-defence after Palestinians threw rocks at a group of hiking settlers and students. […]

The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) said Wednesday’s incident took place while a group of 20 Israeli boys, who were accompanied by adults, went on a hiking trip near Qusra.

“A disturbance broke out… involving dozens of Palestinians, during which one of the hikers shot at the rioters in self-defence,” the Jerusalem Post quoted a statement as saying.

“The hikers barricaded themselves in a cave near the village. IDF forces arrived at the site and rescued all the hikers.”

“One of the rioters was hit by gunfire,” the statement added.”

A further five paragraphs portrayed the ‘conflicting’ view, but without clarifying the quoted official’s relevant job description and his dubious record of unsupported allegations.

“But Palestinian officials said the dead man was a farmer who had been working his land when settlers attacked him.

They identified him as Mahmoud Odeh, 48, and said he was shot in the chest. […]

A Palestinian Authority official disputed the Israeli military’s account of the incident.

Ghassan Daghlas told the Associated Press that Mr Odeh had been at work when a group of settlers trespassed on to his land and then ordered him to move. When Mr Odeh refused, one of them shot him, Mr Daghlas added.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas condemned the killing of Mr Odeh, calling it a “cowardly act and evidence to the world of the ugly crimes conducted by settlers against unarmed Palestinians”.”

The report’s final three paragraphs were devoted to framing of the story, with readers clearly being steered towards the view that it should be seen as being about “settler violence”. Readers also found the standard BBC insert on ‘international law’ that fails to inform audiences of the existence of legal opinions that conflict with the corporation’s chosen narrative.

“The BBC’s Tom Bateman in Jerusalem says tensions between settlers and Palestinians in the occupied West Bank have been on the rise.

A UN agency that monitors incidents said earlier this year that an increase in settler violence had occurred alongside a major rise in Palestinian attacks against Israelis, the vast majority of which involved stone-throwing at vehicles.

More than 600,000 Jews live in about 140 settlements built since Israel’s 1967 occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem. The settlements are considered illegal under international law, though Israel disputes this.”

The report paraphrased by Bateman was produced by the notoriously partisan UN agency OCHA.

In addition, readers were provided with a link to a BBC backgrounder on ‘settlements’ and a frequently recycled partisan map produced by the political NGO B’tselem.

In other words, in just seventeen paragraphs the BBC managed to turn a story about a violent attack by Palestinians against children on a Bar Mitzva hike and the unfortunate ensuing death of a man when one of the accompanying adults had to use his firearm in self-defence, into a story about “settlements” and “settler violence”.

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