Hamas ‘Hardtalk’ interview rebuts BBC messaging, perpetuates inaccuracies – part two

As we saw in part one of this post, the January 8th edition of ‘Hardtalk (aired on the BBC World News channel, the BBC News channel and on BBC World Service radio) was devoted to an interview with Hamas’ Mahmoud Zahar in which some of the messaging audiences have previously received from the BBC was contradicted.

Throughout the interview Zahar also promoted numerous falsehoods, smears and inaccuracies which went unchallenged by presenter Stephen Sackur – thereby leaving audiences with misleading impressions and false information.

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

1) Despite Hamas’ known misappropriation of thousands of tons of building materials intended for the repair and reconstruction of civilian homes damaged during the 2014 conflict and its spending of millions of dollars on tunnel construction and missile production rather than on public services for the impoverished residents of the Gaza Strip, Sackur failed to challenge Zahar’s claim that the poor quality of life in Gaza has nothing to do with Hamas “management”.

Zahar: “Yes, our life is very miserable – not because of bad management on our side but because of the crime committed by the Israeli occupation and by the cooperation of the Palestinian Authority with them and lastly by the impact of the international community, represented mainly by Mr Trump, against our human rights in the most important third shrine in Islam, al Aqsa Mosque.”

2) Sackur also refrained from questioning that claim from Zahar that the “human rights” of Muslims at al Aqsa mosque are being abused and failed to clarify to BBC audiences that in fact Muslims alone are allowed to pray there.

3) Zahar’s inaccurate claim that the Gaza Strip is under “siege” went unchallenged, as did the false allegation that the problems plaguing medical services in the Gaza Strip are the result of Israel’s counter-terrorism measures.

Zahar: “The siege for a long time destroyed our medical, our social, our economic life and nobody is interested about human rights where 2 million Palestinian people are living in this area.”

4) The issue of discrimination against Palestinians in some Arab countries was not raised by Sackur when Zahar mentioned refugee camps and neither was the subject of the deliberate perpetuation of their refugee status.

Zahar: “Add to that our miserable life in the West Bank in addition to the very distress life in the refugee camps outside Palestine, whether in Jordan, especially in Lebanon and Syria. For this reason I think it’s a big crime. It’s a big crime against the Palestinian human rights.”

5) Zahar’s repeated claims of “occupation” since 1948 were not challenged by Sackur even once and neither was his inaccurate characterisation of the British mandate administration.

Zahar [04:00]: “…we are living under occupation since many, many years. Since 1948 they occupied what is now called Israel and after that at ’67.”

Zahar [14:36]: “We are here speaking about national interest. Our interest is our land. Our land well-known occupied at ’48.”

Zahar [19:50]: “Listen, listen: this [Israel] is Palestine. This is Palestine occupied ’48. Occupied by ’48 by the support and by a built by the British occupation.”

6) Zahar’s repeated portrayal of Palestinian terrorism as “self-defence” went unquestioned.

Zahar [04:00]: “But lastly, lastly by our method of self-resistance, self-defence against the occupation in Gaza we succeed[ed] to eliminate the occupation in Gaza.”

Zahar [05:36]: “The people in the West Bank have their right to defend themselves by all means. […] We have to defend ourselves by all means in the West Bank in order to avoid the expansion of the settlement not only on Jerusalem but also on the rest of the West Bank.”

Zahar [12:19]: “We are not a terrorist and we are not launching rockets against Israel randomly. But we are defending ourself against the fifth…the Phantom fifty-five. […] You [are] speaking [about] us as we are launching rockets against Israel as terrorist. We are not terrorist. We are freedom fighter.”

Zahar [16:51]: “We practiced as a Palestinian people all the peaceful methods in order to achieve our right as a homeland and now we see no square meter for the Palestinians except Gaza – liberated by armed resistance. […] We are insisting to defend ourself by all means including the armed resistance […] people are admiring to sacrifice [i.e. suicide bombings] in order to achieve their homeland.”

Zahar [14:36]: “Humanitarian aid [from foreign donors] is our right whether we are fighting as a freedom fighter or living in prison.”

Zahar: [21:43] “Why you describe it as violence? This is not a violence. This is one of the methods to have a self-defence.”

7) When Sackur raised the issue of missiles launched from the Gaza Strip at Israeli civilians, Zahar’s claim that they “are not citizens” [from 05:36] went unchallenged by Sackur, as did his repeated inaccurate and bigoted portrayal of all Israelis as ‘foreigners’ and his portrayal of Israel as a colonial implant for which Europeans are to blame.

Zahar: “First of all these are citizens…are not citizens. These are settler. These people left their homeland from America, from Russia and come. For this reason we are against foreign people took our land, violated our rights.

Zahar [14:36]: “I’m asking just simple question: what moral principle justify Netanyahu to come from America and while his father is still there and to occupy our land? What justified for Lieberman coming from Russia to be in our land?”

Zahar [12:19]: “We are occupied by foreigner, dismissed all through your history. You as European people and Americans are particularly the people responsible about the disaster of the Jews when you destroyed […] the existence of the Jews in your country and dismissed these people to our people as part of the occupation.”

Zahar [14:36]: “Do you believe that your capital [Jerusalem] can be occupied by a foreigner and the price will be material aids [aid]?”

Zahar [19:37]: “It is not a matter of destroying Israel. It is a matter of liberation of our land occupied by a foreigner, by people from America…”

8) Zahar’s repeated airbrushing of the long history of suicide bombings by Hamas and other terror groups went without comment from Sackur.

Zahar [05:36]: “We started by throwing stones, using knife and lastly at a time used guns against the Israeli.”

Zahar [21:43]: “We practice…we practiced all, all methods. Since the occupation we practiced several different self-defence and in the first Intifada we threw stones, we distributed leaflets and we [unintelligible] and the result was more Israeli aggression […] and the people were enforce [forced] at that time to use violence – throwing the stone and after that using knives and after that when they succeed to have guns, they use guns and by these guns the Israelis came from Gaza.”

9) Even Zahar’s dog-whistle remarks concerning Temple Mount produced no reaction from Sackur and at no point was the significance of Jerusalem to Jews and Christians clarified to audiences.

Zahar [14:36] “Our interest is our holy place al Aqsa mosque which is the most important third shrine in Islam, not only for Hamas but for every Muslim – even the British Muslim.”

While there may of course be those who argue that it is useful for BBC audiences to hear the type of extremist views espoused by Hamas straight from their source, the fact that Zahar’s lies, omissions, distortions of history and blatantly bigoted messaging falls on ears which for the most part have a poor understanding of the history of the region and the Palestinian-Israeli conflict should have been reason enough for Stephen Sackur to challenge his remarks and at least set the historical record straight for viewers and listeners.

As we see, that did not happen and so BBC audiences around the world went away having been fed an unhealthy dose of standard Palestinian propaganda that erases Jewish history and portrays Jews as a foreign colonial implant in the region.  

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No BBC follow-up on story used to mislead on Gaza medical services

Two months ago the BBC News website used the story of conjoined twins born in the Gaza Strip and needing medical treatment abroad to amplify misleading, and politically partisan messaging on the topic of Israel’s counter-terrorism measures.

Promoting links to the website of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs – UN OCHA – despite the less than neutral and impartial stance taken by that body – the report told BBC audiences that:

“Israel and Egypt have maintained a land and sea blockade on Gaza for a decade in an attempt to prevent attacks by militants based there.

The restrictions, repeated cycles of armed conflict, Palestinian political divisions and budget cuts have led to a serious deterioration in the availability and quality of health services in the territory, according to the UN.

Severe power shortages earlier this year forced hospitals to postpone elective surgeries, discharge patients prematurely, and reduce cleaning of medical facilities.”

As was noted here at the time:

“…the restrictions placed on the import of dual-use goods (i.e. items which can be used for terrorist purposes) to the Gaza Strip do not apply to medical supplies. The party responsible for medical services in the Gaza Strip is the Palestinian Authority and it is that body which has in recent months exacerbated the chronic crisis affecting  the healthcare system in Gaza by severely cutting medical aid and referrals for treatment in Israel. Likewise, it is the Palestinian Authority which is solely responsible for those “severe power shortages” in the Gaza Strip that have affected medical services as well as additional fields.”

Readers were also told at the time that:

“The Israeli military body responsible for co-ordinating access to and from Gaza, Cogat, said it had not received any request for the twins to exit the territory.”

Three days after the BBC published that article it was reported that a hospital in Saudi Arabia had said it would treat the twin girls. A travel request was apparently submitted and last week COGAT reported that, with help from Israel, the twins and their father had embarked on the journey to Saudi Arabia.

If the BBC was interested in this story per se (and not just as a hook for inaccurate and misleading messaging concerning Israeli counter-terrorism measures) we would of course have expected to see a follow-up article.

No such BBC reporting has been seen to date.

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BBC News continues to mislead on Gaza medical services

For years the BBC has been steering its audiences towards an inaccurate understanding of the reasons for the chronic shortage of medical supplies in the Gaza Strip 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.

For years too, the BBC has unquestioningly promoted maps, information and allegations – often inaccurate – put out by the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian AffairsUN OCHA – despite the less than neutral and impartial stance taken by that organisation.

It therefore did not come as much of a surprise to find quotes from and links to UN OCHA material promoted in an article published on the BBC News website on October 23rd under the headline “Gaza conjoined twins ‘need life-saving treatment abroad’“.

After telling the story of the conjoined twins, the report concludes:

“Israel and Egypt have maintained a land and sea blockade on Gaza for a decade in an attempt to prevent attacks by militants based there.

The restrictions, repeated cycles of armed conflict, Palestinian political divisions and budget cuts have led to a serious deterioration in the availability and quality of health services in the territory, according to the UN.

Severe power shortages earlier this year forced hospitals to postpone elective surgeries, discharge patients prematurely, and reduce cleaning of medical facilities.”

As has been noted here on numerous occasions in the past, the restrictions placed on the import of dual-use goods (i.e. items which can be used for terrorist purposes) to the Gaza Strip do not apply to medical supplies. The party responsible for medical services in the Gaza Strip is the Palestinian Authority and it is that body which has in recent months exacerbated the chronic crisis affecting  the healthcare system in Gaza by severely cutting medical aid and referrals for treatment in Israel. Likewise, it is the Palestinian Authority which is solely responsible for those “severe power shortages” in the Gaza Strip that have affected medical services as well as additional fields.

The BBC knows that full well and yet, rather than telling this straightforward story clearly and accurately, through omission and implication it continues to steer its audiences towards the inaccurate assumption that the dire state of medical services and electricity supply in Gaza is connected to Israel, using ‘reports’ produced by a partisan body as back-up.  

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BBC News passes up the chance to set the record straight on Gaza shortages

BBC reporting on the ongoing dispute between Hamas and the Palestinian Authority that has resulted in reduced electricity supplies to Gaza residents has not informed audiences that the PA has also cut medical supplies to the Gaza Strip.

“According to information given to Physicians for Human Rights Israel (PHRI) by Gaza’s Hamas-run Health Ministry in June, “one-third of essential medicines and more than 270 medical equipment items for operating rooms and intensive care units can no longer be obtained in the Health Ministry’s storerooms and in Gaza hospitals.”

PHRI, quoting statistics from the Hamas-run ministry, said most cancer patients in Gaza are not able to receive proper treatment because of shortfalls.

One of the groups hardest hit by the medicine shortage is patients, mostly children, suffering from the chronic lung disease cystic fibrosis, who can’t get the pills and vitamins they need, PHRI said.”

On August 20th the Palestinian media outlet ‘Ma’an’ reported that – despite the worsening humanitarian crisis in the Gaza Strip – the PA president chose to donate medical supplies to Venezuela.

“The Palestinian Authority (PA) sent on Sunday three trucks loaded with medical supplies to be sent to Venezuela, following an order from Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

Palestinian Minister of Foreign Affairs Riad al-Malki told Ma’an the trucks were sent off on Sunday from warehouses in the northern occupied West Bank district of Nablus, adding that Abbas’ decision to donate the medications to Venezuela was made in response to requests made by the Venezuelan government.”

Although just last month BBC audiences were told that “life in Gaza is reaching its limits”, they have to date not seen any reporting on that donation of medical supplies or about the PA’s recent threats to cut off financial support to the Gaza Strip.

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BBC bows out of coverage of 10 years of Hamas rule in Gaza

While in the last couple of weeks the BBC has invested quite a lot of resources and energy in opportunistic promotion of its chosen political narrative concerning the Six Day War, it has on the other hand to date completely ignored an additional anniversary that is, to put it mildly, no less important as far as audience understanding of the reasons for the absence of a solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is concerned.

This week marks a decade since the violent take-over of the Gaza Strip by the terrorist organisation Hamas and the ousting of the body recognised by the international community as representing the Palestinian people – the Palestinian Authority – from that territory.

As Avi Issacharoff writes at the Times of Israel:

“Ten years have passed since Hamas seized control of the Gaza Strip in a violent and swift coup during which 160 members of PA chief Mahmoud Abbas’s rival Fatah party were wiped out. Within three and a half days, the Hamas military wing defeated the military units of the Fatah-dominated PA, even though Abbas’s loyalists were four times more numerous. (The most powerful PA figure in Gaza at the time was Mohammad Dahlan, but he happened to be in Germany for physiotherapy treatment on his back.)

Unemployment at the end of the Hamas decade is around 40%. Poverty is widespread. Two-thirds of the population in Gaza needs help from international aid organizations. The water isn’t fit to drink. And now the power is dwindling.

If anyone hopes that Hamas might reconsider its policies, and start to invest in the citizens of the Strip instead of its military infrastructure, they should forget it. Hamas remains the same cynical organization that exploits the distress of Gaza’s residents for political gain, both locally and internationally. Sometimes against Israel, sometimes against the Palestinian Authority.”

The topic of Gaza’s chronic electricity crisis has been covered patchily and often inaccurately by the BBC in the past (see ‘related articles’ below). In recent weeks that crisis has been exacerbated by the Palestinian Authority’s refusal to continue footing the entire bill for electricity supplied to the Gaza Strip by Israel.

“In April the PA told Israel that it would only pay NIS 25 million ($11.1 million) of the NIS 40 million ($5.6- 7 million) monthly bill. Israel currently supplies 125 megawatts to Gaza, around 30 percent of what is needed to power Gaza for 24 hours a day.”

While Israel, Egypt and the EU are reportedly trying to find solutions to the worsening crisis, Hamas continues to threaten violence.  

““The decision of the occupation to reduce the electricity to Gaza at the request of PA President Mahmoud Abbas is catastrophic and dangerous. It will accelerate the deterioration and explode the situation in the Strip,” said Hamas spokesperson Abdel Latif al-Qanua.

“Those who will bear the consequences of this decision are the Israeli enemy, who is besieging the Gaza Strip, and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas,” he added.”

According to some Gaza residents and others, Hamas is already organising violent ‘demonstrations’ against Israel.

“Since the beginning of Ramadan, Hamas have been organizing riots across the border area with Israel provoking a response that has left two Palestinians killed and several others wounded.”

However, as Avi Issacharoff  points out:

“Hamas could, if it wanted to, pay for enough electricity to significantly improve power supplies. But it prefers to spend tens of millions of shekels a month digging attack tunnels into Israel and manufacturing rockets.

According to various estimates by the PA and Israel, Hamas raises NIS 100 million ($28 million) every month in taxes from the residents of Gaza. A significant part of that amount covers the wages of its members. But a large portion is diverted for military purposes. Estimates say Hamas is spending some $130 million a year on its military wing and preparations for war.

Hamas could easily step in to pay for the electricity from Israel that Abbas is no longer willing to cover. But it adamantly refuses to do so. It stubbornly insists that the PA should pay the entire bill, without clarifying why.”

Likewise, the Palestinian Authority – which reportedly has also cut medical supplies to the Gaza Strip – could foot the bill for Gaza’s electricity if it so wished. After all, it spends hundreds of millions of dollars a year on payments to convicted terrorists (including those belonging to Hamas) and the families of terrorists. However, the PA’s decision to put pressure on Hamas by means of augmented suffering for the people of the Gaza Strip goes far beyond financial – or humanitarian – considerations.

Whether or not this crisis will escalate into another round of conflict between the Gaza Strip based terror group Hamas and Israel remains to be seen. One thing, however, is already clear: if the situation does escalate, BBC audiences will once again lack the full background information necessary for understanding of its underlying causes as they watch BBC reporters produce a plethora of pathos-rich reports of suffering in Gaza.

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BBC News passes up the chance to set the record straight on Gaza shortages

On countless past occasions BBC audiences have been mistakenly led to believe that chronic shortages of medical supplies and electricity in the Gaza Strip are the result of Israeli restrictions on the entry of goods into the territory.

In fact, both those chronic shortages are rooted in disputes between the Palestinian Authority and the Hamas regime in the Gaza Strip. Regarding medical supplies:

“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.”

Regarding the electricity supply:

“The Palestinian Authority purchases a liter of fuel for the power plant for approximately 4 shekels from Israeli gas companies and has tried to sell it to Hamas for almost double, including excise tax.

Hamas has rejected those prices outright and stopped purchasing fuel for its power plant. The dramatic consequence was that the power plant has shut down and the electricity supply has been completely disrupted. The PA refuses to waive the excise tax, a critical part of its own budget.” 

The topics of medical supplies and electricity both appeared again in a recent BBC filmed report made for television programmes which was also promoted on the BBC News website on November 20th under the title “Life as a cancer nurse in Gaza’s main hospital“. The synopsis to that report reads as follows:Gaza nurse report

“At the age of 27, Azza Jadalla has already lived through six wars – three in the past seven years alone. She is a cancer nurse in Gaza’s main hospital, Al-Shifa. Every day she deals with fall-out of the on-going conflict between Israel and Gaza’s ruling party, Hamas.

Living in a place with a failing economy means she faces daily electricity and supply shortages at work.

“Sometime we go for two or three months without pay,” she says. “But this doesn’t make me want to do my job any less, because it’s not the patient’s fault.”

Despite her dedication and due to shortages in Gaza, there is often only so much Ms Jadalla can do for her patients. For one patient Abdul (name has been changed), who is suffering from leukaemia, the only option for further treatment is outside Gaza.”

In the report itself, viewers are told that:

“Here in Gaza all kinds of supplies – cannulas, syringes – are very rare.”

And:

“And the electricity keeps going on and off. We have to restart the monitors.”

With BBC audiences having been inaccurately informed many times in the past that such shortages are the result of the restrictions on the entry of dual-use goods which could also be appropriated for the purposes of terrorism and with the synopsis to this report clearly suggesting a ‘connection’ between “fall-out of the on-going conflict between Israel and Gaza’s ruling party, Hamas” and “shortages at work”, it would not be surprising to find that viewers would once again go away with a misleading impression about the root causes of those shortages.

This report presented the BBC with an ideal opportunity to finally tell audiences the truth about the reasons behind the chronic shortages of medical supplies and electricity in the Gaza Strip. Notably, the corporation chose to pass up on that opportunity. 

BBC WS amplifies former ISM activist’s falsehoods about Gaza blockade

The August 16th edition of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour’ included an item (available here from 38:32 or here as an abridged clip) on 3D printed stethoscopes developed by a person described in the introduction by presenter Julian Marshall as “a Canadian-Palestinian physician.”Newshour stethoscopes

At the beginning of the item listeners hear the following false claim from Dr Tarek Loubani:

“I had attended the war in Gaza in 2012. I’ve been working there for about the last five years and while I was there we had patients coming in – no equipment because the siege has gotten so bad even though it’s medical equipment – and we had to listen to patients’ chests by putting our ears to their chests which is exactly what we would have done 200 years ago.” [emphasis added]

There is of course no “siege” on the Gaza Strip and no restrictions are imposed by Israel on the entry of medical equipment. As it has unfortunately been necessary to point out here on numerous prior occasions due to inaccurate BBC reporting on that issue, shortages of medications and medical equipment in the Gaza Strip are due to long-standing disputes between the Palestinian Authority and Hamas.

Julian Marshall however made no effort to relieve audiences of the inaccurate impression created by his interviewee – who, in response to a question concerning the material used to make his stethoscope, later promoted a similar inaccuracy.

“It’s made of plastic. So the plastic that it’s made of is available anywhere. In the Gaza Strip because it’s such a closed system, because things are not allowed in, they have a very rich culture of recycling their plastic….” [emphasis added]

The only restrictions on materials entering the Gaza Strip are of course on weapons and dual-use goods which can be diverted to the purposes of terrorism.

One presumes that before this item was recorded and broadcast the production team exercised due diligence by researching their interviewee. If that is the case, then the BBC will be aware of the fact that in addition to being a doctor, Kuwait-born Tarek Loubani (who moved to Canada at the age of ten) is a veteran political activist who in 2003 was arrested near Jenin and deported from Israel due to his activities with the International Solidarity Movement (ISM). Loubani was also arrested in Egypt in 2013 whilst trying to enter the Gaza Strip and in 2014 was detained at Ben Gurion airport.

Tarek Loubani’s promotion of the Hamas narrative of a “siege” on the Gaza Strip and his promotion of the falsehood that Israel does not allow the import of medical equipment therefore does not come as a surprise.

However, adherence to the BBC’s editorial guidelines on accuracy should obviously have prevented that falsehood from being broadcast literally worldwide and the editorial guidelines on impartiality should have ensured that listeners were made aware of Loubani’s political agenda and the fact that he is rather more than just a “physician”. 

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BBC regular Chris Gunness undermines his own credibility yet again

UNRWA spokesman Chris Gunness is in the news again after having put out a press release which implies spurious linkage between infant mortality in the Gaza Strip and the ‘blockade’ of that territory which of course only includes restrictions on dual-use goods.Gunness tweet infant mortality

Unlike its favourite newspaper The Guardian, the BBC has so far refrained from amplifying that questionable story – which is undoubtedly fortunate seeing as Gunness’ claim that infant mortality in the Gaza Strip has risen ‘for the first time in fifty years’ is considerably undermined by the fact that in 2009 the BBC reported that: [emphasis added]

“The UN Relief and Works agency (UNRWA) in Gaza told the BBC that public health was suffering as a result of inadequate and unsanitary water supplies, and there had been a rise in infant mortality.

UNRWA spokesman Christopher Gunness said thousands of tonnes of sewage were being pumped into the sea every day, because material for rebuilding treatment plants and other facilities was so scarce.”

As has regrettably been necessary to clarify here on numerous occasions due to the BBC’s own repeated promotion of the myth that the shortage of medical supplies in the Gaza Strip is due to Israeli counter-terrorism measures, that chronic shortage is in fact due entirely to long-running disputes between the Palestinian Ministries of Health in Gaza and Ramallah.

The credibility issues which obviously arise from Gunness’ manipulation of this story for propaganda and political campaigning purposes are (unfortunately for BBC audiences seeking accurate and impartial information) of course unlikely to have any effect on his frequent BBC appearances or his apparent ability to influence BBC content.