BBC’s Knell promotes more Hamas messaging on Qatar crisis

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Knell tells readers that:

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

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

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

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

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

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

And:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Superficial BBC Radio 4 reporting on Qatar funding of Hamas 

 

 

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Superficial BBC Radio 4 reporting on Qatar funding of Hamas

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Superficial BBC reporting on Hamas-Fatah reconciliation deal sells audiences short

BBC News website coverage of the Hamas-Fatah reconciliation deal announced on April 23rd includes two written items and three filmed reports to date.

The main article on the subject initially appeared on April 23rd under the title “Palestinian Hamas-Fatah unity deal announced” but currently goes under the heading “Hamas and Fatah unveil Palestinian reconciliation deal“. Some of the extensive changes made to the report since its initial publication can be viewed here.

As has so often been the case in the past, this BBC report downplays the very relevant subject of the extent of Hamas’ terror designation by informing readers that:Hamas fatah deal main

“Israel – along with the US and the EU – views the Islamist Hamas group as a terrorist organisation.”

Canada, Japan and Egypt – which also categorise Hamas as a terrorist organization – are not mentioned. Neither are the United Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand, all of which proscribe Hamas’ Izz al Din al Qassam Brigades.

At the end of the article’s current version readers are told that:

“Shortly after Wednesday’s reconciliation deal was announced, five people were injured in an Israeli air strike in northern Gaza, Palestinian medics said.

Israel said it had targeted militants preparing to fire rockets. On Monday, seven rockets were launched from the territory into southern Israel.”

However, readers of an earlier version of the report were mistakenly led to believe that there was some kind of connection between the air strike and the reconciliation deal when they were merely informed that:

“Shortly after the deal was announced, Israel launched an air strike in northern Gaza that wounded four people. It came two days after Gaza militants launched rockets into southern Israel.”

That wording was later altered to read:

“Shortly after the reconciliation deal was announced, five people were injured in an Israeli air strike in northern Gaza, Palestinian medics said. Witnesses said the target appeared to be two men riding a motorcycle.

It comes two days after militants launched rockets from the coastal territory into Israel.”

The briefly mentioned two day-old incidents of missile fire were not reported by the BBC at the time and in none of the versions of this article is any mention made of the fact that even as BBC journalists were updating and amending this report, a further bout of missile attacks was launched from the Gaza Strip at Israeli civilians.

The article includes quotes from Yolande Knell, with predictably uncritical amplification of the PA party line:

“Ordinary Palestinians have long hoped for an end to the split between their political leaders but previous reconciliation deals in Doha and Cairo were never implemented, says the BBC’s Yolande Knell in Jerusalem.

The agreement will strengthen the position of Mr Abbas – whose Fatah movement dominates the Palestinian Authority, which controls parts of the West Bank – and should also make Hamas feel less isolated as it continues to face border restrictions imposed by Israel and Egypt, our correspondent adds.”

The basis for Knell’s claim that the deal “will strengthen the position of Mr Abbas” is unclear and in fact the exact opposite is no less likely to be the case, both on the domestic front and internationally. Predictably, Knell offers no context to the subject of “border restrictions imposed by Israel and Egypt” or with regard to the connection between Hamas terrorism and those restrictions.

Overall, this report omits the bulk of the background information crucial for audience understanding of the significance of this Hamas-PLO brokered deal. It fails to adequately clarify that there is no evidence to suggest that the supposedly ‘moderate’ Palestinian Authority conditioned Hamas’ entry into a unity government on the renunciation of terror by that organization: a scenario which – according to a recent interview with senior Hamas figure Mahmoud al Zahar – is more than unlikely.

The report also fails to clarify to audiences that beyond an unofficial, unqualified statement by Jibril Rajoub, there is no sign of the PA having insisted on Hamas’ acceptance of the conditions laid down by the Quartet: recognition of Israel, an end to violence and recognition of all previously signed agreements between Israel and the Palestinians. As the Canadian government has already made clear, a Palestinian government which does not accept those basic principles is unlikely to find its position ‘strengthened’, as Knell claims. The issue of the potential addition of Hamas to the PLO and the likely international reaction to that scenario is not explored and the subject of what a Palestinian government which includes an internationally designated terrorist organization could mean in terms of the PA’s status at the UN is also ignored.

In fact, instead of providing audiences with any realistic analysis of the detrimental effects of this move on the latest round of negotiations between Israel and the PLO, the report merely amplifies misleading PA sound-bites, failing to make any attempt to clarify to BBC audiences why this is in fact not just an “internal” Palestinian matter.

“Palestinian officials responded by saying reconciliation was an internal matter and uniting Palestinian people would reinforce peace.

In a statement, Mr Abbas said there was “no incompatibility between reconciliation and the talks” and that they were committed to peace on the basis of a two-state solution.”

In addition to this main report, the BBC News website also promoted an additional article by Yolande Knell in the ‘Features & Analysis’ section of its Middle East page. Dated April 24th and titled “Scepticism over Hamas and Fatah reconciliation deal“, Knell’s piece likewise downplays the extent of Hamas’ terror designation.

“Along with the US and the European Union, Israel views Hamas as a terrorist group.”

That only partially accurate statement is repeated in the caption to a photograph used to illustrate Knell’s article.

“Israel – along with the US and the EU – views the Islamist Hamas group as a terrorist organization”

Hamas Fatah deal knell art photo

Whilst liberally garnishing her report with quotes from the ‘man in the coffee shop’, Knell makes no attempt to convey to readers what a deal which brings an intransigent, antisemitic, terrorist organization which denies Israel’s right to exist into the Palestinian government actually signifies with regard to the PA’s commitment to negotiations intended to bring about a peaceful and lasting conclusion to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. In common with the main report, she uncritically promotes bizarre PA sound bites.Hamas Fatah deal Knell art main

“Palestinian officials retorted that uniting their factions would empower the leadership to make more credible negotiations with Israel and implement any future peace agreement.

In a statement, chief negotiator Saeb Erekat expressed “severe disappointment” at Israel’s response.

“National reconciliation is imperative in order to achieve a just and lasting peace. We hope that we will be able to successfully close this dark chapter of our history,” he said.”

Like the main report, Knell’s article also fails to explore the significance of the fact that the PLO does not appear to have made renunciation of terror and other important factors a condition for the reconciliation deal. Hence, readers are not provided with the necessary background to enable them to judge the following statement made by Knell and the quotes she includes from Israeli officials.

“However Israel’s reaction to the announcement was very negative.”

In fact, one of the few parts of Knell’s article which can realistically be described as analysis is the following:

“However, the Palestinians know they must tread carefully as they determine the details of any unity government.

Most Western governments forbid foreign aid going to Hamas, and the debt-ridden PA – which relies on international donors – will not want to jeopardise its funding.”

The decision to make the subject of scepticism regarding the implementation of this reconciliation deal the focus of this article – without adequate explanation of why similar previous initiatives have failed in the past, what such repeated efforts signify with regard to the Palestinian Authority’s attitude to terror and what message that sends to the Israeli side of the peace negotiations – means that BBC audiences once again remain bereft of vital background information which would properly enable them to “build a global understanding of international issues“.

The BBC’s filmed reports on this topic will be discussed in a later post. 

 

 

BBC on Hamas terror designation: better, but not quite there yet

Right at the bottom of an article which appeared on the BBC News website on April 1st concerning a new law banning mixed schools which is apparently due to be introduced by Hamas later this year, we find the following statement:

 “Israel, as well as the United States and the European Union, regard Hamas as a terrorist organisation.”

Hamas mixed schools ban

Whilst that statement – taken from the BBC’s profile of Hamas – is true (and a definite improvement upon some previous BBC reports in which Hamas has been described as being proscribed by Israel only), it is not entirely accurate because it does not include full representation of additional countries which also designate Hamas as a terrorist organization either entirely or in part. 

For example, Australia designates Hamas’ Izz al Din Al Qassam Brigades as a terrorist organisation, as does New Zealand since 2010. Canada has proscribed Hamas as a whole since 2002 and reviewed and renewed that status in 2012. In 2005 Japan froze Hamas assets as part of its counter-terrorism activity and the ban on Hamas activity in Jordan still stands. 

The recognition of Hamas as a terrorist organization is, therefore, considerably broader throughout the majority of the Western world than is stated by the BBC in this and other articles, as well as in its profile of Hamas. It really should not be too difficult for the BBC to keep that profile fully updated and – if space is limited in individual reports – to insert a link to it in order to provide BBC audiences with a full and accurate picture of what the BBC still insists on euphemistically calling a “militant group”. 

Another interesting aspect to the above article is its apparent omission of certain details from the new Hamas law concerning schools. According to Fares Akram writing in the New York Times:

“According to a copy of the 18-page law, it is intended to build the nationalist character of the students and prepare them to be “committed to the Palestinian, Arab and Islamic culture.” It says the law is meant to encourage pupils “to get to know Palestine with its historic borders, its history and its connection with its milieus.” It is set to go into effect at the start of the new school year in September.” […]

“The law maintains the freedom of Christian schools to teach non-Muslim students subjects related to their religion.

But it stipulates that any educational institution that receives aid meant to encourage or promote normalization of ties with Israel will face punishment: a 10-year prison term for an individual perpetrator and a fine of 20,000 Jordanian dinar (about $28,200) for any institution involved in organizing exchange programs or activities that include Israelis.”

How come the BBC’s Gaza correspondent ‘missed’ that last part?