BBC amends inaccurate photo caption two months on

As documented here in July, the BBC News website published a report titled “Israel suspends fuel deliveries to Gaza over arson attacks” on the 17th of that month in which readers were initially given an accurate portrayal of the story.

“Israel has tightened restrictions on its only cargo crossing with the Gaza Strip, after Palestinians carried out fresh attacks with incendiary balloons.

No fuel will enter through Kerem Shalom until Sunday, but food and medicine deliveries will still be permitted.” [emphasis added]

However in contrast, the caption to a photograph featured later on in the report and a quote from a political NGO informed BBC audiences of “the closure of Kerem Shalom” and the “shutting down of Gaza’s main lifeline”.

BBC Watch submitted a complaint concerning those inaccurate representations of the situation, pointing out that – as the BBC obviously was aware – the Kerem Shalom crossing had not been closed or shut down.

On July 26th we received a response from BBC Complaints informing us that it would take more time to reply. On August 14th we received another response stating that BBC Complaints had not been able to reply within the accepted time-frame and referring us to OFCOM. On September 18th we received an additional response.

“Thank you for getting in touch about our article reporting that Israel has tightened restrictions on its only cargo crossing with the Gaza Strip, after Palestinians carried out fresh attacks with incendiary balloons (https://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-44858637) and please accept our apologies for the long and regrettable delay in our response.

To hopefully address your complaint now, after considering your points in more detail we have amended the caption of the third photo to now explain that:

An Israeli NGO said the measures could have disastrous implications for Gazans

However we do not consider that the paragraph which refers to a statement from Israeli non-governmental organisation Gisha needs changed for the reasons you’ve outlined.

In particular they do not say that the crossing has been “shut down” but refer to the “shutting down of Gaza’s main lifeline…” which implies ongoing activity in a story about the tightening of restrictions.”

Apparently BBC Complaints would have us believe that audiences would not understand the phrase “shutting down” as meaning closing or ceasing operations.

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The glaring omission in the BBC’s portrayal of Gaza truce negotiations

On August 15th a report headlined “Israel reopens Gaza cargo crossing after calm” appeared on the BBC News website’s Middle East page.

“Israel has fully reopened its cargo crossing with Gaza, saying it is in response to a period of relative calm.

Lorries carrying fuel and commercial goods passed through Kerem Shalom on Wednesday after weeks of restrictions.

The fishing zone off Gaza’s coast was also restored to 17km (nine nautical miles), having been reduced to 6km.

Kerem Shalom was closed for all but humanitarian deliveries in retaliation for cross-border incendiary kite and balloon attacks by Palestinians.”

After that reasonable account of events, the report continued with promotion of an anonymous allegation:

“Human rights groups said the move amounted to illegal collective punishment.”

Those who read previous BBC reports concerning the Kerem Shalom crossing may recall that the same allegation has been promoted twice by the BBC and that it comes from the foreign funded political NGO ‘Gisha’.

On July 10th the BBC News website told audiences that:

“The Israeli non-governmental organisation Gisha, which promotes freedom of movement for Palestinians, also condemned the Israeli decision.

“The damage being caused to agricultural lands in Israel is grave and deplorable, but collectively punishing nearly two million people in Gaza by closing its only official crossing for the movement of goods is both illegal and morally depraved,” it wrote on Twitter.” [emphasis added]

On July 17th the BBC News website promoted the same quote, together with a link to the NGO’s Twitter account.

As noted here at the time, BBC editorial guidelines on impartiality require that audiences be informed of the “particular viewpoint” of contributors. In the case of ‘Gisha’, it would obviously be helpful to BBC audiences to know that the political NGO touting the claim of “illegal collective punishment” petitioned Israel’s Supreme Court in April, claiming that Israel’s responses to the ‘Great Return March’ violence along the Gaza border are illegal and demanding that the Court prohibit the use of live ammunition by the IDF. The court rejected that petition.

Apparently this time the BBC chose to circumvent that requirement by presenting the quote anonymously, while portraying an openly political organisation as a ‘human rights group’.

Additionally readers of this article found the BBC’s standard sanitised portrayal of the ‘Great Return March’ agitprop.

“More than 160 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli forces since the end of March – most during protests along the Gaza-Israel border at which thousands have expressed their support for the declared right of Palestinian refugees to return to their ancestral homes in what is now Israel.

One Israeli soldier has been shot dead by a Palestinian sniper during the same period.”

As has been the case throughout the last four and a half months, the BBC once again promotes Hamas-sourced casualty figures while failing to clarify that the terror group is one of the factions involved in the organisation, financing and facilitation of what are yet again blandly described as “protests”.

Readers are not told that what it euphemistically terms ‘expression of support’ has been characterised by violent rioting which has included hundreds of petrol bomb attacks, IED attacks, grenade attacks and shooting attacks as well as infiltration attempts.

While amplifying the “declared right of Palestinian refugees to return to their ancestral homes in what is now Israel”, the BBC does not bother to inform its audiences that the intention of the Palestinian demand for ‘right of return’ is to bring about the end of the Jewish state.

Readers also found comment from Yolande Knell:

“The BBC’s Yolande Knell in Gaza says the reopening of Kerem Shalom crossing has raised hopes that Egypt and the United Nations could be getting closer to negotiating a more comprehensive truce between Israel and Hamas that would prevent another escalation and ease the severe economic hardship in Gaza.

On Tuesday, Israel’s finance minister confirmed a report that Mr Netanyahu had secretly met Egyptian President Abdul Fattah al-Sisi in Egypt in May. The two men are believed to have discussed the terms for a ceasefire, the easing of the blockade of Gaza, and the rebuilding of its infrastructure.”

Notably, while that portrayal of a potential “truce between Israel and Hamas” focuses audience attentions on “the severe economic hardship in Gaza”, it makes no mention of a relevant issue which the BBC has been ignoring for four years.

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

If BBC audiences are to understand the negotiations behind “a more comprehensive truce”, they obviously need to be informed that the issues being negotiated are not confined to Gaza Strip related topics such as “the blockade” and “infrastructure”.

 

 

 

 

BBC News amplifies terror group and political NGO in crossing report

On July 17th a report titled “Israel suspends fuel deliveries to Gaza over arson attacks” appeared on the BBC News website’s Middle East page. The article opened with a reasonable account of the story:

“Israel has tightened restrictions on its only cargo crossing with the Gaza Strip, after Palestinians carried out fresh attacks with incendiary balloons.

No fuel will enter through Kerem Shalom until Sunday, but food and medicine deliveries will still be permitted. [emphasis added]

Israeli Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman said it was responding to “continued terror attempts” by the Palestinian Islamist movement Hamas.”

The report also gave readers a reasonable account of the hostilities that took place on July 14th.

“On Saturday, the Israeli military carried out waves of air strikes across the coastal territory in response to some of the most intensive bombardments from Gaza since the 2014 war between Israel and Hamas.

Two Palestinians were killed and 14 others wounded in the Israeli strikes, while four Israelis were wounded when more than 200 rockets and mortars were fired towards southern Israel.

The violence subsided after Hamas and Islamic Jihad militants agreed to a ceasefire brokered by Egypt.”

As was the case when previous restrictions were announced a week before, the BBC presented lower figures for the area of land (7,500 acres) destroyed in Palestinian arson attacks and the monetary value ($2 million) of that damage than is actually the case.

“Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he was prepared to “increase the force of our attacks” if Palestinians did not stop launching kites and balloons carrying containers of burning fuel and explosive devices over the Gaza-Israel border.

The devices have sparked hundreds fires in southern Israel, burning more than 2,830 hectares (7,000 acres) of forest and farmland and causing hundreds of thousands of dollars of damage, officials say.”

Readers found the BBC’s now standard anodyne portrayal of the ‘Great Return March’ agitprop which continues to conceal from audiences the fact that the casualty figures quoted actually come from Hamas – which organised, facilitated and financed the publicity stunt – and that over 80% of those killed have been shown to have links to various terror factions, as well as giving context-free amplification to the ‘right of return’ claim.

“The arson attacks began during mass demonstrations along the border, at which thousands of Palestinians have expressed their support for the declared right of Palestinian refugees to return to their ancestral homes in what is now Israel and also demanded an end to the blockade of Gaza imposed by Israel and Egypt.

Gaza health officials say more than 130 Palestinians have been killed and 15,000 others injured by Israeli forces during the protests.”

The most notable aspect of this report, however, is the BBC’s decision to highlight comment on the story from two sources.

Firstly, the BBC found it appropriate to amplify parts of a statement from the spokesman of a terrorist organisation.

“Hamas, which dominates Gaza, warned Israel of “dangerous consequences”. […]

A Hamas spokesman called the closure a “crime against humanity”.

“These vengeful measures reflect the degree of the oppression and the ugliness of the crime that Gaza is facing, that will have dangerous consequences for which the occupation will bear full responsibility,” Fawzi Barhoum said.”

Barhoum also stated that:

“The Israeli occupation’s closure of the Kerem Shalom crossing and depriving Gaza from the most simple necessities of life is a crime against humanity that will be added to its list of crimes at the expense of the Palestinian people including those living in the Strip”

BBC audiences were not however told that in May, the terror organisation now once again claiming a “crime against humanity” directed three separate attacks against the Kerem Shalom crossing, damaging the same fuel supplies which it now calls “the most simple necessities of life”. Neither were they informed of the related issue of Hamas’ cynical exploitation of fuel imported via the Rafah crossing.

“Approximately 30 million liters of diesel fuel, supposedly intended for Gaza’s power station, have been brought in since the beginning of the year. Hamas buys the diesel fuel from Egypt, but instead of using it all to fuel the station and produce more hours of electricity per day, it has been using some of the diesel fuel to make a profit.

Of the 30 million liters, 17.8 million were taken to Gaza’s power station. Another 12.2 million liters were either sold on the black market to those willing to pay the maximum price for it, or diverted for Hamas’s military purposes. Hamas makes a profit of NIS 2.5 on every liter of diesel fuel sold in Gaza.”

The second comment on the story promoted to BBC audiences came from a foreign funded political NGO – with a link to its Twitter account.

As the BBC correctly reported at the beginning of the article – there is no “closure” of the Kerem Shalom crossing and “Gaza’s main lifeline” has not been ‘shut down’. It is therefore significant that the BBC chose to amplify those inaccurate claims despite obviously knowing that they are false.

BBC editorial guidelines on impartiality require that audiences be informed of the “particular viewpoint” of contributors. In the case of ‘Gisha’, it would obviously be helpful to BBC audiences to know that the political NGO touting the claim of “illegal collective punishment” petitioned Israel’s Supreme Court in April, claiming that Israel’s responses to the ‘Great Return March’ violence along the Gaza border are illegal and demanding that the Court prohibit the use of live ammunition by the IDF. The court rejected that petition.

The BBC’s public purposes oblige it to “provide accurate and impartial news […] of the highest editorial standards so that all audiences can engage fully with issues across the UK and the world”. Apparently BBC News website editors are of the opinion that the amplification of baseless propaganda slogans such as “crime against humanity” from a terror faction and “illegal collective punishment” from a political NGO which claims to represent the interests of “Gaza residents” that have burned thousands of acres of farmland, woodland and nature reserves in three months of terror attacks, contributes to audience understanding of this story.

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After three months, BBC News website notices Gaza arson attacks

BBC WS audiences get distorted account of Kerem Shalom closure

After three months, BBC News website notices Gaza arson attacks

As has been documented here over the past few months, the BBC has failed to produce any serious reporting on the topic of the arson attacks using kites and balloons which Palestinians in the Gaza Strip have been staging daily since April 11th.

BBC News yawns at ‘Great Return March’ arson incidents

BBC News makes a story disappear by changing photo captions

BBC News finally mentions Gaza arson attacks – in just sixteen words

Comparing BBC coverage of fires in England and Israel

However, no crystal ball was necessary in order to predict that after three months of largely ignoring that story, the BBC’s interest in it would suddenly perk up when Israel took action.

On July 10th the BBC News website published a report titled “Israel closes main Gaza goods crossing in response to arson attacks” on its Middle East page. The reason for Israel’s action was presented to readers in the report’s fifth paragraph as follows:

“Israel has shut the main cargo crossing with the Gaza Strip in retaliation for arson attacks by Palestinians and attempts to infiltrate its territory.

Only “humanitarian equipment”, including food and medicine, will now be allowed through Kerem Shalom.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed to use a “heavy hand” against the Palestinian militant group Hamas, which dominates Gaza.

A Hamas spokesman called the Israeli move “a new crime against humanity”.

Palestinians have been launching kites and balloons carrying containers of burning fuel and explosive devices over the Gaza-Israel border since April.”

Readers next saw an image captioned “Gazans have been flying incendiary balloons and kites over the border with Israel” and were told that: [emphasis added]

“The devices have sparked 750 fires in southern Israel, burning more than 2,600 hectares (6,400 acres) of forest and farmland and causing hundreds of thousands of dollars of damage, Israeli officials say.”

Curiously, three weeks earlier on June 20th, the BBC had reported that:

“Israeli officials say the crude devices have sparked more than 450 fires in recent weeks, burning 2,800 hectares of land and causing $2m (£1.5m) of damage.”

With the arson attacks having continued relentlessly since that June 20th report was published, it is of course impossible that three weeks later, a smaller area of land had been burned and the monetary value of the damage reduced from $2 million to “hundreds of thousands”. Local press reports cited a figure of some 7,000 acres destroyed.

Readers found the BBC’s now standard anodyne portrayal of the ‘Great Return March’ publicity stunt which continues to conceal from audiences the fact that the casualty figures quoted actually come from Hamas – which organised, facilitated and financed the agitprop – and that over 80% of those killed have been shown to have links to various terror factions.

“The arson attacks began during mass demonstrations along the border, at which thousands of Palestinians have expressed their support for the declared right of Palestinian refugees to return to their ancestral homes in what is now Israel and also demanded an end to the blockade of Gaza imposed by Israel and Egypt.

Israel and Egypt say the blockade is a necessary security measure against militants.

Gaza health officials say more than 130 Palestinians have been killed and 15,000 others injured by Israeli forces during the protests.

Human rights groups have accused Israeli troops of using excessive force. Israel has said they have only opened fire in self-defence or on people trying to infiltrate its territory under the cover of the protests.”

Readers were told for the second time that in response to Israel’s announcement concerning the Kerem Shalom crossing:

“Hamas, which has fought three wars with Israel since 2008, called on the international community to intervene immediately to prevent what it called a “new crime against humanity”.”

The BBC’s report did not inform readers of the reaction from the Iranian funded Palestinian Islamic Jihad and of course no mention was made of the fact that the terror organisation now claiming a “crime against humanity” directed three separate attacks (all but ignored by the BBC) on that same crossing just two months ago.

The BBC then found it appropriate to amplify the messaging of a foreign funded political NGO.

“The Israeli non-governmental organisation Gisha, which promotes freedom of movement for Palestinians, also condemned the Israeli decision.

“The damage being caused to agricultural lands in Israel is grave and deplorable, but collectively punishing nearly two million people in Gaza by closing its only official crossing for the movement of goods is both illegal and morally depraved,” it wrote on Twitter.”

However, while the BBC News website apparently did consider statements from a terror organisation (twice) and a political NGO to be crucial to audience understanding of this story, the point of view of the residents of the area that has been under daily attack for three months was obviously once again deemed superfluous.

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Another dose of context-free Gaza Strip pathos from Yolande Knell

On April 12th an article by the BBC Jerusalem Bureau’s Yolande Knell appeared in the ‘Features & Analysis’ section of the BBC News website’s Middle East page under the headline “Egypt gives Hamas and Gaza the cold shoulder“. On the Middle East page itself, the link was presented under the title “Hemmed in”, with the sub-heading “Gazans suffering effects of Egypt’s drive against Muslim Brotherhood”.Knell piece on hp

The article is actually a near transcript of an audio report by Knell which was broadcast in the April 12th edition of ‘From Our Own Correspondent” on BBC Radio 4. The audio version of the report can be heard here from around 12:23 or as a podcast here. Presenter Kate Adie opens her introduction of Knell’s item with a gratuitous context-free statement which, like a recent BBC News article on the same subject, neglects to inform audiences that “economic sanctions” are actually a way of trying to reclaim over $400 million of Palestinian Authority debt to Israel.

“Israel this week said it would bring in new economic sanctions against the Palestinians. The move came amid mounting pessimism over the eventual outcome of the ongoing peace talks between the two sides. And in Gaza it came as the Islamic militant group Hamas was facing its deepest crisis since it took control of the Strip in 2007. Hamas is regarded as a terrorist group by Israel, the United States and the European Union. And now, as Yolande Knell has been finding out, the interim government in neighbouring Egypt has begun to take a tougher approach as well.”

Had she simply added the two words ‘among others’ after her incomplete list of countries which designate Hamas as a terrorist organization, Adie could have avoided the pitfall of inaccuracy caused by her elimination of Canada, Japan, Australia and New Zealand from that list.Knell GAza FOOC

Since the departure of Jon Donnison last summer, the BBC has not had a permanent foreign correspondent in the Gaza Strip, but Knell has been among those paying occasional visits and reporting from there. Like most of her previous reports from the past few months (see for example here, here and here),  this one too is an exercise in context-free pathos and promotion of the theme of poor, blameless, downtrodden Gazans.  

The most striking feature of Knell’s report is its framing of Egyptian actions and policy solely as a “crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood” and the failure to make any mention of the connections between the Gaza Strip and terrorist activity in the northern Sinai.

“Egypt’s crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood has led to a sharp deterioration in relations with the Islamist group Hamas in neighbouring Gaza, and the people there are paying the price. […]

Relations with Gaza’s Hamas government have dramatically worsened since Egypt’s elected president Mohammed Morsi was ousted last summer following mass protests.

Hamas was closely aligned with Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood movement.

Now Cairo’s new military-backed authorities accuse Hamas of meddling in their affairs. They have banned all its activities.

And ordinary Palestinians feel the consequences.”

Also notable is Knell’s anodyne portrayal of the cross-border smuggling tunnels and her failure to clarify to audiences that Egypt’s actions against those tunnels were not inspired by their use for the smuggling of commercial goods, but because they are also used to move weapons and Jihadist fighters in and out of sovereign Egyptian territory.

“Already hundreds of smuggling tunnels under Egypt’s border have been destroyed by its troops.

They used to act as a lifeline to get around restrictions that Israel tightened seven years ago after Hamas wrested control of the Palestinian territory from Fatah forces loyal to the president, Mahmoud Abbas.

Trade is visibly down at a market in southern Gaza.

“Nobody can bring in goods any more and people are suffering,” says a grizzled stallholder, Waleed, “our economy’s at zero.”

Without the tunnel business, unemployment has risen sharply.

There is a shortage of building materials.

And there is no cheap, subsidised Egyptian fuel. That means longer power cuts.”

Of course Knell does not bother to make any attempt to provide audiences with any relevant background as to why it is essential that there are limitations on the entry of dual-use goods – including some building materials – to the Gaza Strip and she fails to clarify that legitimate construction projects are able to receive the supplies they need.  Neither does she inform audiences of the full background to the Gaza Strip’s electricity crisis.  

“Recent Egyptian military activity rendered out of commission hundreds of tunnels that once connected Sinai and Gaza and were used to import one million liters of fuel into Gaza each day. As a result, Hamas has no choice but to purchase fuel from Israel via the Palestinian Authority at prices similar to those found in the Israeli market, namely over seven shekels ($2) per liter of gasoline. That is a major problem for private car owners.

The more acute problem is that fuel is needed to operate the Gaza power plant that generates the majority of the local electricity. The Palestinian Authority purchases a liter of fuel for the power plant for approximately 4 shekels from Israeli gas companies and has tried to sell it to Hamas for almost double, including excise tax.

Hamas has rejected those prices outright and stopped purchasing fuel for its power plant. The dramatic consequence was that the power plant has shut down and the electricity supply has been completely disrupted. The PA refuses to waive the excise tax, a critical part of its own budget. And the residents of Gaza are the ones who suffer.”

Knell goes on to quote Raji Sourani, whom she describes simply as a “human rights campaigner” without clarifying his link to the PCHR as demanded by BBC editorial guidelines. Using Sourani’s words as a hook, she implies that the recent barrage of missile attacks on Israeli civilians in communities surrounding the Gaza Strip was the inevitable – and hence presumably ‘understandable’ – result of economic frustration.

Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas addresses the PCHR 2006 conference

Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas addresses the PCHR 2006 conference

 

“Back in Gaza City, I find the veteran human rights campaigner Raji Sourani looking uncharacteristically miserable.

“Egypt’s added another dimension to this siege that’s suffocated Gaza socially and economically. It’s a collective punishment. We’re reduced to hostages and beggars,” he says.

“And I don’t think anybody should expect Gazans to be good victims. Things will ultimately explode.”

Already there have been explosions. Last month fighters from Islamic Jihad in Gaza launched a barrage of rockets at their historic enemy, Israel.”

That is quite a remarkable piece of whitewashing of the motivations of an internationally proscribed terrorist organization (which, in the audio version of the report is revealingly described by Knell simply as “an armed group more extreme than Hamas”) inspired by religious supremacist ideology and funded by Iran. Knell’s downplaying of Hamas’ extremism also includes the failure to mention its recently improved ties with Iran and a distinctly woolly portrayal of the latest Hamas rally in Gaza which the BBC failed to report in English at the time.

“Hamas – which fell out with its other regional patrons Syria and Iran earlier during the Arab uprisings – was left feeling even more squeezed.

A massive rally held soon after in Gaza was meant as a show of force.

Hamas leaders spoke defiantly about Israel and the failing peace talks led by their political rival, President Abbas.

But some also criticised Egypt and what they called its military coup.”

Once again BBC audiences are herded towards focusing their attentions exclusively on the issue of the economic difficulties facing the ordinary residents of the Gaza Strip without any proper context being provided regarding the responsibility of the ruling Hamas regime for those very real hardships. And once again, that policy actively prevents BBC audiences from being able to form an understanding of international issues based on the full range of facts.  

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BBC’s Knell amplifies Hamas propaganda, downplays its terror designation

BBC documentary on Tel Aviv gay pride fails to keep up with the news

Last week a message dropped into the BBC Watch mailbox promoting a BBC radio documentary. The e-mail came from the programme’s presenter – Tim Samuels – who also informed us that a television version of the documentary is scheduled for broadcast later in the year. 

The radio version – titled “Tel Aviv Comes Out” – was broadcast on August 11th on the BBC World Service in the series “The Documentary“. Samuels recorded the programme in June 2013 and that fact seems to have contributed to issues regarding the accuracy of the synopsis which appears on the BBC website and in the documentary itself. 

WS documentary TA comes out

The synopsis states:

“Tel Aviv’s march to gay epicentre hasn’t always been smooth – or organic. In 2009, the Mayor embarked on a multi-million dollar mission to rebrand the city as the ultimate gay destination. In that same year, a gunman – who has never been caught – opened fire on a gay youth club killing two people. Hostility is never far away.”

The trouble with that statement is of course that a suspect in the Bar Noar shootings has been caught (in fact he was arrested during the time that Samuels was in Tel Aviv making the programme) and was charged with two counts of murder and attempted murder on July 8th 2013. The implication that the shootings were purely an anti-gay hate crime is also problematic given the information which emerged after the arrests.  

That means that whoever wrote that synopsis has either not bothered to keep up with the facts of the case – and hence misleads audiences by making inaccurate statements – or that the facts of the case do not tailor themselves to the message he or she is trying to get across. Clearly, that synopsis needs to be corrected. 

Tim Samuels’ programme itself is in parts very good, including interesting interviews with Professor Uzi Even, former MK Yael Dayan and others. Unfortunately, he – or his producers at Tonic Productions – also do not appear to have kept up with progress in the Bar Noar case – despite obviously being aware of the fact that arrests had been made. From around 31:35, Samuels can be heard saying:

“…Tel Aviv’s self-confident tolerance was suddenly shattered in 2009 right in the heart of the city… […] A gunman walked into the gay youth centre and opened fire, killing two and wounding fifteen. An unexpected and incongruous attack that brought about some serious national soul-searching. […] Today’s papers are reporting some extra news about the shooting in 2009 at the gay youth centre. They’re saying that finally – nearly four years later – arrests have been made in connection to the shooting…”

It should be pretty standard practice for a documentary maker involved in a project which includes reporting on a criminal investigation to keep up with developments in that investigation and update and amend the programme accordingly – rather than going ahead with the broadcast of inaccurate and misleading information which is two months out of date.  That should clearly apply even more so when the programme is to be broadcast by the BBC, which purports to demand the same editorial standards of accuracy and impartiality from commissioned work as it does in its own content. 

The other problem with this documentary is its mainstreaming of the language of delegitimisation of Israel through its focus on – and promotion of – accusations of alleged “pinkwashing”.  Samuels opens his documentary by asking:

“But has the city’s [Tel Aviv] gay and lesbian cause been co-opted and used as a public relations tool by Israel?”

At 19:45 he says:

“What concerns some is that all this talk of tolerance – and the mayor’s money – is being used to deflect attention from the Palestinians and that gay rights have become a Public Relations tool.”

The trouble is that Samuels does not bother to properly inform his listeners who those “some” are and what their fringe agenda is. Audiences then hear an unidentified woman telling Samuels that “when tourists come here they see all this pinkwashing” and claiming that Israel is to blame for the fact that Palestinians cannot lead openly LGBT lives. Samuels then interviews Eyal (sometimes spelt Aeyal) Gross, whom he introduces merely as “associate professor of law at Tel Aviv university” – failing to inform audiences that Gross is a seasoned activist not only on the LGBT scene, but has also sat on the boards of ‘ACRI and ‘Gisha.

Whilst the opposite point of view to the two interviewees promoting the notion of “pinkwashing” is put by Tel Aviv council member and mayoral advisor on LGBT rights Yaniv Weizman, Samuels fails to adequately inform his audiences that the “pinkwashing” claim is just one tactic used within the wider context of political activism aimed at the delegitimisation of Israel. As we have noted here many times before, the BBC’s editorial guidelines on impartiality clearly state that:

“We should not automatically assume that contributors from other organisations (such as academics, journalists, researchers and representatives of charities) are unbiased and we may need to make it clear to the audience when contributors are associated with a particular viewpoint, if it is not apparent from their contribution or from the context in which their contribution is made.”

The failure to make Gross’ political associations clear and the resulting lack of context to his politically motivated comments clearly breach that guideline.

Let’s hope that these issues are dealt with before the television version of this documentary is broadcast so that what otherwise could be an interesting programme is not marred by failures of accuracy and impartiality.

 

BBC’s Donnison promotes Bethlehem Marathon as non-political event

On April 18th 2013 the Middle East section of the BBC News website featured a report by the BBC Jerusalem Bureau’s Jon Donnison entitled “Israel bars Gaza runners from first West Bank marathon“. 

Bethlehem marathon

The report features an unchallenged quote from the Palestinian Olympic Committee spokeswoman.

“The athletes, the race organisers and the Palestinian Olympic Committee have asked the Israeli authorities to reconsider their position but have not received a reply.

“The Israelis should look at this purely as a sporting event. It has nothing to do with politics,” says Samia al-Wazir, the spokeswoman for the Palestinian Olympic Committee.

“This is an event in the West Bank and every Palestinian, not just athletes, should have the right to attend.” ” [emphasis added]

Donnison makes no attempt to verify the accuracy of the claim that the event (due to take place on April 21st) has “nothing to do with politics” for his readers. A quick perusal of the marathon’s website would have been enough to inform him of the fact that the reality is quite different. 

marathon 1

marathon 2

A look at the marathon’s official Facebook account – including, inter alia, the promotion of an article entitled “Running is a subversive act” which indicates some foreign runners’ links to the politically motivated NGO the Amos Trust – would also have relieved Donnison of any impression that the event is not political. 

“And of course, in Palestine, where movement is so restricted, where people are separated from their family, land and friends by 8m high concrete barriers, where it’s not possible to travel 26.2 miles in a straight line without encountering road blocks, when people from Gaza are forbidden to enter the country, then running a marathon is a wonderfully subversive act.”

marathon 3

Among the co-organisers of the marathon, according to its own website, is the ‘Higher Council of Youth and Sports’ – a Palestinian Authority government body (also known as the ‘Supreme Council for Youth and Sports’) which is headed by Secretary General Jabril Rajoub – who also heads the Palestinian Football Association and the Palestinian Olympic Committee; from which Donnison conveniently got his quote. 

Jibril Rajoub will of course be familiar to many readers, both for his own terrorist past and his use of his various sports-related positions in anti-Israel campaigns. Ironically – but not unrelated – two of the organisations headed by Rajoub, including the one now involved in the organisation of the Bethlehem Marathon, were party to a call to boycott the Jerusalem Marathon just a couple of months ago. 

Donnison’s failure to fact check the claim that the marathon does not have political aims, as made in the quote he elected to include in his article, clearly renders the report inaccurate and partial. Donnison continues:

“Israel strictly controls movement in and out of Gaza making it difficult for Palestinians there to make the short journey to the West Bank.

It also controls entry to the West Bank via the border with Jordan.

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

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

Donnison’s distortion of the reality behind the necessity for restriction of movement from a territory under the de facto control of a terrorist organization is as obtuse as his use of quotation marks around the phrase terror organization. As has been previously mentioned here on numerous occasions, Israel is far from the only country to categorise Hamas as such. Once again we see that the BBC’s effort to avoid making “value judgements” on the subject of terrorism constitutes a value judgement in itself – one which severely compromises BBC impartiality. 

Donnison goes on to feature another quote in his report – this time from the political NGO ‘Gisha‘ which is regularly promoted by the BBC – as well as a link to the NGO’s press release on the subject. As previously noted here, it is not in the BBC’s remit to amplify the messages of  politically motivated NGOs and the fact that it does so without informing audiences of such organisations’ political stances severely compromises its own guidelines on impartiality.

Donnison ends his article with a snide swipe at the IDF Spokesman’s Unit:

“The Gazan runners’ inability to compete in the Bethlehem marathon is their second disappointment this month.

The United Nations cancelled its annual Gaza marathon after Hamas refused to allow women to take part.

An official Israel Defense Forces blog criticised Hamas for that decision.”

It takes a particularly perverse version of moral equivalence to be able to imply that the Hamas ban on women taking part in a sporting event in territory it controls is in any way comparable to a restriction on travel due to only too real security factors brought about by Hamas’ engagement in terrorism. 

BBC’s Donnison presents jaundiced view of travel from Gaza Strip

On April 3rd 2013 the Radio 4 programme ‘PM’, hosted by Eddie Mair, ran a report by Jon Donnison about a student from the Gaza Strip who is to study at Oxford University. The relevant section can be heard here from 40:38. Listeners will note Donnison’s inability to resist the insertion of a misleading reverse chronology account of recent events in the region which is entirely unrelated to the report’s subject matter.

“…we’ve had an Israeli airstrike and Palestinian rockets being fired in the other direction.”

On April 4th, a written report by Donnison on the same subject appeared on the BBC News website. 

Gaza to Oxford

In that article Donnison informs readers that:

“Rawan has only once before left the tiny Palestinian territory, when she went on a study trip to the United States.”

What he ‘forgets’ to tell his audiences is the fact that Ms Yaghi is a contributor to the anti-Israel blog ‘Mondoweiss’ and that the “study trip” included being the house guest of that blog’s editor. In fact, the young student described by Donnison as “bookish” is actually something of a political activist, running her own blog and expressing opinions on her Twitter account which leave little room for doubt as to her leanings. 

Tweets hacks Rawan

Here she is on the subject of the two Palestinians from Anabta who attacked soldiers at an IDF checkpoint with firebombs:

Einav incident tweets

And here on the subject of convicted terrorist Maysara Abu Hamdiyeh:

abu hamadiyeh tweets

Donnison goes on to assert:

“Israel’s blockade of Gaza and the ongoing conflict with Hamas which governs here make it difficult for Palestinians to leave through Israel.

In the past, Israel has refused permission for Palestinian students to leave Gaza in order to carry out studies abroad.”

Donnison does not provide a source for his throw-away simplistic claim, but it would not be surprising if it had come at least in part from the politicized NGO ‘Gisha’ (which is not infrequently quoted by the BBC), as one of that organisation’s pet projects is the subject of travel for students. 

Donnison makes absolutely no effort to explain to his readers the security concerns which necessitate the close monitoring of the exit of travellers from a hostile entity ruled by a terrorist organisation at war with Israel. Neither does he bother to remind readers that the Gaza Strip has a border with Egypt – through which entry to and exit from the Gaza Strip are conducted without Israeli intervention. 

Although travel for students wishing to attend universities other than those located in the Gaza Strip is not classified as a humanitarian issue, the guidelines on entry into Israel do make provisions for such cases, subject to security considerations. 

“Entry of scholarship holders to Israel – Residents of the Gaza Strip who are holders of a recognized scholarship from a country which has diplomatic relations with the State of Israel or from an international organization which is recognized by the State of Israel (by the Ministry of Welfare, Interior or Foreign Affairs), who intend to take up academic studies abroad, may enter Israel in order to attend a visa interview or for the purpose of travel abroad, subject to a direct application by the Embassy or Consulate of the country in which they propose to study and subject to escort by the Embassy or Consulate.”

Readers may remember the much-publicised case from 2008 in which a group of recipients of American scholarships from the Gaza Strip were initially barred from travel into Israel on security grounds, but after much diplomatic pressure on the part of the US, were eventually given permission. Later, two of them were refused entry to the US after their visas were suddenly revoked due to “new information received by the US authorities”. 

Donnison of course ignores the realities reflected in cases such as the above, as well as those in which Hamas has banned students from studying abroad. According to his narrative, only Israel can be to blame for the frustrated academic aspirations of young Gazans. 

Donnison’s transparent use of this ‘human interest’ story as a hook upon which to hang promotion of the standard, monochrome BBC theme of plucky Palestinians battling an all-powerful Israeli oppressor totally ignores – as usual – the fact that restrictions on travel into Israel from the Gaza Strip for students and others would not be necessary were it not ruled by a terrorist organization committed to conducting  war against its neighbours. Until it begins to inform audiences of the responsibilities of the Palestinian leadership for the situation of its people, the BBC will not meet its obligations on accuracy and impartiality. 

BBC uses unverified quote to advance its narrative

I must admit that the enthusiastic style of the BBC’s October 17th article, headlined “Israel forced to release study on Gaza blockade“, raised ironic smiles in this household – coming as it does from an organization which has spent years (and hundreds of thousands of pounds) avoiding the release of a report of its own. 

The actual context to the study in question is only briefly revealed by the BBC writer right at the end of the article:

“The Israeli defence ministry said the “red lines” study was only ever a draft but was aimed at ensuring there was not a major health crisis.

“The quantification was not done in order to arrive at a minimum threshold or restrict the quantities, but… to ensure that there was no shortage,” an official at the Co-ordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (Cogat) told the Haaretz newspaper on Tuesday.”

The bulk of the article, however, is dedicated to presenting the politically motivated point of view of the highly partisan NGO ‘Gisha‘, including the rather bizarre claim that:

“Gisha says the research contradicts Israel’s assertions that the blockade is needed for security reasons.”

Also quoted in the article is UNRWA’s Director of Operations in Gaza, Robert Turner, who – apparently having missed the Palmer Report memo from his parent organization – not only mistakenly declared the blockade to be “illegal under international law”, but also appears to have forgotten that in 1951 his own organization also produced a report in which (clause 31) the allocation of UNRWA food rations to Palestinian refugees was set at 1,600-1,700 calories per person/day. 

Towards the end of the article, the following unsupported and un-sourced claim appears:

“Israeli government officials now acknowledge the food restrictions were partly intended to put pressure on Hamas by making the lives of people in Gaza difficult, says the BBC’s Jon Donnison in Gaza City.

In 2006, Israeli government adviser Dov Weisglass was widely quoted as having said: “The idea is to put the Palestinians on a diet, but not to make them die of hunger.” “

Whether it was Donnison or an anonymous editor who saw fit to include the Weisglass “quote” is not clear, but its use is very interesting.

One would expect that a reputable journalist would only use a quote if its authenticity could be verified, either due to the fact that it appears in print –written by the person quoted, of course –or was recorded. So is that the case with the Weisglass “quote” used by the BBC as support for its claim that Israel deliberately restricted food supplies to the civilian population of Gaza?

In order to determine that, we need to do a little detective work. 

Reports of the quote first began circulating in February 2006. Hamas had won the majority of seats in the Palestinian elections the month before and a newly formed government under Ismail Haniyeh was about to be sworn in. The international community (the main source of the Palestinian Authority’s income through donations) and Israel were worried that the considerable amounts of money transferred to the PA would be used by the new Hamas-run government for terror purposes and so economic sanctions were proposed by the Quartet (the UN, the EU, the US and Russia) and Israel. 

On February 15th 2006, the Israeli news site Ynet reported on a high-level meeting of government ministers, advisors and representatives from the security services at which the strategy of economic sanctions was discussed. The Ynet article quoted unnamed ‘political sources’:

 “The political sources who took part in the meeting, quoted Weisglass as saying: “We must cause the Palestinians to become thinner, but not die.”

 Weisglass, responding to the source, said: “I never said such a thing.” “

The next day, Ha’aretz’s Aluf Benn, apparently informed by “a Jerusalem source”, had a different version of the quote in his article:

“It’s like a meeting with a dietician. We have to make them much thinner, but not enough to die” 

On February 19th, 2006, the Israeli financial journalist Sever Plotzker – also writing on Ynet – claimed (without providing a source) that Weisglass had spoken of a policy of “economic diet” towards the Palestinians. 

On the same day, writing in Ha’aretz, Gideon Levy – the Israeli journalist who has made quite a successful career out of demonising his own country – embellished the story with laughter at Weisglass’ alleged remark from the meeting’s participants. Levy claimed that Weisglass had said “It’s like a meeting with a dietician. The Palestinians will lose weight, but they will not die”. Levy provided no source however: the best he could do was to claim “so it was said” –without even stating by whom – in support of his allegations.  

From then on, the alleged quote – in its multiple forms, which surely should raise any reasonable person’s suspicions – took on something of a life of its own, particularly in far-Left and/or anti-Israel circles. 

On February 27th 2006, David R Francis of the Christian Science Monitor used it (un-sourced) in another different form:

“The idea is to put the Palestinians on a diet, but not to make them die of hunger”

Francis’ article was in turn used as a ‘source’ – along with an equally unverified version of the quote from a 2008 article by Edward Said’s nephew Saree Makdisi in The Nation – by the anti-Israel blog Mondoweiss in 2009.   

April 2006 saw the Guardian’s Conal Urquhart use one version of it in an article for the Observer. In December 2008, the (again un-sourced) quote was used by British comedian, former Socialist Workers Party member and pro-Palestinian activist Mark Steel in an article in the Independent and in 2010 it was used by Media Lens , apparently using a defunct AFP article as a source, as did the PLO’s Negotiations Affairs Department in November 2006. 

The alleged quote has also been used – un-sourced – by political NGOs and activists such as Machsom Watch, Jeff Halper of ICHAD and B’tselem

More recently, the quote has been cited on the Lenin’s Tomb blog (run by SWP member Richard Seymour), where it was sourced from Richard Silverstein, who in turn sourced it from the New York Times, which attributed the quote to “the Israeli news media”. All well and good, except that – as we know – the Israeli media itself had nothing but hearsay and an outright denial from Weisglass himself to go on. 

So perhaps the Middle East Editor of BBC Online, Tarik Kafala, would like to disclose to the BBC’s audience (in the name of accuracy and impartiality) his verified source for this quote, because – whilst nobody else seems to be able to find one – it is of course inconceivable to think that the trusted and often quoted BBC would be lifting un-sourced  quotes from such sources as Richard Silverstein, Media Lens and Mondoweiss, purely in order to make political hay.

Isn’t it?