BBC WS ‘Newshour’ erases context from revisited Gaza story

The March 21st afternoon edition of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour‘ included an interview that was described by presenter James Menendez at the start of the show as follows:

Menendez: “…and later in the programme we’ll hear from a Palestinian gynecologist who lost his three eldest daughters when an Israeli tank shelled his home in Gaza. But he’s somehow turned tragedy into an appeal for reconciliation.”

Later on (at 34:45 here) listeners heard a long interview – lasting nearly eight minutes – which appears to have been conducted for no reason other than the fact that the guest happened to be in London for a variety of speaking engagements.

A clip from the interview was also later promoted on social media and notably its accompanying synopsis includes at least some of the relevant context that was completely absent from the interview broadcast to millions of listeners around the world.

“The shelling took place as Israel was involved in operations against Hamas. The army said troops had fired shells at suspicious figures in Dr Abuelaish’s house, believing they were observers directing sniper fire. He denies that any militants were hiding in or firing from his house.”

Menendez introduced the prerecorded interview as follows: [emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]

Menedez: “Now to a very tricky question: how would you react if three of your children were killed in an incident by a tank shell? And if it happened just three months after your wife – their mother – died from leukemia? Well many of us would probably fall apart, unable to cope with such unimaginable, unbearable tragedy. But this is precisely what happened to Palestinian gynecologist Dr Izzeldin Abuelaish in Gaza in 2009 when part of his house was destroyed by an Israeli tank during the three-week conflict of that time.”

Listeners heard nothing whatsoever on the topic of why that conflict – Operation Cast Lead – began and no mention was made of the thousands of missile attacks from the Gaza Strip against Israeli civilians which preceded it. Menendez continued:

Menendez: “And yet Dr Abuelaish hasn’t fallen apart: quite the opposite. He’s made a new life for himself and his remaining children in Canada and turned his tragedy into a powerful plea for reconciliation. The BBC reported on what happened to Dr Abuelaish at the time. It was also well-known to Israeli TV viewers during the conflict because of his friendship and interviews with one reporter. In fact after the attack on his house – straight after – he called him live on air, partly to summon medical help for the injured. Well here he is being interviewed by us in the days after.”

Archive recording of Abuelaish: “They are sitting there, four daughters, two nieces, in their own room and I started to play with my youngest child whom I carried on my shoulders. And just seconds after I left their room, the first bomb. I started to scream, looking at them. Bodies, parts here and there. The heads. What can I do at that time?”

Menendez: “Well Dr Abuelaish came into the Newshour studio a little earlier today. I began by asking him what he remembered of the day his daughters were killed.”

Abuelaish: “It lives with me, it runs with me. I see my daughters. I talk to them and on daily basis I am reminded because the situation in the Gaza Strip is the same situation. And the suffering. And I see it in everyday suffering in this part of the world; in Syria, in Yemen, in Afghanistan I see in these children my daughters to remind me and live with me all of the time. And my daughters who are asking me what did you do for us? Did you forget us? I say to them I will never forget you. I am determined to keep moving. The tragedy is there, the tragedy is not the end of our life and we must not allow the tragedy to be the end of our life. And, thank God, we succeeded.”

Menendez: “Do you remember the panic though in those immediate moments afterwards? And also your thought process that led you to ring your Israeli friend because that’s a crucial part of what happened afterwards isn’t it?”

Abuelaish: “Of course; at that moment we were under fear, under attacks from everywhere. We are expecting the worst all of the time. But thank God to give me the wisdom and to think rational at that moment and to direct my face to God and to call my friend who was supposed to interview me. So I called him to expose the secret and to show that there are human civilians who are killed on daily basis and to put an end to this tragedy.”

Menendez: “That was…it was also about getting some medical help, wasn’t it?”

Abuelaish: “For the severely wounded; my daughter, my niece, my brother and the others who were under threat. So I asked to stop the shelling and to take them to the Palestinian hospital and then from there to be transferred to the Israeli hospital where I used to work.”

Menedez: “And what sort of reception did you get when you ended up in those Israeli hospitals? I mean was there sympathy, great sympathy?”

Abuelaish: “Of course. It opened the eyes of the Israeli public about the human face of the Palestinian people. But do we need to be killed in order to show the other that we are human? We are neighbours and we need to live as neighbours, as equal human beings and that human life of the Palestinians is equal to the human life of the Israelis.”

Failing to challenge Abuelaish’s repeated assertion that Israelis do not view Palestinians as human beings, Menendez went on:

Menendez: “Why do you think your house was shelled?”

Abuelaish: “From my side there is no reason to be kill my daughters or be targeted. We are human civilians sitting in our home. There was no reason.”

As the synopsis to the promoted clip indicates, the BBC is well aware of the background to the incident and hence knows that Dr Abuelaish’s daughters were not “targeted”. 

“The IDF concluded Wednesday that Israeli tank shells caused the deaths of four Palestinian girls, including three daughters of Dr. Izzeldin Abuelaish, when his house was accidentally attacked on January 16, during Operation Cast Lead. Following the investigation, the army confirmed that two shells had hit the building. […] The IDF said that a Golani Brigade force was operating near Beit Lahiya when it came under sniper and mortar fire in an area laden with explosives. After determining that the source of the fire was in a building adjacent to Abuelaish’s home, the force returned fire. While the IDF was shooting, suspicious figures were identified in the top floors of the doctor’s house, and the troops believed the figures were directing the Hamas sniper and mortar fire, the army said. Upon assessing the situation in the field while under heavy fire, the commander of the force gave the order to open fire on the suspicious figures, and it was from this fire that his three daughters were killed, said the IDF. Once the soldiers realized that civilians, and not Hamas gunmen, were in the house they ceased fire immediately, continued the army.”

Moreover, having covered this story many times, the BBC is most likely aware that Dr Abuelaish had been advised to leave his house prior to the incident.

“The IDF Spokesman’s Unit stressed that in the days prior to the incident, Abuelaish – who had worked before at Beersheba’s Soroka University Medical Center and had very good connections with Israelis – was contacted personally several times by officers in the Gaza Coordination and Liaison Administration to urge him to evacuate his home because of Hamas operations and the intense fighting that was already taking place in that area for several days. In addition to the personal contact made directly with the doctor, the IDF issued warnings to the residents of Sajaiya by dropping thousands of leaflets and by issuing warnings via Palestinian media outlets. The IDF said it regretted the incident and the loss of life, and that the doctor had been updated with details of the investigation as well. Considering the constraints of the battle scene, the amount of threats that endangered the force, and the intensity of fighting in the area, the investigators concluded that the forces’ action and the decision to fire towards the building were reasonable. Abuelaish, speaking on Channel 2 Wednesday, thanked all those who worked to find the truth about the incident and accepted the findings, saying that mistakes can happen.”

Concealing all that relevant context to the story from listeners, Menendez continued:

Menendez: “Have you had an apology from Israel for what happened?”

Abuelaish: “That’s the most painful part. Last March we went there to testify at the court and my daughter – who was severely wounded and she lost the sight in her right eye – when they ask her how do you feel, she said I feel in pain as if I am killed another time to prove that I am a victim. And we are asking just for apology.”

In fact, Dr Abuelaish also asked for financial compensation in the lawsuit he initiated against Israel.

Menendez: “Why? What does it signify, that apology? Is it an acknowledgement of the terrible mistake that happened?”

Abuelaish: “Acknowledgement that we are human. That they are human beings. To give them the dignity and the right of apology. The acknowledgement of their existence.”

Menendez: “So why do you think it hasn’t happened, given how high-profile your case has been?”

Abuelaish: “You need to ask the politicians, the leaders. We need that courage. To acknowledge and to respect and to value human life and to have that moral courage to say we made a mistake, we take responsibility for what happened, we apologise. And then we can all move forward. I moved forward and my daughters are kept alive through good deeds and spreading hope in a time of despair in this world.”

Menendez: “And how have you managed to maintain that hope? How did you stop it turning to hate? Was it a conscious effort?”

Abuelaish: “Of course it’s a conscious effort because as a medical doctor the only possible thing I believe in is to return my daughters back. I can’t return them back but I can keep them alive and I see them while I am talking to you. I see them. They are in front of me. It’s my faith which help me a lot.”

Menendez: “Did you feel the hate bubbling up on occasion?”

Abuelaish: “I never feel and I say to people if you face any tragedy, if you face any harm from anyone, don’t allow hatred to approach you. Hatred is destructive, contagious disease to the one who carries it. Hatred is a poison. We need to be strong in order to move forward.”

Menendez next adopted the common BBC practice of referring to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict as the main issue in the Middle East.

Menendez: “Do you see any hope at the moment in the Middle East? There seems to be very little common understanding between the two sides. They seem as far apart as they’ve ever been.”

Abuelaish: “They are far apart but both are alive and that’s the hope. In medicine, as long as the patient is still alive there is hope. And the Palestinians and the Israelis and the Middle East; the people there are alive but it needs wisdom and the international community and all of the people to work together from violence to inclusiveness to partnership and sharing and to understand that the human life and the freedom is the most precious thing.”

Menendez: “But do you think though that people on both sides have stopped seeing the other side as human beings?”

Abuelaish: “We need justice and justice means putting yourself in the position of the others. And when we speak about both sides, both sides are not equal. We need to equalise between them, the Palestinian and the Israelis because the Palestinians are suffering on a daily basis. We need to equalize between them and to live as good neighbours, as equal citizens in independent states. We need to humanise not to politicise. We are disconnected. How close are we as neighbours but how far from each other. See my Israeli friends who live in Ashkelon close to the Gaza Strip. They don’t know what is happening in Gaza Strip which is a disaster. Can you sleep and your neighbour is hungry? Can you eat, can you run a normal life and your neighbour without electricity, without freedom? And our neighbours are disconnected from what is happening in the Gaza strip and the world is also watching what is happening.”

Failing to clarify to listeners that the electricity crisis in the Gaza Strip has nothing to do with Israel or that Gaza’s freedom deprived residents have been under Hamas rule for over a decade, Menendez closed the interview at that point.

Readers can judge for themselves whether or not Menendez’s repeated claim that Dr Abuelaish has “turned his tragedy into a powerful plea for reconciliation” is supported by his interviewee’s entirely one-sided messaging. However, in an item in which words such as ‘Hamas’, ‘terrorism’ and ‘rocket attacks’ did not appear even once and vital context was omitted, it is blatantly obvious that BBC World Service audiences did not hear a balanced account of this story.

Related Articles:

Context erased from BBC report concerning 2009 Gaza incident

BBC Academy touts Jeremy Bowen Gaza report as model journalism

In which the BBC’s Jeremy Bowen repeats his ‘no human shields in Gaza’ claims

Advertisements

BBC Academy touts Jeremy Bowen Gaza report as model journalism

Under the heading “Journalism Skills Reporting”, the BBC Academy published a video of a report produced by Jeremy Bowen in 2009 as an example of best practice when “Describing the scene”.academy-bowen

“At its most basic, journalism is about telling people what you’ve found out, what’s around you, and what you can see. You’re there – the audience isn’t. Some of the most powerful reporting is cast in this mould.

It’s tempting, especially when you’re reporting from an extraordinary scene, to overload your audience with how you feel about the events whose aftermath you’re witnessing.

It’s also easy to leap to considering the causes or context. Sometimes that’s important; often it gets in the way.

Watch Jeremy Bowen as he reports from a bomb site in Gaza in 2009. His commentary on what he sees as he walks around the room is cool, clear, dispassionate, and powerful.”

Like the BBC Academy’s portrayal of the circumstances in which the report was made, Bowen’s commentary is completely devoid of the context behind that story.

“The IDF concluded Wednesday that Israeli tank shells caused the deaths of four Palestinian girls, including three daughters of Dr. Izzeldin Abuelaish, when his house was accidentally attacked on January 16, during Operation Cast Lead. Following the investigation, the army confirmed that two shells had hit the building. […] The IDF said that a Golani Brigade force was operating near Beit Lahiya when it came under sniper and mortar fire in an area laden with explosives. After determining that the source of the fire was in a building adjacent to Abuelaish’s home, the force returned fire. While the IDF was shooting, suspicious figures were identified in the top floors of the doctor’s house, and the troops believed the figures were directing the Hamas sniper and mortar fire, the army said. Upon assessing the situation in the field while under heavy fire, the commander of the force gave the order to open fire on the suspicious figures, and it was from this fire that his three daughters were killed, said the IDF. Once the soldiers realized that civilians, and not Hamas gunmen, were in the house they ceased fire immediately, continued the army. […] The IDF Spokesman’s Unit stressed that in the days prior to the incident, Abuelaish – who had worked before at Beersheba’s Soroka University Medical Center and had very good connections with Israelis – was contacted personally several times by officers in the Gaza Coordination and Liaison Administration to urge him to evacuate his home because of Hamas operations and the intense fighting that was already taking place in that area for several days. In addition to the personal contact made directly with the doctor, the IDF issued warnings to the residents of Sajaiya by dropping thousands of leaflets and by issuing warnings via Palestinian media outlets.”

While the BBC Academy apparently holds the view that “context […] often… gets in the way”, it is difficult to see how BBC journalists can fulfil the corporation’s remit of building “understanding of international issues” if context is deemed an optional extra.

Related Articles:

Context erased from BBC report concerning 2009 Gaza incident

What does the BBC Academy teach the corporation’s journalists about Judaism?

BBC News coy on lawfare NGOs it previously quoted and promoted

On July 4th the BBC News website published a report titled “Israeli politician Tzipi Livni ‘summonsed by UK police’” on its Middle East page.Livni art

One coyly worded paragraph is of particular interest:

“Correspondents say pro-Palestinian activists have filed a series of complaints against Israeli officials, including Ms Livni, in recent years.”

Who those “correspondents” are is not made clear and of course the said “activists” are more accurately described as anti-Israel than “pro-Palestinian” but remarkably, the BBC chose not to identify them for its readers.

Fortunately, NGO Monitor has background information on that subject which includes the following:

“The main NGOs behind the campaigns in the UK and beyond, including at the International Criminal Court, are Palestinian Center for Human Rights (PCHR), Al Haq, and Al Mezan. All are funded by European governments.

In the UK, they have been supported by Daniel Machover of Lawyers for Palestinian Human Rights and Hickman & Rose Solicitors, as well as Irvine, Thanvi, Natas and Imran Khan & Partners.”

If the names of those political NGOs engaged in lawfare against Israel and its public figures seem familiar to readers, that is because the BBC has quoted and promoted them extensively over the years – and in particular during its coverage of the conflict between Israel and terrorist organisations in the Gaza Strip in the summer of 2014.

Not only were the Gaza Strip casualty figures cited by the BBC based on information sourced, inter alia, from the PCHR and Al Mezan, but the corporation engaged in vigorous amplification of unsubstantiated claims of ‘war crimes’ by the PCHR literally from day two of the conflict.

Reminders of the BBC’s promotion of Al Haq can be found here, of Al Mezan here and of the PCHR here.

Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas addresses the PCHR 2006 conference

Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas addresses the PCHR 2006 conference

The BBC has never provided its funding public with a satisfactory explanation as to why it uncritically amplifies the agendas of organisations which make no secret of the fact that they are involved in a political campaign of lawfare against Israel or why it rejected complaints which challenged the BBC’s use of obviously politically partisan information from those sources.

Audience understanding of this latest lawfare stunt (and the topic in general) would of course be greatly enhanced were the corporation to name its protagonists and finally provide some accurate and impartial information concerning their political agenda. 

 

Inaccurate synopsis to BBC report amended

As was documented here a few days ago, the synopsis to a filmed report which appeared on the BBC News website’s Middle East page on April 15th inaccurately described its subject matter as follows:

“The real life story of the Palestinian doctor who lost his children in Israeli air-strikes has been turned into a play.” [emphasis added]

Following contact from BBC Watch that synopsis was amended and it now opens:

“The real life story of the Palestinian doctor who lost his children when Israeli shells fell on his home in Gaza, has been turned into a play.”

obrien report

Context erased from BBC report concerning 2009 Gaza incident

On April 15th a filmed report made by Jane O’Brien and Bill McKenna for BBC World News and BBC News US was promoted on the BBC News website’s Middle East page under the headline “Palestinian doctor turns personal tragedy into dramatic play“. The synopsis tells BBC audiences that:Jane Obrien report

“The real life story of the Palestinian doctor who lost his children in Israeli air-strikes has been turned into a play.” [emphasis added]

In fact, the tragic incident in which Dr Izzeldin Abuelaish’s three daughters and niece were killed in 2009 was not the result of air-strikes at all – as the subsequent investigation showed and as the BBC itself has previously reported.

“The IDF concluded Wednesday that Israeli tank shells caused the deaths of four Palestinian girls, including three daughters of Dr. Izzeldin Abuelaish, when his house was accidentally attacked on January 16, during Operation Cast Lead. Following the investigation, the army confirmed that two shells had hit the building. […] The IDF said that a Golani Brigade force was operating near Beit Lahiya when it came under sniper and mortar fire in an area laden with explosives. After determining that the source of the fire was in a building adjacent to Abuelaish’s home, the force returned fire. While the IDF was shooting, suspicious figures were identified in the top floors of the doctor’s house, and the troops believed the figures were directing the Hamas sniper and mortar fire, the army said. Upon assessing the situation in the field while under heavy fire, the commander of the force gave the order to open fire on the suspicious figures, and it was from this fire that his three daughters were killed, said the IDF. Once the soldiers realized that civilians, and not Hamas gunmen, were in the house they ceased fire immediately, continued the army.”

However, neither the synopsis nor the report itself provides any indication to audiences that the incident took place during a period of conflict brought about by Palestinian terrorism, with Jane O’Brien telling viewers that the play:

“…chronicles his childhood in a Palestinian refugee camp, his determination to become a doctor, the death of his wife to leukemia and a few months later his three daughters – killed when Israeli missiles hit the family home in Gaza.”

That essential context is also absent from the rest of the report, in which thousands of missile attacks against Israeli civilians by terrorist organisations in the Gaza Strip are erased entirely from the one-sided picture of passive Palestinian suffering it portrays.

O’Brien: “Do you think that the Palestinian conflict has become forgotten?”

Abuelaish: “It’s not forgotten. Of course there are priorities but as long as there is a child who is suffering and Palestinian people who are alive, the conflict is alive. But when are we going to solve it? That’s the problem – and the suffering; to relieve the suffering of the Palestinian people.”

Among the obligations set out by the BBC’s public purposes remit is the commitment to “[b]uild a global understanding of international issues”. Clearly context-free reporting such as that displayed in this item not only does nothing to contribute to fulfilling that remit, but actively hinders the BBC’s supposed aim.

Update:

The synopsis appearing on the BBC News website has now been amended.

BBC promotion of the inaccurate notion of exceptional civilian casualties in Gaza

On September 1st the BBC News website published a feature titled “Gaza crisis: Toll of operations in Gaza” which has since become a frequent appendage to numerous other articles published on the website’s Middle East page. As we know, the BBC has stated that its online content is intended to act as “historical records” and hence the accuracy and impartiality of that content is of prime importance.Toll of Operations art

This particular feature opens with the following words:

“The number of civilians killed during Israel’s Operation Protective Edge offensive has raised international concern and condemnation.

Between 8 July and 27 August, more than 2,100 Palestinians were killed in the Gaza Strip, along with 66 Israeli soldiers and seven civilians in Israel.

The UN says the vast majority of Palestinian deaths are civilian. But figures from previous operations over the past six years in the densely populated Gaza Strip show it is not the first time civilians have paid a heavy price.”

Once again we see the BBC quoting “the UN” as though that body were impeccably objective, but with no effort made to inform audiences with regard to the very significant issue of the background to those UN statements and the political motivations involved.

The feature then goes on to address the topic of casualties in three conflicts in reverse chronological order. First comes a section titled “2014: Operation Protective Edge” in which readers are told that:

“The overwhelming majority of those killed were Palestinians.

The UN says at least 2,104 Palestinian died, including 1,462 civilians, of whom 495 were children and 253 women.

An Israeli government official told the BBC that the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) had killed 1,000 “terrorists” during the assault on Gaza.”

No effort is made to inform BBC audiences, for example, of the ongoing analysis being carried out by the Meir Amit Intelligence and Terrorism Information Centre which, after examination of some 35% of the named casualties, so far indicates that the ratio of combatants to civilians stands at 49% to 51% respectively.

The section goes on to present graphics including one complied on the basis of information provided, inter alia, by the Hamas-run Gaza Ministry of Health and “Al Akhbar” – an anti-Israel Lebanese online media organization considered by some to be pro-Hizballah. It further includes ‘analysis’ from the BBC’s head of statistics who – as readers may recall – was forced to radically amend a previous article on the topic of casualties in the Gaza Strip due to outside pressure from politically motivated organisations.

Click to enlarge

Click to enlarge

The section goes on to state that “[s]atellite images released by the United Nations show how a section of Shijaia [sic] neighbourhood in Gaza City has been razed by attacks since 8 July” but no attempt is made to provide BBC audiences with the all-important context behind those images by informing them of the military installations deliberately placed by Hamas and other terrorist organisations in that neighbourhood.

The feature then moves on to a section titled “2012: Operation Pillar of Defense” in which readers are informed that:

“Israel’s previous major air strike offensive on Gaza was Operation Pillar of Defense in November 2012.

It began with an air strike that killed the commander of Hamas’s military wing, Ahmed Jabari, whom it accused of responsibility for “all terrorist activities against Israel from Gaza” over the past decade.

Prior to the operation, there had been spates of Palestinian militant groups, including Hamas’s Qassam Brigades, firing hundreds of rockets into southern Israel and the Israeli military shelling Gaza and carrying out air strikes.”

In other words, the BBC continues its now well-entrenched practice of downplaying the months of terror attacks which preceded – and caused – Operation Pillar of Defense. Casualty figures promoted in that section come from one source alone:

“An Israeli human rights group, B’Tselem, said 167 Palestinians were killed, including 87 civilians. Six Israelis – two soldiers and four civilians – were also killed.”

Detailed examination of the names of casualties by the Meir Amit Intelligence and Terrorism Information Centre put the ratio of combatants to civilians at 60:40 compared to B’Tselem’s 52% civilian casualty rate.

The feature’s third and final section is titled “2008-2009: Operation Cast Lead” and it opens with the (apparently copy pasted) claim that:

The last time Israeli ground troops went into Gaza was in December 2008, as part of Operation Cast Lead. Around 1,391 Palestinians were killed, including an estimated 759 civilians, according to B’Tselem. Reports say this included 344 children and 110 women.” [emphasis added]

The section goes on to promote two more politically motivated NGOs and to advance the myth of the use of white phosphorous as a weapon during Operation Cast Lead.

“Israel’s military had put the overall Palestinian death toll at 1,166, of whom it said 295 were “uninvolved” civilians. The Palestinian Centre for Human Rights estimates that 1,417 Palestinians died, 926 of whom were civilians.

An Amnesty International report into the operation said lives were lost because Israeli forces “frequently obstructed access to medical care.” It also condemned the use of “imprecise” weapons such as white phosphorous and artillery shells.”

No mention is made of the fact that Hamas’ Fathi Hamad admitted in a 2010 interview that around half the casualties in that operation were terrorists, thus negating the inaccurate claims made by the PCHR still being promoted by the BBC.

But by far the most egregious aspect of this BBC feature is the fact that it makes no attempt whatsoever to provide BBC audiences with the crucial context of casualty ratios in the Gaza Strip as compared to those in other conflicts.

Let us assume for a moment that the UN figures quoted and promoted by the BBC are correct and that 495 children were killed during Operation Protective Edge and that none of those under 18s (as UNICEF defines child casualties) were in fact operatives for terrorist organisations. Even if we take those figures at face value, the percentage of children killed in the Gaza Strip during the summer of 2014 is, as Ben Dror Yemini has pointed out, considerably lower than the percentage of children killed by coalition forces (including British troops) in Iraq and by NATO forces (also including British troops) in Kosovo.

And even if we take the BBC’s claim that 1,462 (69%) of a total of 2,104 casualties in the Gaza Strip were civilians as being accurate (despite the fact that – as noted above – ongoing analysis suggests that the ratio of civilians to combatants may actually be lower), that would still mean that – as Col. Richard Kemp has pointed out on numerous occasions – there is nothing exceptional about that ratio.

“The UN estimate that there has been an average three-to one ratio of civilian to combatant deaths in such conflicts worldwide. Three civilians for every combatant killed.

That is the estimated ratio in Afghanistan: three to one.

In Iraq, and in Kosovo, it was worse: the ratio is believed to be four-to-one. Anecdotal evidence suggests the ratios were very much higher in Chechnya and Serbia.”

Now let us remind ourselves of the BBC’s opening statement in this feature:

“The number of civilians killed during Israel’s Operation Protective Edge offensive has raised international concern and condemnation.”

That statement would lead any reasonable reader to believe that the number of civilian casualties in the Gaza Strip during Operation Protective Edge was somehow exceptional enough to prompt “international concern and condemnation”. The BBC’s editorial decision to omit from this feature any comparison to other conflicts means that audiences are unable to put that statement into its correct perspective and are hence likely to be misled.

Of course that editorial decision will not come as much of a surprise to anyone who closely followed BBC coverage of Operation Protective Edge throughout its duration because one dominant theme discernible throughout that coverage was the inaccurate portrayal of the conflict as an Israeli attack upon the civilian population of the Gaza Strip. The feature tells readers that:  

“…figures from previous operations over the past six years in the densely populated Gaza Strip show it is not the first time civilians have paid a heavy price”

Indeed the price paid by Gaza’s civilian population for the actions of terrorist organisations embedded in their midst is a “heavy” and regrettable one. However – in contrast to the impression this anonymously written feature deliberately attempts to create – it is nevertheless no heavier than that paid by civilian populations in conflict zones elsewhere in the world. The BBC’s decision not to inform its audiences of that fact can only be attributed to political motivations being allowed to trump editorial standards of accuracy and impartiality.

BBC’s Knell erases Hamas and Hizballah terror from history

On May 13th the BBC News website’s Middle East page featured an article titled “Israel ex-PM Ehud Olmert jailed for six years for bribery“. The report, which underwent many amendments before reaching its final form (including a correction to the BBC’s renaming of the judge)  was generally accurate until a side-box of ‘analysis’ from Yolande Knell was added to its later versions.side box knell olmert art

There, BBC audiences were told that:

“But in his [Olmert’s] three years in office [as prime minister] he also took Israel into two bloody, armed conflicts – the 2006 war with the militant Lebanese Shia Islamist group Hezbollah, and a three-week offensive on Gaza in 2008-2009 that left some 1,400 Palestinians and 13 Israelis dead.”

The 2006 second Lebanon war of course began because what Knell euphemistically and clumsily describes as “the militant Lebanese Shia Islamist group Hezbollah” (with no mention of its terrorist designation by numerous countries or its Iranian sponsor) killed and kidnapped Israeli soldiers in a cross-border raid whilst simultaneously attacking Israeli civilian communities with missiles. That crucial background information is, however, denied to Knell’s readers.

Likewise, Knell’s description of Operation Cast Lead fails to inform BBC audiences that prior to the commencement of the operation on December 27th 2008, Israeli towns and villages in the proximity of the Gaza Strip had been subjected to intense missile fire from terrorist groups based in the Strip.

Missiles from Gaza 2008

Knell’s statement that “some 1,400 Palestinians” were killed during the operation of course conceals the fact that – according to Hamas’ own Interior Minister – around half of the casualties were Hamas terrorist combatants.

However, readers of this so-called analysis from Knell are steered towards a version of events which clearly implies that both those conflicts were initiated by Israel’s prime minister at the time and conceals all mention of the actions of terrorist organisations which sparked the two bouts of hostilities. 

BBC R4 programme makes hundreds of missiles fired from Gaza vanish

There are BBC reports which relate directly to Israel and there are others in which Israel is not the subject matter, but gets a mention along the way. This concerns one of the latter.

BBC Radio 4 is currently running a series by BBC Special Correspondent Allan Little entitled “Turkey: the New Ottomans“. The second episode of the three-part series was broadcast on August 6th and is titled “North Africa and the Middle East“. 

Turkey the New Ottomans

Obviously, even if a report is not about Israel per se, its material should still meet BBC Editorial Guidelines on accuracy and impartiality.

At 05:48 in the recording above we hear Little say:

“Take Israel. For decades Turkey sought to prove itself as a dependable ally of the West. It was, for example, one of the first countries to recognize the Israeli state.”

Well, that may be true if your definition of “one of the first” squares up with coming chronologically after Austria, Bolivia, Cuba, Denmark, Finland, Greece, Haiti, Honduras, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Liberia, New Zealand, Paraguay, Romania, Serbia, South Africa, Sweden, Switzerland, the United States and China.

Little goes on:

“Turkey’s old military-backed governments made Israel a security partner, alienating Turkey’s Muslim neighbours, but under Erdogan that too has changed. He has been ready to defy Israel – even at the cost of damaging his image in the West.”

The broadcast then cuts to a section of a recording of Erdogan’s performance at Davos in 2009 during which he said to Shimon Peres:

“President Peres, you are old, and your voice is loud out of a guilty conscience. […] When it comes to killing, you know very well how to kill. I know well how you hit and kill children on beaches.”

Whilst Little curiously chooses to categorise that outburst as ‘defiance’, many other commentators at the time (including Turkish ones) saw it as a crude and populist diplomatic disaster.

Little continues: [emphasis added]

“After the Israeli bombardment of Gaza in 2008, Erdogan stormed out of a meeting with the Israeli President Shimon Peres at Davos.”

So – according to Little – Israel ‘bombarded’ Gaza in 2008 but the context of that event is apparently considered irrelevant, with Hamas and assorted other terrorist organisations having done nothing at all worth mentioning. Neither the hundreds of missiles fired at Israeli civilians in the weeks (and years) before Operation Cast Lead nor the hundreds more fired during the 2008/9 conflict are deemed worthy of description as “bombardment”? Would not the phrasing “After the Israeli military operation in the Gaza Strip in 2008…” have been more in tune with the standards to which the BBC professes to adhere? 

What a fine example of the way in which the casual use of unnecessarily emotive wording and context-free sloppy journalism etches inaccurate impressions into the public’s memory of events.

BBC exhumes old white phosphorus canard

An article entitled “Israel ‘to stop using white phosphorus shells’” appeared in the Middle East section of the BBC News website on April 26th 2013.

WP article

This badly composed piece uses a recent announcement – relating to the intention to replace smokescreen shells containing white phosphorus with an alternative – as a hook upon which to hang old insinuations and accusations.

The article (which has been amended since its original appearance) opens reasonably:

“The Israeli military says it is to stop using artillery shells with white phosphorus to create smokescreens on the battlefield.

It says shells will be replaced with types based completely on gas, which will create the same effect.”

But immediately after that, the report goes downhill by creating fictional linkage between the use of smokescreen shells containing white phosphorus – which are not restricted in weapons conventions – and types of munitions which are not the subject of the article and are not used by the IDF. 

“Rights groups condemned Israel’s use of white phosphorus during the Gaza conflict because of its severely harmful effects on civilians.

International law restricts the use of white phosphorus during war.”

What would the average reader understand from those two sentences? He or she would comprehend that during “the Gaza conflict” (it is not made clear which one, and so most readers would automatically remember the last surge of conflict five months ago), Israel had used munitions containing white phosphorus in contravention of international law and against civilians.

That, of course, is an inaccurate representation of circumstances. 

The report’s subsequent ‘explanatory’ paragraphs are no better. Readers already familiar with the region’s history now learn that in fact the article relates to ‘Operation Cast Lead’ in late 2008/early 2009.

“Three years ago, Israel promised to draw up new rules on the use of shells containing white phosphorus, in the wake of the Gaza war.

Some 1,400 Palestinians and 13 Israelis were killed in the three-week conflict.”

The report neglects to mention that – according to Hamas – around half the Palestinians killed were terrorist combatants. 

The article then goes on to unquestioningly repeat old claims made in the self- discredited ‘Goldstone Report’ and (yet again) by the compromised NGO Human Rights Watch without making any effort whatsoever to explain to readers the events of the intervening three years – such as the Hamas admission above – which have undermined many of the claims made at the time, or the results of professional investigations into the accusations.  

“During the offensive, Israel used white phosphorus rounds in densely populated areas, the UN and Human Rights Watch said.

Part of a UN compound burned down after it was hit by chunks of the burning chemical which ignites on contact with air.

Human Rights Watch said Israel “deliberately or recklessly” used white phosphorus shells in violation of the laws of war, causing “needless civilian deaths”.”

Even what is presumably supposed to pass as ‘balance’ in the next paragraph is tainted by manipulative wording. [emphasis added]

Israel has insisted that its use of white phosphorus in the conflict was permitted under international law and that it sought to avoid unnecessary civilian deaths in Gaza.”

The BBC report rounds off with ‘explanations’ about white phosphorus – the trouble being that those explanations have only partial relevance to the original story and do not make sufficiently clear the differentiation in weapons protocols between the substance’s use as a smokescreen (as used by the IDF) and other uses. 

“As a weapon, white phosphorus is used to mark enemy targets and to produce smoke for concealing troop movements. It can also be used as an incendiary device against enemy positions.

Its effects however can be extremely harmful. If burning white phosphorus lands on a person’s skin, it can go through to the bone. Toxic phosphoric acid can also be released into wounds, risking phosphorus poisoning.

A protocol to the 1980 Convention on Conventional Weapons bans the use of white phosphorus as an incendiary weapon against civilian populations or in air attacks against enemy forces in civilian areas.”

Protocol III of the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons  – titled “Prohibitions or Restrictions on the Use of Incendiary Weapons” -clearly states:

“(b) Incendiary weapons do not include: 
(i) Munitions which may have incidental incendiary effects, such as illuminants, tracers, smoke or signalling systems”

By failing to make sufficiently clear the legal status of smokescreens and by deliberately introducing into the story confusing and unnecessary references to incendiary weapons, this BBC report implies by omission wrongdoing on Israel’s part – in clear breach of BBC Editorial Guidelines on accuracy and impartiality.