In Hebrew, the expression ‘the Shin Gimmel syndrome’ is used to describe a situation in which the public blame for an operational failure is placed upon the lowest ranking soldier – the one guarding the front gate – so that high-ranking officers can avoid having to take the responsibility and its consequences. Needless to say, the use of the ‘Shin Gimmel’ as a scapegoat is a symptom of a serious failure of leadership.
That is precisely what the BBC has done in its belated attempt to stave off criticism of its handling of the Omar Masharawi story: it has sent Jon Donnison – the lowest ranking journalist involved in this story – to do damage control.
It has not allocated that task to Donnison’s boss at the Jerusalem Bureau, Paul Danahar, who Tweeted unverified claims that an Israeli attack had killed Omar Masharawi. Nor has the job been given to Danahar’s boss, Jeremy Bowen, whose position as Middle East Editor was created especially in order to avoid precisely such situations in the wake of previous criticisms of the BBC’s record of accuracy and impartiality when reporting on Israel. Neither was the Head of News or anyone else further up the chain of command required to provide explanations for the BBC failure. Instead, lowly Donnison was sent to take the rap.
Is it any wonder then that Donnison gives the impression of being distinctly out of his depth as he flails about trying to make passable-sounding excuses for the BBC’s failures?
Donnison’s article – entitled “UN disputes Gaza strike on BBC man’s house” – opens with the same picture of Jihad Masharawi carrying his son’s body which the BBC touted so extensively at the time. This time, however, the caption is particularly loaded. [emphasis added]
“Jehad Mashhrawi’s 11-month-old son Omar was killed in the attack on his house in Gaza”
In other words, the BBC wants to place in readers’ minds from the very beginning the idea that there was a deliberate attack on Masharawi’s house, rather than an accident.
“The son of a BBC journalist and two relatives killed in last November’s war in Gaza may have been hit by a misfired Palestinian rocket, a UN agency says.
The UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) said its conclusions were based on a visit to the site a month after the attack.”
All the information in the first five paragraphs of Donnison’s article is for some reason repeated further on into the article and so we later find the following statements, which clearly intend to cast doubts upon the UN findings, not least because of the passage of time:
“UN officials visited the house four weeks after the strike.
They said they did not carry out a forensic investigation, but said their team did not think the damage was consistent with an Israeli air strike.
However, the UN said it could not “unequivocally conclude” it was a misfired Palestinian rocket.
A UN official said it was also possible the house was hit by a secondary explosion after an Israeli air strike on Palestinian weapons stores.”
The UN’s report states:
“On 14 November, a woman, her 11-month-old infant, and an 18-year-old adult in Al-Zaitoun were killed by what appeared to be a Palestinian rocket that fell short of Israel.”
A footnote adds that the UN investigated the incident itself and the UN has confirmed that the above passage in its report indeed relates to the incident at the Masharawi home.
Donnison’s “UN official” quote above also appears in an AP report which includes further information which Donnison elected not to include in his piece:
“Matthias Behnke, head of OHCHR office for the Palestinian territories, cautioned he couldn’t “unequivocally conclude” that the death was caused by an errantly fired Palestinian rocket. He said information gathered from eyewitnesses led them to report that “it appeared to be attributable to a Palestinian rocket.”
He said Palestinian militants were firing rockets at Israel not far from the al-Masharawi home. Behnke said the area was targeted by Israeli airstrikes, but the salvo that hit the al-Masharawi home was “markedly different.”
He said there was no significant damage to the house, unusual for an Israeli strike. He said witnesses reported that a fireball struck the roof of the house, suggesting it was a part of a homemade rocket. Behnke said the type of injuries sustained by al-Masharawi family members were consistent with rocket shrapnel.”
Donnison’s efforts to pick holes in the UN findings are a deliberate attempt to distract readers from the essential point. As BBC Watch noted last November:
“Whether or not Jihad Masharawi’s house was hit by a short-falling terrorist rocket, by shrapnel from secondary explosions of Fajr 5 missiles deliberately hidden by Hamas in built-up residential areas or whether an errant IDF shell targeting those rocket launching sites and weapons storage facilities caused that accident, we may never know.”
That essential point – which Donnison does his level best to bury – is that there was no solid evidence at the time that the Masharawi house has been hit in an Israeli air-strike and indeed, several other possibilities (as now confirmed by the UN) existed. The BBC, however, not only dismissed those other possibilities – to which it had been alerted by bloggers – but exclusively and unquestioningly promoted the notion of Israel’s responsibility for the infant’s death with no factual evidence to back up that assertion.
“At the time, human rights groups blamed the deaths on an Israeli air strike.”
He later adds:
“The family, and human rights groups, said that the house was hit in an Israeli attack.”
Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas addresses the PCHR 2006 conference
Donnison does not name the “human rights groups” he cites, but it can safely be assumed that he is referring to the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights (PCHR) which claimed on November 15th – the day after the incident – without providing any concrete evidence whatsoever, that:
“..an Israeli warplane fired a missile at a house belonging to Ali Nemer al-Masharawi in al-Zaytoun neighborhood in the east of Gaza City. Two members of the family (a woman and a toddler) were killed: Hiba Aadel Fadel al-Masharawi, 19, and Omar Jihad al-Masharawi, 11 months.”
Far from being an objective “human rights group”, the PCHR uses the mantle of human rights in its political campaign against Israel and has a long history of unreliability. This is certainly not the first time that Jon Donnison has unquestioningly promoted information from the PCHR – apparently being unable to distinguish between a genuine human rights organization and a Hamas accessory.
Donnison continues his attempt to bring the reader back round to believing the original BBC claims of Israeli culpability by writing:
“The Israeli military says it never denied carrying out the strike because it was not clear what had happened.”
He later adds:
“The Israeli military made no comment at the time of the incident but never denied carrying out the strike.
Privately, military officials briefed journalists that they had been targeting a militant who was in the building.”
If that were true, and if Donnison was aware of the presence of a terrorist in the building, then the next question must be why no reference was ever made to that in any of the BBC’s reports on the subject – including his own.
“The UN says 33 other Palestinian children died in Israeli attacks during the conflict.”
Towards the end of the article, and contradicting his own use of the words “33 other”, he adds:
“The UN report concluded that at least 169 Palestinians were killed by Israeli attacks during the offensive.
It said more than 100 were civilians, including 33 children and 13 women. The report said six Israelis were killed by Palestinians attacks, including four civilians.”
As Elder of Ziyon has pointed out, the UN report – which apparently suddenly gains renewed credibility in Donnison’s eyes when it can be used against Israel – actually says:
“During the crisis, 174 Palestinians were killed in Gaza. At least 168 of them were killed by Israeli military action, of whom 101 are believed to be civilians, including 33 children and 13 women.” [emphasis added]
As we have previously pointed out here, other reports on the casualty figures in the Gaza Strip during Operation Pillar of Cloud indicate that as many as 60% belonged to terrorist organisations.
Further on in his article Donnison states:
“Now, though, the United Nations says the house may have been hit by a Palestinian rocket that fell short.
This is despite the fact that the Israeli military had reported no rockets being fired out of Gaza so soon after the start of the conflict.”
However, the above claim of “no rockets” is contradicted by Donnison himself in his ‘From our own Correspondent‘ report of November 24th:
“But at that time, so soon after the launch of Israel’s operation, Israel’s military says mortars had been launched from Gaza, but very few rockets.” [emphasis added]
As BBC Watch remarked at the time, and as the UN official quoted by AP above confirms:
“Regarding Donnison’s claim of mortars, “but very few rockets” having been fired at the time (BBC Watch has seen no such statement by the IDF, but would be delighted if Donnison could produce it), as is pointed out here, “very few rockets” does not mean no rockets.”
Under the curious subheading “Rubbish”, Donnison goes on to inform readers that:
Jihad Masharawi at his brother’s funeral
“Jehad Mashhrawi dismissed the UN findings as “rubbish”.
He said nobody from the United Nations had spoken to him, and said Palestinian militant groups would usually apologise to the family if they had been responsible.”
Apparently Donnison seems to think that this anecdote adds some kind of back-up to his story, perhaps forgetting that his own organization had (probably unwittingly) broadcast footage of Jihad Masharawi’s brother being buried in a Hamas flag.
Donnison also states that:
“A photo of BBC video editor Jehad Mashhrawi cradling the corpse of his baby son Omar became one of the iconic images of November’s short war.”
It certainly did, but only because the BBC deliberately and energetically promoted the story far and wide, despite having no concrete evidence whatsoever to back up its claims that Israel was responsible for Omar’s death.
The disturbing fact is that the BBC’s only response to the findings of the UN report has been to belatedly send Jon Donnison out to offer up a badly written collection of excuses and insinuations published five days later on the Middle East page of its website, whilst Donnison’s original article remains intact on that same website’s ‘Magazine’ page with no correction and no link to his article on the UN report.
Donnison’s cringe-worthy attempt at damage control does nothing to address the real problem underlying this story. That problem is not one of determining which type of ordnance fired by whom hit the Masharawi house, but that the BBC knowingly published and extensively promoted a story based on local anecdote for which it had absolutely no proven evidence, purely because it fit in with the political narrative accepted and promoted by the BBC.
Fronted by Donnison, but undoubtedly with the full knowledge of his superiors, this self-destructive attempt to shift the focus of the story away from the real issue of the BBC’s complete failure to meet its own editorial guidelines on accuracy and impartiality – and to protect those further up the chain of management from the obvious conclusions of that failure – calls into question, once again, both the sincerity of the BBC’s commitment to the values behind which it hides and the quality of the organisation’s leadership.