In which the BBC’s Jeremy Bowen repeats his ‘no human shields in Gaza’ claims

BBC Radio 4’s series ‘Our Man in the Middle East’ continued on June 16th with episode 15 – titled “Missiles and the Ballot Box” – which was devoted to Jeremy Bowen’s view of the Gaza Strip.

“Jeremy Bowen explores Gaza, the Palestinian territory controlled by Hamas, the Islamic resistance movement. It’s not a place you would chose [sic] for a Mediterranean holiday, though the Palestinians used to dream of developing a tourist industry, he says. “Israel could recapture Gaza in days if it wanted to. But then it would be responsible for around a million children and about the same number of angry adults. Palestinians can’t destroy a state as strong as Israel. But Israel can’t bludgeon Palestinians into submission either.””

Refraining from informing audiences that hopes of economic development in the Gaza Strip were killed off by, among other things, the Islamist take-over of the territory, Bowen opens the programme with the theme promoted in that synopsis. [emphasis in italics in the original]

“Gaza is not a place you’d choose for a Mediterranean holiday although the Palestinians used to dream of developing a tourist industry. The beaches are sandy and run for 25 miles along the Mediterranean from the top right-hand corner of Egypt. It’s no wider than 7 miles and, apart from the short Egyptian border, it’s entirely surrounded by Israel. Since 2006 [sic] the Palestinian group Hamas – the Islamic resistance movement has controlled it.”

Bowen then goes on to describe the Erez crossing – but without providing listeners with any explanation of why the stringent security measures he portrays in such detail are necessary. He continues:

“Palestinians often call Gaza the world’s biggest jail and it’s hard to argue. Many spend whole lives there without being able to leave. I’ve met thirty-something men who’ve never left.”

Bowen’s portrayal does not clarify to listeners that on average around a thousand people exit Gaza via the Erez crossing every day for medical treatment, commercial, academic or sporting activities or religious trips. He refrains from making any mention of the existence of the crossing into Egypt at Rafah, or why that crossing is so frequently closed by Egypt.

Bowen then gives some historical background but refrains from clarifying that the Gaza Strip was included in the territory allotted for the creation of a homeland for the Jewish people by the League of Nations.

“Gaza was one of the historic towns of Palestine; a small place surrounded by fields and sand dunes when it was captured by Egypt in Israel’s 1948 war of independence. Tens of thousands of Palestinian refugees fled there to escape the Israeli advance or because they were forced out of their homes at the point of a gun.”

The siege – and subsequent evacuation – of Kibbutz Kfar Darom in 1948 is of course not included in Bowen’s account. He goes on:

“Israel captured Gaza from Egypt in 1967 and finally pulled out its soldiers and settlers in 2005, though it still controls who goes in and out by land, sea and air.”

Bowen makes no mention of the fact that agreements on movement and access from and to Gaza were signed by Israel and the Palestinian Authority after Israel’s disengagement from the Gaza strip in 2005.  Failing to clarify to listeners why residents of a territory that has been under PA and then Hamas rule for the last twelve years are still classified as refugees or why refugee status is inherited, Bowen goes on:

“These days almost two million people live in the Gaza Strip. About two-thirds of them are descendants of the original refugees. Refugee children are taught at schools run by the UN. Their future is bleak. The UN predicts that Gaza might become uninhabitable by 2020 if there’s no end to the conflict with Israel.”

Ignoring the fact that Egypt saw fit to adopt similar counter-terrorism measures to those introduced by Israel after the violent Hamas coup in 2007 and failing to mention the rise in terrorism that was the cause of those measures, Bowen continues:

“Israel put Gaza under a severe blockade in 2007 after Hamas took over. To overcome it, Palestinians built a network of smuggling tunnels into Egypt. […] For years after Hamas took over Gaza and the Israeli blockade bit hard, almost everything except the most basic commodities was smuggled in from Egypt through the tunnels.”

In fact, smuggling tunnels existed in the Rafah area long before 2007. Bowen’s portrayal of that issue does not include any information concerning the taxes and tariffs levied by Hamas on smuggled goods. Ignoring Egyptian actions against the tunnels, Bowen tells listeners that:

“Israel used to bomb the tunnels to uphold their blockade and because weapons were also smuggled through them. The blockade, the bombing and Israeli fears about Hamas weaponry all ramped up the tension.”

Having told listeners that the Hamas-Fatah split is rooted in “the death of Yasser Arafat”, Bowen goes on to refer to the Hamas Charter in the past tense.

“Hamas had a charter calling for its [Israel’s] destruction and was designated by Israel and the West as a terrorist group. The crunch came after Hamas unexpectedly won the elections in 2006. The Americans, proselytising hard for democracy, had pushed for the vote. But it didn’t produce the result they wanted. A few months later I was in the office of one of the top diplomats at the State Department in Washington DC. He sat back in his chair. ‘Of course’ he said ‘ it’s the wrong result. We’re going to have to overturn it’. The Americans gave full backing to Israel’s policy of isolating Gaza to put pressure on Hamas.”

Once again, Hamas terrorism is absent from Bowen’s tale. After a long account of his personal recollections of pre-Hamas coup inter-factional fighting in Gaza and a conversation with Mohammad Dahlan, Bowen tells listeners:

“After I left Gaza that time the feud between Fatah and Hamas became a mini civil war. Hamas won and Fatah officials including Dahlan rushed to the Israeli checkpoints to escape with their lives.”

According to reports from the time, Dahlan was not in the Gaza Strip during those days in June 2007: he had been abroad for several weeks for medical treatment.

Listeners hear a brief reference to missile attacks against Israelis without the groups that execute the attacks being named and without mention of any of the victims of such attacks.

“Living either side of the border wire – in Gaza or Israel – can be difficult and dangerous. Going through even one rocket attack on the Israeli side, let alone dozens in a day, is terrifying – as I found out.”

However, Bowen soon returns to form:

“When the wars flare up more Palestinians are killed than Israelis, including many more civilians.”

Bowen then revisits a report he produced in 2009 concerning Dr. Izzeldin Abuelaish.

“An Israeli tank had shelled his home and killed three of his daughters.”

Bowen fails to tell listeners of the background to that the tragic incident but goes on to promote one of his usual pseudo-legal misinterpretations of the Law of Armed Combat and the term ‘disproportionate‘.

“The laws of war say belligerents shouldn’t use disproportionate force. Israel always denies doing so when it attacks Gaza but the evidence suggests that it does. The Israelis claim to take great care not to kill civilians but they use heavy weapons in densely populated areas, making civilian casualties certain.”

Bowen then revisits another of his previously promoted claims concerning Hamas’ use of human shields, while steering listeners towards an incomplete understanding of that term.

“I’ve never seen any evidence of Hamas forcing civilians in Gaza to stay in the firing line. But Israelis repeat time and again that Hamas hides behind human shields.”

The programme closes with Bowen opining that the terror organisation whose activities and abuses he has downplayed throughout the whole report should be party to negotiations.

“Until matters change in Gaza there will be more wars between Hamas and Israel. Change means a new attempt at peace with the participation and consent of all sides. Right now, there is no chance of that happening.”

Perhaps one of the more disturbing points emerging from this series of programmes by the BBC’s Middle East editor is the fact that the passage of time has done nothing to alter his opinions and analysis.

Having publicly claimed that he did not come across human shields in the few days he was in Gaza in the summer of 2014, three years later he cannot accommodate the ample evidence that shows otherwise. Having promoted his own pseudo-legal interpretations of the Law of Armed Combat in his 2014 reporting from Gaza, he is incapable of subsequently adjusting that view in line with the facts.

That, of course, is what happens when the agenda takes precedence over the actual story.

Related Articles:

BBC’s Bowen saw no human shields in Gaza – but reports them in Mosul

Law of Armed Conflict, Gaza and the BBC

Hamas PR department invokes BBC’s Bowen

 

 

BBC’s Bowen saw no human shields in Gaza – but reports them in Mosul

The BBC has recently produced several reports concerning an incident in Mosul, Iraq, in which a large number of civilians are alleged to have been killed during a strike on ISIS forces.

Battle for Mosul: US investigating deadly air strike‘ BBC News website, March 25th 2017

“The US military has acknowledged that aircraft of the coalition fighting so-called Islamic State (IS) in Iraq hit a location in west Mosul where dozens of civilians were reportedly killed. […]

The US Central Command said the planes acted at the request of Iraqi security forces. It did not name which country’s aircraft carried out the attack.

In its statement, it said “an initial review of strike data” indicated that an air strike on 17 March was carried out in western Mosul “at the location corresponding to allegations of civilian casualties”.

The coalition “takes all allegations of civilian casualties seriously and a formal Civilian Casualty Credibility Assessment has been opened to determine the facts surrounding the strike”, it went on.

The details of what happened are still unclear, but reports have suggested the strikes killed more than 100 people. The number of victims could not be independently confirmed.”

UN fears 200 died in coalition air strikes on Mosul‘ BBC News website, March 25th 2017

“The United Nations has raised grave concerns about reports of high civilian casualties in the Iraqi city of Mosul.

A senior UN official in Iraq said she was stunned by accounts of “terrible loss of life”, after claims that at least 200 people had been killed in air strikes by the US-led coalition.”

Mosul offensive: Iraq denies air strike caused civilian deaths‘ BBC News website, March 26th 2017

“Iraq’s military has cast doubt on reports that an air strike by the US-led coalition caused the deaths of dozens of civilians in west Mosul.

Instead it blamed explosive booby-traps set by so-called Islamic State (IS).

The US said on Saturday that it was investigating an air strike on 17 March at “the location corresponding to allegations of civilian casualties”.”

The BBC’s Middle East editor Jeremy Bowen was in Mosul when those allegations concerning civilian casualties emerged.

Thousands flee Mosul over fear of air strikes‘ Jeremy Bowen, BBC television news and BBC News website, March 25th 2017

“The people who’ve been coming in have been talking about what they’ve been through. They’ve talked about airstrikes that have come in in the last few days and killed – as well as killing people from Islamic State – have killed hundreds of civilians. They’ve complained that the jihadists have used them as human shields. But they’ve also – in tears and in anger – spoken very bitterly about the effects of airstrikes on civilians. I spoke to multiple witnesses who said that there are perhaps hundreds of bodies still lying in the rubble that people can’t get to.”

‘No pause to attacks against IS’ in West Mosul‘ Jeremy Bowen, BBC television news and BBC News website, March 26th 2017

“Earlier there were some suggestions that the Iraqis had paused their offensive because of the airstrike that killed so many civilians but the evidence here is that is not happening…”

“…I’ve seen them [Iraqi forces] using some quite primitive, inaccurate weapons. Now that may help when it comes to killing the fighters from the jihadist group Islamic State but if they’re inaccurate they may well also kill more civilians if civilians are in the area that is being attacked.”

Death is all around in Mosul‘ Jeremy Bowen, BBC radio, March 27th 2017

Bowen: “He [interviewee Mahmoud] was furious that so many civilians had died in the airstrikes.”

Mahmoud: “They are still under the rubble. No-one has saved them yet. The airstrikes are non-stop. They are happening 24 hours a day. They are killing innocent people. Why are they attacking us? We did not do anything wrong.”

Bowen: “Do you think this is the way to fight Daesh – to fight Islamic State?”

Mahmoud: “It’s not the right way to fight ISIS because it doesn’t distinguish between civilians and ISIS fighters. The fighters are living among civilians. They enter the houses by force and when an airstrike hits it kills both the fighters and civilians. They use civilians as human shields.”

In July 2014 Jeremy Bowen produced several reports from the Gaza Strip concerning civilian casualties.

Israel defends Gaza military campaign‘ Jeremy Bowen, BBC television news, July 11th 2014

Gaza crisis: Death toll from Israeli strikes ‘hits 100’  Jeremy Bowen, BBC television news, July 11th 2014

“Israel says it tries hard to make sure civilians don’t get killed. It says it targets Hamas and its fighters. […] The UN human rights commissioner says there’s serious doubt Israel is complying with the laws of war that protect civilians.”

Israel-Gaza conflict: Home for disabled hit in Beit Lahiya  Jeremy Bowen, BBC television news, July 12th 2014 (discussed here)

Bowen: “Belligerents are obliged under the laws of war to protect civilians. The UN has already asked whether Israel is working in the way that it should to fulfil those obligations. After the attack on the centre for the disabled, it is clear that the Israelis have some serious questions to answer.”

Israel-Gaza conflict enters seventh day Jeremy Bowen, BBC television news, July 14th 2014 (discussed here)

Bowen: “Back in Gaza in the bombed fishing port, Raji Sourani – a Palestinian human rights campaigner – said Israel’s tactic of destroying the homes of men it says are Hamas fighters guarantees it will also kill non-combatants: neighbours, families, children.”

Sourani: “They know they committed war crimes, crimes against humanity – and deliberately. Intending to destroy houses where civilians living in it that’s totally illegal in a clear-cut way Geneva Convention article 52 paragraph 3.” […]

Bowen: “Smoke from burning buildings spread across Gaza as Palestinians buried men they said were fighting in a legitimate resistance. Israel calls them terrorists.”

Death toll mounts amid Gaza strikes Jeremy Bowen, BBC television news, July 14th 2014 (discussed here)

Bowen: “Israel says it goes after Hamas.”

Man: “That’s not true. It’s not true.

Bowen: “They’re children, said Munsar al Batsh [phonetic] – a cousin. It’s not logical they’d be Hamas.” […]

Bowen: “He rejected Israel’s claims that Hamas uses civilians as human shields.”

After having left the Gaza Strip, Bowen penned an article for another media outlet in which he claimed to have seen “no evidence of Hamas using Palestinians as human shields”.

In contrast, in his reporting from Mosul Bowen was able to inform BBC audiences of ISIS’ use of human shields and did not find it necessary to promote either his own amateur opinions on the legality of the alleged incidents nor unproven accusations of deliberate targeting of civilians and ‘war crimes’.

Related Articles:

Differing BBC definitions of human shields in Iraq and Gaza

Comparing BBC reporting on human shields in Gaza and Iraq

 

Differing BBC definitions of human shields in Iraq and Gaza

h/t JC, YM

Back in November we noted the contrast between BBC reporting on the use of human shields by ISIS in the Mosul area of Iraq and its silence concerning Hamas’ use of human shields in the Gaza Strip during the summer 2014 conflict.

As readers no doubt recall, within hours of the 2014 conflict’s commencement the BBC began to repeatedly amplify false claims that Israel was ‘targeting civilians’ – and hence committing ‘war crimes’ – while failing to report Hamas’ placement of military assets (including missile launchers) in populated civilian areas.

BBC News promotes and amplifies falsehood that Israel deliberately targets civilians

Third example of BBC promotion of the lie that Israel deliberately targets civilians  

BBC’s Bowen promotes accusations of Israeli ‘war crimes’

A written report which appeared on the BBC News website’s Middle East page on March 13th (“IS fighters left in Mosul will die, says US envoy McGurk“) again informed BBC audiences of the use of human shields by ISIS.

‘”Mosul’s liberation is increasingly in sight, albeit with increasingly difficult fighting ahead,” Mr McGurk [US envoy to the multinational coalition] told reporters on Sunday.

He said Iraqi forces were retaking “some of the most difficult ground that we knew would have to be reclaimed”.

He added: “They’re doing this in a dense urban environment facing a suicidal enemy that’s using civilians as shields.”’ [emphasis added] 

A filmed report – also shown on BBC television news programmes – that appeared on the same page of the website on the same day under the headline “Tamer Suhalia Najaf: ‘Three of my daughters were killed’” features an injured civilian from Mosul whose three daughters were killed in an airstrike by Iraqi forces and/or their coalition partners on an ISIS position placed near their house.

In contrast to the BBC’s 2014 reports from the Gaza Strip, viewers of this report did not hear any claims of deliberate targeting of civilians or allegations of ‘war crimes’.

Viewers of another filmed report, which was shown on BBC television news programmes and posted on the BBC News website on March 10th under the title “Battle for Mosul: The high price of freedom“, heard Orla Guerin tell the story of a woman whose house had been taken over by ISIS militiamen.

“She shows us how they hid when IS fighters stormed in to use them as human shields. One went to the roof, she says, but he started to shoot. He attacked the army.” [emphasis added]

As readers may recall, in an August 2014 report titled “Gaza conflict: Allegations of war crimes” the same Orla Guerin told BBC television audiences:

“While there are growing allegations against Israel, it claims civilians here have been used by militants as human shields but so far there’s been no evidence of that.”

Complaints concerning the accuracy of that statement were repeatedly dismissed by the BBC, with the BBC Trust’s Editorial Standards Committee calling the complainants’ definition of human shields into question.

“The Adviser considered first the complainants’ concerns that overwhelming evidence existed at the time that Hamas was using civilians as human shields and that to suggest otherwise was untrue. She noted that one point of dispute was how the term “human shield” was defined – and whether it meant Hamas using the proximity of civilians to deter an Israeli response to their actions or Hamas forcibly moving or keeping civilians in a location, on the basis that it would be likely to reduce the Israeli response.”

When that ESC decision was published in 2015 we noted that:

“The BBC Trust is charged with the task of ensuring that the BBC delivers its mission to inform, educate and entertain its funding public. Not only does the ESC’s ruling on this subject serve to compound the issue of the BBC’s self-censored reporting on Hamas’ use of human shields throughout last summer’s conflict, but it also does nothing to ensure that in relation to other or future conflicts, audiences will benefit from a higher standard of journalism which will ensure that the BBC meets its public purpose remit of building ” a global understanding of international issues”.

That, of course, does not only apply to conflicts involving Israel and Hamas: unless it intends to apply a different standard in the case of other conflicts, the ESC’s adoption of an unsourced interpretation of the definition of human shields which includes only civilians forcibly relocated close to a military objective is bound to affect the accuracy of the BBC’s reporting in Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Ukraine and elsewhere.”

As we see, the BBC has indeed chosen to apply a definition of the term human shields in its reporting from Iraq which is markedly different to the one used in its coverage from Gaza.

Related Articles:

Comparing BBC reporting on human shields in Gaza and Iraq

BBC pot calls the Russian media kettle black

BBC Trust’s ruling on Hamas’ use of human shields makes for future inaccurate reporting

BBC still mum on Hizballah’s human shields in south Lebanon

Back in August we reviewed the BBC’s coverage of Hizballah’s violations of UNSC resolution 1701 throughout the ten years since it was passed.

“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?”

As was noted in that review:

“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 IDF recently released a declassified map showing Hizballah’s assets in part of southern Lebanon.

“The map, according to Channel 2 News, features over 200 towns and villages which the organization has turned into its operations bases, and shows over 10,000 potential targets for Israeli strikes in the event of a new war with the terror group.”

idf-map-hizb-assets

BBC audiences, however, remain unaware of this issue and will therefore be incapable of understanding the context to any future Israeli actions which might be necessary to protect the civilian population of northern Israel.

Related Articles:

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

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

Comparing BBC reporting on human shields in Gaza and Iraq

As readers no doubt recall, one of the many remarkable features of BBC coverage of the summer 2014 conflict between Israel and terrorist groups in the Gaza Strip was the corporation’s failure to report on Hamas’ use of the local civilian population as human shields.

Not only did BBC journalists refrain from reporting adequately on the issue of Hamas’ placement of military assets in populated areas (with the BBC later claiming that it was “very hard for journalists in Gaza to get to see rockets being fired out”) and the terror group’s instructions to civilians to stay put in such areas but some BBC correspondents even went out of their way to deny the phenomenon.

“I saw no evidence during my week in Gaza of Israel’s accusation that Hamas uses Palestinians as human shields.” Jeremy Bowen, July 22, 2014.

“While there are growing allegations against Israel, it claims civilians here have been used by militants as human shields but so far there’s been no evidence of that.” Orla Guerin, August 13, 2014.

Complaints from members of the public on that issue were eventually dismissed by the BBC Trust’s Editorial Standards Committee in a tortured and self-contradicting ruling which adopted an interpretation of the term human shields that conflicts with existing definitions. The ESC advisor wrote:

“…there may not be universal agreement over the meaning of ‘human shield’ – and whether this should be understood to mean the deliberate placement of civilians near combat targets (and preventing them from leaving) or simply firing from residential areas.” 

In contrast to that ‘radio silence’ on the topic of Hamas’ use of human shields in Gaza in 2014, recent BBC coverage of the multinational military operation to drive ISIS out from the Mosul area in Iraq which began on October 16th has included several reports concerning that terror group’s use of human shields.human-shields-1

Just three days after the operation commenced, the BBC News website published an article titled “Mosul battle: US says IS using human shields” which amplified statements made by one of the parties to the Combined Joint Task Force conducting the operation.

“The US has accused Islamic State (IS) militants of using civilians as human shields as Iraqi forces move closer to the group’s stronghold in Mosul. […]

Asked by reporters in Washington if IS was using civilians as human shields, Pentagon spokesman Navy Captain Jeff Davis said “absolutely”.

“They are being held there against their will,” he said on Tuesday. “We have not seen any change in the last day of people leaving or fleeing.”

Residents reached by telephone by Reuters news agency said IS was preventing people fleeing the city and had directed some of them towards buildings likely to be targeted by air strikes.”

The report did not include any indication of independent BBC confirmation of those claims.

October 21st saw the publication of an article headlined “Mosul battle: IS ‘may use civilians as human shields’” which amplified speculative statements made by a UN official.

“At least 200 Iraqi families have been made to leave their homes for Mosul by Islamic State (IS) fighters and could be used as human shields, the UN warns. […]

Zeid Raad Al Hussein, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, said there was “a grave danger that ISIL fighters will not only use such vulnerable people as human shields but may opt to kill them rather than see them liberated,” using an acronym for IS.”human-shields-2

On October 28th the BBC News website published a report titled “Mosul Iraq battle: ‘Tens of thousands of civilians’ used as IS human shields” which again amplified UN statements.

“Islamic State (IS) militants have abducted tens of thousands of civilians from around the Iraqi city of Mosul to use as human shields, the UN says. […]

“Credible reports” suggested that civilians in sub-districts around Mosul had been forced from their homes and relocated inside the city since the offensive began earlier this month, UN spokeswoman Ravina Shamdasani said. […]

“Isil’s depraved cowardly strategy is to attempt to use the presence of civilian hostages to render certain points, areas or military forces immune from military operations, effectively using tens of thousands of women, men and children as human shields,” Ms Shamdasani added, using an acronym for IS.”

Once again, there was no indication of the BBC having independently confirmed those reports before their publication.

On November 7th visitors to the BBC News website and viewers of BBC television news saw a filmed report titled “Battle for Mosul: IS ‘herded human shields like sheep’“.

“The BBC’s Karen Allen spoke to residents of one town near Mosul who say they were used as “human shields” by retreating militants.”

So as we see, within less than a month since the launch of the military operation against ISIS in the Mosul region, BBC audiences were alerted to the terror group’s use of civilians as human shields on at least four occasions. The majority of those reports were based on information provided by outside sources and – in contrast to the 2014 reports from the Gaza Strip, where the corporation did have journalists on the ground in the relevant areas – the BBC apparently did not find it necessary in this case to find “evidence” of its own before reporting on the use of human shields by ISIS. 

Visiting BBC journalist provides some refreshing reporting

A BBC correspondent usually based in Mexico City is currently visiting Israel and on July 12th produced two reports – one written and one filmed – relating to the tenth anniversary of the Second Lebanon War.

In her filmed report titled “On patrol with the Israel Defense Forces on Lebanon border” Katy Watson gave viewers a rare view of Hizballah’s use of the residents of southern Lebanon as human shields.Watson filmed

“The soldiers tell me they can see weapons being stored in areas where civilians live.”

That important and usually overlooked information was also available to readers of her written report titled “Israel ‘readier’ for new Hezbollah war“.

“In these stakeouts, troops keep an eye on Hezbollah operatives around the clock. From what they see, the weapons Hezbollah has are being stored in civilian areas.

“Every mission that I’ve been on personally has been observing Hezbollah operations in a heavily populated area,” says one of the soldiers, Gabriel. “In a house with a family living in it or in a house next door or behind it.”

Israel has long said that it will target places where the weapons are stashed. It warns if war breaks out, Lebanese casualties would be high.”

Both reports also include information about Hizballah’s rehabilitation of its missile arsenal since the 2006 war.Watson written

“Hezbollah was damaged, but rebuilt over the past decade with the help of Iran and Syria. Israel says the group’s firepower is now much greater than before the war.

“Now they have more than 120,000 rockets and missiles,” says General Yaakov Amidror, a former national security advisor, now with the Begin-Sadat Centre for Strategic Studies at Bar-Ilan University near Tel Aviv.

“It’s a huge number that you don’t find in any country in Europe for example. When you see all these efforts, you ask yourself one question – what for?””

While more could have been done to provide audiences with information concerning Iran’s provision of funding and weapons to Hizballah and neither report addresses the fact that Hizballah’s weapons stockpiles are a violation of UNSC resolution 1701 that ended the 2006 war and a clear indication of the impotence of the UNIFIL forces in southern Lebanon, these two reports by Katy Watson are nevertheless a refreshing change in the landscape of BBC Israel-related reporting.

It is not every day that we come across a BBC journalist who is content with telling a story rather than telling audiences what to think about a story. 

Hamas terror cash shoes not news for the BBC

As has been noted here on numerous occasionsover the past two years the BBC has avoided providing its audiences with any serious reporting on the topic of Hamas’ efforts to build up its infrastructure in Palestinian Authority controlled areas and certainly has not proffered any analysis of how that factor has influenced the surge in terrorism seen over the last ten months.

Concurrently, the BBC’s portrayal of the reasons for restrictions on entry to Israel from the Gaza Strip is often at best superficial and at worst misleading; particularly when its journalists elect to amplify populist notions of “collective punishment” but ignore cases in which entry permits are abused for the purpose of terrorism.

A recent announcement from the Israeli security forces highlights both those issues as well as that of Hamas’ deliberate use of the civilian population of the Gaza Strip as human shields – a topic which the corporation has similarly failed to adequately address.

The Jerusalem Post reports:Euros

“A joint Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency), Israel Police Southern District and IDF operation resulted in the arrest on June 16 of 65-year-old Faiz Atar from Bet Lahia in Gaza, who had a permit to enter Israel to conduct trade. […]

The Shin Bet said the suspect hid cash in his shoes for Hamas, and smuggled tens of thousands of euros to terrorist operatives in the West Bank.
As the investigation continued, the domestic intelligence agency gleaned valuable information on Atar’s family in Gaza and their activities on behalf of Hamas, including tunnel digging.

“It emerged that his sons made use of his home to meet with Hamas operatives. The investigation revealed information on tunnel openings, which are partly located underneath civilian structures – including innocent civilian residential buildings and mosques – and rocket launch locations, which are located near civilian structures in a manner that endangers the civilian population in the Strip,” the Shin Bet said in a statement.”

In addition:

“Security forces nabbed a Gazan resident at the Erez Crossing in June with 10,000 euros stuffed in his shoes, intended for Hamas operatives in the West Bank. When the suspect, identified as Jabaliya resident Itallah Sarahan, 37, was questioned, security forces learned that he received a permit to enter Israel for trade purposes two weeks prior to his arrest.

On his first day visiting Israel, a Hamas policeman on the Gazan side of the crossing asked Sarahan if he would smuggle cash to Hamas in the West Bank. Sarahan “expressed his willingness to do so,” the Shin Bet said, leading the Hamas police officer to take him to a meeting with the Islamist regime’s operatives, who paid him for the mission and provided him with special shoes in which the money was hidden.”

The BBC cannot possibly claim to be meeting its remit of enhancing “audiences’ awareness of international issues” as long as it continues to avoid such stories and the broader issues behind them and the omission of that context of course shapes audience views of Israeli counter-terrorism measures. 

 

 

A Polish reporter’s account of the human shields the BBC refused to see

Last year the BBC Complaints department responded to complaints concerning the lack of BBC coverage of terrorist missile fire from the Gaza Strip by claiming that “it was very hard for journalists in Gaza to get to see rockets being fired out” and by citing a filmed report by Orla Guerin from August 12th 2014 as support for the claim that it did in fact report “on allegations that Hamas and other militants put Palestinian civilian lives at risk by operating from residential areas, as well as launching rockets near schools and hospitals”.BBC Trust

Earlier this year the BBC Trust’s ESC produced a decidedly tortured and self-contradicting verdict rejecting complaints from members of the public about a statement made by Orla Guerin in that same filmed report from Gaza in which she said that there was “no evidence” to support the claim that civilians in the Gaza Strip were being used as human shields.

The Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz recently published an article by Polish Radio’s foreign correspondent Wojciech Cegielski in which he recounts some of his own experiences whilst in the Gaza Strip last summer.

“Yes, Israel bombed Palestinian houses in Gaza. But Hamas is also to blame for its cruel and selfish game against its own people. I do not have hard evidence, but for me, spending a month in the middle of this hell, it was obvious that they were breaking international rules of war and worst of all, were not afraid to use their own citizens as living shields.

The first incident happened late in the evening. I was in the bathroom when I’ve heard a loud rocket noise and my Spanish colleague, a journalist who was renting a flat with me near the Gaza beach, started to scream. He wanted to light a cigarette and came to one of the open windows. The moment he was using his lighter, he saw a fireball in front of his eyes and lost his hearing.

From what our neighbors told us later, a man drove up in a pickup to our tiny street. He placed a rocket launcher outside and fired. But the rocket failed to go upwards and flew along the street at ground level for a long time before destroying a building. It was a miracle that nobody was hurt or killed.

When we calmed down, we started to analyze the situation. It became obvious that the man or his supervisor wanted the Israel Defense Forces to destroy civilian houses, which our tiny street was full of. Whoever it was, Hamas, Iz al-Din al-Qassam or others, they knew that the IDF can strike back at the same place from which the rocket was fired. Fortunately for us, the rocket missed its target in Israel.

The second story happened in the middle of the day. I was sitting with other journalists in a cafe outside one of the hotels near the beach. During wartime, these hotels are occupied by foreign press and some NGOs. Every hotel is full and in its cafes many journalists spend their time discussing, writing, editing stories or just recharging the phones. Suddenly I saw a man firing a rocket from between the hotels. It was obvious that we journalists became a target. If the IDF would strike back, we all would be dead. What would Hamas do? It would not be surprising to hear about the “cruel Zionist regime killing innocent and free press.”

For me, provoking is also creating living shields.”

Mr Cegielski’s testimony joins the many others provided by foreign reporters who were working in the Gaza Strip at the same time as unprecedented numbers of BBC journalists. Curiously, the BBC would have us believe that its own staff somehow failed to witness what so many others have already described and it continues to clutch at a definition of human shields which does not stand up to scrutiny.

BBC Trust’s ruling on Hamas’ use of human shields makes for future inaccurate reporting

The BBC Trust’s latest publication of editorial appeals findings (March 2015 – published on 30/4/15) includes the result of requests for appeals concerning complaints made about a filmed report by Orla Guerin which was broadcast in August 2014 – available from page 84 here.BBC Trust

The requests for appeals were not granted and the BBC Trust Editorial Standards Committee’s response concerning one aspect of those requests is particularly worthy of note. Summarising the original complaints, the ESC states:

“A second point of complaint concerned the reporter’s assertion that there was no evidence for Israel’s claim that Palestinian militants were using their own civilians as human shields. Complainants said there was abundant evidence.”

Summarising the appeal stage, the ESC notes that complainants stated that:

“…the report inaccurately stated that “there was no evidence of the use of human shields” by Palestinian militants when there was evidence at the time of broadcast; the reporter would have been aware of it and chose to ignore it.”

Orla Guerin’s report was broadcast on BBC One’s ‘News at Ten’ on August 12th and appeared on the BBC News website on August 13th – i.e. well over a month after the commencement of Operation Protective Edge.Guerin ISM report

The ESC states:

“The [Senior Editorial Complaints] Adviser then considered the second issue raised by the complaint, that the highlighted sentence in the following section of commentary was inaccurate:

REPORTER: While there are growing claims against Israel, it claims that civilians here have been used as human shields – but so far there’s been no evidence of that. During this conflict Palestinian militants have kept a low profile, avoiding the cameras. But we know that at times they have operated from civilian areas. A rocket was fired from this waste ground about ten days ago. There was no ceasefire at the time – but you can see that just across the road, there are people living in these apartments. These images were filmed by Indian TV just up the road. They appear to show militants firing rockets near their hotel (Captions “Hamas team assembles rocket under tent” and “Hamas rocket fired from residential area”).”

In fact, Guerin said:

“While there are growing allegations against Israel, it claims civilians here have been used by militants as human shields but so far there’s been no evidence of that.” [emphasis in bold added]

The ESC continues:

“The Adviser considered first the complainants’ concerns that overwhelming evidence existed at the time that Hamas was using civilians as human shields and that to suggest otherwise was untrue. She noted that one point of dispute was how the term “human shield” was defined – and whether it meant Hamas using the proximity of civilians to deter an Israeli response to their actions or Hamas forcibly moving or keeping civilians in a location, on the basis that it would be likely to reduce the Israeli response. She noted that the ECU [Editorial Complaints Unit] had addressed this point:

“I would accept that there may not be universal agreement over the meaning of ‘human shield’ in this context – and whether this should be understood to mean the deliberate placement of civilians near combat targets (and preventing them from leaving) or simply firing from residential areas. However I am not sure this distinction is significant in this context, given that viewers were told and shown evidence of what they had done to put civilian lives at risk.”

She also noted and agreed with the ECU’s statement in response to the script line that there was “no evidence” to support claims that Hamas had used human shields:

 “To refer to the ‘evidence’ put forward by one side would not necessarily endorse their version of events and to that extent I would agree that this might have been better worded.”

The Adviser considered, however, that the issue for her to consider was whether the choice of wording would have misled the audience on a material fact. She noted the broader context in which the sentence appeared. She noted the following extract from the ECU finding to one of the complainants:

“Given the explicit references to rockets fired from civilian areas and the inclusion of this footage I can see no prospect of audiences believing that this was not happening or that the actions of Hamas were not putting civilians at risk – which seems to me to be the central charge against them. I would accept that there may not be universal agreement over the meaning of ‘human shield’ – and whether this should be understood to mean the deliberate placement of civilians near combat targets (and preventing them from leaving) or simply firing from residential areas. However given that viewers were told and shown evidence of what they could be proven to have done to put civilian lives at risk, I am not sure this distinction is significant in this context.” […]

The Adviser concluded that the audience would have been likely to have understood that there was a case for Hamas to answer in relation to the allegation that it was using civilians as human shields and that taking the section as a whole, the reporter had gone as far as she was able, with the facts that she was able to verify.

The Adviser decided neither point of complaint would have a reasonable prospect of success and the complaint should not proceed to appeal.”

In other words, one the one hand the BBC is claiming that despite Orla Guerin’s categorical statement that there was no evidence of Hamas using human shields, audiences were not misled and would have understood that in fact it was doing just that because she went on to show footage of a residential area from which missiles had been fired. On the other hand the BBC is also claiming that it is not sure that the residents of areas from which missiles were fired were actually human shields because it thinks there is a dispute regarding the definition of human shields. Obviously any reasonable viewer would have interpreted Guerin’s sequence of commentary as supporting that interpretation of the definition of human shields as applying only to people who have been actively and forcibly placed in a certain location.

The ESC then notes that:

“Two of the complainants to the consolidated appeal requested that the Trustees review the Adviser’s decision not to proceed.”

The ESC’s decision was as follows:

“The Committee acknowledged the complainants’ reference to international law. However, Trustees considered that it was clear from the report that the correspondent attached a precise meaning to her words when she said there was “no evidence” so far that civilians “had been used as human shields”.

The Committee observed that the complaints, whilst clearly made in good faith, were predicated on testing the content by isolating a single sentence rather than considering the report overall and by a misinterpretation of what the reporter had actually said. It noted, for example, the section of commentary which followed:

“During this conflict Palestinian militants have kept a low profile, avoiding the cameras. But we know that at times they have operated from civilian areas. A rocket was fired from this waste ground about ten days ago. There was no ceasefire at the time. But you can see that just across the road there are people living in these apartments.”

The Committee agreed that the subsequent sequences offered further clarification and would have accurately informed the audience that, even without actual evidence of civilians being coerced, there was substantial circumstantial evidence that Hamas had a case to answer.

The Committee therefore agreed with the Adviser that the complaint would not have a reasonable prospect of success were it to proceed to appeal.”

As we see, assorted BBC bodies state that the definition of human shields is unclear and appear to adopt a stance according to which if civilians have not been coerced, they are not acting as human shields. Those claims, however, do not stand up to scrutiny.

“The prohibition of using human shields in the Geneva Conventions, Additional Protocol I and the Statute of the International Criminal Court are couched in terms of using the presence (or movements) of civilians or other protected persons to render certain points or areas (or military forces) immune from military operations.[…]

It can be concluded that the use of human shields requires an intentional co-location of military objectives and civilians or persons hors de combat with the specific intent of trying to prevent the targeting of those military objectives.”

Likewise, as pointed out by Tali Kolesov Har-Oz and Ori Pomson:

“In international humanitarian law (IHL), the term “human shields” concerns “civilians or other protected persons, whose presence or movement is aimed or used to render military targets immune from military operations.” The use of human shields both in international armed conflicts (IACs) and in non-international armed conflicts (NIACs) is considered a violation of customary international law (von Leeb, 15 ILR 395, n.1; ICRC, Rule 97). Treaty law directly prohibits such practice in IACs (GCIV 28; API, art. 51(7)) and indirectly in NIACs (e.g., CA 3 with Category ‘C’ Claims, 109 ILR 441). […]

The specific elements relevant to the definition of the crime of using human shields in the International Criminal Court’s Elements of Crimes document are as follows:

The perpetrator moved or otherwise took advantage of the location of one or more civilians or other persons protected under the international law of armed conflict.

The perpetrator intended to shield a military objective from attack or shield, favour or impede military operations.

In order to fulfil the required actus reus in Element 1 of the crime, it is not necessary to force civilians to relocate close to a military objective. The mere placement of military assets in the vicinity of civilians fulfils this requirement. [emphasis added]

Since the actus reus of this crime is rather broad, it seems that great emphasis is placed on the mens rea. Thus, in order to be considered a crime of using human shields, the actus reus must be performed with the intention to “shield a military objective from attack or shield, favor or impede military operations.” Additionally, this crime does not require any result; rather, it focuses solely on the acts and intention of the belligerent fearing an attack.”

Whilst the ESC notes that it “considered that it was clear from the report that the correspondent attached a precise meaning to her words when she said there was “no evidence” so far that civilians “had been used as human shields””, it does not acknowledge that by the time Orla Guerin produced her report, there was in fact ample evidence of that practice [see also related articles below].

“It is widely reported that the acts of Hamas clearly fall within the actus reus of the crime, through the placement of ammunition, rocket launchers and other military assets in civilian homesmosqueshospitals and schools. While this practice has been the focus of widespread condemnation (see here a statement by the US Secretary of State), Hamas has openly and explicitly endorsed this policy. For example, a Hamas spokesperson called on Palestinians in Gaza to “oppose the Israeli occupation with their bodies alone,” explaining that this was an effective way to thwart Israel’s attacks. This was followed by other, similar statements, such as this one by Hamas’s Interior Minister. These are all examples of the ways in which Hamas “took advantage of the location of one or more civilians.” The particular intent behind these acts is also easily established. In these statements, Hamas officials admit openly and explicitly that their intention is to use the civilian population in Gaza in order to shield their rockets and operatives.”

Neither does the ESC examine the relevant question of why the BBC had not only failed to report adequately on the issue of Hamas’ use of human shields throughout the month of conflict which preceded Guerin’s report, but in some cases had broadcast content which even denied the phenomenon – a practice which one BBC editor also continued outside his organization.

The BBC Trust is charged with the task of ensuring that the BBC delivers its mission to inform, educate and entertain its funding public. Not only does the ESC’s ruling on this subject serve to compound the issue of the BBC’s self-censored reporting on Hamas’ use of human shields throughout last summer’s conflict, but it also does nothing to ensure that in relation to other or future conflicts, audiences will benefit from a higher standard of journalism which will ensure that the BBC meets its public purpose remit of building ” a global understanding of international issues”.

That, of course, does not only apply to conflicts involving Israel and Hamas: unless it intends to apply a different standard in the case of other conflicts, the ESC’s adoption of an unsourced interpretation of the definition of human shields which includes only civilians forcibly relocated close to a military objective is bound to affect the accuracy of the BBC’s reporting in Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Ukraine and elsewhere.

Related Articles:

BBC fails again to report Hamas order to civilians to act as human shields

BBC’s Bowen tries to persuade TV audiences that Hamas does not use human shields

BBC films Hamas human shields policy in action: fails to explain to audiences

The return of the template BBC response to complaints

BBC WS presenter: filmed evidence of Hamas’ misuse of hospitals is ‘rumours on the internet’

Indian TV network shows what the BBC does not

Hamas PR department invokes BBC’s Bowen

 

One to Watch: Jerusalem conference on Law of War

Among many notable aspects of the BBC’s coverage of Operation Protective Edge last summer was the extensive promotion of pseudo-legal claims made by both political NGOs and some of its own correspondents. Concurrently, BBC audiences heard reporters make frequent use of legal language such as ‘collective punishment’ and ‘disproportionality’ – although not necessarily always in its correct context – and particularly notable was the BBC’s ‘creative’ interpretation of the issue of Hamas’ use of human shields.

Readers with an interest in such topics may like to know that the Israel Law Center is holding a two-day conference in Jerusalem this coming week – May 4th and 5th – titled ‘Towards a New Law of War’. Conference sessions will be live-streamed (registration is available at the above link under ‘live stream’) and include two panel discussions which may be of particular interest to our readers.

On May 4th at 10:45 Israel time:

Panel 1

On May 4th at 13:45 Israel time:

Panel 2

The full programme can be viewed here.

Related Articles:

Law of Armed Conflict, Gaza and the BBC

More on the Law of Armed Conflict, Gaza and the BBC