BBC Breakfast blames Israel for Gaza baby death

Viewers of the May 15th edition of BBC Breakfast (aired on BBC One and BBC News) saw an interview conducted by Louise Minchin with a representative from the Israeli embassy in London, Michael Freeman.

Although the interview was presented as being about “violence in Gaza where 58 people were killed by Israeli troops”, the footage that viewers were shown throughout nearly a quarter of the item was in fact not filmed in the Gaza Strip and did not reflect the events along the border.

At 01:16 in the video below, Louise Minchin stated that a baby had been killed on May 14th.

Minchin: “Fifty-eight people have been killed. We understand that some of them were children, including a baby. Is this not excessive force?”

The Hamas-run Gaza health ministry did indeed claim that eight children and a baby had been killed:

“The Gaza Strip’s Hamas-run health ministry said Tuesday morning that a baby was among those killed during violent border clashes along the territory’s border with Israel the previous day, bringing the overall death toll in the day’s bloody events to 60. […]

The baby died from inhaling tear gas fired at Palestinian protesters, the health ministry said.

Eight-month-old Leila al-Ghandour was exposed to gas fired by Israeli forces east of Gaza City, it said.”

However, AP later reported that:

“A Gaza health official cast doubt Tuesday on initial claims that an 8-month-old baby died from Israeli tear gas fired during mass protests on the Gaza border with Israel.

A Gazan doctor told the Associated Press that the baby, Layla Ghandour, had a preexisting medical condition and that he did not believe her death was caused by tear gas. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not allowed to disclose medical information to the media.

Layla’s family claimed Tuesday that the baby had ended up in the area of the protest as a result of a mixup, the AP reported added. The Gaza Health Ministry initially counted her among several dozen Palestinians killed Monday.”

The New York Times reported that:

“The child’s parents have given interviews to journalists and aid workers in Gaza recounting how their daughter died. A tweet from Steve Sosebee, who works with the Palestine Children’s Relief Fund, suggested that they confirmed their daughter had an underlying health condition.”

This would not be the first time that BBC audiences have been told that a Palestinian baby had died from tear-gas fired by Israeli soldiers without the allegation having been confirmed.

At 02:47 Minchin returned to a popular BBC theme:

Minchin: “No Israelis as far as we understand were injured yesterday. Fifty-eight Palestinians killed. Is this proportionate?”

As we have frequently had cause to note here in the past, the terms ‘proportionate’ and ‘disproportionate’ have long been abused by BBC journalists who wrongly use the every-day meaning of those terms to imply that Israel has breached legal limitations on the use of force in combat.

“In everyday usage, the word “proportional” implies numerical comparability, and that seems to be what most of Israel’s critics have in mind: the ethics of war, they suggest, requires something like a tit-for-tat response. So if the number of losses suffered by Hezbollah or Hamas greatly exceeds the number of casualties among the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), then Israel is morally and perhaps legally culpable for the “disproportionate” casualties.

But these critics seemed largely unaware that “proportionality” has a technical meaning connected to the ethics of war.”

By promoting the false notion that ‘proportionate’ means equality in death or suffering, Louise Minchin conveyed to BBC audiences that Israel must be in the wrong because “no Israelis… were injured”. 

Related Articles:

BBC World Service ‘Newshour’: using ‘alleged’ and ‘fact’ for framing

BBC’s Gaza casualty figures source shows its reliability

BBC Radio 4 dusts off the ‘expert’ hats and ‘disproportionate’ meme

BBC World Service dusts off ‘disproportionate’

BBC’s Evan Davis misleads on BDS, proportionality in warfare

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BBC Breakfast contact details

 

 

 

 

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Comparing two BBC journalists’ conversations with British and Israeli pilots

Just two weeks ago listeners to BBC Radio 4 were once again given an inaccurate and misleading portrayal of the meaning of proportionality in war by the corporation’s Middle East editor Jeremy Bowen.

“When the wars flare up more Palestinians are killed than Israelis, including many more civilians. […] The laws of war say belligerents shouldn’t use disproportionate force. Israel always denies doing so when it attacks Gaza but the evidence suggests that it does. The Israelis claim to take great care not to kill civilians but they use heavy weapons in densely populated areas, making civilian casualties certain.”

In other words, Bowen is claiming that ‘proportionate’ means not killing civilians and that the use of “heavy weapons in densely populated areas” means automatic transgression of “the laws of war” because there are resulting civilian casualties.

In fact, proportionality has a different meaning altogether.

“Even when there is a chance that citizens will be injured as a result of military action, there is no absolute prohibition against taking such action, as long as the target being attacked is a legitimate military target. The prohibition against such an attack applies only when the collateral damage to civilians is likely to be excessive in relation to the anticipated direct military advantage of destroying the military objective.”

And, as explained here:

“In everyday usage, the word “proportional” implies numerical comparability, and that seems to be what most of Israel’s critics have in mind: the ethics of war, they suggest, requires something like a tit-for-tat response. So if the number of losses suffered by Hezbollah or Hamas greatly exceeds the number of casualties among the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), then Israel is morally and perhaps legally culpable for the “disproportionate” casualties.

But these critics seemed largely unaware that “proportionality” has a technical meaning connected to the ethics of war. The long tradition of just war theory distinguishes between the principles governing the justice of going to war (jus ad bellum) and those governing just conduct in warfare (jus in bello). There are two main jus in bello criteria. The criterion of discrimination prohibits direct and intentional attacks on noncombatants, although neither international law nor the just war tradition that has morally informed it requires that a legitimate military target must be spared from attack simply because its destruction may unintentionally injure or kill noncombatants or damage civilian property and infrastructure. International law and just war theory only insist that the anticipated collateral damage — the “merely foreseen” secondary effects — must be “proportionate” to the military advantage sought in attacking the legitimate military target. This sense of proportionality is the second jus in bello criterion; it has to do almost entirely with the foreseen but unintended harm done to noncombatants and to noncombatant infrastructure.”

Recently the BBC’s defence correspondent Jonathan Beale produced two reports concerning the use of “heavy weapons in densely populated areas” in another part of the world and the potential resulting civilian casualties.

War against IS: Have RAF air strikes killed civilians? June 29th 2017

Can civilian deaths be avoided in RAF strikes on IS? July 2nd 2017

Particularly noteworthy is the fact that – in contrast to his colleague – Beale did not attempt to provide his viewers and readers with amateur interpretations of “the laws of war” in either those two reports or in a similar one he produced last September titled “Have RAF air strikes against IS killed no civilians?“.

In all three of those reports Beale did clarify to BBC audiences that civilian casualties are most likely unavoidable.

“But ultimately, as one pilot told me, however hard you try to avoid civilian casualties “you still can’t see through walls and rubble”.

Major General James Poss, a former Director of Intelligence in the US Air Force, says there is always doubt: “In the fog of war you can never know everything.””

“The US-led coalition is trying to dislodge the extremists from their strongholds of Raqqa and Mosul – cities with tightly packed streets where they are hiding among the local population and using them as human shields. The risk of civilian casualties is extremely high.

I put it to Air Commodore Johnny Stringer, who is overseeing the UK’s contribution, that avoiding civilian casualties is simply not possible. He acknowledges that assessment might change over time. “We are human and not perfect,” he says, “but we are doing our damnedest” to get it right.”

“Even the RAF admits it is now more difficult to avoid civilian casualties with the fight against IS focused on Raqqa and the old city of Mosul: dense, tightly packed urban areas with large civilian populations.”

Speaking to RAF pilots, Beale also clarified the lengths to which members of the British armed forces go to try to avoid unintended harm to civilians.

“It’s fair to say the US-led coalition is trying hard to avoid civilian casualties. Unlike Russia, coalition warplanes only use precision-guided weapons – often directed by GPS or laser.

Air Commodore Dai Wittingham, who ran the RAF’s air campaign in Afghanistan, says there’s “excruciating” care taken to avoid the loss of innocent life. Intelligence analysts examine each target carefully before and after each strike using detailed aerial photos and video.

Like other coalition pilots they’ve also redirected bombs and missiles at the last minute. In every case when they are about to hit a “hot target” pilots look for an area nearby where they can “shift cold” to avoid civilians who might suddenly appear.”

“For its part, the RAF says it is going out of its way to address worries about mistakes which might result in civilian casualties. The BBC has been told that in the second half of 2016 – when the offensive on Mosul began – the RAF either turned down, or asked for more intelligence about, half the targets it was given. […]

I ask “Dave” whether he can guarantee there will be zero civilian casualties. Even infrared sensors can’t see through walls. After a brief pause he admits its [sic] not possible to give that assurance. But, he says, they are doing everything in their power, including watching an area for hours, to protect civilian life.”

And at the end of this article Beale told BBC audiences that

“They [the RAF] are fighting a brutal enemy, who unlike them, has no worries about killing civilians.”

Of course Israel also goes to great lengths to avoid civilian casualties, similarly using video analysis and aborting missions when civilians suddenly appear on the scene and even providing advance warning by leaflet or phone.

It is therefore interesting to compare Jonathan Beale’s conversations with British pilots in those three reports to an interview by Orla Guerin with an Israeli pilot in 2014.

Guerin: “This is footage Israel is keen to share. An airstrike in Gaza being aborted because children are spotted. But the UN says most of those killed by Israel are innocent civilians.”

Guerin: “Captain Omri shows us in a simulator his bird’s-eye view of the terrain.”

Guerin: “This is a crowded area. People have nowhere to go. In many cases they have no transport, they have no means of escape. And you’re attacking hospitals [sic] where the wounded are being treated.”

Omri: “Well at the moment we’re doing everything possible to ensure the security and safety of both our civilians and as much as possible the Palestinian civilians. We have offered medical aid and we’ve offered a field hospital…”

Guerin [interrupts] “Well wouldn’t it be better if you stopped bombing the civilians rather than offering them medical aid later?” [emphasis added]

Omri: “Well Israel has always opted for a diplomatic solution.”

Guerin: “I mean some people might say, you know, how do you sleep at night?” [emphasis added]

Omri: “Well I sleep very well at night because I know that what we’re doing is saving lives the way I see it because whenever….”

Guerin [interrupts] “Saving Israeli lives.”

Omri: “No, no. I know how many attacks I have already called off and I’m talking about numerous attacks so I know as a fact that I’ve saved dozens of lives.”

The contrasts between those conversations with British pilots engaged in military action in which no British civilians are at risk and an Israeli pilot during a war in which Israeli civilians were under constant attack are of course blatantly obvious – as are the double standards in BBC reporting on the subject of unintended civilian casualties during warfare.

 

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

BBC Radio 4’s series ‘Our Man in the Middle East’ continued on June 16th with episode 15 – titled “Missiles and the Ballot Box” – which was devoted to Jeremy Bowen’s view of the Gaza Strip.

“Jeremy Bowen explores Gaza, the Palestinian territory controlled by Hamas, the Islamic resistance movement. It’s not a place you would chose [sic] for a Mediterranean holiday, though the Palestinians used to dream of developing a tourist industry, he says. “Israel could recapture Gaza in days if it wanted to. But then it would be responsible for around a million children and about the same number of angry adults. Palestinians can’t destroy a state as strong as Israel. But Israel can’t bludgeon Palestinians into submission either.””

Refraining from informing audiences that hopes of economic development in the Gaza Strip were killed off by, among other things, the Islamist take-over of the territory, Bowen opens the programme with the theme promoted in that synopsis. [emphasis in italics in the original]

“Gaza is not a place you’d choose for a Mediterranean holiday although the Palestinians used to dream of developing a tourist industry. The beaches are sandy and run for 25 miles along the Mediterranean from the top right-hand corner of Egypt. It’s no wider than 7 miles and, apart from the short Egyptian border, it’s entirely surrounded by Israel. Since 2006 [sic] the Palestinian group Hamas – the Islamic resistance movement has controlled it.”

Bowen then goes on to describe the Erez crossing – but without providing listeners with any explanation of why the stringent security measures he portrays in such detail are necessary. He continues:

“Palestinians often call Gaza the world’s biggest jail and it’s hard to argue. Many spend whole lives there without being able to leave. I’ve met thirty-something men who’ve never left.”

Bowen’s portrayal does not clarify to listeners that on average around a thousand people exit Gaza via the Erez crossing every day for medical treatment, commercial, academic or sporting activities or religious trips. He refrains from making any mention of the existence of the crossing into Egypt at Rafah, or why that crossing is so frequently closed by Egypt.

Bowen then gives some historical background but refrains from clarifying that the Gaza Strip was included in the territory allotted for the creation of a homeland for the Jewish people by the League of Nations.

“Gaza was one of the historic towns of Palestine; a small place surrounded by fields and sand dunes when it was captured by Egypt in Israel’s 1948 war of independence. Tens of thousands of Palestinian refugees fled there to escape the Israeli advance or because they were forced out of their homes at the point of a gun.”

The siege – and subsequent evacuation – of Kibbutz Kfar Darom in 1948 is of course not included in Bowen’s account. He goes on:

“Israel captured Gaza from Egypt in 1967 and finally pulled out its soldiers and settlers in 2005, though it still controls who goes in and out by land, sea and air.”

Bowen makes no mention of the fact that agreements on movement and access from and to Gaza were signed by Israel and the Palestinian Authority after Israel’s disengagement from the Gaza strip in 2005.  Failing to clarify to listeners why residents of a territory that has been under PA and then Hamas rule for the last twelve years are still classified as refugees or why refugee status is inherited, Bowen goes on:

“These days almost two million people live in the Gaza Strip. About two-thirds of them are descendants of the original refugees. Refugee children are taught at schools run by the UN. Their future is bleak. The UN predicts that Gaza might become uninhabitable by 2020 if there’s no end to the conflict with Israel.”

Ignoring the fact that Egypt saw fit to adopt similar counter-terrorism measures to those introduced by Israel after the violent Hamas coup in 2007 and failing to mention the rise in terrorism that was the cause of those measures, Bowen continues:

“Israel put Gaza under a severe blockade in 2007 after Hamas took over. To overcome it, Palestinians built a network of smuggling tunnels into Egypt. […] For years after Hamas took over Gaza and the Israeli blockade bit hard, almost everything except the most basic commodities was smuggled in from Egypt through the tunnels.”

In fact, smuggling tunnels existed in the Rafah area long before 2007. Bowen’s portrayal of that issue does not include any information concerning the taxes and tariffs levied by Hamas on smuggled goods. Ignoring Egyptian actions against the tunnels, Bowen tells listeners that:

“Israel used to bomb the tunnels to uphold their blockade and because weapons were also smuggled through them. The blockade, the bombing and Israeli fears about Hamas weaponry all ramped up the tension.”

Having told listeners that the Hamas-Fatah split is rooted in “the death of Yasser Arafat”, Bowen goes on to refer to the Hamas Charter in the past tense.

“Hamas had a charter calling for its [Israel’s] destruction and was designated by Israel and the West as a terrorist group. The crunch came after Hamas unexpectedly won the elections in 2006. The Americans, proselytising hard for democracy, had pushed for the vote. But it didn’t produce the result they wanted. A few months later I was in the office of one of the top diplomats at the State Department in Washington DC. He sat back in his chair. ‘Of course’ he said ‘ it’s the wrong result. We’re going to have to overturn it’. The Americans gave full backing to Israel’s policy of isolating Gaza to put pressure on Hamas.”

Once again, Hamas terrorism is absent from Bowen’s tale. After a long account of his personal recollections of pre-Hamas coup inter-factional fighting in Gaza and a conversation with Mohammad Dahlan, Bowen tells listeners:

“After I left Gaza that time the feud between Fatah and Hamas became a mini civil war. Hamas won and Fatah officials including Dahlan rushed to the Israeli checkpoints to escape with their lives.”

According to reports from the time, Dahlan was not in the Gaza Strip during those days in June 2007: he had been abroad for several weeks for medical treatment.

Listeners hear a brief reference to missile attacks against Israelis without the groups that execute the attacks being named and without mention of any of the victims of such attacks.

“Living either side of the border wire – in Gaza or Israel – can be difficult and dangerous. Going through even one rocket attack on the Israeli side, let alone dozens in a day, is terrifying – as I found out.”

However, Bowen soon returns to form:

“When the wars flare up more Palestinians are killed than Israelis, including many more civilians.”

Bowen then revisits a report he produced in 2009 concerning Dr. Izzeldin Abuelaish.

“An Israeli tank had shelled his home and killed three of his daughters.”

Bowen fails to tell listeners of the background to that the tragic incident but goes on to promote one of his usual pseudo-legal misinterpretations of the Law of Armed Combat and the term ‘disproportionate‘.

“The laws of war say belligerents shouldn’t use disproportionate force. Israel always denies doing so when it attacks Gaza but the evidence suggests that it does. The Israelis claim to take great care not to kill civilians but they use heavy weapons in densely populated areas, making civilian casualties certain.”

Bowen then revisits another of his previously promoted claims concerning Hamas’ use of human shields, while steering listeners towards an incomplete understanding of that term.

“I’ve never seen any evidence of Hamas forcing civilians in Gaza to stay in the firing line. But Israelis repeat time and again that Hamas hides behind human shields.”

The programme closes with Bowen opining that the terror organisation whose activities and abuses he has downplayed throughout the whole report should be party to negotiations.

“Until matters change in Gaza there will be more wars between Hamas and Israel. Change means a new attempt at peace with the participation and consent of all sides. Right now, there is no chance of that happening.”

Perhaps one of the more disturbing points emerging from this series of programmes by the BBC’s Middle East editor is the fact that the passage of time has done nothing to alter his opinions and analysis.

Having publicly claimed that he did not come across human shields in the few days he was in Gaza in the summer of 2014, three years later he cannot accommodate the ample evidence that shows otherwise. Having promoted his own pseudo-legal interpretations of the Law of Armed Combat in his 2014 reporting from Gaza, he is incapable of subsequently adjusting that view in line with the facts.

That, of course, is what happens when the agenda takes precedence over the actual story.

Related Articles:

BBC’s Bowen saw no human shields in Gaza – but reports them in Mosul

Law of Armed Conflict, Gaza and the BBC

Hamas PR department invokes BBC’s Bowen

 

 

A retrospective look at BBC coverage of the Second Lebanon War – part two

A review of the content produced by the BBC a decade ago at the time of the Second Lebanon War shows that many of the themes found in that coverage resurfaced eight years later in the corporation’s reporting of a different summer war: the 2014 conflict between Israel and Hamas and other assorted terrorist groups in the Gaza Strip.

SONY DSC

One theme found very early on in the BBC’s coverage of the 2014 war was the promotion of the unsubstantiated notion that Israel was committing ‘war crimes’ in the Gaza Strip, based on unverified claims from political NGOs – some of which were already engaged in lawfare against Israel.

Documenting the BBC contribution to political warfare against Israel

Documenting the BBC contribution to political warfare against Israel – part two

Documenting the BBC contribution to political warfare against Israel – part three

After the fighting had ended, the BBC continued to amplify the agenda of NGOs including Human Rights Watch (“More BBC promotion and amplification of lawfare NGO“) and in particular Amnesty International:

BBC’s Middle East editor promotes Amnesty International’s Gaza report

More BBC wind in the sails of NGO’s lawfare campaign

BBC amplification of Amnesty’s lawfare agenda again compromises impartiality

BBC WS ‘Newshour’ amplifies Israel delegitimising lawfare campaign

The green shoots of that editorial policy were apparent – albeit on a smaller scale – eight years earlier when – just eight days into the Second Lebanon War – the BBC News website ran an article headlined “UN warning on Mid-East war crimes” which was based on statements made by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights at the time. An additional article published on the same day told BBC audiences that:

“The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Louise Arbour, warns that those involved in the spiral of violence between Israel and Lebanon could face war crimes charges if they are found to have deliberately attacked civilians”

On August 23rd 2006 the BBC News website promoted a report by Amnesty International under the headline “Israel accused of war crimes“.

“Amnesty International has accused Israel of committing war crimes by deliberately targeting civilian infrastructure in Lebanon. […]

The document details what it describes as “massive destruction by Israeli forces of whole civilian neighbourhoods and villages”, together with attacks on bridges “in areas of no apparent strategic importance”, on its list of supporting evidence. […]

“Many of the violations identified in our report are war crimes, including indiscriminate and disproportionate attacks,” said Ms Gilmore.”

In September 2007 the BBC News website published an article titled “Israel accused over Lebanon war” which amplified a report by Human Rights Watch (HRW).

“A human rights group has accused Israel of carrying out indiscriminate air strikes that killed hundreds of civilians during the 2006 Lebanon war.

Human Rights Watch said Israel showed “reckless indifference” to the fate of civilians and queried its argument that Hezbollah used them as human shields.”

Despite the existence of publicly available evidence discrediting the claims made by AI and HRW (see for example here and here) the above BBC reports (and others) remain available online  – without any clarifying footnote – as ‘historical record’.SONY DSC

Another theme seen in BBC coverage of the Second Lebanon War was promotion of the notion of ‘disproportionate’ (and by implication, illegal) actions by Israel – already from day two of the conflict.

“A Lebanese cabinet minister said the Israeli response was disproportionate, and called for a ceasefire. […] France and Russia condemned Israel’s “disproportionate use of force”.” (July 13, 2006)

“The European Union is greatly concerned about the disproportionate use of force by Israel in Lebanon in response to attacks by Hezbollah on Israel.” (July 13, 2006)

“President Jacques Chirac of France called Israel’s acts “disproportionate” while Russian President Vladimir Putin called for an end to fighting. […]But he said Israel’s response was “completely disproportionate”, adding: “One can ask oneself whether there isn’t a sort of desire to destroy Lebanon.”” (July 14, 2006)

“Amnesty’s report said Israeli attacks into Lebanon were “indiscriminate and disproportionate”. (November 21, 2006)

Seeing as the BBC did not make any effort at the time (or since) to inform its audiences (and its own staff) of what the principle of proportionality in warfare actually means, it is not surprising to see that the ‘disproportionality’ theme regularly resurfaces in BBC reporting.

In June 2015, for example, viewers of BBC Two’s ‘Newsnight’ saw Evan Davis promote the false notion that proportionality means equality in death and suffering. During the summer 2014 conflict BBC audiences heard and read generous amplification of equally uninformed comment from assorted British politicians and in November 2012 listeners to the BBC World Service heard Julian Marshall tell an Israeli spokesperson:

“I think one of the observations made by critics of Israel is that you always respond disproportionately and – ah – in a way the figures tell the story. Since this offensive of yours began, 39 Palestinians have been killed, three Israelis. There’s a disproportionate use of force going on here.”

In the next instalment of this post we will take a look at additional common themes found in the BBC’s 2006 reporting from Lebanon and its subsequent coverage from the Gaza Strip.

Related Articles:

A retrospective look at BBC coverage of the Second Lebanon War – part one