BBC Radio 4 tells listeners that Gaza rioters were ‘innocent civilians’

As we saw in a previous post, a BBC News website article uncritically amplified the findings of a UN Human Right Council inquiry into the ‘Great Return March’ while portraying violent rioting as “protests”, failing to explain the aim of the demand for ‘right of return’, refraining from noting the long-standing UNHRC bias against Israel, failing to clarify the inbuilt bias of the inquiry’s mandate, ignoring the fact that a significant proportion of those killed in the violent rioting have been shown to be linked to terror groups and promoting the false notion that under-18s, paramedics and journalists are exclusively ‘civilians’.

Listeners to BBC Radio 4 also heard reports on the same story – but were they any better?

The February 28th edition of ‘The World Tonight’ included a news bulletin (from 03:45 here) in which audiences were told that: [emphasis in bold added, emphasis in italics in the original]

Newsreader: “Israel has rejected a UN report which found that the country may have committed crimes against humanity when its soldiers fired on Palestinian protesters in the Gaza Strip last year. In nine months of demonstrations 189 people died including 35 children. Investigators said there could be no justification for killing children and people clearly marked as journalists and medics. The Israeli government described the document as a new record of hypocrisy and lies.”

In addition to failing to clarify that the report was commissioned by the partisan UNHRC, that portrayal once again frames violent rioting as “demonstrations” and the people taking part as “protesters”. As in the BBC’s written report, the investigators were blindly quoted with no clarification of the fact that some of those “children and people clearly marked as journalists and medics” have been shown to have links to terror groups.

Later on in the same programme (from 20:35), presenter James Coomarasamy interviewed one of the report’s authors in relation to what he began by describing as “a highly critical report by the Human Rights Council”.

Coomarasamy: “It examined the deaths last year of nearly 200 people who were shot by Israeli soldiers during protests along Israel’s border with the Gaza Strip. The Bangladeshi lawyer Sara Hossein is one of the report’s authors.”

Coomarasamy did not clarify to listeners that none of the report’s three authors have any expertise in military operations.

Following an overview from Hossein of the inquiry’s findings, Coomarasamy noted that:

22:14 Coomarasamy: “You call them civilian protests. You acknowledge though that there were militants among the protesters. They were organised by Hamas.”

Hossein: “We don’t actually say that the protests were purely organised by Hamas. We say that Hamas as a political body had involvement in the organising and that Hamas members did take part in the protests as well.”

Coomarasamy failed to challenge Hossein’s absurd claim of a distinction between ‘political’ Hamas and its ‘armed wing’.

Later on in the interview (23:50) Coomarasamy did raise the topic of UNHRC institutional bias against Israel but despite acknowledgement of that issue by former UN officials, presented it using the BBC’s favoured ‘Israel says’ formula.

Coomarasamy: “The Israeli government says that you have […] an obsessive hatred of Israel, essentially saying that you single out Israel for these kinds of investigations and other countries in the region simply do not get the same kind of scrutiny.”

Hossein responded with the claim that “we’ve carried out the task that was given to us”, to which Coomarasamy replied:

Coomarasamy: “You don’t accept that Israel gets singled out, that it gets far deeper and closer scrutiny than other countries in the region?”

Hossein: “We interpreted our mandate as being to look at all parties and to look at their responsibility in the context of the protests.”

Coomarasamy made no effort to clarify to listeners that the mandate predetermined that the ‘Great Return March’ events were “civilian protests” and instead moved on to the question of “what do you expect Israel to do with this?” to which Hossein replied:

Hossein: “We have said they should cease the killings of civilians. I cannot see why that is not an acceptable recommendation to make. Why is the killing of an 11 year-old or a 13 year-old or a 14 year-old or a double amputee or a paramedic or a journalist – why and in what context can that be justifiable?”

Rather than informing listeners of the numerous cases in which under-18s, journalists and paramedics have been shown to have links to terror organisations and asking Hossein why the commission ignored Hamas’ own statements regarding the affiliations of many of the dead, Coomarasamy closed the conversation there.

That crucial omission was likewise relevant in Coomarasamy’s subsequent interview with Israel’s representative at the UN in Geneva, Aviva Raz Shechter. During that conversation Coomarasamy repeatedly promoted the UNHRC’s talking points.

Coomarasamy: “But in the context of what happened – the deaths for example of the children, of people in wheelchairs – how can you justify using live ammunition against them? Was it a mistake by the Israeli Defence Forces? Were they following the rules of engagement?”

Coomarasamy: “…but the question that this report is posing is why did Israeli soldiers fire live rounds at people who were identifiable as children. That must be a question that Israel needs to ask itself.”

Coomarasamy: “So are you disputing that children and people with disabilities were killed by fire from the Israeli forces?”

Coomarasamy: “Is Israel looking into those deaths though of the children and others – innocent civilians.”

As we see, Coomarasamy promoted the absurd notion that minors, people with disabilities (the UNHRC report includes one example of a deaf person, though how IDF forces were supposed to know that is not made clear), paramedics or people wearing ‘Press’ vests are automatically “innocent civilians” regardless of their affiliations or actions at the time.

Previously the same day Radio 4 listeners had heard another dose of unchallenged UNHRC messaging – although significantly, that body was not mentioned by name – in the ‘World at One’ news bulletin (from 05:14 here).

Newsreader: “A UN investigation into the deaths of nearly 200 Palestinian protesters on the border with the Gaza Strip last year has concluded that war crimes may have been committed. 35 children were among the dead. Israel has rejected the report as a theatre of the absurd. Imogen Foulkes reports from Geneva.”

Foulkes: “The investigators say there are reasonable grounds to believe that Israeli snipers shot at journalists, health workers and children even though they were clearly recognisable as such. Israel has always said its actions were a defence against terrorism but the UN report concludes the protests were civilian in nature with clearly stated political aims. The report does however criticise Hamas for failing to stop some of its supporters using incendiary balloons which caused fear and some damage to property in southern Israel.”

Once again we see uncritical and unquestioning amplification of the UNHRC report, including the term “war crimes” which, as NGO Monitor explains, is inapplicable given the legal framework selected by the commission.

“…according to the Commission, the violence along the Israel-Gaza border was not a “military” or “combat” situation and therefore human rights law was the appropriate standard. Therefore, its conclusion that “human rights violations may also constitute “war crimes” is baseless, since war crimes can only where the laws of war are applicable.”

BBC coverage of the ‘Great Return March’ has been highly unsatisfactory over the past eleven months, meaning that audiences come to this latest story without the background information necessary for its proper understanding. As we see, rather than try to make up for the serial failure to clarify that what it uniformly portrays as “protests” and “demonstrations” is actually violent rioting which has included hundreds of petrol bomb attacks, IED attacks, grenade attacks and shooting attacks as well as infiltration attempts, the BBC elected to unquestioningly amplify the UNHRC report which dovetails with its own existing politically motivated narrative.

Related Articles:

BBC News website unquestioningly amplifies UNHRC’s report

The BBC’s ‘Great Return March’ great disappearing act

 

 

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BBC papers over UN HRC connection of Swiss PLO deal broker

On January 22nd the BBC News website published an article titled “Switzerland ‘made secret deal with PLO’ after bomb attacks” in which Imogen Foulkes gave a reasonable account of the story and its significance.PLO Swiss deal written

“Controversy is growing in Switzerland over an alleged secret deal, made almost 50 years ago, between the Swiss government and the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO).

The agreement, detailed in a new book, was apparently designed to prevent terrorist attacks on Swiss territory.

In return, Switzerland would offer diplomatic support to the PLO. […]

Almost half a century later, with many countries experiencing terror attacks, it seems outrageous to some Swiss that their own government might have done deals with groups classed as terrorists.

What is more, the relatives of those who died in the bombing of the Swissair flight may be justified in feeling angry that no one has ever been brought to justice, especially as Swiss investigators had identified a Jordanian national as the mastermind behind the attack.”

Foulkes mentioned in her article that the Swiss foreign minister at the time used “a member of the Swiss parliament as an intermediary” in his dealings with the PLO, but did not go into further detail. However, in the January 22nd edition of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour’, presenter Owen Bennett Jones conducted an interview (from 37:40 here) with that “member of the Swiss parliament”.

OBJ: “And the information has been revealed in a new book by a journalist who wrote that part of the deal-making was organized by a very well-known and long-standing Swiss member of parliament who has also been a UN rapporteur for a bit as well – Jean Ziegler from Geneva – and his wife apparently had contacts in the PLO and they were able to tell the Swiss foreign minister who was who within the organization. Well I spoke to Jean Ziegler earlier: what was his role in this deal?”

Listeners would have noticed that throughout the item both Bennett Jones and Ziegler used the euphemism “Palestinian militants” to describe terrorists who attacked, blew up and hijacked airliners. With no challenge from the BBC presenter, Ziegler also described the PLO as a “Palestinian resistance organization” and misled listeners by describing that organization as having been “just founded” at the time (1970) when in fact the PLO was established in May 1964 – long before there was any ‘occupation’ to ‘resist’.

Ziegler noted that part of the deal was “to open official diplomatic office of the PLO in Geneva at the United Nations; European headquarters of the United Nations.”

Notably though, Owen Bennett Jones made no attempt to inform listeners of the contemporary significance of this story.

Jean Ziegler was indeed “a UN rapporteur for a bit”: he spent a highly controversial term as the UN Rapporteur on the Right to Food between 2000 and 2008. Ziegler also co-founded – and received – the infamous (and now defunct) ‘Muammar Al Gaddafi International Prize for Human Rights’.

But – as shown on the UN HRC commissioner’s website – Ziegler’s UN career is not a thing of the past. He currently functions as a member of the UN Human Rights Council’s advisory committee (despite opposition to his appointment from the Swiss parliament and the US Ambassador to the UN) and – ironically – in that capacity even co-authored a report on ‘Human rights and issues related to terrorist hostage-taking’.

Considering that regularly the BBC uncritically quotes and promotes statements and content produced by the UN HRC as though they were written in stone, it would have been particularly helpful to BBC audiences to have the dots joined between this past story of a man with sufficient contacts inside a notorious terrorist organization to be able to help broker a self-preserving capitulation to its agenda – including the opening of the door to the UN – and the current advisor to that body’s highly politicised and controversial Human Rights Council. 

BBC News tells half the story of UN campaign to end statelessness

On November 4th the BBC News website published an article titled “UNHCR seeks to end statelessness in 10 years” about the launch of a campaign titled “I Belong“.statelessness art  

In so far as it goes the article is fine; an accurate and impartial news report informing BBC audiences about the UNHCR initiative. What is interesting is the part of the story the BBC elected not to tell: the fact that the UN’s campaign to end statelessness does not include Palestinian refugees and their descendants deliberately kept stateless by Arab League countries as part of a political strategy initiated over half a century ago.

“In the year 1959 the Arab League accepted decision number 1457 and this is its text: “Arab states will reject the giving of citizenship to applicants of Palestinian origin in order to prevent their integration into the host countries”. This is a shocking decision, which stands in stark opposition to international norms on all subjects concerning the treatment of refugees during those years and particularly during that decade.” 

As AFP’s Nina Larson reported:

“The UN’s refugee agency launched a campaign Tuesday to eradicate statelessness within a decade, but UNHCR refrained from including Palestinians in the effort, citing the need for a separate “political solution” to their plight. […]

“Every 10 minutes a new stateless person is born,” UN refugee chief Antonio Guterres told reporters in Geneva, describing the situation as “absolutely unacceptable” and “an anomaly in the 21st century.”

With its “I Belong” campaign, UNHCR aims to highlight the “devastating life-long consequences of statelessness” and push countries to rectify their laws to ensure no person is denied a nationality. […]

The [UNHCR] report does not count the case of the Palestinians, since the UN General Assembly had recognized the State of Palestine, Guterres said.

The problem for many of the 4.5 million of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza and the millions more living as refugees around the world is that the State of Palestine has yet to approve its nationality laws, he said, insisting that this “very specific situation” required a “political solution”.

Apparently the BBC did not consider it necessary for its audiences to know that stateless Palestinians will remain pawns in a decades-old battle of political warfare initiated by their Arab League ‘brothers’ and backed by the UN.

BBC article on Israel & UN HRC omits important context

On January 29th an article appeared in the Middle East section of the BBC News website on the subject of Israel’s refusal to participate in the UN Human Rights Council’s universal periodic review. 

UNHRC article 29 1

Despite the long-standing evidence of endemic bias against Israel on the part of the UN HRC and its predecessor, the BBC article states: [emphasis added]

“Israel has boycotted a regular review by the UN Human Rights Council, the first time any country has done so.

The move was expected as Israel has long been angered by what it claims is unfair criticism from the body.”

Established in March 2006 to replace the discredited UN Commission of Human Rights, the UN HRC swiftly proved itself to be no better than the body which preceded it. By April 2007 the council had passed nine resolutions condemning Israel – the only country which it specifically condemned. By 2010, the UN HRC has passed 32 resolutions against Israel, with those resolutions forming 48.1% of all the country-specific resolutions. By the end of 2012, the number of resolutions passed by the UN HRC against Israel had risen to 44, with Syria, for example, being the subject of eight resolutions in the same period of time. 

Israel is the only country for which the UN HRC saw fit to establish a permanent and special agenda item, with another of the council’s ten permanent agenda items reserved for all the 192 other countries together. The council’s Special Rapporteur on the Disputed Palestinian Territories – currently Richard Falk – is the only expert mandate with no date of expiry and its brief covers only Israel’s human rights record. Israel is the only country excluded from membership in the UN regional groups, which means – as explained here – that it cannot take part in some UN activity.

“Israel’s is the only UN permanent mission in Geneva denied membership in any of the world body’s five regional groups, a vital element for meaningful participation in UN bodies. Consequently, when the Commission’s fifty-three states, along with the one hundred or so other states that participate as observers, meet in their regional groups to share information on upcoming resolutions or other developments, Israel is the only country left out. Moreover, Israel’s exclusion from full membership in a regional group has effectively prevented it from membership on the Commission. Regimes such as Cuba, Zimbabwe, and Sudan are regularly re-elected.

Although Israel belongs in the Asian group, like its neighbors Jordan or Lebanon, opposition from Arab and Muslim states has barred Israel from joining.”

Bizarrely, despite all those well-known facts, the BBC apparently still considers it accurate to write that Israel “claims” to be subject to unfair criticism.

The article goes on to quote the BBC correspondent in Geneva, Imogen Foulkes:

“Israel’s action has prompted concern that it might undermine the UN’s human rights work, says the BBC’s Imogen Foulkes in Geneva.

Human rights experts fear other countries facing awkward questions might follow suit.

Even Israel’s biggest ally, the United States, had urged Israel to take part. The big question now is what – if anything – the UN can do about Israel’s refusal to participate, our correspondent adds.” 

Foulkes fails to make clear to the BBC audience the true nature of these universal periodic reviews when discussing real human rights abusing states. In March 2012 for example:

“A U.N. report ridiculed worldwide for lavishing praise on the Qaddafi regime’s human rights record was unanimously adopted today by the 47-nation UN Human Rights Council, with president Laura Dupuy Lasserre overruling the objection made in the plenary by UN Watch.”

And in October 2011 (this link is worth reading in full):

“…the Syrian vice-minister of foreign affairs and his entourage took their places in the Council chamber.  And then the Cubans said: “the Syrian government is working for the human rights of its people.”  The North Koreans said: “we commend Syria on its efforts taken to maintain security and stability.” The Iranians said: “we appreciate the efforts of the government of Syria to promote and protect human rights.”  Ditto Sudan, Nicaragua, Venezuela, Algeria, Lebanon, China, Zimbabwe, Burma/Myanmar, and so on.  

Four days later, on behalf of the three countries charged with compiling recommendations, Mexico reported to the Council:  “Syria received a total of 179 recommendations…It is a pleasure to inform you that 98 recommendations were accepted and 26 shall be considered.” Among the recommendations that “did not enjoy the support” of Syria were “immediately end attacks on peaceful protesters and bring violators to account,” “put an end to secret detentions” and “allow journalists to freely exercise their profession.” At the end of this stage of the UPR, the President of the Council turned to Syria and signed off with “I thank both you and your delegation for your participation in the UPR.”

At the time, there were 2,600 dead Syrian citizens at the hands of their own government. And Assad got the message about the human rights bona fides of the UN.

The next and final stage of the UPR took place in Geneva on March 15, 2012 – by which time there were 11,000 dead.  On that occasion, the Council formally adopted the so-called “outcome” of the UPR – a report containing no findings and no decision to take action.  It was gaveled through without comment from the President with these words:  “May I now propose that the Council adopts the decision on the outcome of the Universal Periodic Review of Syria?”  I see no objection.”

There are now over 60,000 dead in Syria.”

The BBC article goes on to state that:

“A joint statement by eight Israeli human rights groups said: “It is legitimate for Israel to express criticism of the work of the council and its recommendations, but Israel should do so through engagement with the Universal Periodic Review, as it has done in previous sessions.” “

It does not, however, bother to inform readers which NGOs made that statement or what their political motivations for doing so might be. 

“After the session, eight human rights groups called on Israel to participate in the UPR process, including Gisha – Legal Center for Freedom of Movement, the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, Rabbis for Human Rights and Yesh Din.”

This information is particularly significant due to the fact that:

“The official UN document entitled “summary of stakeholder submissions,” which is intended to drive Israel’s UPR, includes allegations from NGOs that object to “the Jewish character of the state,” and demand that “five million Palestinians” should “return” to Israel to seal the deal. “

Beyond its ‘Israel on the naughty step’ tone, does this BBC article contribute to its audience’s understanding of the reasons behind Israel’s decision not to attend the UPR or the deeply problematic nature of the UN HRC specifically with regard to Israel, as well as in general? 

Not in the least. And with the UN HRC’s controversial – and tediously predictable – report on Israeli settlements  released on January 31st (more on that later), that failure to inform accurately becomes even more significant.