BBC ignores PA double standards on Coronavirus related mosque closures

With BBC Jerusalem bureau coverage of the Coronavirus story having focused mainly on Bethlehem and the Gaza Strip, audiences have heard much less about the measures being taken by Israeli authorities to combat the pandemic, including at religious sites in Jerusalem.

On March 15th the director of al Aqsa Mosque announced that it would be closed in light of the Covid 19 outbreak but that prayers would continue to be held outside.

Five days later clashes erupted in Jerusalem as police sought to limit the number of people arriving for Friday prayers in accordance with Ministry of Health directives and the chairman of the Waqf was subsequently fined for allowing worshippers to gather in breach of those guidelines.

On March 22nd the Waqf decided to close the compound to all but Waqf employees.

“The administration of the Wakf Islamic religious trust announced on Sunday that it has decided to suspend prayers at the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound in Jerusalem as of Monday morning to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

The unprecedented decision came in accordance with recommendations by religious and health parties, the Jordanian-controlled Wakf said after holding an emergency meeting in Jerusalem.

The decision means that worshipers would not be permitted to enter the compound starting Monday. […]

In the past few weeks, hundreds of Muslims have been converging on the compound for prayers, ignoring warnings by the Israeli Health Ministry and other health institutions in Jerusalem.”

The Palestinian Authority had already closed mosques and other religious institutions in areas under its control on March 14th. Nevertheless, the PA’s official daily newspaper published an article on March 22nd criticising Israel for that decision taken by the Waqf.

“The lead article adorning Al-Hayat Al-Jadida’s front page detailed the Islamic Wakf Council’s criticism of Israel for fining the council’s chairman Abdul Azim Salhab NIS 5,000 for not closing the al-Aqsa Mosque on the Temple Mount on Friday. According to the article, Salhab claimed that Israel was simply taking advantage of the coronavirus outbreak, exploiting it as a means to harm Muslims by closing the mosque.”

The same edition of the paper also criticised Hamas for not closing mosques in the Gaza Strip.

Readers may recall that Salhab – who has a long record of promotion of incitement using baseless rumours about ‘threats’ to al Aqsa Mosque – was interviewed by the BBC in 2017.  

Related Articles:

BBC WS passes up the chance to tell listeners about PA incitement

BBC Radio 4 spreads inaccurate Gaza healthcare canard

The healthcare system in the Gaza Strip has suffered from shortages of medical equipment and supplies for many years because of the rivalry between Hamas and Fatah, which controls the Palestinian Authority. Under the terms of the Oslo Accords, it is the PA which is responsible for healthcare both in the areas under its control and the Gaza Strip.

Throughout that time the BBC has repeatedly steered its audiences towards an inaccurate understanding of the reasons for that chronic shortage of medical supplies by promoting the false notion that Israeli counter-terrorism measures pertaining to the movement of goods and people adversely affect medical services in the territory.

As we noted here in 2014 when Yolande Knell did precisely that, there is not – and never has been – any restriction on the entry of medical supplies to the Gaza Strip with the exception of items classed as dual use equipment which has the potential to be used for terrorism. 

“The long-standing shortage of medicines and medical supplies in Gaza emanates primarily from a dysfunctional relationship between the Palestinian Ministries of Health in Gaza and Ramallah.

The conflicts between the two offices have resulted not only in a shortage of medicines and supplies, but also in restricted access to medical treatment for patients outside of Gaza.

The healthcare system in Gaza is marked by a shortage of 400-500 varieties of medical equipment and an average shortage of 33% of desired types of drugs at any given time.

The situation is further exacerbated by the fact that medical suppliers are often reluctant to sell supplies to Gaza due to issues of non-payment.

COGAT [the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories] works to facilitate the transfer of medication and medical supplies both through the international community and the private sector, however shortages remain.”

Throughout 2019 COGAT coordinated the entry of 800 truckloads of medical supplies to the Gaza Strip.

Nevertheless, the BBC continues to promote the false narrative according to which the sorry state of affairs in the Gaza healthcare system is attributable to Israel – a narrative also promoted by Hamas.

The March 25th edition of the BBC Radio 4 programme ‘The World Tonight’ included an item promoting an appeal put out by the United Nations.

Presenter Razia Iqbal introduced the item (from 07:29 here).

Iqbal: “Life in some of the wealthiest countries in the world has been turned upside down by the Covid 19 pandemic. It’s a virus that doesn’t discriminate and in that respect a leveller. Nevertheless, it will almost certainly adversely affect those who already have so little and to address that, today the United Nations has launched a $2 billion funding drive to help vulnerable countries fight Covid 19. The UN says all of humanity is at risk. In countries already affected by conflict, natural disasters or climate change, the death toll from the virus will be higher.”

Later in that item Iqbal interviewed Mark Lowcock, the UN’s Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator and head of UNOCHA. Before that, however, she sought to illustrate the points made in her introduction. [emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]

Iqbal: “The warning comes from [sic] after the confirmation of two cases in the densely populated Gaza region – where a decade-long blockade has devastated the health services – and the first case in Syria reported on Sunday. What are the additional challenges facing crisis zones when trying to tackle the spread of the Coronavirus and are they certain to get the help they need? A short time ago I spoke to Khamis Elessy, a doctor in Gaza.”

Listeners were not informed that in addition to being a doctor, Elessy is also an associate professor at the Hamas-linked Islamic University in Gaza. Several hours after this interview his opening statement concerning two cases of Covid 19 in the Gaza Strip was no longer accurate.

Elessy: “Thanks God that we only have 2 cases confirmed out of 155 cases so we’re assisted. And those two cases were not from Gaza. They come from Pakistan. The healthcare system is barely coping with ordinary cases. Around 40% of essential drugs are lacking inside Gaza. Many of the equipments need spare parts and need repair. Throughout Gaza we have 63 ICU beds fully equipped with ventilators and respirators and the health professionals to serve on these units. But if we think of best scenario for Corona outbreak, we have to think of at least 100 beds so we need to add another 50 beds. They are not available here in Gaza because we don’t have factories or respirators, ventilators and other [unintelligible] of core equipment and we don’t have the medicines like hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine and other things that are needed. So far the two cases which were diagnosed inside Gaza their condition is stable, they’re in good health so far. And we hope that we will not have any other cases and maybe for the first time we have something out of the siege. Maybe this gave us one advantage that we’re not open to the rest of the world and that’s why there is no regular flow of people into Gaza and out of Gaza.”

Of course Iqbal had already told listeners that the counter-terrorism measures employed by Egypt and Israel are responsible for ‘devastating’ the health services in the Gaza Strip and so it was unsurprising to see that audiences received no information whatsoever concerning the real cause of the lack of essential medicines. Equally predictable was Iqbal’s failure to challenge Elessy’s promotion of the false notion of a “siege”.  

Turning to the much favoured BBC theme of population density, Iqbal went on:

Iqbal: “I wonder though if you could reflect for us on the possibility of the outbreak affecting Gaza in a bigger way. Do you think, Doctor, that it would be possible to self-isolate in a densely-populated area?”

Elessy: “No, no because unfortunately all families here belong to an extended family class. So the parents living in the same home, their sons, their grandsons. So you see in the same building around 80 or 70 people living in the same building. So self-isolation is difficult, it is impossible and this is actually the scary scenario if, God forbid, we have a huge number of cases that is infected and we need to isolate them, we can’t isolate them.”

Interestingly, in the interview with Mark Lowcock which followed on from this he noted that in relation to weak health systems:

Lowcock: “Gaza in fact is a little bit better than some of the other places we’re talking about like Syria or Yemen or Afghanistan.”

The BBC however chose not to interview a doctor from any of those places but did use the opportunity to once again promote the false and entirely context-free notion (in a programme which will remain available for over a year) that the problems affecting the Gaza Strip’s healthcare services are attributable to Israel’s counter-terrorism measures.

Related Articles:

BBC re-promotes the usual Gaza narratives in multiple Coronavirus reports

Mapping BBC messaging on Gaza and Corona

COGAT contradicts Guardian claim on Gaza medicine ‘restrictions’ (UK Media Watch)

The BBC, the Gaza Strip and medical supplies

BBC News continues to mislead on Gaza medical services

Mapping BBC messaging on Gaza and Corona

As we saw last week, the BBC Jerusalem bureau already briefed audiences on the topic of Coronavirus in the Gaza Strip over a week before the first two cases were diagnosed. Listeners to at least four programmes on different platforms heard the following long-employed talking points concerning the Gaza Strip repromoted in Tom Bateman’s preemptive reports:

  • The territory was described as “one of the world’s most densely crowded places” where “more than two million people live in tightly packed” and “densely populated conditions”.
  • The territory was portrayed as having “weak, underdeveloped health services” that are “far weaker than those of the developed Western world” and which are “already under significant pressure”. Hospitals in the Gaza Strip were described as “outdated, hard pressed and lacking many medicines and supplies” and audiences were told that an outbreak of Covid 19 “could stretch their health system to the limit.”
  • The territory was described as having “an unclean water supply and regular power cuts”.
  • Audiences heard of “deep poverty” and “crowded refugee camps”.

However when it came to explaining to audiences why health services, power supplies and water supplies in the Gaza Strip are as they are, the BBC was distinctly less forthcoming.

“…problems […] are compounded by the tangled politics here. Israel and Egypt’s crippling blockade – meant to stop weapons getting to Hamas militants – the recent bouts of fighting with Israel and the deep split between the two main Palestinian factions all add to the crisis.”

Of course the sole reason for that partially portrayed “blockade” is the terrorism perpetrated by Hamas and additional terrorist organisations since Israel disengaged from the Gaza Strip nearly a decade and a half ago. The BBC, however, provided no serious background information on that topic – including the issue of Hamas’ budgetary priorities which place terrorism over healthcare and other services – while employing its standard euphemism “militants” to describe Hamas.

Neither were audiences given any significant information on how “the deep split” between Hamas and Fatah has affected the standard of living and services such as water, power and healthcare in the Gaza Strip.

The main story on the BBC News website’s ‘Middle East’ page on March 24th was headlined “Gaza: Virus fears in crowded strip” and the sub-heading read:

“The first two cases have been reported in one of the world’s most densely populated areas”

The link led to a report by Yolande Knell which appeared on the website’s ‘Coronavirus’ live page.

Readers found many of the talking points regularly promoted in BBC content.

“Since the start of the pandemic, health officials have worried about it reaching this impoverished coastal enclave – one of the world’s most densely populated places.”

As we have noted here in the past when the BBC has promoted the same mantra about population density, there are of course many other cities in the world with a higher population density than Gaza City and other places with higher population densities than the Gaza Strip as a whole. Interestingly, a map produced by the BBC in 2018 shows a higher population density in London than in Gaza.

“Social distancing is almost impossible among large families living in Gaza’s crowded refugee camps and built-up neighbourhoods, raising fears that infection could spread fast and that overstretched hospitals could be overwhelmed.”

According to a WHO report published in May 2019:

“There are 81 hospitals in total in the occupied Palestinian territory, with 51 in the West Bank and 30 in the Gaza Strip. Bed capacity is approximately 1.7 beds per 1000 population and is the same for the West Bank and Gaza Strip.”

According to the OECD, Colombia has the same ratio of beds per 1,000 population and Mexico, Costa Rica, Indonesia and India have lower ratios.   

“Gaza has been kept under blockade by Israel and Egypt since the militant group, Hamas, took full control of the territory in 2007. Up to now, some Gazans had been commenting on the irony of how their enforced isolation appeared to be protecting them during this health crisis.”

Apparently Knell did not recognise the irony of promoting the notion of “enforced isolation” while having earlier in her report noted that the first Covid 19 patients in the Gaza Strip were “two men returning from Pakistan”. She also refrained from disclosing that according to reports “more than 2,700 people are in home isolation [in the Gaza Strip], mostly having returned from Egypt”.

As we see, the BBC’s messaging in reports about the Gaza Strip and the Coronavirus epidemic is no different from the narratives it has been promoting for years, including the inaccurate notion that the standard of healthcare stems from Israel’s counter-terrorism measures.

On the day that Knell’s report was published the Israeli journalist Hezi Simantov (a veteran Arab affairs reporter) noted that Hamas’ Khalil Al-Hayya had declared that “we will place the full responsibility on Israel in the event that the Corona virus spreads in Gaza because our ability to deal with the pandemic is lessened because of the blockade”.

The fact that the deputy head of Hamas’ political bureau in Gaza and the BBC are promoting the same talking points while both avoiding the topic of Hamas’ responsibility for the state of health services in the territory is obviously noteworthy.  

Related Articles:

BBC re-promotes the usual Gaza narratives in multiple Coronavirus reports

COGAT contradicts Guardian claim on Gaza medicine ‘restrictions’ (UK Media Watch)

 

BBC’s ‘Newsday’ gives a platform to ‘occupation’ propaganda

On March 6th one of the editions of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newsday’ included an item (from 04:36 here) relating to the previous day’s discovery of cases of Coronavirus in Bethlehem.

Presenter Krupa Padhy introduced the item:

Padhy: “…in the biblical city of Bethlehem a Palestinian official said they had closed the Church of the Nativity after suspicions that a number of Palestinians had caught the virus so I’ve been spending some time talking to Mustafa Barghouti who is a Palestinian MP and a doctor himself.”

Padhy refrained from informing listeners that the Palestinian Legislative Council – the parliament – has not convened since 2007 due to the Hamas-Fatah split and that Barghouti was last elected over 14 years ago.

Barghouti began by giving a reasonable account of the situation which included the following:

Barghouti: “There is a status of quarantine now imposed in Bethlehem area and in the whole of the West Bank to ensure that no more cases will be infected due to the fact that some of these people who have the disease have been in contact with other people. […] This is a very important precaution that is taken place by the Palestinian Authority.”

However as is usually the case when Mustafa Barghouti is interviewed by the BBC, he soon took advantage of the platform given to him for the promotion of politicised messaging.

Barghouti: “Of course you must understand that in the West Bank and Gaza we have [to be] very careful because we have a poor infrastructure due to the fact that we have been under Israeli military occupation for more than 52 years.”

Padhy: “Yes.”

The Gaza Strip has of course not been under “Israeli military occupation” for over 14 years and the Palestinian Authority has been in control of Areas A and B – including healthcare – for nearly a quarter of a century. Nevertheless, listeners heard no challenge to Barghouti’s false claims.

Barghouti: “In addition to that we are unable to control our borders or the movement because of Israeli restrictions as well so it’s complicated…”

Both the Palestinian Authority and Hamas have the ability to close crossings. The day before this interview the PA ministry of tourism announced a ban on foreign tourists and the PA prime minister announced limits on traffic between different areas.  

Barghouti: “It’s also important to understand that [what] we have here is a very complicated situation because we have a Palestinian Authority with very limited authority since we are under the military Israeli occupation and the decision to close down Bethlehem area completely was taken by an Israeli minister which means the Israelis can close down any Palestinian city any time they want without even consulting with us. So of course we have to take the burden of two things: the burden of this horrible disease and the necessity to encounter it every possible way and also the burden of the fact that we are not in control of our own freedom of movement, of our own borders.”

The Israeli minister to whom Barghouti referred is the Minister of Defence. As reported at the time by the Jerusalem Post, the decision to close the crossing between Israel and Bethlehem was taken together with the PA.

“Defense Minister Naftali Bennett announced on Thursday, in coordination with the IDF and Palestinian Authority (PA), a closure of Bethlehem due to concerns on the spreading of coronavirus. Both Israelis and Palestinians will be restricted from entering and leaving the city.”

The Times of Israel noted that:

“Israeli and Palestinian health officials held a meeting on Thursday to coordinate their responses, and shared information on the virus’s spread according to Israeli daily Haaretz.

COGAT, the Israeli defense body responsible for Palestinian civilian matters, said it had delivered 250 test kits to the Palestinians and was coordinating joint training sessions for Israeli and Palestinian medical workers.

COGAT said the closure of Bethlehem would apply to all Israelis and Palestinians, but not goods, which would continue to flow freely and would remain in place until further notice.”

Newsday’s worldwide audience of course heard nothing of such cooperation between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. Instead they got an entirely predictable but totally unchallenged dose of politicised messaging from a regular BBC interviewee who never passes up such an opportunity.

Related Articles:

BBC Radio 4 airs superficial report on Israel’s Coronavirus measures

The limits of BBC News reporting from PA controlled territories

BBC continues to snooze on Hizballah activity

On March 2nd – the day of Israel’s general election – an incident which the BBC did not find newsworthy took place in the Golan Heights.

Tel Fares from Ramtaniya

“The Israel Defense Forces bombed a Syrian vehicle that the military said was used in an attempted sniper attack on Israeli troops near the Golan border Monday.

The skirmish took place in the Quneitra region in the demilitarized buffer zone between the countries, the latest in a series of recent cross-border clashes in the area. However, this was the first of these to be acknowledged by Israel.

“A short time ago an IDF force identified an attempt at a sniping attack in the northern Golan Heights,” the military said in a statement. “The force attacked the vehicle involved in the attempted attack.””

Two weeks on, the IDF has published the results of the investigation into that incident.

“The Israel Defense Forces on Tuesday accused the Hezbollah terror group and the Syrian army of being behind an attempted sniping attack against Israeli soldiers in the Golan Heights earlier this month, which was thwarted by an Israeli strike on the suspects’ car.

The military said that in the months preceding the incident Israeli troops saw Hezbollah fighters and Syrian soldiers preparing for an attack, filming the border area with smartphones and professional cameras and measuring wind speed from different locations in the supposedly demilitarized buffer zone between the two countries — in what the IDF said appeared to be efforts to identify a target and improve snipers’ accuracy.

The military said that on March 2 fighters were seen preparing to carry out the attack from a car.

“When there was an operational opportunity, the car being used by the cell was attacked by an IDF helicopter,” the military said.” [emphasis added]

The demilitarized zone is of course intended to be exactly that: Syrian soldiers and Hizballah militia are not supposed to be present in that area. UN forces – UNDOF – are tasked with ensuring that the terms of the 1974 cease fire agreement, under which the demilitarized zone was established, are upheld. In light of the civil war in Syria UNDOF largely abandoned that mission in September 2014 but supposedly returned to oversee the DMZ in October 2018.  

Since then the BBC has failed to produce any serious reporting on the topic of Hizballah’s activities in the Syrian Golan and UNDOF’s failure to guarantee the demilitarized zone. It is hence unsurprising to see that the corporation chose to ignore this latest thwarted attack.

Related Articles:

BBC ignores revelation of Hizballah’s Golan network

BBC News framing of Iranian activity in Syria continues

BBC journalist scoffs at a topic the corporation fails to cover

 

BBC News continues to avoid the issue of Joint Arab List politics

Following the election in Israel at the beginning of March we documented the BBC’s provision of brief descriptions of various competing parties’ locations on the political map, with the exception of one list.

BBC News signposts Israeli political lists – except one

As efforts to form a coalition government proceed, that practice continues.

Listeners to a news bulletin aired on BBC Radio 4’s ‘Today’ programme on March 16th heard a report from Tom Bateman (from 2:09:05 here) about the president of Israel having tasked the leader of the Blue & White party with forming a government after he received the most endorsements from members of the Knesset.

Newsreader: “Benny Gantz, the main political rival to the Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, has been given the chance to form a government after winning the support of two key parties. There have been three inconclusive elections in Israel in the last 12 months. Here’s our Middle East correspondent Tom Bateman.”

Bateman: “The backing for Benny Gantz is a blow to Benjamin Netanyahu but it does little to break the deadlock that has paralysed Israeli politics. Most MPs supported Mr Gantz for the first go at putting together a coalition but their appetite to dislodge Mr Netanyahu is all some of them really agree on. The groups backing Mr Gantz include the Arab Israeli parties who won record support in the election and a nationalist, hawkish former defence minister who turned on Mr Netanyahu a year ago. The under pressure prime minister is seeking, among other options, to forge an emergency government to deal with the Coronavirus outbreak.”

In other words, while BBC audiences heard Avigdor Lieberman – leader of the Yisrael Beitenu party – described as “nationalist, hawkish”, no political categorisation was given for the Joint Arab List.

A written report on the same story appeared on the BBC News website’s ‘Middle East’ page on March 16th under the headline “Israel election: Gantz vows to form ‘broad’ unity government within days” and with the tag “Coronavirus pandemic”. There readers found the following:

“The election on 2 March was Israel’s third in less than a year. Neither of the main party leaders was able to command a majority following the last two rounds.

This time, Likud won 36 seats, and allied right-wing and religious parties another 22. But that left Mr Netanyahu three short of a majority in the 120-seat Knesset.

Blue and White meanwhile won 33 seats; the Joint List representing Israel’s Arab minority came third with 15 seats; the centre-left Labour-Gesher-Meretz list won seven; and the nationalist Yisrael Beitenu party also got seven.” [emphasis added]

Once again we see that while the BBC apparently thinks it useful to provide audiences with tools to navigate the Israeli political map, it does not provide any such signposting regarding the Joint Arab List. Instead, that list is portrayed as “representing Israel’s Arab minority” – the 16% of the Israeli electorate that the BBC inevitably chooses to portray as one monochrome group.

Information about the politics and ideologies of the four parties that make up the Joint Arab List is however crucial for members of the BBC’s audience who wish to understand both this story about Gantz trying to form a coalition government and another alternative apparently on the table but not adequately explained by the BBC – an emergency government. As Haviv Retting Gur notes at the Times of Israel:

“The Arab factions united in the Joint List are a diverse collection of liberals, Islamists, progressives and ultra-nationalists. Most are openly anti-Zionist and some have expressed proud and open support for ruthless terrorists responsible for some of the most infamous atrocities ever inflicted on Israelis. […]

One signal of a political faction’s seriousness can be found in its willingness to soberly prioritize its many goals and to sacrifice less-important ones for those that matter more. That may sound obvious, but a party like Balad, one of the four factions that make up the Joint List, had proved over the years that it could not look past its obeisance to radical Palestinian nationalism. Its members have joined the 2010 Turkish flotilla to Gaza, praised a murderer of Israeli children, and even spied for the Lebanese terror group Hezbollah.”

So while the BBC is capable of identifying “religious” parties allied to the Likud and describes Yisrael Beitenu as “nationalist”, it refrains from informing its audiences that, for example, one of the parties making up the Joint Arab List (Ra’am) is also a religious group and another (Balad) is no less nationalist.

Another point worthy of note in this BBC report concerns the following statements:

“Meanwhile, Mr Gantz also criticised what he said were “the illegitimate efforts by the current prime minister to evade justice”.

Mr Netanyahu had been due in court on Tuesday to face charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust in connection with three separate cases. But the hearing has now been postponed until at least 24 May because of the Covid-19 outbreak.”

Readers trying to make up their own minds about that statement from Gantz would have benefited from the knowledge that the court session originally scheduled for March 17th was postponed by the judges assigned to the case.

 

 

 

 

BBC Radio 4 breaches editorial guidelines concerning contributors’ affiliations

h/t SG

As regular readers will be aware, the BBC editorial guidelines on impartiality include a section concerning ‘contributors’ affiliations’ which states:

“We should not automatically assume that contributors from other organisations (such as academics, journalists, researchers and representatives of charities and think-tanks) are unbiased. Appropriate information about their affiliations, funding and particular viewpoints should be made available to the audience, when relevant to the context.”

Obviously one of the basic requirements when introducing a contributor to BBC content is to provide his or her full name, as well as the “affiliations, funding and particular viewpoints” described in that section of the editorial guidelines so that audiences can judge the relevance of the contribution for themselves.

In late January BBC Radio 4 ran a five-part series called “Lies My Teacher Told Me” which will remain available online for a year.

“The school history text book has always been a potential minefield. Every nation setting its histories before its children makes choices. The textbook is frequently used as a primer for the story of the nation when young minds are often unlikely to question or even pay attention to a story that may go on to shape their understanding of their place as citizens so what do we want children to make of their own national past? Should we even teach them a history of the nation? Are facts and dates the stuff of critical understanding? Historian Priya Atwal explores the global issues in telling textbook national history from Lebanon to Japan to Northern Ireland & India as she explores history’s many uses as pedagogy and sometimes propaganda.”

In the first episode listeners heard from a variety of contributors who were introduced using their full name and with details of their professional background or relevance to the topic provided in all cases – except one.

02:14 Atwal: “But it’s never just the epic heft of history that is problematic in the telling of a national story for the classroom. Here’s Aviv [phonetic] remembering the Israeli story he was taught.”

Aviv: “Hardly any discussion; either reading from the book or just talking about what was written in the chapters in the book. The history of the State of Israel is a project and it’s bound up in the project of the creation of the myth of Israel. So the whole Palestinian narrative did not exist. History was a justifier and it was not taught in a way that had multiple sides. It was taught as a truth.” [emphasis in italics in the original]

So who is Aviv? What are his expertise, affiliations and “particular viewpoints”? And – beyond the fact that his statements obviously fit in nicely with Priya Atwal’s agenda – how accurate and representative is his subjective account?

Radio 4 listeners will never know because once again the BBC chose to ignore the very editorial guidelines which are meant to ensure that the corporation provides “impartial news and information to help people understand and engage with the world around them”.

They did, however, hear unquestioned amplification of the notion of “the project of the creation of the myth of Israel”.

BBC re-promotes the usual Gaza narratives in multiple Coronavirus reports

Reporting by BBC Jerusalem bureau staff on the topic of Coronavirus has so far focused mainly on Bethlehem (see ‘related articles’ below), apparently resulting in quarantine for one journalist. More recently the corporation chose to turn its attention to a location in which to date no cases of infection have been reported.

On March 13th listeners to BBC Radio 4’s ‘The World Tonight’ heard a report by Tom Bateman (from 23:34 here) which was introduced by presenter James Coomarasamy as follows:

[emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]

Coomarasamy: “Well the World Health Organisation may have identified Europe as the current epicenter of the Coronavirus outbreak but it also has an eye on those countries and territories which have yet to be affected whose health services are far weaker than those of the developed Western world. Among them is the Gaza Strip where more than two million people live in tightly packed conditions and where the WHO believes that urgent global intervention would be necessary if cases of Covid19 are recorded. Here’s our Middle East correspondent Tom Bateman.”

On March 14th the same report was aired on the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Weekend’ (from 30:45 here) with presenter Alex Ritson telling worldwide listeners:

Ritson: “Let’s remind you of our top story: the World Health Organisation has warned that any spread of Coronavirus to the Gaza Strip would need urgent global intervention. There have been no confirmed cases there so far. The health system is already under significant pressure and more than two million people live in densely populated conditions. From Jerusalem, here’s our Middle East correspondent Tom Bateman.”

Listeners to both editions of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour’ on March 14th also heard the same report (from 14:06 here and from 19:03 here) which was introduced by Ben James thus:

James: “Now the World Health Organisation says the full extent of the Coronavirus outbreak will only become clear when places with weak, underdeveloped health services are tested. Among those is Gaza, where more than two million people live in tightly packed conditions. The BBC’s Tom Bateman begins this report in a local hospital.”

A filmed version of Bateman’s report apparently also exists.

The WHO’s latest update on the situation in the Palestinian Authority controlled territories and the Hamas controlled Gaza Strip – dated March 13th – makes no mention of “urgent global intervention”. The source of that dramatic claim promoted in two of those introductions is apparently one of Bateman’s interviewees.

As regular readers know, BBC audiences are in general very badly placed as far as understanding the underlying status of medical care in the Gaza Strip is concerned because although they are told plenty about the dire state of medical services in the Gaza Strip, they rarely hear about the PA actions which exacerbate that situation such as the longstanding insufficient supply of medications

Bateman began his report with an unrelated story.

Bateman: “Ten-year-old Mansour is having kidney dialysis in a packed children’s ward. His father can’t afford the cost of a transplant for him, which would mean travel to Egypt or Jordan. This is the story of Gaza’s hospitals: outdated, hard pressed and lacking many medicines and supplies. And now the health system must prepare for Coronavirus.”

As ever, Bateman did not bother to inform listeners why Gaza Strip hospitals lack medicine and equipment. Listeners then heard that:

“We have in Gaza barely between 50 to 60 ventilators. Serious cases would require at certain stage that they need to be on ventilators. And if we have hundreds, then you would imagine what we need to deal with these hundred cases.”

Bateman: “Dr Abdelnasr Sohob is from the World Health Organisation. There have been no confirmed cases of Coronavirus so far in Gaza but it’s on the borders and medics are warning of little capacity to cope with a sustained outbreak.”

Sohob: “Gaza with these facilities can deal with the first shock of 50 to 100 cases with the current resources. After that I think the international community has to step in to assist Gaza.”

Apparently that latter sentence is the source of those dramatic introductions.

Listeners then heard shouting before Bateman referred to a story which the BBC did not bother to report at the time. He went on to promote a much-used BBC narrative concerning population density and an entirely context-free reference to “Palestinians shot by Israeli soldiers”.

Bateman: “A protest last month near a newly-built hospital in the town of Khan Younis. Some locals burned tyres and waved banners after reports Coronavirus patients could be brought there. Anxiety is spreading. More than two million people live in one of the world’s most densely crowded places. The UN’s refugee agency for Palestinians says health workers have learned from the most recent medical crisis: the so-called March of Return protests that saw thousands of Palestinians shot by Israeli soldiers at the perimeter fence. After those emergencies, it says there are Coronavirus plans to triage patients at hospital entrances and clear public wards of non-essential cases.”

Bateman next interviewed a mother who recounted how she had cleaned the house and taught her children personal hygiene.

Bateman: “Lena Tahar is reading with one of her four children. Gaza’s schools have shut until at least the end of this month as a precaution. For her, like many Palestinians, even the hand-washing advice is hard with an unclean water supply and regular power cuts.”

Listeners were not told of the reasons for the clean water and power shortages in the Gaza Strip.

Bateman: “In Gaza City the disinfectant spray squads are out on the streets.”

Listeners heard the “head of protective health department in Gaza municipality” tell them that his team was:

“Spreading the material that kills the microbe, kills the virus. Inshallah this procedure cover all the problem and solve the problem.”

Bateman: “But it might take more than that. There’s already been disquiet at more sweeping measures – like the month-long emergency declared in the West Bank with more than 30 confirmed cases – weren’t adopted initially by Hamas in Gaza. It’s feared infection could thrive amid the Strip’s deep poverty and in the crowded refugee camps – problems that are compounded by the tangled politics here. Israel and Egypt’s crippling blockade – meant to stop weapons getting to Hamas militants – the recent bouts of fighting with Israel and the deep split between the two main Palestinian factions all add to the crisis.”

Bateman made no effort to clarify that the “recent bouts of fighting with Israel” were the result of attacks by the Palestinian Islamic Jihad (or how they “add to the crisis”), how exactly that “deep split” between Hamas and Fatah affects healthcare, water, sewage and electricity supplies in the Gaza Strip or why there are “refugee camps” in a territory which has been under Palestinian control for fifteen years.  

Bateman: “But some residents like Ibrahim Abu Leila hope the isolation could help ward off the latest health threat.”

Abu Leila V/O: “More than 11 years of blockade by land, by sea, by sky. The people that arrive here are counted. They come one day or two days and they leave. We don’t have hotels that tourists stay at so we don’t meet them, thank God. Maybe some good can come from the bad.”

Of course hotels do exist in the Gaza Strip and while normal tourism is understandably virtually non-existent in a destination ruled by a terrorist organisation, journalists, conflict tourists, foreign delegations and UN staff certainly do visit.

Bateman closed his report:

Bateman: “Gaza has so far avoided any confirmed Coronavirus cases. People know its impact could stretch their health system to the limit.”

That same observation is of course true in many other places around the world but as we see, the BBC made the most of the Coronavirus story to widely re-promote many of its long-standing mantras concerning the Gaza Strip even though no cases have been reported there so far.

Related Articles:

BBC Radio 4 airs superficial report on Israel’s Coronavirus measures

The limits of BBC News reporting from PA controlled territories

Hamas announcement puts a BBC narrative into perspective

 

 

Weekend long read

1) At the INSS Raz Zimmt analyses ‘The Crisis of Public Confidence in the Iranian Regime.

“In mid-February 2020, a few weeks after the Ukrainian airliner was shot down, public confidence in the Iranian regime suffered another serious blow following the outbreak of the coronavirus, which within a few days spread from the city of Qom, a Shiite pilgrimage site, to most parts of the country. The regime’s handling of the outbreak of the virus, which has so far claimed the lives of hundreds of Iranians, again exposed a series of failures and attempted cover-ups that further embittered the public and aroused piercing public criticism. For instance, the airline Mahan Air, which is owned by the Revolutionary Guards, continued to fly to and from China even after the outbreak of the disease, and even after the Iranian authorities declared in early February a halt to flights between the countries.”

2) Haviv Rettig Gur profiles ‘the ruthless economist directing Israel’s drastic virus fight’ at the Times of Israel.

““Barsi” led an aggressive effort to slow the virus’s penetration into Israel — not because he thought he could stop it, but because slowing its spread would prevent overtaxing Israel’s hospitals and health infrastructures. The thinking was sound, health experts said. Israel only has so many respirators and lung specialists, making the death toll from the virus a function not of the number of people who fall ill, but of the rate at which they do so.

If the number of ill at any given time could be kept at levels that Israel’s health infrastructure could accommodate, far more would survive infection. Slowing the spread could mean the difference between a few hundred dead by the end of the crisis and many thousands or even more who succumb because hospitals could not treat them properly and ventilators were in short supply.”

3) Writing at The Hill, Eitan Dangot discusses the Palestinian Islamic Jihad’s efforts to disrupt calm in the Gaza Strip.

“In Gaza, the PIJ has been building an arsenal of ballistic rockets, whose quantity and variety have become as threatening as that of Hamas. Since its founding in the late 1980s, the PIJ has been ideologically committed to destroying the State of Israel and establishing an Islamist state in its place. Unencumbered by any obligation to deal with civilian needs, the PIJ deals exclusively with the recruitment of operatives and solicitation of funds. […]

In terms of ideology, we know the PIJ originates from the same breeding ground as Hamas and shares a similar foundational identity. More ominously, though, the PIJ has identified with the path of the Iranian Islamic Revolution since 1979 and created strong reciprocal relations with Tehran. The Iranians extend financial credit lines to the PIJ, funding that it uses to build up and activate its forces. It also enjoys ties with Hezbollah, which acts as an influencing factor in the PIJ’s force build-up and training. The PIJ’s has headquarters in Gaza, Syria and Lebanon, which strengthens the radical ties between this Sunni organization and the Shi’ite axis.”

4) At the JCPA Yoni Ben Menachem reports on the trial of Hamas activists in Saudi Arabia.

“In Saudi Arabia, the trial of 68 Hamas members has begun.  They were arrested in April 2019 in Saudi Arabia; most of the members were Palestinians from the Palestinian territories who immigrated to Saudi Arabia, and some of them were Jordanian civilians. […]

The public trial of Hamas members in Saudi Arabia is enraging Hamas activists in the West Bank, the Gaza Strip, and among Hamas supporters throughout the Arab world.

During the first court hearing, the charges against them were enumerated, and the Hamas activists arrested in Saudi Arabia were accused of belonging to a “terrorist entity” and “supporting and financing a terrorist organization.” […]

Saudi Arabia transmitted intelligence that dozens of Hamas activists were engaged in collecting and laundering money for the Hamas military arm and terrorist activity against Israel. The money raised was then transferred to Turkey and from there to the Gaza Strip.”

BBC News erases relevant background from report on Palestinian riot

On March 11th the BBC News website published a report headlined “Palestinian teenager killed in West Bank clash”. BBC audiences were told that:

“A Palestinian teenager has reportedly been shot dead by Israeli forces during a clash in the occupied West Bank.

Palestinian medics said Mohammed Hamayel, 15, was hit in the face by live ammunition near the village of Beita, south of the city of Nablus.

Israel’s military said 500 Palestinians took part in what it called a violent riot, hurling rocks towards its troops and setting tyres on fire.”

Apparently the BBC is not convinced that 500 people throwing rocks and petrol bombs is a violent riot and so found it necessary to qualify that description. No such qualification was seen however concerning the claim of the use of “live ammunition”. AP reported that witnesses stated that the IDF had used rubber coated bullets and in response to an enquiry from CAMERA, IDF spokesman Jonathan Conricus confirmed that the army used only rubber bullets.

The BBC’s account of the background to the story is based entirely on Palestinian sources:

“The area has been the scene of growing tension in recent weeks.

Palestinians say a group of Jewish settlers has been trying to take control of a hill in the middle of several of their villages.

A witness told the BBC that Palestinians had gathered on Wednesday following rumours the settlers were heading to the hill.

When Israeli forces arrived Palestinians threw stones at them, and the soldiers fired live ammunition, rubber bullets and tear gas from drones, the witness said.

Palestinian health officials said a further 17 people were injured.

The settlers had reportedly been organising an archaeological tour of the hill, saying it hosted a site of Biblical significance.”

The actual background to the story was reported by Kan 11’s Gal Berger a week before the BBC’s report on the March 11th incident was published.

The hill is called Tel Aroma and it is located between the Palestinian village of Beita and the Israeli community of Itamar, south of Nablus/Schem. It is situated in Area B (i.e. the Palestinian Authority has civil control and Israel controls security) and is the site of a fortress dating from Hasmonean times (1st century BCE).

In late February a tour to the site was planned by a group of Israeli families. Palestinians – organised by the Nablus branch of Fatah – had previously erected a flagpole at the site and the night before the planned trip hundreds gathered on the hilltop in order to prevent it from taking place. The Palestinians rioted throughout the day and the trip was cancelled. Similar disturbances have continued since then and those acts of violence were praised by the PA president Mahmoud Abbas at a televised Fatah meeting on March 1st.

“What I saw in Nablus was great. This was the right thing to do. They need to understand that we are fighting with our eyes, our hands, our legs, and with everything, and that we will not allow them to toy with us. We are teaching them lessons. When they see unarmed people, people who have no weapons… Women and children chase [the Israelis] who run away from them… It makes me happy to see this. Really. This is our way to accomplish what we want. This is our way to accomplish what we want. By means of peaceful resistance, and with these efforts… The sisters should be in front at the protests. This is the most important thing. Seeing the girls beating up a policeman or a soldier really fills my heart with joy. This is how we want our peaceful popular resistance to be. This is our way to vanquish our enemies, and to achieve our independent state with Jerusalem as its capital.”

Abbas’ blatant incitement and the fact that the rioting at Tel Aroma is organised by the Nablus branch of Fatah naturally did not make it into the BBC’s report. Unverified allegations from PA officials concerning “settlers…trying to take control” of the hill of course did.

Predictably, the final part of the BBC’s report included amplification of the BBC’s standard partial mantra on ‘settlements’ and ‘international law’ along with exclusive promotion of the Palestinian narrative.

“About 600,000 Jews live in about 140 settlements built since Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem in 1967. The settlements are widely considered illegal under international law, though Israel has always disputed this.

Palestinians have long called for the removal of the settlements, arguing that their presence on land they claim for a future independent Palestinian state makes it almost impossible to make such a state a reality.”

As we see, the account provided by the BBC relies on and dovetails with the narrative promoted by PA and Fatah officials. So much for the corporation’s obligation to provide “accurate and impartial news”.