More Corona-hooked Gaza Strip messaging on BBC WS radio

As regular readers know, since mid-March the BBC has produced several reports (see ‘related articles’ below) on the topic of the Gaza strip and the Coronavirus pandemic; some pre-emptive and some after the first cases were diagnosed. Most of those reports focused on the population density and poor healthcare services in the Gaza Strip, with some falsely claiming that Israeli counter-terrorism measures are responsible for the latter.

BBC audiences have however been told next to nothing about Hamas’ prioritisation of terror over public services for more than a decade, the Palestinian Authority’s responsibility for the shortage of medicines and equipment in hospitals in the Gaza Strip or the part played by Israel in delivering Coronavirus testing kits and medical supplies to the territory.  

In early March the Hamas terror organisation which controls the Gaza Strip told residents not to travel abroad and later closed the crossings into Israel and Egypt. Hamas also began building quarantine facilities and as of April 1st there were twelve Covid 19 cases in the Gaza Strip. Between March 22nd and March 28th, 68,275 tons of goods were delivered to the Gaza Strip including 12,423 tons of food and 145 tons of medical supplies.

The March 31st evening edition of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour’ – presented by Paul Henley – included yet another Gaza-Corona item (from 09:01 here): an interview with Najla Shawa who who works for the NGO Oxfam and was previously an UNRWA employee. Since 2015 she has been repeatedly interviewed by the BBC, more often than not without proper identification and with no information given to BBC audiences concerning her “particular viewpoints”.

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

Henley: “Let’s take a look now at the view from Gaza because the United Nations warns that poverty and a debilitated health system in the Palestinian territories would make an outbreak of Coronavirus particularly disastrous. There are only a handful of confirmed cases in Gaza so far. I’ve been talking to Najla Shawa who’s food security manager of Oxfam in Gaza.”

Shawa: “Unfortunately we are very concerned. As you know this pandemic is spreading widely around the world and in a place like Gaza, that’s a huge concern. And yes, very much so it might be a beginning and it’s very worrying for a place like Gaza.”

Henley: “You’ve Tweeted that for a start, stockpiling is not an option for people who live in Gaza, haven’t you?”

Shawa: “Actually Gaza is already in a very dire situation in terms of the very basic living. I think everybody would be following the [unintelligible]. Gaza has 37% unemployment, 62% of Gazans don’t know their next meal where is it going to come from. And you’re speaking about population that is also…it’s a very highly populated area in a very vulnerable situation to be honest. So even before the Covid 19, things were already very fragile and very, very challenging for most of the people in Gaza.”

Henley: “So the people’s resilience there has already been tested pretty much to the full.”

Shawa: “Exactly and I think now more and more I think the population have basically depleted all their resources. There’s a sense of solidarity that brings people together to support each other. However the resources are just diminishing. People already don’t have jobs, already don’t have incomes. We already locked down and there is no movement, there’s no real economy. There are no basic services and looking at the health services for example, it’s a very weak system already.”

Henley made no effort to inform listeners of the crucial context of the rift between Hamas and the Fatah-controlled Palestinian Authority in relation to that “weak system” of healthcare.

Henley: “What are people saying about the threat of the pandemic?”

Shawa: “People are very much aware of what’s going on in the world and they are very concerned. And currently like everyone is just waiting by the hour to hear the news about any new cases. So those who have some capacity to stock up some food or some essential items are doing so. However most of the population don’t have this capacity unfortunately. You know the majority of Gaza people depend on aid for life-saving assistance that is provided by humanitarian organisations.”

In light of those claims Henley could of course have raised the question of the efficacy of NGOs working in the Gaza Strip for the last decade and a half since Israel disengaged from the territory (Oxfam, for example, claims to have spent 75 million Euros in the Palestinian territories since 2014) but instead brought up another standard BBC talking point.

Henley: “And it’s well known already that people live in very close proximity to each other in Gaza.”

Shawa: “Absolutely. 5,000 persons per square kilometre. I mean you’re talking about 2 million people in this place and the number of ICU beds are hardly 87 if we count the private and the public hospitals. So this is a very worrying situation to be honest. And the extreme weakness of the system; there’s real need to very basic support to the population already from before. There are like more than 1,700 who require treatment outside of Gaza and they’re not able to access that since the lock-down. And for the lock-down I mean Gaza has been always locked down. We totally know what this means. We can empathise of course with everyone in the world and this is a moment where everyone is kind of thinking about the other in this sudden crisis. But we Palestinians have known that for many, many years unfortunately.”

The Gaza Strip has not been “always locked down”: restrictions on movement into Israel were brought into place due to the Palestinian terrorism which went completely unmentioned throughout this item. Neither were listeners informed that it was Hamas which instigated the current closure of crossings.

Henley: “What about schooling for children? What’s the situation there?”

Shawa: “Schools have been closed since more than 3 weeks and universities as well. That’s definitely a problem because you have all the kids on lock-down in their homes and there is no place to go, no space, there’s no…also as I said the poverty is so dramatic that even their basic rights are not being met. More than 400 thousand children are living under poverty. And this is quite alarming too and very worrying for us as Oxfam and as all humanitarian organisations.”

Henley: “Najla Shawa in Gaza.”

As we see Henley failed to even remotely challenge any of Shawa’s talking points throughout that entire four-minute interview (an edited version of which was also posted in the ‘updates’ section of the BBC News website’s ‘Middle East’ page) and refrained from providing the background information and context which would further audience understanding of the situation in the Gaza Strip. Of course Shawa’s talking points concerning population density, poverty and the healthcare system are exactly the same as the BBC’s own long-promoted narratives and so Henley’s soft-ball interviewing comes as no surprise.

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BBC WS isolates narrative from context in another Gaza Corona report

Density is not destiny: Economist tweet misinforms on Gaza COVID-19 woes  (UK Media Watch)

BBC WS isolates narrative from context in another Gaza Corona report

As we have previously documented (see ‘related articles’ below), in the past couple of weeks the BBC provided its audiences with preemptive reporting on the topic of Coronavirus in the Gaza Strip and reports on the first two cases diagnosed there.

On March 26th seven additional cases were confirmed and the final item in that day’s afternoon edition of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour’ was billed as follows in the synopsis:

“And will Gaza’s health care system be able to stem the spread of the virus?”

Presenter James Menendez introduced the report (from 48:41 here) using a novel euphemism to describe a terrorist organisation and promoting talking points already seen in earlier reports.

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

Menendez: “Covid 19’s shown its power to overwhelm well-funded health systems in the richest countries. How much greater the risk then when those medical services are weak to begin with and when people are packed into spaces in which calls for social distancing or self-isolation are all but futile. Gaza is the tiny strip of land between Israel and Egypt into which 2 million Palestinians are crammed under the governance of the internationally shunned Hamas movement. Matthias Schmale is the Gaza operations director of UNRWA – the UN agency for Palestinian refugees – and he’s been talking to my colleague Tim Franks.”

Schmale: “Overnight another 7 cases were announced, bringing the total to nine.”

Franks: “Right and do you know where these infections originated from?”

Schmale: “The official line from the Ministry of Health is that the original two cases came from outside. They were two Palestinians who’d been in Pakistan and then were put into quarantine. And the latest seven announced last night are guards, security people at this quarantine. So, you know, it’s a bit a border line because they didn’t travel but they contracted it from there other two inside the quarantine area.”

Franks: “Right and I guess that’s particularly concerning is once you get into local transmission.”

Schmale: “I’ve been saying now for several days we need to treat this as if it is a full outbreak. You know, we don’t have the luxury to speculate. And so as UN we are working as if there is a full outbreak locally.”

Listeners were not told that UNRWA had suspended food distribution two days earlier.

Franks: “Well you say you need to treat it as if it’s a full outbreak; Gaza has particular challenges, to put it euphemistically. How difficult is it to try and contain this virus for you?”

Schmale: “The biggest challenge really is that it is so overcrowded and that standards of living – particularly in the refugee camps; 1.4 million people in Gaza of the 2 million living here are refugees, many of whom live in overcrowded camps, so it’s very common to have six, eight or even ten people living in a room or two. And so to do social distancing in those kinds of circumstances – or isolation when once that becomes necessary – is almost impossible to imagine. So that’s one big challenge.”

Of course Tim Franks did not ask Matthias Schmale to explain to listeners why there are still refugee camps in the Gaza Strip nearly fifteen years after Israel’s disengagement from the territory and he refrained from providing BBC audiences with the highly relevant context of UNRWA’s deliberate perpetuation of hereditary refugee status for millions of people living under Palestinian control.  

Schmale: “The other big challenge is that the hospitalisation sector is completely in meltdown. Now what I’ve been told is we have at maximum 60 ICU beds. Out of every hundred people who get ill, five at least on average would need ICU so you can do the math. As soon as more than 1,500 people are ill, they won’t be able to cope. So we are really worried about that, not to mention then the many mild and medium cases that we would have that would have no place to go to.”

Franks did not ask Schmale for the source of that claim that 5% of Covid 19 patients would need ICU treatment. This model, for example, estimates that 2% of patients would need ICU treatment and 1% would require a ventilator. Neither did he bother to enquire how the fact that the Gaza Strip has a relatively young population (the median age is around 18 years) in comparison with many countries would affect the demands placed on the healthcare system.

Franks: “The next question inevitably is what can be done about it?”

Schmale: “We’ve been working for days now as UN including UNRWA – the organisation I work for looking after Palestine refugees – at high speed and try and contain it, you know, and that’s about public health messaging, as difficult as it is to try and respect the guidance from the World Health Organisation about personal hygiene, about social distance at least one or two meters apart. That needs to hold and we’re trying to do that. We are trying to work with the authorities to actually impose a curfew. We think that’s now essential, you know. We don’t – as some colleagues have expressed – want to end up like places like Italy where maybe some those decision were taken too late. And so what we’re trying to do is hope for the best that there won’t be lots of people getting ill but preparing for the worst. And there will be clear limitations as to what we can do if there indeed is a full-scale outbreak in terms of many people getting sick.”

Menendez: “Matthias Schmale, the Gaza operations director of UNRWA – that’s the UN agency for Palestinian refugees – talking about the situation there.”

As we see the BBC continues to promote long-standing talking points concerning the Gaza Strip in its coverage of the Coronavirus pandemic. Notably though, audiences have yet to hear about Hamas’ prioritisation of terror over public services for more than a decade, the Palestinian Authority’s responsibility for the shortage of medicines and equipment in hospitals in the Gaza Strip or the part played by Israel in delivering testing kits and medical supplies to the territory.  

Those omissions suggest that BBC journalists are less interested in informing audiences of the realities of the situation than they are in promoting a long since adopted narrative.

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BBC Radio 4 spreads inaccurate Gaza healthcare canard

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.

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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.  

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BBC News policy of sidelining Hamas abuse of humanitarian aid continues

Erez Crossing

We have in the past documented numerous examples of the BBC turning a blind eye to Hamas’ exploitation of the humanitarian aid provided by Israel to residents of the Gaza Strip needing medical treatment. For example:

BBC ignores another story explaining the need for Gaza border restrictions

BBC News again ignores abuse of Israeli humanitarian aid to Gaza

BBC chooses not to report Hamas abuse of medical permits yet again

As reported by the Jerusalem Post, the Israel Security Agency recently announced the arrest of an Israeli citizen who was recruited by Hamas.

“On February 17, the Shin Bet, in a joint operation with Israel Police, arrested Ayia Khatib, 31, a resident of the northwestern village of Arara. Khatib, a mother of two, was recruited by Gazan Hamas operatives Muhammed Pilpel, 29, a resident of Beit Lahiya, and Mahmoud Halua, 32, from Jabaliya.

According to the Shin Bet, Khatib, who engaged in humanitarian activities for needy Gazans, was recruited to carry out missions for Hamas including financing the group’s terrorist operations and infrastructure. She subsequently gathered intelligence to help carry out terrorist attacks against Israeli targets.

Communication between Khatib and her two handlers, agents in Hamas’s “military” wing, Izzadin al-Qassam, was carried out secretly.

The Shin Bet said Khatib provided the terrorist groups with hundreds of thousands of shekels by scamming aid organizations and innocent civilians who donated funds with the aim of helping patients and the needy and utilizing the plight of patients who were granted humanitarian permits for medical treatment and business activity in Israel for residents of the Gaza Strip.

“Part of the money Khatib transferred to Hamas operatives was for clear terrorist purposes, including helping to build tunnels, build a lathe and erect structures for Hamas’s ongoing activities,” the Shin Bet said.” [emphasis added]

BBC audiences are frequently misled on the topic of medical supplies and referrals to treatment outside the Gaza Strip. They are also repeatedly steered towards the inaccurate belief that the economic and humanitarian problems in the Gaza Strip are primarily attributable to Israeli counter-terrorism measures. It is therefore highly significant that the BBC continues to show no interest in reporting stories which clarify why such measures are necessary. 

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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.

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A Gaza healthcare story the BBC chooses to ignore

In early August we noted that work had begun on a sixteen-department field hospital near the Erez Crossing at the north of the Gaza Strip and that the Palestinian Authority was objecting to the project.

“Although BBC audiences 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. Whether or not they will be informed of this latest own goal from the Palestinian Authority remains to be seen.”

Despite the fact that the BBC has a staffed office in the Gaza Strip, audiences have indeed heard nothing about the new hospital or the Palestinian Authority’s specious claim that the field hospital was “part of a plan to separate the West Bank from the Gaza Strip”.

Since then the PA’s official media has managed to come up with even more bizarre claims – as reported by PMW.

“A private American organization is to build a hospital at the northern end of the Gaza Strip. Israel has already admitted hospital equipment into the Strip. But the project is being condemned by the Palestinian Authority’s Ministry of Health, which claims that “the American hospital project is not innocent, and its goals are dangerous.” [Official PA daily Al-Hayat Al-Jadida, Sept. 27, 2019]

Elaborating on these alleged “dangerous goals,” an op-ed in the official PA daily claimed that the hospital is run by “the CIA,” and its purpose is not to treat the sick Palestinians but “to carry out experiments on the sick Palestinians,” and “to be a partner in trafficking in human organs”.”

As the Jerusalem Post reminds us:

“In March, the Palestinian Authority announced it would stop providing its citizens with medical treatment in Israel. This was its reaction to the Israeli decision to withhold $138 million in tax money from the PA, which is the implementation of the Jewish state’s “Pay-for-Slay” law that instructs it to deduct and freeze the amount of money the authority pays in salaries to imprisoned terrorists and families of “martyrs” from the tax money Israel collects for it.”

Apparently the BBC is not interested in stories relating to healthcare in the Gaza Strip if they cannot be used to promote the inaccurate view that (as also claimed by Hamas) that the system’s many problems are primarily attributable to Israel’s counter-terrorism measures and the roles of Hamas and the Palestinian Authority in creating and exacerbating the crisis cannot be airbrushed from the story.

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Will BBC audiences be told this Gaza healthcare story?

 

Will BBC audiences be told this Gaza healthcare story?

Readers may recall that in early June listeners to BBC domestic radio’s news and current affairs station, Radio 4, were told by a presenter of the ‘Today’ show that:

“The fact remains that healthcare restrictions are being used [by Israel] to dehumanise the Palestinian people…” 

BBC R4’s ‘Today’ listeners get a distorted view of medical permits – part one

BBC R4’s ‘Today’ listeners get distorted view of medical permits – part two

The BBC of course has a history of ignoring stories which explain the need for security checks before permits are given to residents of the Gaza Strip to travel to or through Israel for the purpose of medical treatment. 

At the end of June the Israeli news website Ynet reported (Hebrew) that:

“This morning the surveying stage begins for the construction of a big international field hospital on an area of 40 dunams with 16 different departments near the Erez Crossing, which will be run by an international medical team. The hospital will be funded by a private American organisation and [will be built] with Israel’s permission and it will bring significant improvement and [provide] services which are not given today in the Gaza Strip to Palestinian patients.”

However the Gatestone Institute now reports that the Palestinian Authority is objecting to the plan.

“Palestinian Authority Minister of Health Mai Kaila, during a meeting in her West Bank office in Ramallah, reportedly told the UN Deputy Special Coordinator for Middle East Peace Process Jimmy McGoldrick on July 31 that the field hospital was part of a plan to separate the West Bank from the Gaza Strip and that the Palestinian Authority government considers the plan to build a hospital a “part of the Deal of the Century.”

“If the objective of establishing this hospital is humane, it would have been better to support and develop existing hospitals in the Gaza Strip,” the Palestinian minister told the UN official. “This project wears the dress of humanity while concealing a dangerous political aspect.”

Kaila asked the UN official to relay a message to all relevant parties: The Palestinian Authority government has effectively washed its hands of the new hospital.”

Although BBC audiences 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. Whether or not they will be informed of this latest own goal from the Palestinian Authority remains to be seen.

BBC chooses not to report Hamas abuse of medical permits yet again

Readers may recall that just over a month ago listeners to BBC domestic radio’s news and current affairs station, Radio 4, were told by a presenter of the ‘Today’ show (which reaches 6.8 million listeners a week) that:

“The fact remains that healthcare restrictions are being used to dehumanise the Palestinian people…” 

BBC R4’s ‘Today’ listeners get a distorted view of medical permits – part one

BBC R4’s ‘Today’ listeners get distorted view of medical permits – part two

As was noted here at the time, the BBC has a history of ignoring stories (see ‘related articles’ below) which explain the need for security checks before permits are given to residents of the Gaza Strip to travel to or through Israel for the purpose of medical treatment. 

Last week another such story emerged when the Israel Security Agency announced the arrest of a Hamas explosives expert who had entered Israel with a humanitarian permit for medical treatment. The Jerusalem Post reports:

“Fadi Abu al-Sabah, a 35-year-old resident of the Nuseirat refugee camp in the Gaza Strip, was arrested in Taybeh by the Shin Bet and the Israel Police on May 18, 2019.

According to the Shin Bet, he was recruited to set up an explosive manufacturing laboratory in July 2018 by Ashraf Sabah, a 37-year-old Hamas activist from the Gaza Strip who had been released from prison in Israel in 2015 after serving 12 years in prison for his involvement in attacks against IDF forces along the Gaza Strip border and planning other terrorist attacks.
The agency said that he was first approached after Sabah heard that he was in the process of getting a humanitarian permit for medical treatment in the West Bank.

Fadi al-Sabah then secretly met with operatives from Hamas’s Izzadin al-Qassam Brigades and underwent “intensive military training” including training in how to manufacture explosives and explosive charges which he could then teach to Hamas operatives in the West Bank. […]

Al-Sabah “took advantage of the humanitarian permit he received from Israel to enter for medical treatment in Hebron, but in practice did not arrive at the hospital, but he joined forces with elements in Hebron in order to promote terrorist activities and carry out his mission,” the Shin Bet statement said.”

A truly impartial media organisation would of course make sure to report such stories in order to ensure that its audience had been given the full range of information necessary for proper understanding of the subject.

Once again, however, the BBC has chosen to ignore a story about Hamas terrorists exploiting the humanitarian aid Israel provides to residents of the Gaza Strip and that not only means that audiences are not fully informed, but also that BBC employees such as Mishal Husain can continue to use their publicly funded platform to promote their chosen brand of journalistic activism unhindered by inconvenient truths.

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BBC News again ignores abuse of Israeli humanitarian aid to Gaza

BBC R4’s ‘Today’ listeners get distorted view of medical permits – part two

As we saw in part one of this post, the May 31st edition of the BBC Radio 4 ‘Today’ programme ran an item which included a report by the BBC Jerusalem bureau’s Yolande Knell ostensibly about Palestinians from the Gaza Strip travelling to Jerusalem for healthcare.

That was followed by an interview with a British MP who had been taken on a four-day paid trip to Jerusalem by the anti-Israel NGO ‘Medical Aid for Palestinians’ and who falsely claimed that two premature infants born to a mother from the Gaza Strip had ‘died alone’ in a Jerusalem hospital because of “inhumane” Israeli security checks before entry permits are given to Gaza Strip residents.

Not only did presenter Mishal Husain fail to challenge the inaccurate version of the story told by her interviewee Rosena Allin-Khan, but she went on to embellish it with fictions of her own. 

Following that, Husain introduced her final interviewee ( from 01:53:29 here) and in her opening statements, once again promoted the falsehood that she and Allin-Khan had woven – this time in the plural.

Husain: “…Sharon Bar-li is Israel’s deputy ambassador to the UK. […] What would you say to that point that Dr Rosena Allin-Khan has…has made that the system at the moment means that there are Palestinian children who die alone in hospitals in Jerusalem?

Bar-li: “…the policy is such that no child, no patient, should go into Israel to receive medical treatment by itself. Every patient should be accompanied and when it comes to children, it should be accompanied preferably by a parent, by the mother or by family member…”

Husain continued to inflate her own chimera, using a story from Knell’s report in which one child traveled to Jerusalem for chemotherapy with a grandparent as the base for the unevidenced claim that “often” parents do not get a permit to accompany their child.

Husain: “Yeah. I mean you know that it often doesn’t…from what we’ve heard in that report, often it is not the parent that for whatever reason – a security reason I imagine – the parent does not receive…ehm…the permit to enter Israel. But what kind of security risk is really posed by the parent of a child who’s going for chemotherapy or indeed a mother who’s just given birth to triplets?”

Once again Husain used a strawman argument: obviously the mother of the triplets was not deemed a security risk because she got a permit to travel to Jerusalem for the birth in the first place and later was given another permit to travel to collect her daughter from the hospital.

Bar-li: “As you know, Gaza is controlled by Hamas which is a terror organisation and there’s been plenty of cases in the past where unfortunately Hamas has abused – cynically abused – patients, many times without their knowledge, planting on them explosives, money, other information or devices, in order to instigate terror attacks. There are…”

As is all too often the case when Mishal Husain interviews Israelis, she then became noticeably impatient and proceeded to repeatedly interrupt her interviewee.

Husain [interrupts]: “Parents of children who are going to Israel for chemotherapy?”

Bar-li: “They don’t know. There has been cases in [the year] two thousand…”

Husain [interrupts]: “How many cases?”

Bar-li: “There has been several cases like this. Imagine when you go into hospital carrying a medical tube and this medical tube actually has an explosive in it. Can you imagine what would happen if it will explode in a hospital? And even if there were only…”

Husain [interrupts]: “Sorry, just to be clear: has that actually happened? When did it happen? How many times did that happen?”

Had the BBC bothered to report that story (and many similar ones) at the time, Husain would perhaps have known what her interviewee was talking about.

Bar-li: “It happened in 2017. There was a case of two sisters, one of them was a cancer patient. Her sister accompanied her and without their knowledge they were given medical tubes in which there were explosives. And it was revealed and a great disaster was prevented. There are also interviews with Hamas militants that were arrested in which they are exposing the methods and in which they are testifying to this method. Hence security measures need to be taken and we have to be extra vigilant. It’s important also to mention the role of the Palestinian Authority in…in delaying or preventing some of these permits.”

Husain obviously was not interested in having the deputy ambassador tell listeners about Palestinian Authority policies relevant to the topic ostensibly under discussion.

Husain: “OK yes because it’s a complicated process of getting approvals from different points.”

Bar-li: “Not just…not just because of the complication of the process…”

Husain [interrupts]: “There are many layers of it.”

Bar-li: “Actually recently…”

Husain [interrupts]: “You heard…you heard what we’ve been…it’s just that we understand the process is complicated but we can see from the figures that the approvals for patients who are travelling from Gaza into Israel, the numbers of those have been going steadily down over the years. In 2012, which was after Hamas came to power, it was something like more than 90% and it’s now down to around 65%. There are lives that are being lost in the process.”

Bar-li: “Over the years tens of thousands of Palestinians exit Gaza, entered into Israel to receive life-saving treatment. We of course sympathise with any person in need but at the same time we should remember that there is a complex situation. Actually, when you look at the numbers of [for] 2018, you see a 15% increase in humanitarian permits being issued to Gazans in comparison to 2017.”

Husain: “It’s currently 65% of permits that are approved according to the WHO. Those were the figures from March 2019 which is down from where they were in 2012.”

A closer look at the World Health Organisation data supposedly quoted by Husain shows that while indeed 65% of the 2,004 applications for travel permits for patients were approved in March, it is not the case that – as listeners would naturally have concluded – 35% were refused. In fact 32% of the total requests were delayed and 4% denied.

Husain then indulged herself with some blatantly brash editorialising which once again used the falsehood that she and Allin-Khan had earlier cooked up:

Husain: “The fact remains that healthcare restrictions are being used to dehumanise the Palestinian people and no child should die alone.”

As Sharon Bar-li tried to respond, Husain cut her off and closed the item there.

It is of course all too clear that this long item was not news but over twelve minutes of journalistic activism based primarily on a false story irresponsibly promoted by a British MP who was taken on a paid jaunt by an organisation devoted primarily to anti-Israel campaigning for decades.

Not only did the BBC clearly make no effort to check that story and its dubious source, but Mishal Husain deliberately spun it into ‘fact’ in order to influence audience opinion on this topic, thereby providing backwind for existing political campaigning by that anti-Israel NGO and others.

That of course is ‘fake news’ according to this definition:

“Fake news is a problem for different reasons.

The first kind of fake news – deliberate lies – is a problem because it can make people believe things that are completely untrue.

The second kind – when people publish something without checking that it’s completely right – can make people have less trust in the media, as well as make everyone believe something that might be inaccurate.

People also only tend to share things that they agree with. So if people are sharing a lot of fake news, and lots of people believe it, it’s easy to get sucked into a bubble that is actually completely different to the real world – and a long way from the truth.”

That definition was produced by the BBC itself within the framework of its claim to counter fake news. In fact, as we see in this example, the BBC itself contributes to the phenomenon. 

Related Articles:

BBC R4’s ‘Today’ listeners get a distorted view of medical permits – part one

BBC ignores another story explaining the need for Gaza border restrictions

BBC News again ignores abuse of Israeli humanitarian aid to Gaza

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