BBC Arabic film on collaborators promotes Hamas messaging – part two

In part one of this post we looked at the first half of a programme in the ‘Our World’ series that was recently broadcast on the BBC News Channel and the BBC World News Channel under the title “Working for the Enemy”.

After presenter Murad Batal Shishani had uncritically amplified Hamas’ claim that Israel was behind the assassination of one of its senior operatives last year and had been given access to a Hamas-run prison to interview a contrite collaborator, he turned to the topic of the alleged recruitment of Mazen Fuqaha’s assassin by Israel.

Shishani: “But would the Israeli security forces really recruit a jihadi – someone dedicated to the violent destruction of Israel? It seemed an extraordinary risk”.

Shishani then went to interview the former Shin Bet director and current member of the Knesset Avi Dichter, asking him:

Shishani: “Would you recruit a jihadist to kill a Hamas operative?”

Dichter: “Well everything is possible in this fight against terrorists.”

Shishani quickly moved on to his next interviewee who he described as “a reserve officer from Israeli military intelligence”. The fact that the interviewee remained anonymous and his voice unheard, together with Shishani’s claim that “he has to be careful about what he says in order to avoid arrest”, raises the unanswered question of how BBC Arabic made contact with this particular interviewee and whether or not a ‘middle-man’ such as the political NGO ‘Breaking the Silence’ was involved.

That interviewee – presented as Aaron – apparently gave Shishani the money quotes he was obviously looking for.

Voiceover: “We know so much about people’s personal lives. Their romantic affairs, their sexual affairs, their health problems, everything. So if you want to gain cooperation from people it’s obviously best if we can blackmail this person.” […]

Shishani: “But it’s not just sexual orientation that makes people targets.”

Voiceover: “If someone’s daughter has cancer, for example, and he wants to get treatment in one of the Israeli hospitals – which is no doubt better treatment than in Palestinian hospitals – and if we know about it, maybe we can stop him and tell him OK you can have this but only if you cooperate.”

That led Shishani conveniently on to his next story.

Shishani: “Salwa Saidni [phonetic] knows all about this coercion. Today she is with her grandchildren. A year ago their mother Kholoud needed urgent treatment for cancer. The Israeli authorities granted her permission to go to a hospital in Jerusalem. It was six o’clock and barely light when Salwa and her daughter Kholoud arrived here at the Erez Crossing one morning in January 2017. […] The officers wanted information about a man married to Kholoud’s cousin. She said he was an olive tree farmer.”

Salwa: “He said ‘yes but he plants rockets. He plants rockets with Hamas.’ She said ‘if you know he plants rockets what’s that got to do with me? I’m sick and need treatment. I want to be able to raise my kids.'”

Shishani: “Salwa says her daughter was not able to give any information about the man.”

Salwa: “He told her ‘there’s the bus you need’. Only a glass screen separated us from it.”

Shishani: “But the Israeli authorities did not allow Kholoud to board the bus. […] Three weeks later Kholoud died.”

After having given extensive amplification to allegations that have been used by anti-Israel activists to delegitimise Israel – and with nothing to suggest any independent verification by the BBC – Shishani once again ostensibly ticked the BBC’s impartiality box with a one-liner.

Shishani: “The Israeli authorities told us that entry to Israel is not conditional on providing information or cooperation and they denied any irregularities in their dealings with Kholoud.”

Notably, Shishani made no effort to inform BBC audiences that the party responsible for medical services in the Gaza Strip is the Palestinian Authority and it is that body which in 2017 exacerbated the chronic crisis affecting  the healthcare system in Gaza by severely cutting medical aid and referrals for treatment in Israel. 

Shishani’s next interviewee was presented as follows:

Shishani: “Some Palestinians work with Israel because they genuinely believe this is the right way to protect their own people. I have come to a tiny village in the far south of Israel. It is the home of a Bedouin community of around 20 families that were moved from Gaza, where they had devoted their lives to working with the Israeli state. […] Hassan is the community leader here – a role he inherited from his father, a Bedouin Sheikh from the Sinai desert. Hassan’s father sided with the Israeli state after Arab nations were defeated in the 1967 war and Israel occupied his land. […] How do you feel when you or your father are called a traitor or a spy?”

The programme’s last interview – once again anonymous – took place in “a provincial Israeli town” with a man described as having “worked in Gaza for the Israelis from the age of 17 – but that was before he had to get out.”

Unsurprisingly, Shishani’s final interviewee stated that “my past is haunting me” and Shishani then closed the report.

Shishani: “Normality, more than anything, is what people in Gaza crave but for most here, it’s out of reach. Constant scrutiny, suspicion and human need mean that collaboration will keep shaping and poisoning lives and some will continue to work for the enemy.”

Clearly Murad Batal Shishani had a specific story to tell in this programme and nothing was going to get in its way. His uncritical amplification of the stories and interviews – in part obviously Hamas approved – that make up the bulk of the programme was not balanced by his token interview with Avi Dichter or his tepid one-liner presentations of responses from “the Israeli authorities”.

For years Hamas has periodically run campaigns targeting ‘collaborators’ and its extra-judicial executions of people branded as such are a subject only rarely covered by the BBC. Given the cooperation from Hamas that Shishani obviously enjoyed in the making of this programme, it is hardly surprising to see that Hamas’ use of the ‘collaborator’ tag as an excuse for extrajudicial executions did not get any coverage whatsoever in Shishani’s one-sided report.  

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BBC Arabic inaccurately portrays 2002 terror attack victims

BBC Watch secures another correction to a BBC Arabic article

A Gaza border closure not deemed newsworthy by BBC News




BBC Arabic film on collaborators promotes Hamas messaging – part one

BBC audiences recently saw heavy social media promotion of a programme in the ‘Our World’ series that was broadcast on the BBC News Channel and the BBC World News Channel under the title “Working for the Enemy”.

“Collaborating with Israel can mean prison or death in Gaza. So why do people do it? Some Palestinians say they’re forced or blackmailed, others believe they’re helping to prevent attacks on innocent people. Israel says recruiting Palestinian agents helps protect its citizens. For Our World, BBC Arabic’s Murad Batal Shishani travels to Israel, and Gaza, to unravel a complex web of desperation and exploitation.”

The ‘documentary’ presented by Murad Batal Shishani (available here) literally opened with a context-free slur that has long been used by anti-Israel campaigners and BBC journalists alike.

Shishani: “It’s been called the world’s largest open prison. The Gaza Strip: penned in by walls, barbed wire and gun turrets. The 1.8 million people living here can only get into Israel with special permission. And even if their lives depend on it, they have to enter through here – the Erez Crossing – the main gateway into Israel. […] This is the story of the desperate choices people have to make. […] It’s the story of how the Israeli state seeks to protect its citizens. […] And of those who now live tortured by shame and regret. […] This is a film about Palestinians who collaborate with the Israeli state: those who work for the enemy.”

Following that introduction, the next four minutes of the film repeatedly and uncritically promoted clips from a video produced by a terrorist organisation.

Shishani: “In May 2017 the ruling Hamas government in Gaza released this video to a shocked public. Some Palestinian men had apparently been caught working for Israel in Gaza. They were explaining how they were recruited. […] Each had been cleverly targeted according to their needs and beliefs. They were then recruited by Israeli agents to kill a senior leader of the Hamas military wing – a man called Mazen Fuqaha.”

As readers may recall when Mazen Fuqaha was assassinated in March 2017, the BBC did not cover the story in English. Hamas immediately blamed Israel for the killing, at one point claiming that the assassins had arrived by sea. The BBC’s English language services also showed no interest in reporting border closures imposed by Hamas following the killing.

In April 2017 the BBC News website correctly reported that “Hamas has offered no evidence that Israel was behind Fuqaha’s death”. In May 2017 the BBC News website reported the executions of three men said by Hamas to have confessed to killing Fuqaha, quoting criticism of the process from an NGO.

“Human rights groups had called on the Islamist movement not to carry out the executions – just two weeks after it announced the arrests and aired videos of what it said were the men’s confessions. […]

Sarah Leah Whitson, executive director of the Middle East division of Human Rights Watch, said: “Rushing to put men to death based on an unreviewable decision of a special military court days after announcing their arrests, and airing videoed confessions, smacks of militia rule, not the rule of law.

“Reliance on confessions, in a system where coercion, torture and deprivation of detainee’s rights are prevalent, and other apparent due process violations further taint the court’s verdicts”.”

Nevertheless, BBC Arabic chose to take those video confessions at face value and after a brief sketch of Fuqaha’s terrorist activities during the second Intifada, his imprisonment and his release, Shishani interviewed Hamas’ Mahmoud al Zahar, describing him as someone who “had known Mazen Fuqaha for years”.

Zahar: “They [Israel] thought Fuqaha was active in the West Bank while based in Gaza. Either some Palestinian told them or they had some intelligence.”

Shishani: “And was he active?”

Zahar: “I don’t know.”

Showing no further interest in the topic of Fuqaha’s terrorist activities, Shishani went on to further amplify Hamas’ version of events.

Shishani: “But someone seemed to think Fuqaha was still active. On the 24th of March 2017 this man – Ashraf Abu Leila – received his instructions. He outlined the plan in the Hamas confession video. Hamas officials say that this is Ashraf, caught on CCTV as he walks past the hospital into the yard and towards his target’s parking lot. Fuqaha had spent a family day on the beach. He was alone in his car. The gunman followed him, knocked on his window and shot him five times. Ashraf’s job was done. Hamas had lost one of its key assets and there was an outpouring of grief at Fuqaha’s funeral. Soon after, Ashraf and his suspected accomplices were arrested. In their confessions they warned their audience not to fall for Israeli recruiters. Days after these confessions were filmed all three men were executed as traitors – and as a warning to others.”

Then – after having spent a full four minutes unquestioningly amplifying Hamas’ unproven version of the story – Shishani told viewers that:

Shishani: “We cannot verify the testimonies in the video. Hamas would not share their evidence. But collaborating with Israel is not such a rare thing here.”

With obvious approval and cooperation from Hamas, Shishani next visited a prison in the Gaza Strip where he spoke to one of the “convicted collaborators” called Ibrahim. BBC audiences were once again led towards the erroneous belief that Gaza is under “siege”.

Ibrahim: “Most people who fall into this trap, 90% or more are victims. We in Gaza are suffering from a very harsh siege. Everything is in short supply. Healthcare. Basic needs.

Shishani: “Ibrahim told me that Israeli recruiters prey on the needs of people in Gaza.”

Ibrahim: “They target young men with financial problems and put pressure on them. To start with they say they are not asking for anything serious, just a chat. And then you fall into a bigger trap.”

Shishani: “Who are they targeting?”

Ibrahim: “Firstly it’s those who need medical treatment. This is the biggest problem facing us all. Everyone suffers from this problem. Secondly, it’s people with financial problems and thirdly those who are vulnerable and they turn to drugs.”

Once again – after giving uncritical and extensive amplification to those claims – Shishani ticked the BBC’s ‘impartiality’ box with a one-liner.

Shishani: “The Israeli authorities told us they don’t try to recruit people in these vulnerable situations.”

The next part of Shishani’s film was devoted to the man executed by Hamas for the killing of Mazen Fuqaha – Ashraf Abu Laila.

Shishani: “What could have made a Palestinian like Ashraf kill a leading Hamas militant? And how might the Israeli security forces have found and recruited such a man?”

Quoting an unidentified source described as a “jihadi” – presumably one of Gaza’s Salafists – Shishani told viewers:

Shishani: “Ashraf Abu Laila approached the jihadists, claiming he is a member of the so-called Islamic State but the jihadists rejected him. As a loner, Ashraf might have been easier to control. But would the Israeli security forces really recruit a jihadi – someone dedicated to the violent destruction of Israel? It seemed an extraordinary risk”.

The rest of this programme will be discussed in part two of this post.  

Related Articles:

BBC Arabic inaccurately portrays 2002 terror attack victims

BBC Watch secures another correction to a BBC Arabic article

A Gaza border closure not deemed newsworthy by BBC News