BBC’s photos of the year include context-free image

On December 30th the BBC News website’s ‘In Pictures’ section published a selection of “striking photos” from 2018.

The feature “2018 in pictures: Striking photojournalism from around the world” was sub-headed “The BBC News picture team has selected some of the most arresting images by photojournalists from around the world in 2018” and among the twenty-eight chosen images was one taken by a Reuters photographer that was presented as follows:

“A Palestinian man argues with an Israeli soldier in October during clashes over an Israeli order to shut down a Palestinian school in the town of as-Sawiyah, south of Nablus, in the occupied West Bank.”

The part of that story that the BBC chose not to tell was reported by AFP in October thus:

“Clashes broke out in the occupied West Bank on Monday after Israeli forces ordered the closure of a Palestinian school, AFP correspondents said.

The Israeli army said the school had been the source of months of violence, with stones thrown at a nearby major road used by its forces and Israeli settlers.

The school serves the Palestinian villages of As-Sawiya and Al-Lubban south of Nablus and is located on a main road through the West Bank. […]

The Israeli army said the school “been the site of popular terror acts and riots” in recent months.

“In response to the large number of popular terror acts endangering Israeli and Palestinian civilians driving on the road… the area of the school was declared a closed military zone.””

It would of course not have been at all difficult for the BBC’s ‘In Pictures’ team to add that relevant context to the photo caption.

BBC News gives a sentimental account of the first Intifada

December 9th marked thirty years since the beginning of the first Intifada and on December 20th the BBC News website published a filmed report on that topic made by Eloise Dicker and Nida Ibrahim and headlined “‘It was an uprising from the heart’“.

“This picture of a woman throwing a stone at Israeli forces in Beit Sahour became iconic and the woman’s identity remained a mystery, until now.

Thirty years on, she has spoken to the BBC about the photograph.”

Whether or not that photograph can really be described as “iconic” – i.e. widely recognised – is of course debatable. BBC audiences are told that:

“This picture of a woman throwing a stone was taken almost 30 years ago but the woman’s identity was not known. The stone was aimed at Israeli forces in Beit Sahour, a village in the occupied West Bank.”

The woman – Micheline Awwad – then identifies herself in the photograph.

Awwad: “This is Micheline. It’s me. Of course it’s me.”

Viewers are then told that:

“In 1987, Palestinians began an “intifada”, or uprising, against Israeli rule. It lasted until 1993. Violent clashes led to the deaths of around 1,400 Palestinians and 271 Israelis.”

Although those statistics are credited to B’tselem, a look at the political NGO’s website shows that the total figures it gives for Palestinian casualties between December 9th 1987 and December 31st 1993 are lower by 196 than the number presented by the BBC. The subject of the nearly one thousand Palestinians killed by other Palestinians in those years did not make it into this BBC film.

The film goes on to give more statistics credited to B’tselem, with the number of Israelis killed during the second Intifada lower than those provided by official sources.

“There was a second intifada in 2000. Around 3,392 Palestinians and 996 Israelis were killed.”

The film then returns to Awwad.

Awwad: “I was wearing a black skirt and top, a yellow scarf and yellow heels. There was a special Mass at the church. Otherwise I wouldn’t have worn that outfit for a protest. When I saw the Israeli army approaching young men and confronting them, I followed the young men. When I started running – I couldn’t run with those shoes – I took them off and carried them. I didn’t know someone was taking a picture. It was an uprising from the heart. Young men and women passionately took to the streets. But not anymore. Young men and women today don’t want this.”

The BBC then inserts the following:

“There were calls for another intifada after the US recognised Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. Palestinians want the east of the city to be a capital of a future Palestinian state.”

Notably, viewers were not told that there were also “calls for another intifada” on numerous other prior occasions too. The film closes:

Awwad: “I have two sons. If, God forbid, one of them gets injured and dies, I’ll be heartbroken for life. Let my son stay at home – I’ll go out. Of course I would go out.”

“Micheline Awwad now works in a hotel. She doesn’t have the yellow heels any longer.”

In addition to the wording in this film, its visuals are also worthy of note. Throughout much of the film viewers see close-up shots of Awwad. However, they also see seven different images of photographs taken during the first Intifada – four of which show women in passive poses. None of the images including men – one of which features a priest – depict Palestinian acts of violence. Israeli soldiers with truncheons and guns are however shown in three of the images.

In the past the BBC has promoted the myth that the first Intifada was ‘non-violent’ (see ‘related articles’ below) and has completely erased Israeli casualties from its accounts. While it is therefore good to see those casualties finally acknowledged, this film nevertheless perpetuates the BBC’s long-standing romanticisation of type of Palestinian violence all too often euphemistically portrayed (if at all) as ‘protest’.

Related Articles:

BBC promotion of the myth of a non-violent first Intifada

Romanticising rocks and stones: BBC on the first Intifada



BBC’s ‘historical record’ compromised by absence of follow-up reporting

Anyone searching online for BBC content providing information about the September 13th 2015 rock-throwing attack which caused the death of Alexander Levlovich – regarded as having been the first incident in the surge of terrorism that began in the autumn of 2015 – will find the following vague descriptions of the incident: [all emphasis added]Alexander Levlovich

1) “The Israeli prime minister has vowed to “use all necessary means” to stop stone throwers after an Israeli man died in a car crash linked to such an attack. […]

Alexander Levlovitz died in a car accident apparently caused by a rock-throwing attack in Jerusalem. […]

Mr Levlovitz died and two passengers were reportedly injured after their car was pelted with stones on Monday. Police are investigating the incident.” (BBC News website, September 16th, 2015)

2) “On Monday an Israeli man died after his car was pelted with rocks.” (BBC News website, September 16th, 2015)

3) “An Israeli motorist died earlier in the week in an accident apparently caused by a rock-throwing attack in Jerusalem.” (BBC News website, September 19th, 2015)

The wording used in those reports clearly fails to give readers any idea of the identity of the perpetrators of the attack and their motives. Moreover, when the arrest of suspects was announced two weeks after the attack, the BBC refrained from covering the story.

Over a year later, one of the people arrested at the time has been sentenced.

“The minor involved in the murder of Alexander Levlovich, 64, whose death came to signify the beginning of last year’s wave of terror across Israel, received a prison sentence of nine years Monday morning as part of a plea bargain in which he confessed to all charges leveled against him and agreed to testify against four other accomplices. […]

The indictment against the terrorists was submitted a year ago, while the plea bargain on behalf of the minor was submitted Monday morning. As part of the latter, the charges were reduced from manslaughter to accessory to manslaughter. […]

According to the indictment, on the eve of Rosh Hashana in 2015, the accused individuals met with the intention of throwing rocks at cars driven by Jews on main roads in the Armon Hanatziv neighborhood in Jerusalem as part of acts defined as “retaliation and solidarity” in the wake of riots on the Temple Mount.

The four offenders hurled rocks at a number of vehicles before hitting that belonging to Levlovich, causing him to swerve off the road and crash into a tree. He was later pronounced dead.

The four terrorists fled the scene and later attempted to establish a consistent version of what had transpired in the event that they were arrested.”

Back in June 2014 the BBC’s Director of Editorial Policy and Standards – David Jordan – described the corporation’s online content as follows:

“Our online news is far more accessible today than the newspaper archives of libraries. But in principle there is no difference between them: both are historical records. […]…the BBC’s online archive is a matter of historic public record…” [emphasis added]

The absence of any follow-up to the BBC’s reporting on this story (and many similar ones) means that despite suspects having been arrested, indicted and one already sentenced, as far as the BBC’s “historic public record” is concerned, Mr Levlovich’s death was still “apparently” caused by “a rock-throwing attack” and BBC audiences have no idea who carried out that attack or that it was in fact an act of terror.  

NGO allegations promoted by BBC News shown to be unfounded

Last July the BBC News website published an article (which later had its inaccurate headline amended) concerning an incident which had taken place ten days earlier near the Qalandiya checkpoint.

Original headline

Original headline

The vast majority of the word count of that article was devoted to amplification of allegations made by the political NGO B’tselem. In addition, readers were directed to the B’tselem website and to its Youtube channel via two separate links but, in breach of BBC editorial guidelines on impartiality, no attempt was made to provide them with information concerning the NGO’s political agenda.

“In a statement, B’Tselem said the footage showed Col Shomer’s claim of self-defence was “unreasonable”.

“There is no doubt that the shattering of the jeep’s front window with a stone endangered the passengers when it happened. However, Kasbeh was shot in the back after the fact, when he was already running away and posing no ‘mortal threat’ to the soldiers. Feeling a sense of danger is not enough to justify any action.”

The rights group also noted that the video contradicted the IDF’s claim that Col Shomer had carried out “suspect-arrest procedure”.

“Military open-fire regulations permit shooting at the legs of a suspect in order to facilitate his arrest. They do not permit killing him by firing three shots at his upper body,” it added.”

Amended headline

Amended headline

The article also included substantial promotion of claims made by “witnesses” (including a fellow perpetrator of the rock throwing attack) and a relative of the deceased, such as the one below:

“Thaer Kasbah, the dead teenager’s brother, told the Associated Press that it was clear from the video that Col Shomer “wanted to kill him”.”

Together, the allegations from B’tselem, “witnesses” and the relative made up 85.5% of the article whilst statements from the IDF concerning the incident were allotted 14% of the total word count.

The investigation into that incident has now been completed.

“The Military Police opened an investigation into the incident to determine if Shomer had acted appropriately in the situation.

According to the IDF, Shomer had not intended to kill al-Kasbeh, and meant only to hit him in the legs in order to stop him, something that is permitted under army protocol.

The IDF chief prosecutor’s office found that Shomer had acted in accordance with the army’s rules of engagement, though it did fault the colonel for a “professional error in the way he discharged his weapon.”

“The IDF chief prosecutor found that the weapons discharge, under the framework of the arrest protocol, was justified from the circumstances of the incident,” the army said in a statement.

Shomer missed the suspect’s legs and hit him instead in the back because he “fired his weapon while in motion, and not in a static position,” the army said.

In light of that evidence, the prosecutor determined that the colonel’s actions were not criminal and did not merit full legal proceedings, according to the army’s statement.”

Whether or not the findings of that investigation will be afforded the same prominence on the BBC News website as B’tselem’s redundant allegations were given nine months ago of course remains to be seen. 


A story ignored by the BBC for thirty-four months

Last week five Palestinians were sentenced to 15 years in prison for their part in a terror attack nearly three years ago.

The fact that there was no BBC coverage of that story is not very surprising when one considers that the corporation also refrained from covering the incident when it took place on Highway 5 in March 2013, despite the fact that the rock-throwing attack resulted in serious brain injury to a three year-old Israeli child.Adele Bitton

Nearly a year ago, when that little girl died due to complications resulting from her injuries, the BBC still did not tell its audiences about Adele Bitton and her family.

And so, an entire story of a fatal terror attack on an Israeli mother and her children remains unknown to audiences of the media organization which, despite claiming to enhance “awareness and understanding of international issues”, systematically under-reports Palestinian acts of terror and particularly those perpetrated by rock-throwers. 

BBC’s public purpose remit compromised by failure to report on incitement

As noted here previously, BBC News’ reporting on the stoning attack in Jerusalem on September 13th which caused the death of Alexander Levlovich, as well as injuries to two other passengers in his vehicle, was remarkable for the fact that audiences were not provided with any information concerning the identity of the attackers. A later article in which that incident was also mentioned similarly disconnected the attack from its context.Alexander Levlovich

“An Israeli motorist died earlier in the week in an accident apparently caused by a rock-throwing attack in Jerusalem.” [emphasis added]

On September 26th the Israeli security services announced the arrests of four suspects from Sur Baher in connection with that attack.

“They were identified by the Shin Bet as Muhammad Salah Muhammad Abu Kaf, 18, Walid Fares Mustafa Atrash, 18, and Abed Muhammad Abed Rabo Dawiat, 17. The fourth suspect’s identity was not revealed.

During their interrogation, according to the Shin Bet, the four admitted to setting out on the evening of Rosh Hashanah to attack Israeli cars.

Dawiat, according to the investigation, threw the stone that hit Levlovitz’s car, causing him to lose control of his vehicle and crash into a pole.” 

The Jerusalem Post adds:

“Doiat [Dawiat], who confessed to throwing the large rock that killed Levlovitz, said he wore a Hamas flag he received earlier in the month at an “Al-Aksa is in Danger” demonstration against the banning by the defense minister of two radical Muslim groups from the Temple Mount.

The rally [held in Um el Fahm – Ed.] was organized by Hamas and the [Northern] Islamic Movement, according to security forces.”

As has been noted on countless occasions on these pages, the BBC has consistently failed to inform its audiences on the issue of incitement in general and the activities of the Hamas-linked Northern Islamic Movement (including on Temple Mount) in particular.

The complete absence of coverage of that very relevant issue means that not only are BBC audiences being denied the full range of information which would enable them to properly understand this particular “international issue” but they are actively being misled with regard to the back story to violent attacks on Israeli citizens.

BBC’s Knell promotes Al Aqsa Mosque inaccuracy already corrected by NYT and Newsweek

September 16th saw the appearance of an article titled “Israeli PM Netanyahu vows stone-thrower crackdown” on the BBC News website’s homepage, ‘World’ page and Middle East page. The subject of that headline is an emergency meeting of government ministers and officials on the evening of September 15th following the death two days earlier of an Israeli man after his vehicle was attacked by Palestinian stone throwers in Jerusalem.stone throwers main art

Remarkably, the BBC’s minimalistic portrayal of the incident in which Alexander Levlovich was killed and two other people injured erases all mention of the attackers’ identity and fails to clarify that similar incidents have taken place in the past at the same location.

“The Israeli prime minister has vowed to “use all necessary means” to stop stone throwers after an Israeli man died in a car crash linked to such an attack. […]

Alexander Levlovitz died in a car accident apparently caused by a rock-throwing attack in Jerusalem. […]

Mr Levlovitz died and two passengers were reportedly injured after their car was pelted with stones on Monday. Police are investigating the incident.”

As regular readers are aware, the BBC refrained from reporting on any of the three previous Israeli fatalities caused by terror attacks since the beginning of this year. In this case, whilst Mr Levlovich’s death is reported, audiences are nevertheless left without the details and context which would enable them to understand the story properly.

Half of this article’s word count is devoted to another subject. [all emphasis added]

“Meanwhile, clashes between Israeli police and Palestinian protesters continued for a third day in the city. […]

Separately, violence has again rocked the al-Aqsa mosque compound.

The compound – known to Jews as the Temple Mount and to Muslims as al-Haram al-Sharif – is the holiest site in Judaism, and contains the al-Aqsa Mosque – the third holiest site in Islam.

The compound is a source of religious and political tension between Israel and the Palestinians. It is a frequent flashpoint for violence.

On Tuesday, police spokeswoman Luba Samri told AP that police entered the Al-Aqsa mosque compound early in the morning to disperse protesters who had stayed inside the mosque overnight.”

One of the photographs illustrating the article is captioned:

“Police dispersed protesters in the streets around the Al-Aqsa Mosque in the Old City on Tuesday”.

Stone throwers art pic

The BBC’s use of the term “protesters” is clearly inaccurate and misleading. It fails to clarify to readers that the organised rioters use violence both on Temple Mount and in the surrounding streets and – together with detached, neutral phrasing such as the description of Temple Mount as “a frequent flashpoint for violence” – does nothing to enhance audience understanding of the real background to this story.

Embedded into the head of this article is a filmed report by Yolande Knell which, in addition to being shown on television news programmes, also appeared as a stand-alone item on the BBC News website under the title “Netanyahu vows to stop stone-throwers after Al Aqsa clashes“. The synopsis to that report likewise fails to identify the perpetrators of the incident in which Alexander Levlovich was killed.Stone throwers Knell filmed

“On Monday an Israeli man died after his car was pelted with rocks.”

Yolande Knell does not even mention that incident in her report.

“Well what the Israeli prime minister has said after this emergency ministerial meeting – called at the end of the Jewish New Year’s holiday which has spread really over the last three days – he’s said that there will be much tougher fines for Palestinian minors who throw stones and also that they’re going to take a look at modifying the rules of engagement – as he called it – ah…for Israeli security forces who are dealing with Palestinian stone throwers.”

Apparently Yolande Knell does not know that the term rules of engagement is a standard way of describing the circumstances in which military forces engage in combat and not just a phrase used by the Israeli prime minister. She continues:

“And as you said this is really to do with the clashes that have taken place over the Jewish New Year’s holiday at the holy site you can see behind me: the Al Aqsa Mosque compound. Known to Muslims as Haram al Sharif – the Noble Sanctuary – this is the third holiest site in Islam and it’s believed that at that golden dome over there – the Dome of the Rock – that’s where the Prophet Mohammed ascended to heaven.

And then in the Al Aqsa Mosque here – which is just a bit closer to me – that’s where these clashes happened over the last three days. There were young Palestinian demonstrators who barricaded themselves inside the mosque. They were very worried about Israeli police bringing non-Muslim Jewish visitors – hundreds of them – to this site because of course for Jews this is Temple Mount and for Jews this is the holiest site in Judaism. Many people wanted to visit over the holidays.”

The Israeli police of course do not ‘bring’ visitors to Temple Mount but ensure their security during visits. Neglecting to mention the pipe bombs found at the site on September 13th, Knell goes on:

“Ahm…now Palestinians were throwing stones at the Israeli police, also fireworks. The Israeli police were responding with stun grenades and also with tear gas. They moved to the mosque – they say just to close the doors of it to stop people from coming out. The Palestinians say that actually they came inside the mosque; they intruded inside the mosque. And this has all really ratcheted up tensions, particularly with dramatic amateur footage circulated by both sides of what happened over this period.” [emphasis added]

The spokesman for the Israeli police has made it quite clear that the security forces did not enter the Al Aqsa Mosque (Newsweek has already corrected a similar error, as has the New York Times) and obviously it is Yolande Knell’s job to provide BBC audiences with a factual account of events rather than amplification of baseless – and dangerous – rumour.

As we see, Knell’s report is as unsatisfactory as the written article in that it fails to provide BBC audiences with the full range of background information needed to understand the organized and premeditated nature of the violence on Temple Mount and the underlying issues of official PA incitement and the groups of Islamist agitators paid to harass non-Muslim visitors to the site and provoke tensions with the Israeli authorities. As Ha’aretz reported in late 2014:

“A senior security official told Haaretz that the defense establishment has learned that the Mourabitoun guards receive a monthly salary of between 3,000 and 4,000 shekels ($776 – $1036). Some of the funds come from the Gulf States, through the occupied territories by way of couriers, and from there the money makes its way into East Jerusalem. Recently, the Shin Bet and Israel Police apprehended a courier at the Jordanian border in possession of 1 million shekels, meant for the Mourabitoun guards.”

This is not a story about ‘worried protesters’ and ‘clashes’ as Yolande Knell would have viewers believe. It actually involves much wider and more complex issues about which the BBC has consistently failed to inform its audiences, thus deliberately failing to enhance their understanding of this recurring story – as its public purpose remit demands.


BBC manipulation of public opinion

The last few days have provided a good example of the way in which public opinion is manipulated by the BBC News website’s Middle East desk’s decision to run or not run a particular story.

As noted here previously, the fact that residents of the Sha’ar HaNegev area in southern Israel had to run to shelters when the warning alarm for incoming missiles sounded last Thursday afternoon was not deemed newsworthy by the BBC. Neither was the firing of missiles towards Eilat by jihadists located in the Sinai the week before. 

However, on Friday July 12th the Middle East page of the BBC News website did carry a story dramatically titled “Israel ‘illegally detained’ five-year-old Palestinian” which is basically a re-hash of a an item which appeared the day before that on the website of the political NGO ‘B’tselem’ (described by the BBC in the article as an “Israeli human rights group”), and is based on video footage filmed by local activists in Hebron who are provided with video cameras by B’tselem.  

Neither the BBC nor B’tselem appear to be particularly interested in the fact that the parents of a child of five years and nine months old allowed him to be out on the streets alone  throwing stones, or in the human rights of the people travelling along that road which those stones endangered. That, of course, is nothing new: the BBC systematically avoids reporting even the most serious stone-throwing attacks as well as other kinds of violence and terror activity in Judea & Samaria. 

Sadly, neither is there anything novel about the BBC producing ‘churnalism’ based on readily available material supplied by politically motivated organisations – often without disclosing to audiences the nature of those organisations’ political ideologies – and resulting partiality.

But as this example shows, the editorial decision to feature a non-event of a story about a stone-throwing child being taken to his home by soldiers (as the BBC itself states, the boy was neither arrested nor charged) and later, together with his father, handed over to the PA police – particularly whilst simultaneously avoiding reporting quotidian incidents of violence and terrorism aimed at Israeli civilians – means that the BBC has only itself to blame when the accuracy and impartiality of its Middle East reporting are called into question.