Listeners to BBC Radio 4’s ‘Today’ programme on November 13th heard two items relating to the events in Israel and the Gaza Strip which began the previous day. The second of those items comprised a report from the BBC Jerusalem bureau’s Tom Bateman (which will be discussed separately) and an interview with an Israeli MK (from 2:36:32 here) which was conducted by presenter Mishal Husain in the confrontational style she so often employs when speaking to Israelis. [emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]
Husain: “On the line now is Sharren Haskel, member of the Israeli parliament for the Likud party and a member of the foreign affairs and defence committee. […] Will the airstrikes continue?”
MK Haskel explained that that depends on the Palestinian Islamic Jihad because “the more they continue to fire rockets towards Israeli civilians […] we will continue to defend our people.” Husain quickly interrupted her interviewee in order to give her own view, which is apparently that it is the Israeli response to hundreds of rocket attacks against civilians which risks escalating the conflict rather than the attacks themselves.
Husain [interrupts]: “Because the risk from what you’re saying is very great. Islamic Jihad is not the main militant group in Gaza. If these airstrikes continue – and we already know that people have…eh…have died from them – then Hamas will be further drawn in and then you have the prospect of an all-out conflict.”
Haskel: “Well until now we’ve identified 12 dead. We were able to actually identify as well particularly those people so at least seven of them are from the militants of the Islamic Jihad, three of them are from the brigade of Al Quds. All of them are military, all of them are terrorists. All of our attacks are targeted towards specific people who are terrorising the life of Israeli civilians…”
Husain [interrupts]: “What was the crime of the woman who died – the wife of the Islamic Jihad commander?”
Haskel: “Well Baha Abu al-Ata was neutralised because he was a terrorist instigator in Gaza. He conspired and planned many attacks and actually was having Israeli…”
Husain [interrupts]: “Her crimes.”
Haskel: “…civilians. Well unfortunately when there is a ticking bomb and when we know that he’s planning a major attack on Israel and we need to neutralise him, we try to minimise as much as possible…”
Husain [interrupts]: “Although you targeted him in his…although you targeted him in his home which is somewhere that he’s likely to be with his wife.”
Haskel: “I just want to finish. Unfortunately there’s a price for it and we try to minimise it as much as possible any kind of civilian casualty. When there’s one person who is a civilian casualty, with to say that this is your husband; you are participating in the exact same acts. That was the only opportunity that our defence forces had to neutralise him. So when there’s one…”
Making no effort whatsoever to inform listeners of the fact that terrorists often use their families and other civilians as human shields, Husain then proceeded to try to cast doubts on Israel’s intelligence.
Husain [interrupts]: “What was the…what was the immediate threat that he posed? You mentioned there was a ticking bomb so what was the intelligence?”
Haskel: “Well he was in the midst of planning a major attack on Israel.”
Husain: “Right. And you know that for sure, do you? Because it is rare…it is rare for…ehm…for a targeted killing these days to happen in this way.”
Haskel pointed out that Israeli intelligence is not questioned when it relates to attacks on European soil and went on:
Haskel: “But when it’s targeted towards Israelis and not Europeans then you come and you question it. I can tell you for sure; I sit in the Israeli defence committee of the parliament and from the intelligence that we gather there was a major attack planned by this person.”
Mishal Husain closed the interview at that point.
One would of course expect that the BBC would make the most of an interview with an Israeli official during a time of conflict to meet its public purpose remit of enhancing audience understanding of the story. However, as we have often witnessed in the past, one of the recurrent phenomena associated with media coverage of outbreaks of conflict between Israel and terrorists in the Gaza Strip is the proliferation of journalists who suddenly transform into self-appointed ‘experts’ in military strategy and laws of armed combat.
Obviously Mishal Husain’s aggressive yet clueless questioning concerning the PIJ commander’s wife and her efforts to cast doubts on the intelligence behind the operation were not at all intended to provide listeners with a better understanding of the background to the topic but were entirely self-serving.