Hizballah terror activity against Israelis again ignored by BBC News

On August 16th the Israeli security services announced the earlier arrests of nine suspects recruited by Hizballah and the prevention of a number of terror attacks.

Hizballah logo

Hizballah logo

“Hezbollah operatives from the group’s Unit 133 — its foreign operations unit — working out of Lebanon and the Gaza Strip recruited members in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and within Israel through social media sites, notably Facebook, the Shin Bet security service said.

The terror cells had planned to carry out suicide bombings and ambush IDF patrols in the West Bank. They received funding from Hezbollah, and some members had begun preparing explosive devices for use in attacks, the Shin Bet says.”

This is of course not the first time that Hizballah’s attempts to set up terror cells in Israel via social media have been thwarted by the Israeli security services. A similar story came to light in February of this year and – like this latest one – it too was ignored by the BBC’s numerous correspondents in Jerusalem, Ramallah and Gaza.

While refraining from providing audiences with any serious coverage of the issue of efforts by established terrorist groups such as Hamas and Hizballah to conscript Palestinians and Israeli Arabs, the BBC promotes framing of Palestinian terrorism as the spontaneous product of “frustration rooted in decades of Israeli occupation” – in a manner eerily similar to the dictates of the PLO’s guidance for foreign journalists.  

That narrative-dictated framing of course contributes to the BBC’s failure to meet its obligation to enhance audiences’ “awareness and understanding of international issues”.  

Related Articles:

The news the BBC has to omit in order to keep up its narrative

Poor BBC reporting on Palestinian incitement again mars audience understanding

Reviewing BBC reporting of Hizballah’s violations of UNSC Resolution 1701

On August 12th 2006 the BBC News website reported that:

“The UN Security Council has unanimously approved a new resolution calling for a ceasefire between Israel and Hezbollah.

Resolution 1701 calls for “a full cessation of hostilities”, and UN and Lebanese troops to replace Israeli forces in southern Lebanon.”

BBC audiences were also provided with the text of that UNSC resolution which of course includes the following:1701 text art

“Emphasises the importance of the extension of the control of the government of Lebanon over all Lebanese territory in accordance with the provisions of resolution 1559 (2004) and resolution 1680 (2006), and of the relevant provisions of the Taif Accords, for it to exercise its full sovereignty, so that there will be no weapons without the consent of the government of Lebanon and no authority other than that of the government of Lebanon;”

The resolution calls for:

  • “security arrangements to prevent the resumption of hostilities, including the establishment between the Blue Line and the Litani river of an area free of any armed personnel, assets and weapons other than those of the Government of Lebanon and of UNIFIL as authorized in paragraph 11, deployed in this area;
  • full implementation of the relevant provisions of the Taif Accords, and of resolutions 1559 (2004) and 1680 (2006), that require the disarmament of all armed groups in Lebanon, so that, pursuant to the Lebanese cabinet decision of 27 July 2006, there will be no weapons or authority in Lebanon other than that of the Lebanese State;
  • no foreign forces in Lebanon without the consent of its Government;
  • no sales or supply of arms and related materiel to Lebanon except as authorized by its Government;”

The same resolution expanded the mandate and capabilities of the UNIFIL force in southern Lebanon and charged it, inter alia, with aiding the Lebanese government to prevent Hizballah’s rearmament.

While that UNSC resolution brought an end to the 2006 war, it has obviously failed to achieve its long-term goal of avoiding the next round of conflict by preventing Hizballah’s rearmament and entrenchment in southern Lebanon.

The BBC’s public purpose remit commits it to keeping its funding public “in touch with what is going on in the world” and to building “a global understanding of international issues” and so it would be reasonable to assume that audiences have been kept up to date on the issues pertaining to implementation of Resolution 1701 throughout the decade since it was adopted – but is that the case?

The ‘timeline’ in the BBC’s online profile of Lebanon (last updated in August 2016) makes no mention at all of the existence of UNSC Resolution 1701.

“2006 July-August – Israel attacks after Hezbollah kidnaps two Israeli soldiers. Civilian casualties are high and the damage to civilian infrastructure wide-ranging in 34-day war. UN peacekeeping force deploys along the southern border, followed by Lebanese army troops for first time in decades.”

The profile itself includes a generalised reference to the disarming of militias without specifically recalling Resolution 1701 and without clarifying the current status of that ‘demand’. 

“The UN has demanded the dismantling of all armed groups in Lebanon, including Palestinian militias and the military wing of Hezbollah, which controls much of southern Lebanon.”

The BBC’s current profile of Hizballah (last updated in March 2016) tells audiences that:

“After Israel withdrew in 2000, Hezbollah resisted pressure to disarm and continued to strengthen its military wing, the Islamic Resistance. In some ways, its capabilities now exceed those of the Lebanese army, its considerable firepower used against Israel in the 2006 war.”

And:

“Hezbollah survived the [2006] war and emerged emboldened. Although it is has since upgraded and expanded its arsenal and recruited scores of new fighters, there has been no major flare-up along the border area, which is now patrolled by UN peacekeepers and the Lebanese army.”

No mention is made of Resolution 1701 and the obligation to disarm the terrorist organisation, prevent its rearmament and remove it from southern Lebanon in either of those profiles currently appearing on the BBC News website.

Immediately after the 2006 war, the BBC was able to tell its audiences that:

“UN Security Council resolutions call for armed militia groups like Hezbollah to disarm.” 

Nearly a year after the adoption of Resolution 1701, the BBC sent Martin Asser to southern Lebanon to ‘examine UNIFIL’s performance’. The caption to the main photograph illustrating his article informed audiences that “Unifil troops are meant to prevent Hezbollah bearing arms”.1701 Asser art

“After the July 2006 war, the [UNIFIL] force received new orders and thousands of reinforcements under the ceasefire resolution 1701, which also stipulated the deployment of the Lebanese army in the area.

Previously the area had become the fiefdom of Hezbollah, the Shia Islamist and militant movement whose cross-border raid on 12 July – snatching two Israeli soldiers – was the catalyst for the 34-day conflict.

The post-conflict objective was for Unifil to help the Lebanese government extend its sovereignty to the southern frontier, so Hezbollah’s armed wing would no longer be free to menace nearby Israeli towns or troops patrolling the border.”

Asser added:

“Hezbollah fighters are masters of concealment and guerrilla warfare – their weapons were never on show before the war, so they are unlikely to be caught red-handed by Unifil or Lebanese troops now.”

An old profile of Hizballah from 2010 states:

“Despite two UN resolutions (1559 passed in 2004, and 1701, which halted the war) calling for disarming of militias in Lebanon, Hezbollah’s military arm remains intact.”

In 2013 BBC audiences were told by the corporation’s man in Beirut, Jim Muir, that “Hezbollah has scrupulously observed the ceasefire that ended hostilities in 2006”. In 2015 Orla Guerin reported from south Lebanon but failed to use the opportunity provided by a rare BBC visit to that area to inform audiences of Hizballah’s use of civilian villages to store weapons and as sites from which to launch attacks against Israel.

The BBC has also consistently avoided or downplayed the topic of Iranian breaches of UNSC Resolution 1701 in the form of its transfer of arms to Hizballah. In 2013 BBC audiences heard Middle East editor Jeremy Bowen playing dumb (and some Hizballah spin) on the issue of Syrian transfers of weapons to the terrorist organisation. 

Already in 2007 – just over a year after the war and the resolution which brought it to an end – the UN admitted that Hizballah had “rebuilt and even increased its military capacity” and since then its weapons stocks have vastly increased and diversified. The BBC is of course aware of that fact – as indicated in an article by BBC Monitoring’s Lamia Estatie published on July 11th 2016 under the headline “Hezbollah: Five ways group has changed since 2006 Israel war“.1701 Estatie art

“Its weapons arsenal grew from from [sic] 33,000 rockets and missiles before the 2006 war to an estimated 150,000. Similarly, it swelled from a few thousand members in 2006 to an estimated 20,000-plus.

After 2011, Hezbollah’s military support for the Iran-backed Syrian government – its weapons supply line – gave its fighters considerable combat experience and exposure to Russian military planning.”

No mention of UNSC Resolution 1701 appears in that report either.

It is apparent that as the decade since the UNSC’s adoption of 1701 progressed, BBC audiences saw less coverage of the topic of the existence of the resolution itself and the fact that its terms have been serially violated. Given the obligations to its funding public laid out in the public purposes remit, it is difficult to see how the BBC can justify that pattern of reporting.

Related Articles:

Why BBC audiences won’t understand the next Israel-Hizballah conflict – part one

Why BBC audiences won’t understand the next Israel-Hizballah conflict – part two

 

Mapping changes in the BBC’s disclosure of restrictions on journalists

“The movements of those reporting from Baghdad are restricted and their reports are monitored by the Iraqi authorities.”

That footnote was added to BBC News articles produced in 2003 (see examples here and here) and its purpose is very clear: to alert BBC audiences to the possibility of inaccuracies and/or compromised impartiality in reporting as a result of the restrictions imposed on journalists by a dictatorial regime.

As the Guardian reported at the time:

“The Times journalist Janine di Giovanni has also said that the demands of real-time television, combined with the restrictions placed on reporters in Baghdad by the Iraqis and the difficulties of getting to the front line are making it virtually impossible for journalists to cover the war properly.”

The addition of written or spoken footnotes to reporting from Iraq was not uncommon in BBC coverage at the time and the corporation obviously considered that it was important to communicate to audiences the conditions under which reporting was being produced. An article from 2003 about BBC reporters embedded with US forces pointed out that:

“There has been no censorship, says Van Klaveren [BBC head of newsgathering at the time – Ed.], and reporters are not required to submit scripts before broadcast. There are, however, a couple of golden rules – journalists cannot give specific details of locations or outline the future plans of their unit.”

In August 2006 – just after the Second Lebanon War had ended – the then head of BBC newsgathering, Fran Unsworth, wrote a blogpost on the topic of restrictions on reporting that war.

“Some blogs, as well as emails we’ve received, have said that BBC correspondents are failing to report that when covering the war, they are operating under reporting restrictions imposed by Hezbollah. Others complain that we did not refer to Israeli censorship rules on air. I’d like to answer those points.”

Inadvertently clarifying Hizballah’s use of the civilian population as human shields, Unsworth wrote:

“So what about Hezbollah? Were they any better able to control what reporters can and cannot see? Jim Muir – our correspondent who has just spent the last month based in Southern Lebanon – says…

“There have basically been no restrictions on reporting as such – there’s been no pressure in any direction with regard to anything we actually say, indeed very little interaction of any sort. There was however an issue at the beginning of the conflict over the live broadcast of pictures of rockets going out from locations visible from our live camera position. We were visited by Hezbollah representatives and told that by showing the exact location of firing we were endangering civilian lives, and that our equipment would be confiscated.”

Editors in London discussed both how we should handle both this request, and the Israel rules, in terms of what we said on air.

We agreed that rather than begin each broadcast with a ‘health warning’ to audiences, we would only refer to it if it was relevant. If rockets started to go off while were live on air, we would not show the exact location but would tell the audience that we had been asked by Hezbollah not to; on the grounds they claimed it endangered civilian lives.

In the event the situation never arose. Apart from that one incident we have been free to report whatever we wanted.”

Some of the below-the-line commentators on that blog pointed out the discrepancy between Unsworth’s and Muir’s benign portrayal of Hizballah restrictions on BBC journalists and the situation as it was portrayed by correspondents representing other media organisations.BBC brick wall

Eight years later, during the 2014 conflict between Israel and Hamas, the BBC did not make any public statements concerning restrictions placed on its journalists by Hamas and no footnotes were added to reports to alert audiences to the fact that media freedom was compromised.

We of course know that Hamas employed censorship and placed restrictions on the foreign press because not only did numerous journalists later report their experiences, but Hamas itself admitted to having deported journalists who did not toe its propaganda line.

One of the outcomes of the BBC’s failure to publicly acknowledge Hamas censorship was that it took over a month before BBC audiences were told that terrorist groups were firing missiles from residential areas. The BBC ‘explained’ that using the following disingenuous excuse:

“…we did raise your concerns with the relevant editorial staff at BBC News who covered the recent conflict in Gaza. They explained that there are number of reasons why BBC News has not shown images or footage of Hamas and Islamic Jihad militants firing rockets. The main reason is that militant groups keep the location of launch sites secret. It was very hard for journalists in Gaza to get to see rockets being fired out….” 

During the 2014 conflict one former BBC employee noted that:

“…the only truths about Gaza that BBC reporters can convey are those that a camera can point at. Never has a BBC reporter broken a story from Gaza, interviewed a Hamas commander at any depth about splits in the ranks, examined the Palestinian justice and detention system, exposed the climate of fear that Gazans are subject to, shown missile stockpiling or residential defensive positions, or challenged the brainwashing of children in schools.”

And as the hostilities ended, another former BBC journalist wrote:

“Where Matti Friedman is entirely correct is in the failure of news organizations and their correspondents to point out the controls and “pressures” both implicit and explicit exerted upon them in Gaza by the all-pervasive and tightly-run Hamas media operation. This inaction can only be seen as – at best – moral cowardice by media organizations. […]

…the (Western) media must also account for itself and for its own conduct, including apparent omissions and failures in the reporting of the conflict. It must question where reporting may have ended and emoting began; if it held Israel to a standard apart from all others; and why it allowed Hamas a free pass in controlling the flow of information.”

And that, of course, is the crux of the matter: when restrictions are placed on the media by dictators or terrorist organisations, the picture journalists paint for their audiences changes. Significantly, over the years we see that the BBC’s approach has changed: in 2003 it rightly found it appropriate to advise audiences that Iraqi restrictions were likely to affect its reporting. In 2006 it acknowledged Hizballah restrictions days after the conflict ended. But in 2014, the BBC chose to be completely silent on the issue of Hamas restrictions on its reporting and it has maintained that policy ever since.

In 2010 a former BBC World News editor wrote a blogpost in which he recalled the “censorship” and the “minders assigned to news organisations to “monitor” their reporting” in Iraq. He closed his post with the following words: 

“Journalists have a responsibility to be accurate and fair – we don’t want, and don’t ask, for special treatment. However, we do want the ability to operate freely, without fear or favour. Our audiences deserve nothing less.”

Given the corporation’s track record, the BBC’s funding public might well wonder whether or not those words – and the principles behind them – will apply during the next inevitable conflict between Israel and a terrorist organisation.

Weekend long read

1) As regular readers know, internal Palestinian affairs are consistently under-reported by the BBC despite the fact that it has permanent offices in Ramallah and in Gaza City. Khaled Abu Toameh brings news of the upcoming Palestinian municipal elections – of which BBC audiences will not be aware.Weekend Read

“The Palestinian Authority’s recent decision to hold municipal elections on October 8 has sparked fear among Palestinians that the move will lead to even more security chaos and anarchy, especially in the West Bank. The word on the Palestinian street is that the elections will be anything but fair and free.

The decision to hold new elections was taken during a meeting of the Palestinian Authority (PA) government, headed by Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah, on June 21 in Ramallah. The elections are slated to take place in 407 municipalities — 382 in the West Bank and 25 in the Gaza Strip. […]

Hamas has not yet announced its position on the October 8 municipal elections. The Islamic movement’s leaders in the Gaza Strip said this week that they were still debating amongst themselves, and consulting with other Palestinian factions concerning the local elections.”

(Since that article was published, Hamas has decided that it will participate in the elections.)

2) Daveed Garstein-Ross and Nathaniel Barr have written an interesting essay called “The Myth of Lone-Wolf Terrorism” which will ring a bell or two for those getting their news from the BBC.

“Analysts, journalists, and scholars have been quick to label each perpetrator of recent attacks as a lone wolf: individuals who lacked substantial connections to ISIS or other jihadist groups and who carried out their operations without the assistance of others. The designation has generally been applied within 24 hours of these attacks, before significant intelligence about an incident’s planning and execution has emerged—and long before authorities have concluded their investigation.”  

3) The ITIC has produced a report on vehicular terror attacks.

“Israel has been dealing with vehicular attacks since the first intifada (1987), most of them carried out by Palestinian popular terrorism operatives who are not organized or directed by the established terrorist organizations. In most instances the Palestinians use ordinary civilian vehicles, but in some cases they have used heavy construction equipment to increase the number of victims. Vehicular attacks continue to this day: since the beginning of the current terrorist campaign which began in September 2015, of the 224 particularly serious terrorist attacks carried out so far, 31 have been vehicular attacks.”

4) Two US think tanks have this past week held events concerning the Second Lebanon War and the prospect of future conflict between Israel and Hizballah. A podcast of the FDD’s event can be found here and a video is available here. A written report from the FDD on the same topic can be found here.

A video of the event held by the Hudson Institute can be found here.

Why BBC accuracy matters for its funding British public

Not for the first time, the annual Al Quds Day march held in London earlier this month did not receive any coverage on the BBC News website. As the Jewish Chronicle reported, the event included the inevitable Iranian sponsored defamation and demonisation of Israel, calls for the eradication of that UN member state and glorification of terrorism.Al Quds day London

“Signs accusing Israel of genocide were handed out at the start of the protest, with a banner at the front of the rally reading: “Dismantling of Zionist State = End Of Bloodshed.” One man carried a homemade placard which said: “Israel is a cancer. We are the cure.””

Although the BBC did not apparently find the hate-fest going on under its own nose newsworthy, there was something novel about this year’s event.

“Approximately 500 pro-Israel activists mounted a counter-demonstration, chanting “Shame! Shame! Shame!” and “Terrorist scum: off our streets” when the Al-Quds Day marchers collected outside the United States embassy in Grosvenor Square. […]

Joseph Cohen, who runs the Israel Advocacy Movement grassroots group, said the day had been “incredible.

“Last year my wife and I were the only people opposing the rally, when there were people marching with Hizbollah flags calling for the genocide of Israel.

It’s amazing today to see hundreds of people coming out to oppose Hizbollah terrorism. Every year they march unopposed. Not this year.””

Since then, a debate has begun on the topic of the display of the flag of a terrorist organisation proscribed by the UK on London’s streets with Dr Matthew Offord MP raising the issue in Parliament.

The Mayor of London also spoke on the topic when it was raised at the London Assembly but, as the Jewish News reports, the issue is not straightforward.  

“The confusion appears to centre on the fact the armed wing of Hezbollah is listed as a terrorist group while the political wing is not, yet the two elements share the same flag. The home office has said “the context and manner in which the flag is displayed must demonstrate that it is specifically in support of the proscribed elements of the group”.”

Obviously some of that confusion could have been avoided had the UK’s national broadcaster adhered to its remit of building an “understanding of international issues” rather than spending years cultivating that same myth of separate ‘wings’ of Hizballah, whitewashing the fact that it is a terrorist organisation by means of euphemisms such as “Lebanese Shia group”, misrepresenting its terror designation by numerous countries and misleading BBC audiences with regard to its activities.

A retrospective look at BBC coverage of the Second Lebanon War – part three

As was noted in part two of this post, some of the themes found in BBC coverage of the Second Lebanon War a decade ago were also evident eight years later in the corporation’s reporting of a different summer war: the 2014 conflict between Israel and Hamas and other assorted terrorist groups in the Gaza Strip.SONY DSC

One of those themes was the presentation of civilian/combatant casualty ratios based on information which was not independently verified by the BBC and as regular readers know, that was a serious issue in the corporation’s reporting of the 2014 conflict between Israel and Hamas – and remains so.

“Now on this day last year another war erupted in Gaza. It lasted 51 days and turned into the longest, most costly conflict of the three wars in the past six years. More than 2,100 people were killed in Gaza and 72 were killed on the Israeli side including 66 soldiers. And a very high price paid by civilians – and most of all children – became a defining issue in this confrontation.” (Rebecca Kesby, ‘BBC World Update: Daily Commute’, BBC World Service, 8/7/2015) [emphasis added]

An internet search for information from the BBC concerning casualty figures during the Second Lebanon War produces remarkably uniform results. The BBC’s profile of Hizballah (like additional articles relating to the terrorist group) states that:

“More than 1,125 Lebanese, most of them civilians, died during the 34-day conflict, as well as 119 Israeli soldiers and 45 civilians.”

An article from 2010 informs audiences that:

“More than 1,000 Lebanese, mostly civilians, and about 160 Israelis, mostly soldiers, died in the conflict. […] More than 1,000 Lebanese, many civilians, died in the war as well as 116 Israeli soldiers and 43 civilians. In Lebanon, bridges, roads and thousands of homes were destroyed in the Israeli bombardment.”

An article from 2009 tells readers that:

“What it [Hizballah] got was a 34-day onslaught from the Israeli military, costing more than 1,000 lives, mostly Lebanese civilians.

About 160 Israelis were killed, mostly soldiers, in fighting and rocket fire from Hezbollah.” 

Another report from the same year states:

“On the Lebanese side more than 1,000 people died, mostly civilians. About 160 Israelis – most of them soldiers – died in the fighting and rocket fire.”

An article from 2007 states:

“About 1,200 Lebanese, mostly civilians, and 160 Israelis, mostly soldiers, were killed in the conflict.”

Another report from 2007 tells readers that:

“Most of the 159 Israelis killed were soldiers. More than 1,000 Lebanese, most of them civilians, also died in the 34-day war.”

In a report from November 2006, audiences were told that:

“The war killed more than 1,200 Lebanese, mostly civilians, and 157 Israelis, mostly soldiers.” 

As can be seen, the BBC’s portrayal of the subject of Lebanese casualties is glaringly and consistently devoid of any mention of Hizballah combatants – despite the fact that at the end of August 2006, the corporation did acknowledge that some of the dead were combatants from that group and others.

2 Leb War Aug Hizb casualties

Like Hamas in 2014, the Lebanese authorities did not differentiate between civilians and combatants during the 2006 war but nevertheless, Lebanese officials reported even before the conflict was over that some 500 of the dead were Hizballah personnel and UN officials gave similar figures while Israeli estimates stand at around 600 (with 450 identified by name: see page 55 here).

As we see above, the media organisation supposedly committed to rigorous standards of accuracy has however continued over the years to portray Lebanese casualties during the 2006 war as “mostly civilians” despite there being no evidence of its having been able to independently verify that claim.

The same is true of the BBC’s portrayal of casualties during the summer 2014 conflict between Israel and Hamas which is presented along the following lines:

“The war left more than 2,100 Palestinians dead, the majority civilians, according to the UN.”

In both these conflicts and in others, the BBC adopted and promoted the narrative that non-Israeli casualties were ‘mostly civilians’ despite the lack of independent verification. Moreover, the BBC makes no effort to provide its audiences with information which would enable them to compare civilian/combatant casualty ratios in conflicts in which Israel is involved with those seen in other conflicts.  

The result is of course clear: BBC audiences have over the last decade at least been repeatedly steered towards the erroneous view that wars in which Israel is involved result in exceptionally high numbers of civilian deaths on the other side.   

Related Articles:

BBC continues to avoid independent verification of Gaza casualty ratios

BBC promotion of the inaccurate notion of exceptional civilian casualties in Gaza

A retrospective look at BBC coverage of the Second Lebanon War – part one

A retrospective look at BBC coverage of the Second Lebanon War – part two

 

 

A retrospective look at BBC coverage of the Second Lebanon War – part two

A review of the content produced by the BBC a decade ago at the time of the Second Lebanon War shows that many of the themes found in that coverage resurfaced eight years later in the corporation’s reporting of a different summer war: the 2014 conflict between Israel and Hamas and other assorted terrorist groups in the Gaza Strip.

SONY DSC

One theme found very early on in the BBC’s coverage of the 2014 war was the promotion of the unsubstantiated notion that Israel was committing ‘war crimes’ in the Gaza Strip, based on unverified claims from political NGOs – some of which were already engaged in lawfare against Israel.

Documenting the BBC contribution to political warfare against Israel

Documenting the BBC contribution to political warfare against Israel – part two

Documenting the BBC contribution to political warfare against Israel – part three

After the fighting had ended, the BBC continued to amplify the agenda of NGOs including Human Rights Watch (“More BBC promotion and amplification of lawfare NGO“) and in particular Amnesty International:

BBC’s Middle East editor promotes Amnesty International’s Gaza report

More BBC wind in the sails of NGO’s lawfare campaign

BBC amplification of Amnesty’s lawfare agenda again compromises impartiality

BBC WS ‘Newshour’ amplifies Israel delegitimising lawfare campaign

The green shoots of that editorial policy were apparent – albeit on a smaller scale – eight years earlier when – just eight days into the Second Lebanon War – the BBC News website ran an article headlined “UN warning on Mid-East war crimes” which was based on statements made by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights at the time. An additional article published on the same day told BBC audiences that:

“The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Louise Arbour, warns that those involved in the spiral of violence between Israel and Lebanon could face war crimes charges if they are found to have deliberately attacked civilians”

On August 23rd 2006 the BBC News website promoted a report by Amnesty International under the headline “Israel accused of war crimes“.

“Amnesty International has accused Israel of committing war crimes by deliberately targeting civilian infrastructure in Lebanon. […]

The document details what it describes as “massive destruction by Israeli forces of whole civilian neighbourhoods and villages”, together with attacks on bridges “in areas of no apparent strategic importance”, on its list of supporting evidence. […]

“Many of the violations identified in our report are war crimes, including indiscriminate and disproportionate attacks,” said Ms Gilmore.”

In September 2007 the BBC News website published an article titled “Israel accused over Lebanon war” which amplified a report by Human Rights Watch (HRW).

“A human rights group has accused Israel of carrying out indiscriminate air strikes that killed hundreds of civilians during the 2006 Lebanon war.

Human Rights Watch said Israel showed “reckless indifference” to the fate of civilians and queried its argument that Hezbollah used them as human shields.”

Despite the existence of publicly available evidence discrediting the claims made by AI and HRW (see for example here and here) the above BBC reports (and others) remain available online  – without any clarifying footnote – as ‘historical record’.SONY DSC

Another theme seen in BBC coverage of the Second Lebanon War was promotion of the notion of ‘disproportionate’ (and by implication, illegal) actions by Israel – already from day two of the conflict.

“A Lebanese cabinet minister said the Israeli response was disproportionate, and called for a ceasefire. […] France and Russia condemned Israel’s “disproportionate use of force”.” (July 13, 2006)

“The European Union is greatly concerned about the disproportionate use of force by Israel in Lebanon in response to attacks by Hezbollah on Israel.” (July 13, 2006)

“President Jacques Chirac of France called Israel’s acts “disproportionate” while Russian President Vladimir Putin called for an end to fighting. […]But he said Israel’s response was “completely disproportionate”, adding: “One can ask oneself whether there isn’t a sort of desire to destroy Lebanon.”” (July 14, 2006)

“Amnesty’s report said Israeli attacks into Lebanon were “indiscriminate and disproportionate”. (November 21, 2006)

Seeing as the BBC did not make any effort at the time (or since) to inform its audiences (and its own staff) of what the principle of proportionality in warfare actually means, it is not surprising to see that the ‘disproportionality’ theme regularly resurfaces in BBC reporting.

In June 2015, for example, viewers of BBC Two’s ‘Newsnight’ saw Evan Davis promote the false notion that proportionality means equality in death and suffering. During the summer 2014 conflict BBC audiences heard and read generous amplification of equally uninformed comment from assorted British politicians and in November 2012 listeners to the BBC World Service heard Julian Marshall tell an Israeli spokesperson:

“I think one of the observations made by critics of Israel is that you always respond disproportionately and – ah – in a way the figures tell the story. Since this offensive of yours began, 39 Palestinians have been killed, three Israelis. There’s a disproportionate use of force going on here.”

In the next instalment of this post we will take a look at additional common themes found in the BBC’s 2006 reporting from Lebanon and its subsequent coverage from the Gaza Strip.

Related Articles:

A retrospective look at BBC coverage of the Second Lebanon War – part one

 

Weekend long read

1) Our CAMERA colleague Sean Durns has recently produced two backgrounders which readers may find useful:

Hezbollah Backgrounder: 2016

Palestinian Islamic Jihad Backgrounder: 2016Weekend Read

2) As readers are probably aware, it is not unusual to find the BBC promoting the notion that the Gaza Strip is still under Israeli occupation, despite nearly eleven years having passed since the disengagement. Gilead Sher and Dr Dana Wolf explain why that is not the case.

Article 42 of the 1907 Hague Regulations outlines legal requirements for occupation, which include the physical existence of hostile troops in an area, so that the legitimate government is incapable of exercising effective powers of government. Conversely, military withdrawal is a prerequisite for clearly demarcating the end of occupation. As such, never since the enactment of the Hague Regulations has an occupation been recognized without a foreign army present.” 

3) At The Tablet, David Collier asks “Do NGOs that work in and around Israel use their volunteers for propaganda?”.

“There are hundreds of websites dedicated to providing information on volunteering opportunities worldwide and almost all of these sites contain a section on Palestine. One of the main concerns, wherever the NGO is based, is always safety. The African Volunteer Network, in a section on Somalia, as well as the group Hand in Hand for Syria both explicitly state they cannot send nonmedical volunteers into their specific areas because of the dangers. So how can there be so many aid agencies advertising for volunteers in Palestine? How can there be NGOs claiming Israel is conducting “genocide,” and is engaged in “war crimes” at the same time as organizations advertise for volunteers to help plant olive trees, teach English and work in refugee camps?”

4) BBC coverage of the recent anniversary of the Iran deal focused on highlighting negotiators’ recollections but the corporation refrained from providing its audiences with any substantial analysis of the topic.

“My favourite was the Persian chicken with crushed pistachios,” recalls Wendy Sherman. “Those times of breaking bread together are always useful in building the relationships you need when you are the middle of such tough negotiations.”

The Henry Jackson Society and the Friends of Israel Initiative have published a paper titled The Iran Deal a Year On: Assessing Iranian Ambitions.

“Key findings include:

  • Iran has breached the JCPA and associated agreements, with no penalty and in some cases active collusion by Western supporters of the deal.
  • Serious concerns exist over IAEA finding and reporting in relation to the implementation of the deal and the military dimension of Iran’s nuclear programme.
  • Iranian forces, in particular the Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), are still involved in Iraq, Syria, and Yemen as an integral part of the Iranian government’s destabilising agenda.
  • Iran remains the principal sponsor of terrorism in the world – as acknowledged by the U.S. Department of State.
  • Iran continues to develop its ballistic missile programme.
  • The grave violations of human rights and freedom within Iran have not ceased and the hopes for a moderation of the regime have remained unmet.”

The full report can be found here

Why BBC audiences won’t understand the next Israel-Hizballah conflict – part two

As noted in part one of this post the BBC’s correspondent in Beirut, Rami Ruhayem, produced both audio and written reports on the tenth anniversary of the Second Lebanon War on July 12th.

The written report – which appeared in the ‘Features’ section of the BBC News website’s Middle East page – is titled “Ten years on, is Hezbollah prepared for another war with Israel?” and it opened with the use of euphemistic terminology to describe that internationally designated terror organisation and further promotion of the questionable ‘mutual deterrence’ theme found in Ruhayem’s radio report. [emphasis added]Ruhayem written 12 7

“In a region transformed by the wars in Syria and Iraq, the stand-off between Israel and Hezbollah, the Shia jihadist group it last confronted in full-scale warfare in 2006, appears to be one thing that has not changed.

Ten years is the longest period without major fighting between them – a sign, perhaps, that the mutual deterrence established after 2006 is here to stay.”

It went on to amplify unfounded rumour disseminated by a pro-Hizballah Lebanese newspaper.

“But earlier this year, rumour spread in Lebanon that Israel was preparing to attack and finish off Hezbollah, sparking media speculation that the summer of 2016 will see an even bloodier re-run of the war of 2006.”

That was followed by a partial description of the events which sparked the Second Lebanon War in which the missile attacks on Israeli civilian communities that took place together with the infiltration into Israeli sovereign territory were erased.

“Back then, Hezbollah killed eight Israeli soldiers and abducted two in a cross-border raid, and demanded an exchange of prisoners with Israel.”

Ruhayem again presented a picture of Lebanese casualties during that war which – although better than his audio report – failed to provide audiences with accurate information.

“According to official figures, 1,191 people were killed in Lebanon, the majority of them civilians. In Israel, 121 soldiers and 44 civilians were killed.”

As noted previously, Lebanese figures do not differentiate between civilians and combatants but Lebanese officials reported even before the conflict was over that some 500 of the dead were Hizballah combatants and UN officials gave similar figures. Israeli estimates stand at around 600 – more than half of the total Lebanese casualty figures.

Having told readers that “Israel lost and Hezbollah won”, Ruhayem went on to describe the effects of the war in Lebanon but provided no comparative information about the number of people displaced or infrastructure and homes damaged on the other side of the border.

“Up to a million people were displaced, and around 15,000 homes and 900 factories were destroyed, along with roads, bridges, the runway at Beirut International Airport, and other infrastructure.”

As in his audio report, he then went on to describe the ‘Dahiya doctrine’ but without clarifying that the Dahiya neighbourhood of Beirut is Hizballah’s command and control centre.

“Israel laid out a strategy of deterrence, first made public by Maj Gen Gadi Eizenkot in 2008 when he was head of the Israeli army’s Northern Command.

He said that what happened in Dahiya, the southern suburb of Beirut in which neighbourhoods were flattened by Israeli airstrikes in 2006, would “happen in every village from which shots were fired in the direction of Israel”.

Gen Eizenkot, now Israeli chief of staff, articulated what came to be known as the Dahiya Doctrine.

“We will wield disproportionate power,” he said, “and cause immense damage and destruction. This isn’t a suggestion. It’s a plan that has already been authorised.

“Harming the population is the only means of restraining Nasrallah.””

But the most remarkable feature of this article is its problematic presentation of Hizballah’s involvement in the Syrian civil war – once again without any mention being made of Iran’s role in that development.

“From early on in the war, Hezbollah sent its fighters across the border to support President Bashar al-Assad. […]

Their rationale for involvement in support of President Assad has evolved, but a dominant theme is that Syria has been the backbone of the resistance against Israel, and that the attacks on the regime are aimed at undermining Hezbollah by depriving them of an ally that has provided much needed logistical support.

According to their narrative, the war in Syria was a continuation of the 2006 war by other means, with the Americans, Israelis and Saudis trying to finish off the “axis of resistance”, by destroying the glue that holds it together – the Assad regime.”

Ruhayem did not present any challenge to that very transparent Hizballah propaganda or even bother to remind readers that the Syrian civil war began as a popular uprising against the repressive Assad regime and that Israel is not involved in the war in Syria.

In contrast to his audio report, Ruhayem did note Hizballah’s augmented missile arsenal but failed to tell readers where it came from or that it is a clear breach of UN SC resolution 1701.

“There seems to be agreement that Hezbollah has amassed a much larger missile arsenal. Various estimates from both sides suggest they have more than 100,000 missiles, and Hassan Nasrallah insists Israeli missile defence systems are incapable of effectively neutralising them in a new confrontation.”

He yet again whitewashed Hizballah’s origins while promoting a scenario unsupported by any evidence.

“”We are talking about a defensive war, in which we are the ones who are on the receiving end of aggression,” Hassan Nasrallah said.

This reflects Hezbollah’s new posture and priorities. Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, they kept up a persistent guerrilla campaign against the Israeli occupation of south Lebanon, and it was through attrition over almost two decades that they forced them out in 2000.

Some in Israel believe it is better for them to wait and watch than wage war now.

Deputy Chief of Staff and head of the Northern Command Maj Gen Yair Golan said Israel should be in no rush to wage pre-emptive war against Hezbollah.”

It is of course highly unlikely that Israel would do any such thing unless Hizballah took steps which left it no alternative. But if conflict between Israel and Hizballah did break out again, BBC audiences would obviously be seriously lacking the background information crucial to their understanding of that event because reports like these two from Rami Ruhayem fail to provide them with information concerning relevant issues such as the failure of UN SC resolution 1701 to achieve its aims, the rearming of Hizballah and its use of communities in southern Lebanon as human shields and Iran’s patronage of the terror organization which the BBC refuses even to describe in accurate terminology.

One might have perhaps thought that a media organisation that describes itself as “the standard-setter for international journalism” would at some point in the last decade have got round to conducting a serious investigation into why the UN Security Council resolution which ended the 2006 conflict has failed to prevent the conditions being put in place for a third devastating war in Lebanon.

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Why BBC audiences won’t understand the next Israel-Hizballah conflict – part one

The July 12th edition of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour’ included an item (from 14:08 here) about the tenth anniversary of the Second Lebanon War which was introduced by presenter Razia Iqbal as follows:Ruhayem Newshour 12 7

“Let’s head to the Middle East now. In a region devastated by wars in Syria and Iraq which have changed things utterly, the enmity between Israel and Hizballah appears to be the one thing that hasn’t shifted. Ten years ago today the two sides fought a 33 day war that cost thousands of lives. The BBC’s Rami Ruhayem reports now from Lebanon, asking what’s changed in the decade since the conflict.”

One answer to the question of what has changed in the last ten years is that Hizballah now possesses an Iranian supplied missile arsenal which is far bigger than the one it had in July 2006 and which threatens many more Israeli civilians. Another answer is that the UN Security Council resolution of August 2006 (1701) which was supposed to prevent (under UNIFIL supervision) Hizballah’s rearmament, its positioning of missiles in southern Lebanon, the resulting use of the population of that region as human shields and to bring an end to Hizballah’s presence south of the Litani river, has shown itself to have resoundingly failed.

” – security arrangements to prevent the resumption of hostilities, including the establishment between the Blue Line and the Litani river of an area free of any armed personnel, assets and weapons other than those of the Government of Lebanon and of UNIFIL as authorized in paragraph 11, deployed in this area;

– full implementation of the relevant provisions of the Taif Accords, and of resolutions 1559 (2004) and 1680 (2006), that require the disarmament of all armed groups in Lebanon, so that, pursuant to the Lebanese cabinet decision of 27 July 2006, there will be no weapons or authority in Lebanon other than that of the Lebanese State;

– no foreign forces in Lebanon without the consent of its Government; – no sales or supply of arms and related materiel to Lebanon except as authorized by its Government;”

Despite the fact that Rami Ruhayem began his report with an interview with a UNIFIL spokesman, he did not inform BBC audiences of any of the above issues.

“Spanish troops patrol Lebanon’s southern border. They are part of a multinational force that’s been around for decades. It was expanded after the 2006 war.”

Listeners even heard the UNIFIL spokesman make the following claim without any challenge or qualification from Ruhayem:

“The presence of over ten thousand troops coming from 40 different countries; it’s very important for the stability of the south of Lebanon…”

Ruhayem went on to give a partial description of the events which brought about the Second Lebanon war, erasing the Hizballah missile fire on Israeli civilian communities which was carried out at the same time as its infiltration into Israeli sovereign territory.

“But this UN force is not what’s prevented a new war from breaking out. In 2006 after Hizballah killed eight Israeli soldiers and abducted two in a cross-border raid, Israel launched an all-out war on Lebanon and tried – but failed – to destroy Hizballah’s missile arsenal.”

He continued with an inaccurate description of Lebanese casualties.

“Forty-four civilians and 121 soldiers were killed, leaving Israel’s leadership in disarray. Lebanon paid a much heavier price. More than a thousand civilians were killed, about a million displaced, in addition to the lingering misery of cluster bombs dropped by Israel that are still claiming victims.”

The inaccurate claim that the war’s 1,191 Lebanese casualties were all civilians clearly misleads audiences. Lebanese figures do not differentiate between civilians and combatants but Lebanese officials reported even before the conflict was over that some 500 of the dead were Hizballah combatants and UN officials gave similar figures. Israeli estimates stand at around 600 – more than half of the total Lebanese casualty figures. The BBC itself reported in July 2006 that Hizballah had admitted some casualties among its forces.

Ruhayem then went on:

“Ten years on, Dahiya – the southern suburb of Beirut of which large parts were destroyed by Israel – is a busy, bustling part of town. It was swiftly rebuilt with Iranian aid after the war. Its name became part of Israel’s strategy of deterrence: a strategy inspired by Israel’s destruction of Dahiya. It was called the Dahiya doctrine. The doctrine was articulated by Gadi Eizenkot – currently Chief of Staff of the Israeli army. In a now famous quote he said what happened here in Dahiya would happen in every village from which shots were fired in the direction of Israel. ‘We will wield disproportionate power against them and cause immense damage and destruction’.”

Ruhayem however failed to inform his listeners that Dahiya is more than just a “suburb of Beirut”.

“Dahiya is a neighborhood in Beirut which can only be accessed by card-carrying Hizbullah members. During the 2006 war, the IDF bombed large apartment buildings in the neighborhood since they were also used as Hizbullah command-and-control centers, and were built over Hizbullah bunkers.”

He also refrained from providing the rest of that Eizenkot quote:

“What happened in the Dahiya quarter of Beirut in 2006 will happen in every village from which Israel is fired on,” Eizenkot said in an interview in October 2008. “We will apply disproportionate force on it and cause great damage and destruction there. From our standpoint, these are not civilian villages, they are military bases.” [emphasis added]

A theory (presented as fact) of ‘mutual deterrence’ was pushed by Ruhayem in this report.

“Thus, mutual deterrence set in. Hizballah and Israel were badly hurt each in their own way and deterred from starting another war.”

However, he made no effort to inform audiences of the very relevant differences between a country obliged to defend its citizens from attacks by an internationally designated terrorist organization (and predictably, that terminology does not appear anywhere in this report) based in a neighbouring country and the religiously motivated ideology which drives both Hizballah and its Iranian sponsors.

Those Iranian sponsors were also conspicuously absent from Ruhayem’s description of Hizballah’s entry into the war in Syria – which he presented as just having ‘broken out’ without any mention of Bashar Assad’s brutal attempts to suppress civil protest against his regime.

“But war broke out in Syria and Hizballah sent its fighters to support the Syrian regime.”

Ruhayem also promoted the popular – but inaccurate – BBC theme according to which Hizballah’s origins are to be found in the First Lebanon War.

“The history between Israel and Hizballah dates back further than 2006. A museum set up by Hizballah in southern Lebanon showcases remnants of Israel’s occupation. […] It’s meant to document the part of Hizballah’s war against the Israeli occupation; a war which slowly but surely exhausted the Israelis and drove them out of the south.

Ruhayem closed his report:

“Now Hizballah is pouring fighters into a seemingly endless war in Syria. They now run the risk of attrition in the east and, in the event of war with Israel, onslaught from the south at the same time.”

According to some analysts, that – rather than ‘mutual deterrence’ – is precisely the reason why Hizballah is unlikely to initiate another round of conflict with Israel at this stage. As Avi Issacharoff notes:

“The most important issue in Hezbollah’s decision-making, it is clear, is the situation in Syria and the war against Islamic State. As long as its people are fighting and dying in battle in Syria, it is hard to imagine Nasrallah being dragged once again into another stupid escapade against Israel. He has the ability to bombard every point in Israel with the abundant store of rockets and missiles in his possession. But even he realizes that in the new reality that has been foisted upon him, opening a new front with Israel could lead to his military defeat not only against the Israeli army but also against the radical Sunnis in Syria.”

Like most BBC reports concerning Hizballah, this one too refrained from adequately informing audiences about crucial topics such as the failure of UN SC resolution 1701 to achieve its aims, the Iranian rearming of Hizballah and its placement of missiles in civilian communities in southern Lebanon. And like most BBC reports, this one too fails to clarify to BBC audiences that Hizballah is a terrorist organization which is entirely at the beck and call of Iran.

If the aim of this report was to meet the BBC’s remit of building an “understanding of international issues”, then it has obviously fallen short of the mark. Rami Ruhayem also produced a complimentary written report on the same topic and we shall take a look at that in an upcoming post.

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BBC guest ‘expert’ is ‘Veterans Today’, ‘Rense’ contributor