BBC WS food programme: inaccurate, lacks context and promotes Hamas propaganda

h/t SG

When, in the summer of 2014, the BBC began describing the counter-terrorism measures employed by Israel along its border with the Gaza Strip as a “siege” we noted that the definition of that term is “a military operation in which enemy forces surround a town or building, cutting off essential supplies, with the aim of compelling those inside to surrender” and commented:

“A besieging army does not ensure and facilitate the provision of humanitarian aid including food and medical supplies to those it surrounds. It does not supply them with 50% of their electricity supply, with oil and diesel or with cooking gas. It does not help them export their produce and give their farmers agricultural training. It does not evacuate their sick and treat them […] in its own hospitals.”

Nevertheless, the BBC continues to promote that Hamas approved terminology and the latest example came in the August 1st edition of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘The Food Chain’ (repeated on August 4th) which was titled ‘Food under siege’.

“When access to a city is blocked, food supplies quickly plummet, electricity and water become scarce, and people are forced to find new ways to feed themselves. Black markets thrive, and some may risk their lives to feed their families. But a dwindling food supply can also inspire creativity and compassion.

Emily Thomas meets people who have lived under siege in Aleppo, Syria, the Gaza strip, and Sarajevo, Bosnia-Herzegovina. They reveal the uncomfortable reality of eating behind siege lines.

A journalist tells us how it feels to eat abundantly in a café in the middle of a city where most are struggling to eat. An electrician explains why feeding cats in the middle of a war-zone felt like a statement of compassion and resistance. And a cook explains how to run a catering company when electricity, water and food are scarce.”

Presenter Emily Thomas opened the programme with a description of a siege and went on with some clear signposting. [emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]

Thomas: “Your home is surrounded. Enemy forces are camped outside the city. They’ve cut off electricity and water supplies and sealed off the main roads out. You can’t leave. Nothing and no-one is coming in. But you still have to eat. Could finding a way to eat well become the ultimate act of defiance? […] In this episode people who’ve lived under siege in Aleppo in Syria, Sarajevo in the former Yugoslavia and the Gaza Strip are going to reveal the uncomfortable reality of eating behind siege lines where black markets can thrive and people may risk their lives to feed their families. We’ll hear that even as food supplies run out, creativity and compassion can flourish. How we eat behind siege lines can show our humanity and resilience.”

The first part of the programme related to Sarajevo and the last to Aleppo. In the middle (from 11:50) listeners heard a section which began with more inaccurate framing of the Gaza Strip as being ‘under siege’ from Thomas.

Thomas: “Preserving a food culture is perhaps more important than ever when living under siege.”

Voiceover: “We make a whole variety of regional foods and as well as Arabic dishes we make pastries, different kinds of bread, chicken and rice, couscous; everything you’d expect to find in Gaza.”

Thomas: “But how much variety would you expect when more than half of the population is classed as food insecure by the UN? This is Wada Younis [phonetic]: one of a group of women who runs a catering company in Gaza. […] More than half of the territory’s labour force are unemployed so customers are in short supply.”

After her interviewee had explained that her clientele includes “women who don’t have the time to cook at home” and people with “more money”, Thomas told listeners:

Thomas: “A blockade, which Israel says it’s imposed because of security concerns, has severely restricted imports and exports and the movement of people. Gazans are not allowed to farm in the mile-wide Israeli declared buffer zone on the border: an area with some of its best arable land. Add to that an intermittent power supply and almost every household relying on tanker trucks to deliver their water.”

Notably listeners heard no explanation of those “security concerns” and the words Hamas and terrorism did not cross the BBC presenter’s lips. The inconvenient fact that the Gaza Strip also has a land border with Egypt was likewise airbrushed from Thomas’ portrayal.

Imports to the Gaza Strip are of course not “severely restricted” unless they come under the category of weapons or dual-use goods that can be employed for terror purposes and obviously that does not include food. Even anti-Israel NGOs do not claim that the buffer zone (the width of which varies from place to place) is a mile – i.e. 1,609.34 meters – wide. Gaza’s “intermittent power supply” of course has nothing to do with Israeli counter terrorism measures and everything to do with internal Palestinian disputes. In fact Israel continues to supply more than half of the Gaza Strip’s electricity and about 10 million cubic meters of water a year: hardly the actions of a ‘besieging’ force.

Nevertheless, the BBC World Service is apparently quite happy for its audiences to be misled about the reasons for the chronic power shortages in the Gaza Strip because listeners next heard Younis repeat that falsehood.

Voiceover: “The siege causes loads of problems but the main one is electricity. Sometimes there’s no electricity and when we’re baking or preparing dishes it’s a real issue. And the other problem is the financial situation; people can’t afford much and they don’t all have incomes. Raw materials aren’t available and can be really expensive which means we can’t always make a profit. Sometimes we have to sell at cost price to keep our customers.”

Thomas: “Are there some ingredients it’s impossible to get hold of at all?”

Although Younis replied in the affirmative, the rest of her response showed that the real answer to that question is no.

Voiceover: “Yeah – the ingredients for desserts and cakes aren’t really available and if they are, they’re only in a few shops and are really expensive so we can’t afford to make them. And you just can’t get the kind of ovens we need in Gaza. You can only get them outside. And we often have to throw vegetables away because the electricity cuts out and the fridges go off.”

Thomas: “The electricity then poses a real problem. What about the water supply?”

Voiceover: “You can’t drink the water in Gaza or cook with it. It’s not clean. So we have to buy bottled water for drinking and cooking as well as for washing ingredients to avoid contamination.”

Making no effort to inform listeners why residents of the Gaza Strip face chronic shortages of electricity and clean water, Thomas summed up:

Thomas: “So the electricity supply is intermittent, the water supply is difficult too, you can’t get hold of all of the equipment and the ingredients that you need. It sounds really tough to be running a catering company.”

She later went on to claim that “food is limited” in the Gaza Strip.

Thomas: “Do you think that food and enjoyment of food and the sharing of food become more important when you’re living in the middle of a political situation like this and when food is limited?”

In her closing remarks (25:42) Thomas referred to “inhumane situations” despite the fact that no context to the measures imposed on the Gaza Strip in order to combat inhumane terrorism had been provided.

Thomas: “To me their story of food behind siege lines, like the others we’ve heard, shows not just people’s resilience but also the power of food to comfort and prove our humanity when we’re placed in the most inhumane situations.”

So why did the BBC World Service mislead its audiences by inaccurately framing the Gaza Strip as being ‘under siege’ in accordance with Hamas talking points and misinform them with regard to the background to the chronic problems with water and electricity supplies?

At the end of the interview with Wada Younis, listeners heard that it was set up by the BBC’s Gaza Strip office.

Thomas: “Many thanks to our colleague in Gaza Jihad Masharawi for arranging that interview.”

This is of course far from the first time the employees at the BBC’s Gaza office have amplified Hamas propaganda and neither is it the first time that Masharawi has been involved in producing BBC content that promotes the false notion that the Gaza Strip is ‘under siege’ by Israel.

How the BBC can possibly claim that this item meets editorial guidelines on either accuracy or impartiality is unclear.

Related Articles:

A Gaza Strip water story that BBC audiences are unlikely to hear

Stats defy the BBC’s repeated portrayal of a ‘siege’ on Gaza

BBC’s Knell reports on Gaza power crisis – without the usual distractions



Propaganda in the guise of art from the BBC News Gaza office

On April 4th a video report titled “Making art in the Gaza Strip: Mohammed al-Hawajri” appeared in the BBC News website’s ‘magazine’ section, on its main home page and on its Middle East page. The report was also apparently shown on the BBC World News programme GMT.

The synopsis to the video report as it appears on the website reads:

“The struggling artist is a stereotype that resonates throughout the world, but being a painter or sculptor in the Gaza Strip can be particularly challenging.

Mohammed al-Hawajri struggles to import the materials he needs because of border restrictions imposed by Israel and Egypt.

Mohammed has been asked to participate in international exhibitions but it is so difficult for him to get permission to export his work and leave the Palestinian territory that he is staging his latest show in Gaza City.

BBC News went to meet Mohammed al-Hawajri and find out about his work.” [emphasis added]

Artist GS

The voice over to the report is narrated by Hawajri himself. [emphasis added]

“I am very interested in modern art. These are pictures that I paint of my children. We are not sure about our future here but I have use a lot of colour to show that we have hope.

My name is Mohammed al Hawajri. I am Palestinian artist from the Gaza Strip. My work is very affected by the situation here. Because of the siege in Gaza artists cannot get materials that we need. So, sometimes I make a sculpture from animals’ bones. I have done some paintings with the spices. You can smell it. This one uses curry and cumin. This is another part of my idea that you should use different senses.

This is my new project. It is an installation work. We are filming about the siege in Gaza. It is a critical of the situation but in a humorous way. It’s called ‘the red carpet’. People who support us in Gaza cannot reach us in normal ways. So the only way to enter is from the sea. I am rolling out a red carpet to welcome them and show respect.

Like everyone in Gaza I find it very difficult to get permission to leave. We can only get out through Egypt or Israel. Some galleries in Europe have shown my art work and I get many invitations to travel. My new exhibition is being shown here in Gaza City.”

No context is provided in this report with regard to why a partial blockade on the Gaza Strip exists. The words ‘Hamas’, ‘terrorism’ and ‘missile attacks on Israeli civilians’ of course have no place in this piece of filmed propaganda. Neither are viewers made aware of the fact that restrictions on the import of materials to the Gaza Strip are confined solely to dual-use goods which can be used for the purpose of terrorism.

As the lively flow of Western politicians, activists and journalists to the Gaza Strip indicates, Hawajri’s claim that “the only way to enter is from the sea” is patently inaccurate. No explanation is offered as to why the Gaza Strip does not have a functioning airport and no mention is made of the fact that thousands of people exit the Gaza Strip via the Erez crossing alone every month or that there are no restrictions on exports from the territory.

And what of Hawajri himself? Well, according to his self-composed Twitter profile he has visited Jordan, Italy, France, Switzerland and Egypt. According to his profile on the website of the Al-Ma’mal Foundation for Contemporary Art, Hawajri visited Jerusalem, Alexandria in Egypt and Pescara in Italy in 2008 alone. An interview Hawajri gave to Ramallah Online in 2010 states:

“Although Mohammed has been fortunate to be granted permission to travel, owing to his higher status, it saddens him that so many of his peers are refused. “It is the most difficult thing. The denial of participation and transfer of their art, and also depriving them of the exchange of experience with artists of the world.” […]

Al-Hawajri enjoys spending time abroad, but cannot stay away for long. “I like the freedoms in the West, but my thoughts and my art come from the crowded streets and markets of Gaza. Life is not natural, but my future is here”. “

According to his profile on the website of the artists collective to which he belongs, he was already working with animal bones in the year 1997 and with spices in 2002 – years before the Gaza Strip was declared a hostile entity in September 2007 and the partial blockade put in place due to the surge of terrorist activity after the violent Hamas coup. The choice of those media is therefore clearly not connected to any shortages of materials as the BBC’s report suggests.

Hawajri’s work is – according to his own description – political. Seven years after Israel’s withdrawal from the Gaza Strip he described one of his exhibitions in the following terms:

“In my latest project entitled Guernica-Gaza, I express the reality of the world and of the Palestinians, the life under Israeli occupation, racial segregation, violence, destruction, murder and assassination. [..]

I have chosen this title because of the similarities between the war in Gaza in 2008/2009 and the German aggression against Spain in 1937, during which the village of Guernica was destroyed.”

In this report the BBC News Gaza office has clearly self-conscripted to the promotion of a similar context-free cocktail of propaganda, art and politics which obviously flouts BBC editorial guidelines on accuracy and impartiality. 



BBC employee: “What was done by the Jews is a shame for the entire Umma”

Last weekend the BBC went to great lengths to publicise the tragic story of Omar, the infant son of BBC Arabic Service employee Jihad Masharawi, who died on November 14th during the hostilities between Hamas and Israel. 

Jon Donnison told the story on BBC Radio 4’s ‘From Our Own Correspondent’, it was also broadcast on the BBC World Service and in addition appeared on the BBC News website under the title “Gaza baby ‘only knew how to smile“. 

On November 26th, Jihad Masharawi’s brother Ahmed, who was injured in the same incident, died. 

A report from November 26th by the BBC’s Aleem Maqbool showed footage of Ahmed Masharawi wrapped in a Hamas flag at his funeral. 

The English language website of Hamas’ Al Qassam Brigades featured a report on Ahmed Masharawi’s death on November 27th. 

BBC Watch contacted the IDF Spokesperson for the Gaza Division who was able to confirm that a terror site in the vicinity of the Mashrawi house had been targeted on November 14th and that the known terrorist Ahmed Masharawi was injured. 

The footage below was also filmed at the funeral of Ahmed Masharawi, who is described as a “shahid”, by Hamas’ Al Quds TV

At 1:34 BBC employee Jihad Masharawi says (as translated from Arabic):

“Thanks to Allah, the Lord of the Universe, who chose him [i.e. Ahmed] to be a martyr, from all the people. What was done by the Jews is a shame for the entire Umma [Islamic nation], a shame for the West, a shame for the Arabs, who are silent. The entire war struck only the children and the innocent. They didn’t hit a single muqawim [resistance fighter], nor anyone who works for the government, or whatever.”

Clearly, Jihad Masharawi is not only lying about the facts of the conflict, but he also makes no distinction between Israel and Jews as a whole, blaming the latter for having “struck only children and the innocent”. The EUMC Working Definition of Antisemitism states that one of its manifestations is:

 “Holding Jews collectively responsible for actions of the state of Israel.”

It is implausible that the BBC – having filmed and broadcast Ahmed Masharawi at his funeral wrapped in a Hamas flag – is unaware of the Masharawi family’s connections to Hamas – a terror organization proscribed by the British government and many others.

The BBC’s funding public will naturally find it unacceptable on all levels that a BBC employee should engage in propagating lies and antisemitic vitriol on a television station owned and run by a terror organization.