BBC’s Plett Usher continues to promote her Israel narratives

In December 2017 the BBC News website published an article titled “Trumplomacy: Key takeaways from Jerusalem policy shift“. In March 2019 the BBC News website published an article titled “Trumplomacy on Golan Heights: What it all means”.  

The latest article in the ‘Trumplomacy’ genre by the BBC’s US State Department correspondent Barbara Plett Usher appeared on the BBC News website’s ‘Middle East’ page on April 12th under the headline “Trumplomacy: Where are things at with the Mideast peace plan?”. [emphasis in bold added]

The main image illustrating the article is captioned “Secretary of State Mike Pompeo (R) recently became the first high-ranking US official to visit Jerusalem’s Western Wall last month”. In fact previous American visitors to the site have included the US President, Vice-President and former UN ambassador.

Although Israel’s president will only begin meeting with representatives of the lists which won seats in the Knesset in last week’s election on April 15th in order to hear their recommendations for the candidate who should be tasked with forming the next government and that person will then have 28 days in which to do so (with the possibility of a two-week extension), Plett Usher already ‘knows’ what sort of new government Israel will have:

“With a newly elected right-wing government taking shape in Israel this is a good time to check in on the status of the Trump administration’s peace plan.”

Under the sub-heading “How has the [US] policy changed?” Plett Usher instructs readers to:

“Remember that the formula for peace negotiations has been: two states based on the borders of Arab territory seized by Israel in the 1967 war, with mutually agreed land swaps; sufficient security arrangements; a just solution for Palestinian refugees; and negotiations to settle the fate of Jerusalem, the occupied eastern part of which Palestinians claim as their capital.”

While Plett Usher does not specify the source of her “the formula for peace negotiations”, her description is apparently based on non-binding UN General Assembly resolutions such as 3236 and/or the extinct 2003 Quartet road map.

Interestingly, Plett Usher does not bother to inform her readers that the Oslo Accords – the one agreement which resulted from actual negotiations between Israel and the PLO – did not specify the two-state solution as “the formula”.

Significantly, while portraying the “fate of Jerusalem” as the sole issue to be resolved in negotiations, Plett Usher fails to inform audiences that under the terms of the Oslo Accords, other topics she portrays as ‘givens’ – borders, refugees and settlements – are also to be resolved in permanent status negotiations.

Instead Plett Usher promotes the false notion of pre-1967 “borders”, failing to clarify that those were actually armistice lines which were specifically defined in the 1949 Armistice Agreement as not being borders. Equally revealing is Plett Usher’s description of land assigned by the League of Nations to the creation of a Jewish homeland which was belligerently occupied by Jordan and Egypt in 1948 as “Arab territory” and her prior reference to “the occupied Palestinian West Bank”.

In other words Barbara Plett Usher has unquestioningly adopted and promoted the PLO’s stance on that issue.  She goes on:

“But the White House has declared that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel, cut funds to the UN agency that looks after Palestinian refugees, and accepted Israel’s unilateral annexation of other occupied territory, the Golan Heights.”

A journalist with integrity would clarify that the US announcement recognising Jerusalem as Israel’s capital city specifically stated that – in contrast to the impression Plett Usher is trying to create – it had no bearing on negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians.

“Today’s actions—recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and announcing the relocation of our embassy—do not reflect a departure from the strong commitment of the United States to facilitating a lasting peace agreement. The United States continues to take no position on any final status issues. The specific boundaries of Israeli sovereignty in Jerusalem are subject to final status negotiations between the parties. The United States is not taking a position on boundaries or borders.”

And if bringing up the topic of cuts in US funding to UNRWA, a journalist devoted to informing readers would also have explained the background to that decision, the controversies surrounding that UN agency and the broader issue of Palestinian refugees.

Going on to reference the anti-Israel BDS campaign, Plett Usher likewise fails to inform readers of that campaign’s aims, thereby denying them the ability to judge the statement she paraphrases.

“The state department’s new envoy to combat anti-Semitism, Elan Carr, has reinforced this Israeli narrative in US policy.

He told us that boycotting goods made in Jewish West Bank settlements was anti-Semitic, even though the settlements are illegal under international law and have expanded to such a degree many question whether a Palestinian state is still viable.”

Plett Usher then bolsters her article’s core messaging to readers with a quote sourced from an organisation she once again signposts as “liberal”.

“The administration’s embrace of the Israeli government’s right-wing positions has alarmed liberal American Jewish organizations.

“What they’ve done so far tells you what they intend to lay out,” says Jeremy Ben-Ami of the J Street lobby group. “They have no intention to lay out what could conceivably resolve the conflict. Instead they will tie American government positions to those of the farthest right of Israel’s political spectrum.””

In her final section – sub-headed “What about the Palestinian reaction?” – Plett Usher qualifies the description of people convicted of violent attacks against Israelis.

“Mr Abbas is very unpopular. But on a recent trip to Jerusalem I was told anecdotally that Palestinians have at least given him credit for standing firm on their three core issues: Jerusalem, refugees and maintaining funds to Palestinian prisoners – whom the Israelis regard as terrorists – despite financial pressure.”

Although the US administration’s proposal has yet to be revealed, the Palestinian Authority has already made its rejection of it amply clear. Nevertheless Barbara Plett Usher’s aim in this article is to convince BBC audiences that when it does appear, that plan is destined to fail because it ‘embraces’ the positions of “the farthest right of Israel’s political spectrum” rather than because the Palestinians have made it a non-starter.

While Plett Usher’s promotion of that narrative comes as no surprise, it is unfortunate that BBC audiences continue to be fed commentary which does little to enhance their understanding of this and additional topics from a person whose impartiality on issues relating to Israel has long been in plain sight.

Related Articles:

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BBC Radio 4’s ‘Today’ on the Gaza Strip – part one

As already noted, a significant proportion of the January 18th edition of BBC Radio 4’s ‘Today’ programme was again given over to the topic of the Gaza Strip.

The previous evening viewers of ‘News at Ten’ had seen Mishal Husain’s one-sided report on the healthcare system in the Gaza Strip – filmed a month earlier when she visited the territory – and the next morning Radio 4 listeners heard her present a total of over sixteen and a half minutes of similar content in two separate items, the second of which (from 2:09:59 here) included an interview with the Israeli ambassador to the UK and the recycling of an interview with an UNRWA official.

The first part of Husain’s introduction was previously discussed here. In line with BBC editorial policy throughout the past ten months, Husain continued to whitewash violent rioting, grenade, IED and shooting attacks as well as breaches of the border fence with her tepid portrayal of “protests”.

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

Husain: “2018 was the worst year for Palestinian deaths and injuries in the West Bank and Gaza since the Gaza conflict of 2014. The United Nations says 295 Palestinians were killed and 29,000 injured by Israeli forces over the course of the year. In the same period, says the UN, 15 Israelis were killed in Palestinian attacks and 137 injured. On the Palestinian side most of the deaths and injuries were connected to the weekly protests at the boundary fence that separates Gaza from Israel. Those protests are now in their tenth month and the number of injuries, including gunshots to the legs that often result in amputations, is causing an immense burden on Gaza’s already over-stretched medical facilities. Hospitals have been badly affected by the economic blockade maintained by Israel and on the other side by Egypt – they say for security reasons. That blockade, the lack of work, the collapsing economy of Gaza, was something we looked at when we reported from there last month. Here’s part of what Matthias Schmale, the most senior UN official in Gaza, told us.”

The counter-terrorism measures imposed by Israel on the Gaza Strip are not an “economic blockade” as claimed by Husain, who predictably avoided any explanation of the “security reasons” which brought about those measures.

Listeners then heard part of an item previously aired on BBC Radio 4’s ‘Today’ programme and on BBC World Service radio’s ‘Newshour’ on December 17th.

Schmale: “The disasters I have encountered were either natural – a tsunami, an earthquake – or man-made in terms of war. This is the first time I’m confronted with a humanitarian crisis that is entirely man-made as a result of the blockade. But if people had their own jobs and earned their own money, which they could have, we would not need to do this. Natural disasters are uncontrollable. This is controllable.”

Husain: “If there was a different security situation – Israel would say it’s not possible with the current reality, the current stance of Hamas towards it.”

Schmale: “I understand the security argument but I also think that we need to be very careful not to put the entire 2 million population into that basket. You know I would claim that the Israelis know so well what goes on in here and know who the potential people are that would hold a security threat to them. If they wanted to they could with reasonable safety let the peace-loving population go out and earn a living for themselves.”

Once again listeners heard that Gaza residents should and could be allowed to work in Israel “with reasonable [sic] safety” but with no mention made of the past history of dozens of terror attacks perpetrated by workers from the Gaza Strip or the documented cases of Hamas’ abuse of travel permits issued to Gaza residents for terrorism purposes.

Husain: “Matthias Schmale speaking to me in an aid distribution centre in Gaza last month. And I’m joined in the studio by Mark Regev, Israel’s ambassador to the UK. […] Could you first answer that point from the UN? Why put an entire population of 2 million people into this basket of being a security risk to Israel?”

Despite Regev having detailed why Hamas is a “clear security risk” for Israel, Husain posed the same question again.

Husain: “Why put the entire population into the Hamas basket?”

Regev: “Well we don’t want to. We seek to differentiate. We don’t see the people of Gaza as our enemy. In many ways, like the people of southern Israel, they are the victims of Hamas violence.”

Husain: “You may not seek to but that is the effect of what the blockade does. It’s a blockade from the air, from the land, from the sea. Again, the point that the UN is making is that you could – the Israeli authorities could very easily allow at least some people to have work permits in Israel to go and earn a living for themselves and that income would make a significant difference to living conditions in Gaza.”

Husain of course skipped over ‘boring’ details such as the taxes that would potentially be paid to Hamas by such workers and the basic issue of the right of Israel to control its borders as any other country does.

Regev: “I think last year some 200,000 people crossed the borders between Israel and Gaza. Some 70% of that was for medical purposes but we are…we are interested in seeing the population go back and forth. From our point of view we want to see the people of Gaza have as normal as possible lives. The challenges…”

Husain [interrupts] “But that is not what’s happening.”

Regev: “The challenge is…that is a goal but at the same time we have to protect our people. And what does one do when you have a Hamas terrorist organisation that is committed to violence and terrorism. In this same last year – yes? – we had twelve hundred – one thousand two hundred – rockets, missiles, fired from Gaza into Israel. We had repeated attempts – as you reported* – to storm the border, to attack our people, to break into Israel, to enter our communities. You yourself interviewed Israelis on the border with Gaza who live in fear.”

Husain next made a thinly veiled reference to the notion of ‘collective punishment’.

Husain: “Indeed but overall you have been pretty successful – haven’t you? – in keeping people safe, in keeping Israeli civilians safe. What is happening in effect though through that is what arguably is the punishment of an entire people.”

Ambassador Regev then spoke about Hamas’ priorities, noting that “if they invested in schools and in hospitals, in the betterment of the life of the people in Gaza, it would be a totally different situation.”

Husain: “There is a considerable impact through the blockade on health facilities and that was shown…for example I did a report that ran last night on the ten o’clock news and you could see how medical facilities are suffering. Now I’m looking at an Israeli government list of the kinds of things that are prohibited in Gaza and they include significant things that would be incredibly important for the health care services. Scanning machines including X-ray machines are not allowed in Gaza. Instruments for physical and chemical analysis are not allowed in Gaza. Pumps intended for dirty water are not allowed in Gaza. Why are they not allowed?”

While we are not able to determine which list Husain was “looking at”, her claim that the items she cited are “prohibited” and “not allowed” does not hold water. The items mentioned by Husain appear on COGAT’s “List of “Dual Use” Items Requiring a Transfer License” which opens by stating that:

“The items delineated in this Decree are prohibited from transfer into the regions of Judea and Samaria, or the Gaza Strip, unless the relevant party has acquired a license.” [emphasis added]

In other words, those dual-use items and others can and do enter the Gaza Strip if the relevant permit is secured.

Given Husain’s claims, listeners could well have understood that there are no medical scanners or X-ray machines in the Gaza Strip. That of course is not the case.

“The spokesperson for the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT) announced today, 19 July 2010, that the equipment for the USAID greenhouse project as well as medical equipment for Shifa Hospital in Gaza City were delivered to the Gaza Strip.

The medical equipment to Shifa Hospital includes a CT scanner and an X-ray machine donated by the World Health Organization (WHO). The transfer was coordinated by the Coordination & Liaison Administration in Gaza.”

A Reuters report from 2016 about the opening of a new hospital in the Gaza Strip includes the following:

“Umm Hashem, a mother bringing her 17-year-old daughter to the hospital to have a stomach problem examined, praised the new facility, saying it was long overdue.

“The best thing here is the X-ray machine,” she said, referring to the CT-scanner. “We used to go to Shifa hospital to get checked, but now we can do it here.””

In January 2018 the Journal of Radiation Research and Applied Sciences published a paper titled “Evaluation of advanced medical imaging services at Governmental Hospitals-Gaza Governorates, Palestine”.

“Medical imaging services are the key tool to diagnose many diseases and have an important role in monitoring treatment and predicting outcome. The current study [was] conducted to evaluate advanced medical imaging services (CT and MRI) at Governmental Hospitals-Gaza Governorates, Palestine.” 

So, while the situation of medical services in the Gaza Strip may be far from ideal, Mishal Husain’s promotion of the notion that scanners and X-rays are “prohibited” and “not allowed” is clearly inaccurate and materially misleading to listeners.

Regev then spoke about Hamas’ use of metal pipes for making rockets and the fact that dual-purpose items such as fertiliser and some types of medical equipment can be used for military purposes, stating:

“…as long as Hamas controls the hospitals – and they do – we have a problem with that sort of equipment going in. We have to protect our people.”

Husain: “Well some people who work in the hospitals are paid for by Hamas, some are paid for by the Palestinian Authority.”

Regev: “But they all live under the rule of Hamas.”

Husain: “The question is the impact of what you’re doing on the civilian population of Gaza. I mean for example there was a doctor who said to me that among the items that are considered dual use are the stains that are used for medical diagnosis. For example radiotherapy is barely available in Gaza. Chemotherapy is barely available in Gaza. The chances of a woman surviving breast cancer in Gaza after 5 years is half of the chance of an Israeli woman just across the boundary fence. This is the reality of the policies that you are pursuing and their impact.”

A relevant paper published in October 2018 states that:

“Five-year survival rates for breast cancer in Gaza are about 50%, compared with about 85% in the United States and Israel (including women referred to East Jerusalem). Part of this disparity is explained by a later stage at diagnosis, but limited therapeutic options also contribute.” 

That is not “half the chance of an Israeli woman” as claimed by Husain.

Regev: “I think you’d find that a large part of the shortages in Gaza hospitals are because the Hamas regime refuses to invest in its own medical facilities for its own people and prefers to invest in violence: digging tunnels, building missiles and so forth. That is the fundamental problem. I agree that on some issues because of our concerns – and I think they’re legitimate – on dual-use items we do place restrictions but the overwhelming problems facing the Gaza medical system is because of Hamas’ own policies.”

Husain then changed the topic of conversation – as will be seen in part two of this post.

Related Articles:

BBC’s Mishal Husain fosters a narrative with airbrushed statistics

‘News at Ten’ continues the BBC’s ‘blockade’ campaign

BBC Radio 4’s selective framing of the “hardships” of Gaza Christians

BBC Radio 4 ‘Today’ Gaza Strip special – part one

BBC Radio 4 ‘Today’ Gaza Strip special – part two

BBC Radio 4 ‘Today’ Gaza Strip special – part three

BBC Radio 4 ‘Today’ Gaza Strip special – part four

BBC Radio 4 ‘Today’ Gaza Strip special – part five

Mishal Husain does ‘life in Gaza’ for BBC One TV

The BBC’s monochrome framing of Gaza’s chronic utilities crisis

The common denominators in the BBC News website’s Gaza reporting

 

No surprises in BBC Radio 4’s leading stories of 2019 forecast

On December 28th BBC Radio 4 aired a programme that was titled “Correspondents Look Ahead” and sub-headed “BBC correspondents forecast the leading news stories for the year ahead”.

“How do you look ahead in a world which constantly takes us by surprise, sometimes shocks us and often makes us ask ‘what happens next?’

Who would have predicted that President Trump would, to use his words, fall in love with the North Korean leader Kim Jung Un, whose country he had threatened to totally destroy? Who could have imagined that a prominent Saudi journalist, Jamal Khashoggi, would be murdered and dismembered in a Saudi Consulate? And, on a happier note, we’re relieved that, as the year ends a climate change conference in Poland did manage to save the Paris pact, and maybe our world.

The BBC’s chief international correspondent, Lyse Doucet talks to correspondents from around the globe about what might happen in the world in 2019.

Guests:

Katya Adler, Europe editor
Yolande Knell, Middle East correspondent
James Robbins, Diplomatic correspondent
Steve Rosenberg, Moscow correspondent
Jon Sopel, North America editor”

The programme’s first thirteen minutes focused mostly on the United States and Russia. The guests were then asked to name a person who may be in the news in 2019 and Yolande Knell (from 14:24) chose Jared Kushner as someone who according to her will be “caught up still in several of the really big news stories that we’re going to carry on talking about”. [emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]

Knell: “…and then most importantly, this historic task that was given to Mr Kushner – an Orthodox Jew, somebody who’s been a family friend of the Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu – nothing less than crafting a peace plan to relaunch negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians.”

After a discussion about Saudi Arabia that included a description of an end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as “Middle East peace”, presenter Lyse Doucet (from 20:53) returned to that topic.

Doucet: “This so-called deal of the century; President Trump’s lawyer Jason Greenblatt is in charge of this new Israeli-Palestinian deal. We expected it to be announced in 2018. Will they announce it in 2019?”

Sopel: “I think they’ve got to announce something otherwise it will look like this has been a lot of huffing and puffing with nothing to show for it. But I mean I think that the difficulties – and particularly the lack of trust that there is on the Palestinian side, that the US are not honest brokers following the move of the American embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem – is profound and therefore I think the scope…everybody knows what the issues are around a Middle East peace. Donald Trump has said vague things like, you know, I don’t care whether it’s a one-state or a two-state solution as long as all sides are happy with it I’ll go with anything. Then he’s kind of talked more about it; well let’s go for a two-state solution. I think the issues have been pretty well ventilated about the kind of sticking points there are. Does Donald Trump have the power to unpick this in a way previous people haven’t? I think it’s a huge question and I, you know, I don’t…nothing I’ve seen so far leads me to think oh yeah well they’ve got this in the bag. But there again Donald Trump is surprising. You know a year ago we didn’t imagine that there would be talks taking place in Singapore with Kim Jong-un.”

Doucet: “Yolande? Will it be announced in 2019?”

Knell: “I’m going to say so. I think there has to be some kind of peace plan after it’s been talked up so much. The latest we’re hearing is it will be in the coming months. It might not be quite on a scale that lines up to the idea of it being a deal of the century but already people here argue that the key steps have been taken by the US that makes some of its intentions clear. There was the US embassy move to Jerusalem, there was aid cut to Palestinian refugees – to UNRWA the agency that deals with them. There have been those warming ties between Israel and the Arab Gulf countries and there’s been lots and lots of diplomatic and financial pressure on the Palestinian Authority and the PLO.”

Interestingly, none of the BBC’s crystal ball gazing correspondents brought up the highly relevant topic of Hamas’ opposition to a negotiated peace deal with Israel or the question of whether or not the Palestinian Authority will survive the coming year in its present format.

While we have no indication as to when this programme was recorded, we can conclude that it was before December 24rd because Lyse Doucet’s next question was:

Doucet: “What if there’s Israeli elections? That will be the priority.”

Of course elections had been announced four days before this broadcast went on air but apparently nobody thought it necessary to edit the programme accordingly.

Knell: “Indeed I mean that is the big complicating factor I think when it comes to the timings because certainly I think Mr Netanyahu is seen as the partner – the Israeli partner – for any kind of a peace deal and he has to have Israeli elections this year. There’s another complicating factor as well where he is facing the possibility of charges in three public corruption cases so something else to look out for in the months to come is a decision by the Attorney General whether he should take the police recommendations to charge Mr Netanyahu and yes, I think this is something that’s all being carefully calibrated behind the scenes in terms of the timing of any announcement.”

With elections set for April 9th it is of course very unlikely that anything will happen on the diplomatic front until at least May, making Knell’s prediction that details of a peace plan will be announced “in the coming months” highly questionable.

Listeners then heard brief references to Yemen and Iran – though solely in relation to what Doucet termed the “landmark nuclear deal” as well as a one-word mention of Syria before attentions turned to Brexit.

Later on in the programme (from 28:09) Doucet asked her guests to name “unsung heroes” – people “who are having an impact in whatever world they inhabit” and Yolande Knell again brought the topic of conversation back to Israel.

Knell: “In terms of new names I mean I’m going to say the Attorney General here in Israel. Avichai Mandelblit. I mean he’s very well-known here but I really think he’s going to be internationally sort of known in the months ahead because he has to make this big decision about whether to charge the prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu in these public corruption cases. And there’s real drama here because Mr Mandelblit was Mr Netanyahu’s cabinet secretary. When he was appointed originally he was accused of being too close to the prime minister and now he could become the man who takes down the prime minister after a decade in power. And if Mr Netanyahu can stay in office until the middle of next year he would actually be the longest-serving prime minister in Israeli history, taking over from the founding father David Ben Gurion so there’s a real legacy issue here. Ahm…the BBC did get to ask Mr Netanyahu about all of this at an end of year journalists’ event and we just got his usual mantra which is nothing will come out of this because there’s nothing in it and I think this is going to be a fascinating year for Israeli politics. I mean certainly that is something that his party supporters believe that this has been some kind of witch hunt and just to go back to Mr Mandelblit, I mean this man many journalists remarked how he’s gone from having red hair to turning grey in the few years he’s been in his job, having to make lots of tough decisions. He already, I think, lost his invitations to go to the prime minister’s luxury private residence in the north of Israel because he charged his wife Sarah in a case about misusing state funds for catering when she has a cook paid for by the state. So I’m foreseeing lots more political drama here in the months ahead.”

Notably the BBC’s Middle East correspondent had no predictions to make concerning the complex situation in Syria, the demonstrations in Iran, the embattled Kurds or Lebanon – which has not had a functioning government for over six months.

All those stories and more lost out to the colour of the Israeli Attorney General’s hair and Mrs Netanyahu’s take-aways.

Our prediction is that the BBC’s disproportionate focus on Israel – often at the expense of audience understanding of the wider Middle East – will continue in 2019.   

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The BBC’s Gaza framing evolves with Jon Donnison

The December 17th afternoon edition of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour‘ included a thirteen-minute item which made use of part of Mishal Husain’s broadcast from the Gaza Strip that listeners to BBC Radio 4 had heard earlier in the day.

Presenter Jon Donnison introduced that item (from 30:06 here) using framing identical to that previously heard in the Radio 4 ‘Today’ programme. [emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]

Donnison: “Gaza’s economic statistics make for grim reading. According to the World Bank 54% of the labour force in the tiny Palestinian territory is unemployed. The figure goes up to 70% for youth unemployment. Around eight out of every ten Gazans are dependent on food aid and around half of Gaza’s population of around 2 million people are registered refugees. Well today the UN is launching an appeal to raise $350 million for Palestinian refugees who it says are in dire humanitarian need. It comes after the United States cut hundreds of millions of dollars of UN funding destined for Palestinians. The economy’s been impacted by a blockade maintained by Israel and Egypt – they say for their security – and incomes have also been affected by Palestinian Authority sanctions on Hamas, the movement which has been in power in Gaza since 2007. Well the BBC’s Mishal Husain visited one of the refugee camps with Matthias Schmale, head of Gaza operations for the UN agency for Palestinian refugees.”

Contrary to Donnison’s claim, the UN appeal for $350 million does not specify “Palestinian refugees” as the beneficiaries.

Listeners then heard Mishal Husain’s ‘Shati walkabout’ interview with Matthias Schmale which did not include any challenge whatsoever to UNRWA’s politicised messaging or any background information concerning that organisation and its mission, Hamas’ financial prioritisation of terrorism over civilian welfare and the effects of the Hamas-Fatah dispute on the Gaza Strip’s economy.

At 36:57 Jon Donnison then introduced an interviewee whose participation was obviously intended to reinforce the BBC’s highly selective framing of the ‘Gaza economic crisis’ story.

Donnison: “Well Sharren Haskel is a member of the Knesset – Israel’s parliament. She’s with the governing Likud party and also sits on the foreign affairs and defence committee. […] Ehm, first of all, how has Israel and Israeli citizen benefited from this blockade?”

Haskel: “Well you know your report actually brings out something that’s quite concerning because it’s very easy – and this is something that’s being repeated time after time – to sort of blame Israel for all the problems. But it’s really sort of letting Hamas off the hook…”

Donnison [interrupts]: “Well we heard…we heard the UN chap there being quite critical of Hamas. I’m asking you how has Israel…how has this blockade helped Israel’s citizens over the past 12 years?”

As Haskel spoke about Hamas’ investment of funding in cross-border tunnels and weapons rather than infrastructure and social services for the citizens of the Gaza Strip, Donnison interrupted her again.

Donnison: “No but you’ve…you’ve made…you’ve made that point several times so I’ll ask you a third time – how has the blockade helped Israelis, particularly those living on the border? Because it hasn’t worked, has it? It hasn’t made them safer. We’ve had three wars in the past 12 years. Thousands and thousands of rockets coming out of Gaza – they’re still coming out. You’d acknowledge that. It’s not worked, has it?”

Haskel: “Well to be honest this is not a blockade. You have Gaza and you have an independent entity. So they really have an autonomy to dictate their own future. They could have turned Gaza into a Singapore. They…”

Donnison [interrupts]: “Yeah, yeah, you’ve made that…you’ve made that point. My point is that as…as you know Israel probably needs to be looking at alternatives to the blockade which isn’t working, is it?”

As is all too frequently documented here, the BBC serially avoids stories which would provide its audiences with understanding of why Israel’s counter-terrorism measures are necessary – for example:

BBC News again ignores abuse of Israeli humanitarian aid to Gaza

BBC ignores another story explaining the need for Gaza border restrictions

Documenting the BBC’s continuing silence on Gaza smuggling

BBC waives another chance to explain why Gaza’s naval blockade exists

BBC News passes up chance to explain why Israeli counter-terrorism measures exist

Had the BBC reported those stories and countless others, Donnison would of course not have been able to promote his facile and obviously politically motivated ‘blockade isn’t working’ theme quite so easily.  

After Haskel had noted the entry of goods into the Gaza Strip, the exit of people, the electricity supplied to Gaza by Israel and other humanitarian efforts, she observed that Egypt’s counter-terrorism measures do not garner the same criticism as Israel’s measures. Donnison interrupted with the following snide remark:

Donnison: “Well I’m speaking to you, aren’t I?”

As Haskel explained the background to Egypt’s policy and the efforts made by Israel to balance humanitarian aid with security, Donnison interrupted her yet again.

Donnison: “There are…there are many Palestinians in Gaza…there are many Palestinians in Gaza – possibly the majority – who are sick and tired of Hamas. But some would say that you are doing little to help ordinary Palestinians. The UN says you are in effect collectively punishing them.”

Listeners were not provided with any evidence to support Donnison’s claim that “many” Gazans and even “possibly a majority” are dissatisfied with Hamas. Haskel pointed out that if that is the case, then it is the residents of the Gaza Strip who have to do something about it.

Donnison: “Did you welcome the US cutting of funding to the UN refugee agency? Did you think that was helpful?”

Haskel replied that she did think it was helpful and began talking about another topic which the BBC serially avoids: Hamas’ manipulation of UNRWA. Donnison promptly interrupted her yet again.

Donnison: “Well can I just…can I just quote you the former IDF spokesperson Peter Lerner saying ‘Less American aid to Palestinians means more violence against Israelis. It isn’t in Israel’s interest.'”

Donnison of course did not bother to inform listeners that in that same Ha’aretz opinion piece, Lerner also highlighted UNRWA’s “many problems, including its politics, determined since 1949 by their one-sided mandate” and the fact that “Palestinian refugee camps have been hotbeds for terrorist activities”: additional topics studiously avoided by the BBC.

Indeed, when Sharren Haskel began talking about the glorification of terrorism in UNRWA school books and the fact that international funding “is going into perpetuating violence and hatred”, Donnison interrupted her twice and closed the interview.

While Jon Donnison’s Middle East politics have never been much of a secret, it is worth noting that the BBC’s framing of its much promoted ‘Gaza economic crisis’ story has now evolved from the notion that the “deplorable” situation in the Gaza Strip is essentially the result of the “blockade” imposed by Israel and Egypt to the notion that the “deplorable” situation in the Gaza Strip is essentially the result of a “blockade” imposed by Israel that “hasn’t worked” and is hence – by implication – unjustified.

Related Articles:

BBC Radio 4 ‘Today’ Gaza Strip special – part three

Revisiting a 2014 BBC report by Jon Donnison

Revisiting a five year-old BBC story

Jon Donnison’s breach of BBC editorial standards unravels

BBC’s Jon Donnison breaches editorial guidelines in straw-clutching Tweet

 

BBC Radio 4 ‘Today’ Gaza Strip special – part four

As we saw earlier, promotion of the notion that the economic and humanitarian situation in the Gaza Strip is attributable to counter-terrorism measures imposed by Israel was a major theme in the first half of the December 17th ‘Today’ programme live broadcast from the Gaza Strip. 

Listeners had already heard that theme repeatedly promoted by presenter Mishal Husain and the BBC’s economics correspondent Darshini David as well as by a World Bank official and an UNRWA official.

Audiences had however heard nothing of the Hamas terrorism which has made counter-terrorism measures in the form of restrictions on the movement of people and dual-use goods necessary and the very relevant issue of Hamas’ prioritisation of terrorism over the well-being of Gaza’s civilian population had gone unmentioned. Likewise the topic of “Palestinian Authority sanctions on Hamas” was not explained and so listeners were unable to comprehend what aspects of the situation in the Gaza Strip (e.g. electricity shortagesshortages of medicinesunpaid wages) have been brought about by internal Palestinian disputes rather than by Israeli actions.

Following an interview with UNRWA’s representative in the Gaza Strip, Mishal Husain handed the broadcast back to Darshini David (from 1:23:24 here). [emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]

Husain: “Meanwhile Darshini’s been looking at the wider state of the economy here [Gaza].”

David: […] “Just to underline how painful the situation is, the average inhabitant in Gaza has seen their income shrink by about 25% over the last decade. Now earlier this year the International Monetary Fund said that deepening rifts and surging violence in Gaza threatened prospects for peace while the economic outlook is increasingly untenable.”

David did not bother to clarify what sort of “prospects for peace” there can be with a terrorist organisation committed to the destruction of Israel. She then brought in a third expert opinion to shore up the BBC’s homogeneous messaging.

David: “Well Robert Tchaidze is the IMF representative for West Bank and Gaza. I asked him for his latest assessment of the situation.”

Tchaidze: “It’s very hard to understand how difficult the situation is. There’s humanitarian crisis unfolding that has been happening for quite some time and we do see it in the economic numbers. GDP declined in the first half of the year by 6% compared to the same period in 2017 and it is difficult to imagine that things will get much different in the rest of the year. The Q3 unemployment was 55% and youth unemployment remains very high at 70%. There may be some marginal improvement at the end of the year when fuel started to come in but it’s difficult to expect some major turn around.”

David then made an opaque reference to “budget cuts” without clarifying that she is in fact referring to pressure put on Hamas by the rival Palestinian Authority.

David: “Of course underpinning the latest crisis has been a reduction in money from aid and indeed budget cuts as well. What does the IMF see as being crucial here to turn the situation around?”

Having stated that “there are no quick fixes”,Tchaidze stated that “any lasting economic solution requires a political solution and only then you can put in place policies that would work effectively.”

Ignoring the eleven year-long Hamas-Fatah rift which has had very prominent effects on the Gaza Strip economy, David steered her interviewee towards the required messaging.

David: “Indeed…ehm…many others have suggested opening up access to Israel both for goods and for some workers as well but that creates all sorts of security concerns – it’s not viable at the moment, is it?”

Interestingly, none of the interviewers or interviewees in this programme raised the possibility of opening up access to Egypt for goods and workers. Equally remarkable is the fact that at no point in the entire programme were listeners given any information concerning the amounts of goods which do enter – and exit – the Gaza Strip.

Tchaidze: “We too…it is our view that the economic situation can be…cannot be turned around if it remains to be so restrictive in terms of movement of goods and labour and capital. But that requires some sort of political solution that would guarantee security.”

David then went on to promote the notion that terrorism and violence are the inevitable result of unemployment.

David: “And going forward, how concerned are you by the situation ahead because – as you say – we have a crisis here in humanitarian terms and it is affecting in particular the young and that means rising tensions.”

After Tchaidze had outlined the difficulties of “coming up with a precise forecast” David closed the interview.

As we see, by the time listeners were half-way into this programme they had heard three remarkably uniform opinions from officials from UNRWA, the World Bank and the IMF. They had not however heard any differing views of the notion that the solution to Gaza’s economic troubles is “opening up access to Israel both for goods and for some workers” and they were told absolutely nothing about relevant factors other than Israeli counter-terrorism measures.

In other words, the BBC took a complicated topic and reduced it to a simplistic politically motivated narrative by airbrushing a plethora of relevant factors from audience view.

Related Articles:

BBC Radio 4 ‘Today’ Gaza Strip special – part one

BBC Radio 4 ‘Today’ Gaza Strip special – part two

BBC Radio 4 ‘Today’ Gaza Strip special – part three

One to listen out for tomorrow on BBC Radio 4

Mishal Husain does ‘life in Gaza’ for BBC One TV

Documenting BBC amplification of an UNRWA campaign

 

 

 

 

 

BBC Radio 4 ‘Today’ Gaza Strip special – part three

In two previous posts concerning the December 17th ‘Today’ programme live broadcast from the Gaza Strip (here and here) we saw how well-worn BBC themes were promoted in that programme.

In a third ten minute-long segment (from 1:16:27 here) listeners once again heard from representatives of international organisations rather than the “people on both sides of the divide” as promised by presenter Mishal Husain.

The two themes of blaming the economic and humanitarian situation in the Gaza Strip on counter-terrorism measures employed by Israel (with a cursory mention of Egypt) and providing unquestioning and context-free promotion of UNRWA were repeated in that segment too.

Husain began with misrepresentation of a press release put out by UNOCHA, claiming that its appeal for funding is intended to provide aid to the entire population of the Gaza Strip. [emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]

Husain: “As the United Nations appeals for funds to support 2 million Palestinians who live here [Gaza] saying that living conditions are deplorable, the UK has today pledged £5 million in emergency food aid.”

The UNOCHA statement actually describes the scope of its appeal thus:

“The 2019 HRP appeals for $350 million to provide basic food, protection, health care, shelter, water and sanitation to 1.4 million Palestinians, who have been identified as most in need of humanitarian interventions in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, including East Jerusalem.”

In other words, Husain once again misled BBC audiences by claiming that all 2 million residents of the Gaza Strip are in need of foreign aid. She continued with repetition of previously heard messaging.

Husain: “But the dire economic reality is taking immense toll on people’s lives. Unemployment is at 50%. Even those who have jobs often receive only half their salary. The economy has been impacted by a blockade maintained by Israel and Egypt citing security reasons. Incomes have also been affected by Palestinian Authority sanctions on Hamas which has been in full control of Gaza since 2007. In recent weeks aid from Qatar has been making a difference but it will only last till April.”

As was the case in the first hour of the programme, listeners were told nothing of the Hamas terrorism which has made counter-terrorism measures in the form of restrictions on the movement of people and dual-use goods necessary. Once again the very relevant issue of Hamas’ prioritisation of terrorism over the well-being of Gaza’s civilian population went unmentioned. Likewise the topic of “Palestinian Authority sanctions on Hamas” was not expanded and so listeners were unable to comprehend what aspects of the situation in the Gaza Strip (e.g. electricity shortages, shortages of medicines, unpaid wages) have been brought about by internal Palestinian disputes rather than by Israeli actions.

Husain similarly failed to tell listeners why there are still Palestinian refugees in a place that has been ruled by Palestinians for over 13 years before re-introducing her next guest.

Husain: “More than half of Gaza’s population are registered refugees and Matthias Schmale – head of Gaza operations for UNRWA, the UN agency for Palestinian refugees – took me to see one of the eight camps in this small stretch of land.”

During Husain’s walkabout with Schmale listeners heard that “more than 90% of the population don’t have access to safe drinking water” and that “the desalination system in Gaza has broken down” because of “electricity”. No effort was made to clarify the full background to those statements or to explain that – as the BBC knows – the electricity crisis in the Gaza Strip (and resulting problems with water and sewage) has nothing to do with “the blockade”.

Listeners heard more repetition of this programme’s prime messaging.

Husain: “When you say that people are living in poverty, why is that?”

Schmale: “The answer to that is twelve years of blockade. We live in a place that is very small; 40 kms by 6 to 12 kms in width and there’s almost 2 million people living in this constrained space and it’s completely sealed off from the rest of the world.”

Husain: “Hamas is governing Gaza. Shouldn’t it be providing for people here rather than you?”

Schmale: “Yes, I think the responsibility of host authorities is to cater to essentials – provide essential services like electricity, like water, like proper sewage and I think the fact that much of that is non-functional is a reflection of ten years of failed government by the Hamas authorities.”

That of course would have been the ideal moment for Mishal Husain to explain to listeners how Hamas has spent millions of dollars on the construction of cross-border attack tunnels and other terror infrastructure but instead listeners heard about “warm winter sunshine”. Husain likewise avoided the highly relevant topic of Hamas terrorism in the part of her conversation with Schmale concerning fishing.

Husain: “There’s a young man I can see in a small boat just beneath us by the water’s edge. What about fishing? Can people make a living from fishing?”

Schmale: “One of the constant debates with Israel is the fishing zone because in order to fish for safe fish that are not contaminated by the water we see coming out of that pipe you need to be a distance out and they say…”

Husain: “How far are they allowed to go out?”

Schmale: “At the moment 3 miles and 3 miles is not enough.”

Husain then did another pointless tick of the impartiality box which contributed nothing to audience understanding.

Husain: “Israel says the blockade is maintained for security reasons and indeed Egypt also blockades on Gaza’s other border.”

Husain and Schmale visited an UNRWA food distribution centre in the Shati refugee camp.

Schmale: “About 60% of the million people that get food from us [are] living with abject poverty as we call it. That means on about a dollar – just a bit more than a dollar – a day. So about 600 thousand people really depend on this food. They would not survive if they didn’t have this.” […]

Husain: “Who pays for all of this food?”

Schmale: “The biggest donor until the beginning of this year was the United States. For Gaza we need roughly $110 million per year. Last year – 2017 – we got 90 million of 110 million from the United States. 80 million of that was food. As a result of their dramatic cut in the beginning of the year, we ran out of money for this at the end of June. We were only able to continue it and what you’re seeing today because the rest of the organisation [the UN] gave us an advance. We took a loan.” […]

Husain: “So what are you going to do in the long run?”

Schmale: “My hope is that appeals to the international community to prevent Gaza sliding into a Yemen-style situation of massive hunger will be heard.”

Remarkably, listeners were then told that the situation in the Gaza Strip is not connected to armed conflict.

Husain: “You’ve worked all over the world. What do you think of what you see here? How does it compare with what you see elsewhere?”

Schmale: “The disasters I have encountered were either natural – a tsunami, an earthquake – or man-made in terms of war. This is the first time I’m confronted with a humanitarian crisis that is entirely man-made as a result of the blockade. But if people had their own jobs and earned their own money, which they could have, we would not need to do this. Natural disasters are uncontrollable. This is controllable.”

The interview closed with the repetition of a statement from Schmale that had already been heard earlier on in the programme.

Husain: “If there was a different security situation – Israel would say it’s not possible with the current reality, the current stance of Hamas towards it.”

Schmale: “I understand the security argument but I also think that we need to be very careful not to put the entire 2 million population into that basket. You know I would claim that the Israelis know so well what goes on in here and know who the potential people are that would hold a security threat to them. If they wanted to they could with reasonable safety let the peace-loving population go out and earn a living for themselves.”

Once again listeners did not hear any Israeli response to the idea that Gaza residents should and could be allowed to work in Israel “with reasonable safety” – despite the past history of dozens of terror attacks perpetrated by workers from the Gaza Strip.

With UNRWA’s politicised messaging having gone completely unchallenged and with no effort having been made to provide vital background information concerning that organisation and its mission, Hamas terrorism, Hamas’ financial prioritisation of terrorism over civilian welfare and the Hamas-Fatah split, Husain then handed over to the BBC’s economic correspondent who – as we shall see in the next post – interviewed yet another person who does not fall into the “ordinary people” category.  

Related Articles:

BBC Radio 4 ‘Today’ Gaza Strip special – part one

BBC Radio 4 ‘Today’ Gaza Strip special – part two

One to listen out for tomorrow on BBC Radio 4

Mishal Husain does ‘life in Gaza’ for BBC One TV

Documenting BBC amplification of an UNRWA campaign

 

 

BBC Radio 4 ‘Today’ Gaza Strip special – part two

As we saw in part one of this post, one of the themes promoted during the first fourteen minutes of a live broadcast from the Gaza Strip in the December 17th edition of the ‘Today’ programme was the claim that the “deplorable” situation in the Gaza Strip is essentially the result of the “blockade” imposed by Israel and Egypt. 

An additional theme which is not new to BBC reporting and was again promoted in this broadcast is that of US cuts in donations to UNRWA – but, as ever, without any explanation of the issues at the root of the long-standing debate surrounding the UN agency that are vital to proper understanding of that story.

The second part of the ‘Today’ programme’s live broadcast from the Gaza Strip (from 36:07 here) was introduced by Mishal Husain with a reference to an announcement from the UK government mentioned earlier by the BBC’s economics correspondent Darshini David. [emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]

Husain: “The government has announced £5 million worth of emergency food aid for Palestinians in Gaza as the UN appeals for funds to prevent 2 million people who live here slipping deeper into poverty.”

In contrast to Husain’s claim that all two million residents of the Gaza Strip are living in poverty, the UN office for the coordination of humanitarian affairs reported in June of this year that 53% of the territory’s residents were actually defined as such. Husain then introduced her Jerusalem based colleague Yolande Knell.

Husain: “The economic position in Gaza has long been dire, Yolande, is international concern now growing?”

Knell: “It does seem to be and there is this report that’s been published by the UN humanitarian office here talking about how there are deepening needs among Palestinians. But what’s really interesting is the fact it’s launching this appeal for $350 million today for humanitarian relief for Palestinians but it says that it’s actually targeting fewer people – half a million fewer – than it targeted here just in this last year. And the report is very frank about how it is because of record low funding and of course over the past year what’s happened is the US has slashed its funding to the Palestinians including to the UN agency that provides services to 5 million refugees across the Middle East. It has promised $365 million but ended up paying just $60 million and on top of that it cut aid – 200 million – to development projects. And that really links to this other announcement that we’re seeing this morning from the UN agency for Palestinian refugees – UNRWA – where the UK’s Department for International Development saying it’s going to give this money – £5 million – to provide emergency food to over 60,000 Palestinian refugees in Gaza at risk of hunger.”

Later on in the same programme (2:06:21 here) listeners heard a news bulletin which also included a report from Knell.

Newsreader: “The United Nations is launching an appeal to raise £280 million for people living in the Palestinian territories. It says that many are in critical humanitarian need after a big drop in funding from the United States. Here’s our Middle East correspondent Yolande Knell.”

Knell: “This report describes a worsening situation in the Palestinian territories. In Gaza health services have been overwhelmed by casualties from protests along the perimeter fence with Israel. But the UN humanitarian affairs office says that next year it will target just 1.4 million people here – half a million fewer than this year. Its local head points to record low funding and what he calls attacks to delegitimise humanitarian action. This year as tensions grew with Palestinian leaders, Washington cut hundreds of millions of dollars in aid for development and for the UN agency for Palestinian refugees, UNRWA. Through an emergency appeal much of UNRWA’s deficit has been filled and today the UK says it will provide new funds for over 60,000 refugees in Gaza at risk of hunger.”

The UNOCHA press release on which this news item is based can be seen here.

As is usual in BBC content we see uncritical amplification of UN claims and campaigns with no effort made to provide audiences with background information concerning questions such as why there are “5 million [Palestinian] refugees across the Middle East”, why people living under the rule of the Palestinian Authority and Hamas are still classified as refugees or what were the reasons behind the US administration’s decision to cut donations to UNRWA.

Entirely predictably Yolande Knell’s reporting failed to inform BBC audiences that the sum cited in the appeal launched by UNOCHA and the PA’s Minister for Social Development (who Knell apparently ‘forgot’ to mention) is similar to that allocated by the Palestinian Authority in its 2018 budget to payments to convicted terrorists and terrorists’ families. As PMW points out:

“Instead of the UN asking donor countries to contribute $350 million to provide for Palestinian humanitarian needs, the UN should be joining the unequivocal call from many governments that the PA immediately stop squandering the $355 million dollars of its own funds on its “Pay for Slay” policy that incentivizes and rewards terrorism, and instead spend that money on needy Palestinians.

Were the UN to adopt this basic and elementary moral requirement, it would strengthen the international forces that are mobilizing against the PA’s terror support.  

Abolishing the “Pay for Slay” policy would re-open the door for the PA to receive the approximately $215 million dollars of US aid to the PA withheld by the Taylor Force Act. Abolishing the PA’s “Pay for Slay” policy would also avert the imminent deduction by Israel of the PA’s expenditure on the salary program from the tax revenues Israel collects and transfers to the PA. Moreover, it would ensure that the PA would not lose its Australian funding and part of its funding from The Netherlands.”

The story told to BBC Radio 4 audiences, however, excludes any mention of the Palestinian Authority and Hamas shared priority of funding and rewarding terror over meeting the needs of their people. Instead Yolande Knell and her colleagues prefer to promote a simplistic story about poor, hungry Palestinians.

Related Articles:

BBC Radio 4 ‘Today’ Gaza Strip special – part one

One to listen out for tomorrow on BBC Radio 4

Mishal Husain does ‘life in Gaza’ for BBC One TV

Documenting BBC amplification of an UNRWA campaign

 

 

 

BBC Radio 4 ‘Today’ Gaza Strip special – part one

As previously mentioned, the December 17th edition of the ‘Today’ programme aired on the BBC’s domestic radio station Radio 4 was split between live broadcasts from London and the Gaza Strip. Over 40% of the programme’s airtime was devoted to the latter in various segments available here. (00:28 to 01:38, 09:35 to 24:20, 36:07 to 39:40, 47:53 to 57:25, 1:16:27 to 1:26:40, 1:34:15 to 1:44:00, 2:06:21 to 2:07:25, 2:10:13 to 2:23:30, 2:40:34 to 2:51:10 and 2:56:33 to 2:59:55)

Mishal Husain’s introduction to the broadcast (00:28 to 01:38) included the following explanation as to why the publicly funded domestic BBC radio station sent a reporter and crew all the way to the Gaza Strip despite having permanent staff both there and in nearby Jerusalem. [emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]

Husain: “And we’re broadcasting from Gaza this morning because this has been a year which has seen tension and violence flare up again between Gaza and Israel. There have been months of protests at the boundary between the two and I’ve been talking to people on both sides of the divide.”

As regular readers know, since the BBC began covering the ‘Great Return March’ events at the end of March the BBC has failed to provide its audiences with a clear and comprehensive explanation of who initiated, organised and facilitated that publicity stunt, even though the information was available before it began and despite its British connections. For the past nine months BBC audiences have seen that violent rioting repeatedly portrayed as ‘protests’ and ‘peaceful demonstrations’ despite the terror attacks and border infiltrations that have taken place under the ‘Great Return March’ banner.

That editorial policy was also evident in this broadcast (notwithstanding an occasional ‘Israel says’ scrap tossed in the direction of impartiality requirements) and additional themes that have long been featured in BBC reporting were also evident.

One of the main themes promoted in this broadcast was the idea that the “deplorable” situation in the Gaza Strip is essentially the result of the “blockade” imposed by Israel and Egypt. However in seventy-five minutes of reporting from the Gaza Strip, Radio 4 audiences did not hear Mishal Husain utter the word terrorism even once and neither did they hear anything of Hamas’ use of funds and resources (including building materials) for the purposes of terrorism at the expense of the civilian community.

Husain began (09:35 to 24:20) with a review of one Israeli newspaper two Hamas-linked Gaza Strip papers, noting coverage of “the rally that took place here yesterday where supporters marked the 31st anniversary of Hamas”. She did not bother to inform listeners of the pertinent fact that Hamas reportedly spent over half a million dollars on that rally.

Husain: “Well Gaza is a place that the UN said six years ago could be unlivable by 2020. Today they’re warning that two million people who live here are slipping deeper into poverty because of what they’re calling deplorable living conditions. The blockade maintained by Israel and Egypt – they say for security reasons – is a major factor. Matthias Schmale who’s head of Gaza operations for UNRWA – the UN agency for Palestinian refugees – has told us that needs to change.”

Husain of course did not bother to ask Matthias Schmale to explain to her listeners why there are still people classified as refugees in a place that has been under Palestinian control for over 13 years.

Schmale: “I understand the security argument but I also think that we need to be very careful not to put the entire 2 million population into that basket. You know I would claim that the Israelis know so well what goes on in here and know who the potential people are that would hold a security threat to them. If they wanted to they could with reasonable safety let the peace-loving population go out and earn a living for themselves.”

Listeners were not told that nearly a quarter of the population of the Gaza Strip attended that Hamas rally the previous day and neither did they hear any Israeli response to the idea that Gaza residents should and could be allowed to work in Israel “with reasonable safety” – despite the past history of dozens of terror attacks perpetrated by workers from the Gaza Strip.

Having just promoted the views of one interviewee who does not fall into the category of ‘ordinary people’ – and with more to come – Husain went on to make the following claim:

Husain: “Well we’re going to be hearing throughout the programme this morning not from politicians but from individuals and families experiencing the reality both of Gaza and of life in southern Israel where there are bomb shelters next to bus stops and in playgrounds and in every home.”

After listeners had heard clips from interviews with Israelis and Gaza residents that were repeated in full later on in the broadcast, Husain continued:

Husain: “Well more now on how the economy has been affected here in Gaza in recent years –something that I’ve been seeing first hand over the last few days.”

Notably listeners heard nothing throughout the entire programme concerning the economic effects of Gaza terrorism on businesses, tourism and agriculture southern Israel before Husain handed the item over to the BBC’s economics correspondent Darshini David who continued with promotion of the ‘blockade’ theme.

David: “From what you’ve been hearing there it may or may not surprise you to hear that the World Bank has been warning that the Gaza economy is in free fall – that’s after it contracted by 6% at the start of this year. It says that the impact of that decade long blockade has been compounded by budget cuts from the Palestinian Authority and a reduction in international aid. Four out of five people now rely on food aid. We can reveal this morning that the UK will be giving an extra £5 million in emergency supplies to sixty thousand refugees.”

Once again listeners were not told why there are Palestinian refugees in a place ruled and run by Palestinians. David then went on to introduce another not so ordinary interviewee: the World Bank’s director for the West Bank and Gaza, Marina Wes, clarifying that “she’s also the author of its report”.

Having presented unemployment and poverty statistics and discussed the relevance of “donor money” (but with no mention of Israel’s recent agreement to millions of dollars in cash given by Qatar entering the Gaza Strip), Wes went on to promote the ‘blockade’ theme again.

Wes: “…we also need to start working now on the medium term to put in place an enabling environment that will support jobs for Gaza’s youth and that will enable these youths to really make their own living. Critical to this is to remove the constraints on trade and movement of goods and people. They need to be relaxed otherwise there’s no way a small economy like Gaza can flourish.” 

Neither at this point nor anywhere else in this programme were listeners given factual background information concerning the numbers of people who do exit the Gaza Strip on a daily basis or the amounts of fuel and goods entering the Gaza Strip via Israel.

David: “…can you put any kind of numbers on what kind of difference getting that greater access could mean?”

Wes was unable to answer that question.

David: “…what about security concerns? What kind of impact could that have on the economy as well?”

Wes: “I think relaxing the blockade is going to be critical going forward. There is for instance something called the dual-use list and if there is scope to relax that I think that could have a very large impact on the economy in Gaza.”

As readers may know, “dual-use” (or “dual-purpose”) items – i.e. items which can also be used for the purposes of terrorism – enter the Gaza Strip only in coordination with Israeli security officials in order to ensure that they are used for civilian purposes. When asked to explain that term, Wes went on:

Wes: “So this list puts, highlights, goods that have security concerns – for instance certain tubes. So I told you that there is a severe water crisis in Gaza. So getting pipes into Gaza that could help alleviate this crisis and that would simultaneously also take care of Israeli security concerns would be critical.”

It would of course have been helpful to listeners had they been told at this point of Hamas’ past use of water and sewage pipes to manufacture rockets that were then fired at Israeli civilians but instead David closed the conversation there and went on to introduce her next two interviewees.

David: “Now as we’ve been hearing it’s Gaza’s young who have been particularly hard hit as Marina Wes there was saying. Could they play a key part in turning round the economy? The blockade means they can’t rely on the industries that their parents may have turned to such as fishing or growing strawberries so they are looking at new areas. Gaza Sky Geeks is the Strip’s first tech hub. It was formed after a charity collaborated with Google in 2011.”

In fact – as even Palestinian outlets acknowledge – strawberries are exported annually from the Gaza Strip during the season.

David’s interview with two women from Gaza Sky Geeks included a question concerning electricity and “a stable internet connection”. Listeners were not however informed that the chronic electricity crisis in the Gaza Strip is entirely unconnected to Israel’s counter-terrorism measures.

As we see, in the first fourteen minutes of this broadcast from the Gaza Strip BBC Radio 4 listeners were repeatedly steered towards the view – promoted by two ‘experts’ – that the solution to the economic problems in the Gaza Strip is the lifting or easing of counter-terrorism measures. They did not however hear any serious portrayal of the Hamas terrorism which brought about those measures in the first place and continues to make them necessary. Neither were they given any information concerning the transportation of gas, fuel and goods into the Gaza Strip via Israel or Israel’s supply of electricity to the territory. The highly relevant topic of Hamas’ policy of prioritising terrorism over the needs of Gaza’s civilian population was – unsurprisingly – studiously avoided. 

Additional themes seen in this programme will be discussed in part two of this post.

Related Articles:

One to listen out for tomorrow on BBC Radio 4

Mishal Husain does ‘life in Gaza’ for BBC One TV

Documenting BBC amplification of an UNRWA campaign

 

Documenting BBC amplification of an UNRWA campaign

Among the topics (see ‘related articles’ below) that the BBC chose to promote during 2018 in a manner that went beyond ordinary reporting both in terms of the amount of content produced and adherence to standards of ‘due impartiality’ was that of cuts in US aid to Palestinians – particularly via the UN agency UNRWA.

Nearly two weeks before any official US announcement was made the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour’ was already framing the topic for listeners in an item that purported to examine the question of “who would lose out the most if President Trump followed through on his threat to cut funding to the Palestinians?”

January 3rd, ‘Newshour’, BBC World Service radio:

BBC WS listeners get a homogeneous view of US aid to Palestinians – part one

BBC WS listeners get a homogeneous view of US aid to Palestinians – part two

“As we see, listeners to this item heard three views in all – two from Palestinians and one from a think-tank fellow with a record of being less than neutral. No American or Israeli views were sought by the programme’s producers. Audiences were told that any cut in US aid to Palestinians would cause the Palestinian Authority to collapse with detrimental results for Israel, European and American interests and the Middle East peace process. They were twice told that the US president is ‘blackmailing’ the Palestinians.”

On January 16th the BBC News website reported that:

“The US is withholding more than half of a $125m (£90m) instalment destined for the UN relief agency for the Palestinians, American officials say.

It will provide $60m in aid to the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) but will hold back a further $65m.”

January 16th, BBC News website:

BBC News report on UNRWA funding story omits relevant background (see also here)

“While…relevant background was withheld, the BBC’s article did amplify reactions from former UN official Jan Egeland and the PLO. […] Obviously BBC audiences cannot reach informed opinions on this particular story so long as the BBC continues to refrain from providing them with the relevant background concerning the long-standing debate surrounding UNRWA that they have been denied for so many years.”

The next morning the top story in the various editions of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newsday‘ was described as follows:

“The US is withholding more than half of a $125m (£90m) instalment destined for the UN relief agency for the Palestinians, American officials say. It will provide $60m in aid to the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) but will hold back a further $65m.”

January 17th, ‘Newsday’, BBC World Service radio:

BBC WS Newsday coverage of UNRWA aid story – part one

BBC WS Newsday coverage of UNRWA aid story – part two

Falsehoods go uncontested on BBC World Service – part one

Falsehoods go uncontested on BBC World Service – part two

The interviewees heard by listeners were as follows:

05:06 edition: Jan Egeland (Norwegian Refugee Council), Chris Gunness (UNRWA)

06:06 edition: Antonio Guterres (UN), Mustafa Barghouti (PLC, PLO)

07:06 edition: Mustafa Barghouti (PLC, PLO), Jonathan Schanzer (FDD)

08:06 edition: Mustafa Barghouti (PLC, PLO), Jonathan Schanzer (FDD)

09:06 edition: Jonathan Schanzer (FDD), Chris Gunness (UNRWA)

10:06 edition: Chris Gunness (UNRWA)

“The majority of the opinions heard…were strongly critical of the [US] decision and the sole exception was in the contributions from Jonathan Schanzer of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. […] Obviously that imbalance in itself compromises the BBC’s claim to produce impartial reporting “reflecting a breadth and diversity of opinion“. Moreover, listeners heard numerous inaccurate and misleading claims from both Gunness and Barghouti that presenters made no attempt whatsoever to challenge or correct. No attempt was made to raise any of the serious issues surrounding UNRWA’s functioning and agenda despite their clear relevance to the story.” 

The BBC News website published two additional reports on the same story:

January 17th & January 26th, BBC News website:

Three BBC articles on US aid promote an irrelevant false comparison

Four days later, an article by Yolande Knell appeared in the ‘features’ section of the BBC News website’s Middle East page.

January 30th, BBC News website:

BBC’s Yolande Knell amplifies UNRWA’s PR campaign

“…just 72 words in Yolande Knell’s 882 word report were devoted to the provision of superficial background information on UNRWA. […]  While content provided by UNRWA staffers Najwa Sheikh Ahmed and (former BBC employee) Chris Gunness makes up nearly half of Yolande Knell’s 882 word article, once again this PR item amplifying UNRWA’s campaign against the US administration’s reduced donation fails to provide BBC audiences with the full range of impartial information concerning the UN agency that is needed for broader understanding of the story.”

In February UNRWA’s commissioner-general, Pierre Krahenbuhl, was given a long slot on BBC WS radio.

February 19th, ‘Newshour’, BBC World Service radio:

BBC WS facilitates UNRWA PR yet again – part one

BBC WS facilitates UNRWA PR again – part two

“Obviously this interview was not intended to provide BBC audiences with information which would enhance their understanding of the criticism of UNRWA’s mission and performance. Rather, the BBC chose – not for the first time – to provide the UN agency’s head with a friendly platform from which to promote his PR campaign in a near monologue that went unchallenged in any serious manner.”

In May BBC WS radio audiences heard Yolande Knell interview the Jordanian minister of information.

May 9th, ‘Newshour’, BBC World Service radio:

BBC’s special report on Palestinian refugees avoids the real issues

UNRWA’s role in keeping millions of Palestinians in refugee status was not explained to listeners and neither was that of the Arab League.”

The following month listeners to the same programme heard Nada Tawfik promoting UNRWA PR.

June 13th, ‘Newshour’, BBC World Service radio:

Unbalanced promotion of UNRWA PR on BBC World Service radio

“To be honest, it is difficult to imagine how this report could be more unhelpful to BBC audiences trying to understand either the situation in the Gaza Strip, the reasons behind the US decision to withhold part of its voluntary funding of UNRWA or the role and record of UNRWA itself.”

In late August the BBC WS radio programme ‘Newshour’ once again presented preemptive framing of a US announcement that had not yet been made in a long item that included an interview with the Jordanian foreign minister.

August 30th, ‘Newshour’, BBC World Service radio:

An eleven minute BBC WS report on UNRWA funding – part one

An eleven minute BBC WS report on UNRWA funding – part two

“This interview with a senior minister from a country where some 40% of UNRWA clients live could obviously have been employed to provide BBC audiences with much-needed enhancement of understanding of the background to the ‘UNRWA in financial crisis’ story that the BBC has been reporting since January. Unsurprisingly given the corporation’s record on this story, once again that opportunity was passed up.”

The US announcement on August 31st was covered in a written report published on the same day in which readers saw quotes from the Palestinian Authority, UNRWA spokesman Chris Gunness and the then PLO representative in Washington.

August 31st, BBC News website:

BBC News reporting on US aid cut to UNRWA – part one

“Once again BBC audiences did not see an explanation of the changes to UNRWA’s mission over the years which have created the situation in which the number of people registered as refugees has grown rather than diminished in 70 years.”

That report was replaced by another one the next day.

September 1st, BBC News website:

BBC News reporting on US aid cut to UNRWA – part two

“…16.3% of the report’s word count was given over to criticism of the US decision from various Palestinian factions, including the PLO (together with a link) and the Hamas terror group. An additional 48 words were used to describe Palestinian denunciation of previous unrelated US Administration decisions. A further 13.7% of the report’s word count was devoted to amplification of statements from UNRWA’s spokesman Chris Gunness, meaning that in all, 30% of the article was devoted to informing BBC audiences of condemnations of the US move.”

Listeners to BBC WS radio on the same day also heard from UNRWA spokesman Chris Gunness.  

September 1st, ‘Newshour’, BBC World Service radio:

BBC WS listeners get more unchallenged UNRWA narrative

“…BBC World Service audiences heard unchallenged UNRWA messaging together with promotion of Palestinian talking points in a long item which once again did little to contribute to their understanding of the background to this story.”

Also in September an edition of a BBC Radio 4 “ethical and religious” programme included an item billed “where politics and morality clash – Edward discusses the cut in funding for Palestinian projects by the US Administration”.

September 23rd, ‘Sunday’, BBC Radio 4:

More to a BBC Radio 4 item on ‘morality’ of aid to Palestinians than meets the eye

“Yet again BBC audiences were denied information concerning UNRWA’s problematic record and were given no insight into the background to its politically motivated perpetuation of the refugee issue. Yet again BBC audiences heard no discussion of why citizens of the Gaza Strip and PA controlled areas are classified as refugees and deliberately kept dependent on foreign aid.

However, in this item Radio 4 listeners heard more than an academic discussion. They heard a significant contribution from the “head of marketing and fundraising” at an NGO that is raising money for this particular cause – a cause that was repeatedly portrayed to the Sunday morning audience as the right “moral” choice.”

As the above examples show, the BBC’s coverage of this story was both generous and blatantly one-sided. While repeatedly providing platforms for UNRWA officials and supporters, the corporation made no effort to explain the issues at the root of the long-standing debate surrounding UNRWA that are the context to the story.

In other words, the BBC’s approach to this story, which ran for much of 2018, was to self-conscript to a political campaign rather than to provide audiences with the full range of information necessary for them to reach their own informed opinions on the topic.

Related Articles:

Reviewing a BBC slap to the face of impartial journalism

Revisiting another of the BBC’s 2018 campaigns

 

Weekend long read

1) At the Jerusalem Post, Lyn Julius asks “Why Is The Story Of The Jewish Refugees So Little Known?“.

“More Jews (850,000) fled Arab countries than Palestinian refugees (approximately 711,000), and their exodus was one of the largest movements of non-Muslims from the region until the mass flight of Iraqi Christians. Although they were non-combatants, Jews had to run for their lives from persecution, arrests on false charges, mob violence and executions. Their property was seized and they were left destitute. The Arab and Muslim world has neither recognized, nor compensated them.

Yet the issue and its implications for peace has barely penetrated the Israel-Arab debate within Jewish communities, let alone trickled into mainstream consciousness.”

2) At the FDD Toby Dershowitz and Serena Frechter discuss a trial taking place in Paris.

“Fifteen Hezbollah-linked defendants accused of laundering millions of euros in South American drug money to Europe and Lebanon went on trial in Paris last week. The accused, mainly Lebanese nationals, allegedly collected proceeds from cocaine sales in Europe to purchase luxury goods, which they later resold in Lebanon. They then returned the profits, minus a hefty commission, to the South American cartels that delivered the cocaine. U.S. agents involved in the investigation, known as “Operation Cedar,” assert that Hezbollah used part of the profits to purchase weapons for the war in Syria.

Based on investigative leads from the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), European authorities launched a year-long investigation in February 2015 that uncovered a laundering network spanning South America, Europe, and the Middle East. The DEA initiative was part of Project Cassandra, a decade-long effort to disrupt Hezbollah’s cooperation with the cartels.”

3) In a ‘Rosner’s Domain’ podcast at the Jewish Journal:

“Shmuel Rosner chats with Einat Wilf and Adi Schwartz, the writers of the book “The War for the Palestinian Right of Return”, about the Palestinian refugees, the right of return and the existence of UNRWA.”

4) At the Jewish News, Scottish journalist Stephen Daisley recounts impressions from his first visit to Israel.

“The Star of David might be on the flag and the menorah and olive branch on the crest but the crane is the real emblem of Israel. Everywhere you go, giant steel jibs signpost a country under permanent development.

There are cranes over Tel Aviv, over Jerusalem, over Sderot — where they’re putting up houses at a rate that must tempt the odd Hamas rocket technician to throw in the towel.

There’s even one stretching over the Western Wall plaza right now. If the moshiach turns up any time soon looking to rebuild a temple, he’ll be spoiled for choice on contractors.”