The BBC and the UN HRC report on last summer’s conflict – part one

On June 22nd the UN HRC published the long-anticipated report by its self-styled ‘independent’ commission of inquiry into what it revealingly calls the “Gaza conflict” of 2014. Readers can find the full report here and will not be surprised to discover that – like its predecessor the Goldstone Report – this document too is heavily based on anonymous testimony and contributions from political activists such as Mads Gilbert and tens of political NGOs, indicating that ‘independent’ can be a relative term. Hence, it is not surprising to find among the report’s text ‘gems’ such as the ones below highlighted by Avi Issacharoff.UNHRC report BBC breaking

“The report notes that the probe “cannot conclusively determine the intent of Palestinian armed groups with regard to the construction and use of these tunnels. However, the commission observes that during the period under examination, the tunnels were only used to conduct attacks directed at IDF positions in Israel in the vicinity of the Green Line, which are legitimate military targets.”

With regard to warnings, the UN report risibly interpreted threats by Hamas that it would target Tel Aviv and Ben Gurion Airport as concrete warnings to Israeli civilians.”

One of many examples of the way in which the report’s reliance on selective information provided by interested parties and political NGOs affects its findings can be seen on page 142.

“On 25 July 2014, three Palestinian men – Hashem Abu Maria, Sultan Za’qiq and Abdelhamid Breighith – were killed during a demonstration that took place in the village of Beit Umar in the Hebron area to protest against the hostilities in Gaza. In its assessment of the incident, the commission relied on eyewitness testimony, as well as information gathered by OHCHR and NGOs. […]

Hashem Abu Maria was quickly transferred by protesters to an ambulance and taken to hospital, where he was pronounced dead. Mohammad Awad survived the incident. Hashem Abu Maria was a well-known civil society activist, who worked for the NGO Defence for Children International, in the Hebron area.”

As was pointed out here last July in light of a problematic report by the BBC’s Jon Donnison on that same incident, Hashem Abu Maria was described by the PFLP terrorist organization as one of its ‘commanders’ and the charity where he held his day job is known for its PFLP links.PFLP Abu Maria

Another example of the report’s many shortcomings is seen on page 134:

“According to information received by the commission, after the abduction of the Israeli youths, tensions were further fueled by a rise in extreme anti-Palestinian rhetoric by some Israelis, notably in social media, inciting revenge and hatred against Palestinians; as well as reported harassment; and sometimes, attacks on Palestinians and damage to businesses employing Palestinians. The anti-Palestinian rhetoric included sexual and negative references to female relatives of persons connected with armed groups and individuals killed during the conflict.”

However, no mention whatsoever is made of the celebrations on the Palestinian street which followed the kidnapping and murder of the three Israeli teenagers or of the related incitement and glorification of terrorism promoted by Hamas, Fatah and the Palestinian Authority.

The BBC News website’s article on the subject of the report currently appears under the title “Gaza conflict 2014: ‘War crimes by both sides’ – UN” and the many changes made to it since its initial publication on June 22nd can be viewed here. The caption to the main photograph at the top of that report reads:UN HRC report main

“Israel and Palestinian militants fought for 50 days before agreeing to a ceasefire”

An accurate representation would have clarified that Hamas refused numerous ceasefire offers and, as was pointed out here at the time, that:

“The real story behind the August 26th ceasefire between Israel and Hamas is of course the fact that Hamas could have accepted the same terms six weeks earlier and thereby prevented hundreds of deaths, thousands of injuries, extensive damage to buildings and infrastructure and unquantifiable suffering for the people of the Gaza Strip.”

The BBC’s report is predictably superficial and uncritical. With the BBC itself still quoting UN supplied casualty figures despite the subsequent information which has since come to light, it is little wonder that no effort is made to inform audiences of their highly problematic sourcing.   

“On the Palestinian side, 2,251 people, of whom 1,462 were civilians, were killed, the report said. On the Israeli side, 67 soldiers were killed along with six civilians, it noted.”

The BBC’s standard ‘Israel says’ formula is employed.  

“Israel says it launched the offensive on Gaza to put an end to rocket fire and remove the threat of attacks by militants tunnelling under the border.”

The article misleads readers by once again inaccurately suggesting that Israel was the sole party to object to William Schabas’ appointment as head of the commission.

“The head of the inquiry, William Schabas, quit part-way through amid Israeli allegations of bias, acknowledging he had previously done work for the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO).”

The article also states:

“It [the commission] said Israel had refused to allow its team into the West Bank or Gaza, which made it difficult to carry out the investigation.”

Audiences are not informed that Egypt also did not permit entry into the Gaza Strip from its territory – as noted in the UN report:

“The commission repeatedly requested Israel to cooperate, including by granting it access to Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip. Regrettably, Israel did not respond to these requests. Subsequently, the commission learned from a press release that no such cooperation would be forthcoming. The Government of Egypt, when requested to facilitate entry into the Gaza Strip through the Rafah crossing, responded that it was not possible owing to the prevailing security situation.” (emphasis added.)

Whilst the article highlights selected statements and conclusions from the 183 page report, no effort is made to provide BBC audiences with objective analysis of its many very obvious shortcomings, such as the fact that it ignores Israel’s efforts to avoid the conflict and Hamas’ repeated breach of agreed ceasefires.

And of course nowhere does the BBC’s report – including the insert of ‘analysis’ from Yolande Knell – clarify to audiences the fact that the UN report is built upon the foundation of political NGOs, many of which concurrently engage in lawfare against Israel.

“B’Tselem was the most referenced NGO with 69 citations, followed by Amnesty International (53), Palestinian Center for Human Rights (50), and Al Mezan (29). UNWRA and UN-OCHA were also featured throughout the report.”

That, however, comes as no surprise because – as has been documented here in the past – the BBC itself quotes and promotes many of the same NGOs uncritically and unquestioningly.

In addition to this written article, the BBC also produced two filmed reports on the same topic which will be discussed in a later post. 

 

 

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BBC WS Newshour enables the Schabas show

On the same day that the BBC News website published its selectively framed report on the resignation of William Schabas from the position of chair of the UN HRC commission of inquiry (established in July 2014 before the conflict between Hamas and Israel had even come to an end), the BBC World Service Radio programme ‘Newshour’ broadcast a five-minute long item on the same story.Newshour 3 2 15

That entire item (from 37:33 here) was devoted to the provision of a platform for Schabas to promote his version of events. Presenter Tim Franks introduced it as follows:

“The Israeli government has called on the UN Human Rights Council to scrap its inquiry into last year’s Gaza-Israel conflict. The Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu made the demand after the Chairman of the commission of inquiry handed in his resignation on Monday. William Schabas, a Canadian professor of international law, stepped down after Israel had complained that in 2012 he’d offered legal advice to the Palestinian Liberation Organisation. Earlier, Professor Schabas came into the Newshour studio.”

William Schabas: “Israel has been attacking me since the day…since the minute…I was appointed, claiming that I show appearance of bias or that I’m biased and that campaign has continued. A few weeks ago they announced that they were organizing their attack on the report of the commission and that personal attacks on me would be an important part of that.”

Schabas is not asked to provide a credible source for that latter claim and Franks fails to inform listeners that criticism of Schabas’ appointment has also come from many non-Israeli sources. Schabas continues:

“About a week ago – or more than that – they formulated a complaint to the Human Rights Council asking formally for my removal and that was discussed last night by the executive of the Human Rights Council and they decided to follow up on the complaint and to investigate it. So what that means is that there’s an investigation ongoing into my alleged lack of impartiality.”

TF: “What – just to be clear – you did paid work for the PLO, the Palestine Liberation Organisation, back in 2013: is that right?”

WS: “Twelve.”

TF: “2012.”

WS: “I did a…I was asked as an international lawyer to provide a legal opinion to the Palestine Liberation Organisation about the International Criminal Court. I did that. I have done lots of work for governments. They call me and ask me for legal opinions and they pay me for them and sometimes, if they don’t want to bother, they read my books and they do it even in Israel.”

Franks refrains from inquiring whether the $1,300 fee Schabas charged the PLO for that seven-page legal opinion is the going rate for all governments seeking his advice.  He continues:

TF: “Sure, but as a lawyer you will know that it’s not just about justice being done – it’s about justice being seen to be done. There at least could be the perception of a conflict of interests; the fact that you had done work for the PLO.”

WS: “Well that appears to be the conclusion – that there’s an issue there. As I say it’s probably on the scale of things that they’ve been criticizing me about not the major event. So in any case, they’ve decided to investigate this.”

TF: “Why had you not declared that you’d done this?”

WS: Well when I was appointed by the Human Rights Council I was called up and asked if I wanted to do it and then the next thing they know I was appointed. So I wasn’t asked to make a long disclosure or anything. I have a long list of things that I’ve done – writings about Palestine, speeches and all of that. That wouldn’t be at the top of the list. There would be a long list and they knew about it. Everybody knew about it.”

In fact, in his previously submitted unsuccessful application for the post of ‘Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories since 1967’ in 2013, Schabas had also failed to declare his paid work for the PLO in 2012.  Refraining from joining the obvious dots between Schabas’ claim that “everybody knew” about his record of anti-Israel statements and activities, the fact that – according to him – he was not required by the UN HRC to declare any conflict of interests and his appointment to the post nonetheless, Franks continues:

TF: “A long list – what – of your views on Israel?”

WS: “Views, engagement in one way or another; participating in events and so on. So that was not a secret to anybody.”

TF: “OK. And just for new readers here, to – I mean – if I can summarise that it would be that you’ve been strongly critical of the Israeli government policy and strongly supportive of the Palestinians over the past few years. Would that be a reasonable summary?”

WS: “As a brief summary – my views in the past – that’s fair enough.”

Schabas’ on-record remarks of course go far beyond Tim Franks’ tepid description: “Why are we going after the president of Sudan for Darfur and not the president of Israel for Gaza?” is not by any stretch of the imagination criticism of “Israeli government policy”, not least because the president of Israel has no role in determining government policy.

Franks then goes on to ask whether or not the inquiry will have to start from scratch in light of Schabas’ resignation, to which his interviewee replies in the negative before going on to describe what the commission has done so far. Schabas says:

“We made solemn affirmations to be independent and impartial and I believe we conducted ourselves. We’ve surprised many people. Netanyahu even today was saying why are they only looking at Israel – why don’t they look at Hamas? They should be looking at Hamas. And everybody in Israel knows we did look at Hamas.”

Franks makes no effort to clarify to listeners that the mandate of the commission of inquiry set up by the UN HRC was biased and politically motivated by definition, with its start date defined as one day after the kidnapping and murders of three Israeli teenagers by a Hamas-funded terror cell and its geographic stipulations excluding “violations of international humanitarian law and international human rights law” in Israel – such as missile fire at civilian targets.

“Decides to urgently dispatch an independent, international commission of inquiry, to be appointed by the President of the Human Rights Council, to investigate all violations of international humanitarian law and international human rights law in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem, particularly in the occupied Gaza Strip, in the context of the military operations conducted since 13 June 2014, whether before, during or after, to establish the facts and circumstances of such violations and of the crimes perpetrated and to identify those responsible, to make recommendations, in particular on accountability measures, all with a view to avoiding and ending impunity and ensuring that those responsible are held accountable, and on ways and means to protect civilians against any further assaults, and to report to the Council at its twenty-eighth session.” [emphasis added]

Schabas – who is on record as stating that it would be “inappropriate” for him to answer the question of whether or not he considers Hamas to be a terrorist organization – continues:

“We’ve had witnesses – victims – from inside Israel who travelled – had to travel – to Geneva. One poor man who’d lost his legs – blown off by a mortar – and he had to make that long, painful trip to Geneva to meet us because they wouldn’t let us go and see him at his kibbutz in southern Israel where we wanted to go because they wouldn’t let us into the country.”

In contrast to the impression perhaps received by listeners, the seven-person Israeli delegation to Geneva was not organized by Schabas and his commission, but by the International Association of Jewish Lawyers and Jurists.

Schabas ends the item by complimenting himself on the commission’s treatment of the Israeli delegation.

“The Israeli victims who came to meet with us in Geneva came back – I think pleasantly surprised is the way to describe them – with the dignity in which they were…and the welcome and the way they were treated and the genuine interest that three commissioners – not just myself but the others – had in learning about their victimization because there are victims on all sides of the fence in this conflict.”

Clearly listeners to the BBC World Service learned very little about the all-important background to the story of Schabas’ resignation from this item. Schabas’ record of anti-Israel statements and activism is blurred by Franks and misleadingly presented as criticism of Israeli government policy. Schabas is given a platform from which to promote himself as a victim of Israeli “attacks” whilst the much more important topic of the political motivations which lie behind mandate he accepted with his appointment – and the implications for the objectivity and relevance of the report which will be produced in his absence – is completely avoided.

Once again the BBC has failed in its mission to “build a global understanding of international issues”. 

BBC framing of the Schabas resignation story misleads audiences

On February 3rd an article titled “Gaza conflict: Schabas quits UN inquiry over bias claims” appeared on the BBC News website’s Middle East page. Those who read right to the end would have noticed that the report continues to promote the standard BBC narrative which continues to ignore the fact that post-conflict examinations of the civilian/combatant casualty ratio suggest that the UN’s claims on that topic are inaccurate.Schabas art main

“The war left more than 2,100 Palestinians dead, the majority civilians, according to the UN. Tens of thousands of homes in Gaza were also destroyed or badly damaged.”

There is no publicly available evidence to suggest that the BBC has carried out any independent investigation into this subject since the end of the hostilities and yet, despite the fact that the problematic methodology upon which UN OCHA’s statements were based was evident from the early stages of the conflict and the appearance of more up to date information since, the BBC continues to quote and promote that organisation’s claims.

The most notable feature of this article, however, is its framing of the story. By means of that selective framing readers are led to believe that Israel was alone in protesting William Schabas’ bias.

“Israel had accused Prof Schabas of “clear and documented bias” against it.”

“UNHRC spokesman Rolando Gomez said Israel had accused Prof Schabas of having a “conflict of interest”, AFP news agency reports, due to paid consultancy work done by Prof Schabas for the PLO in 2012.”

Whilst the letter alerting the President of the UN Human Rights Council to Schabas’ paid consultancy work for the PLO did indeed come from Israel’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations in Geneva, in the months since Schabas’ appointment last August, a number of prominent figures from around the world have raised concerns regarding his objectivity.

In September 2014, for example, Lord David Pannick, QC wrote in The Times:

“The chairman is to be William Schabas, an international law professor from Canada, and a critic of Israeli policy. He commented last year that Benjamin Netanyahu, the prime minister of Israel, was his favourite candidate to see “in the dock” of the International Criminal Court. He has made a similar statement about Shimon Peres, the former president of Israel. These are surprising statements given the strength of competing candidates in the Middle East and other repressive countries in the world.

The basic legal principle, summarised by Lord Hope of Craighead for the Appellate Committee of the House of Lords in 2001, is that a person should not sit in a judicial or quasi-judicial role if “the fair-minded and informed observer, having considered the facts, would conclude that there was a real possibility that the tribunal was biased”. The appearance of bias is sufficient to disqualify a person. There is no need to show actual bias.”

Criticism of Schabas’ appointment had also been voiced in the months following his appointment by other international lawyers and human rights activists, indicating that – contrary to the misleading impression promoted by the BBC – Israel was not alone in pointing out the issues arising from his numerous on record statements and  his participation in political campaigning and anti-Israel activity such as the infamous ‘Russell Tribunal.

Similarly, this BBC article also frames criticism of the UN HRC’s inquiry as an exclusively Israeli affair.

“Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the investigation should now be scrapped.

The inquiry’s panel, which was commissioned by the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC), is due to issue its findings in March.

Mr Netanyahu said the council was “an anti-Israel body” whose record proved it had “nothing to do with human rights”.

“This is the same council that in 2014 made more decisions against Israel than against Iran, Syria and North Korea combined,” he said.

“After the resignation of William Schabas it is time to shelve the anti-Israeli report his committee wrote.””

The UN HRC’s obsession with and bias against Israel is of course very well documented and has been the subject of comment from the UN Secretary General, ambassadors and visiting dignitaries. The resolution which created the commission of inquiry to which Schabas was appointed was criticized by members of the US Congress and the US representative at the UN HRC described it as “yet another one-sided mechanism targeting Israel” whilst the representative of the EU member states on the  Human Rights Council stated that was “unbalanced, inaccurate, and prejudges the outcome of the investigation by making legal statements.”.

In other words, Israel is not alone in noting the politicized nature of the UN HRC as a whole and its latest inquiry in particular or the pre-existing bias of the man it selected to head that inquiry. Through its very selective framing of this story, however, the BBC misled audiences by suggesting that Israel stands alone against an otherwise unified consensus.