BBC admits pandering to Israeli propaganda

14 December 2012

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Young men carry body of slain man in funeral procession.

Israel’s 10 November 2012 killing of 18-year-old Ahmad Dardasawi was not deemed newsworthy by the BBC.

(Ashraf Amra / APA images)

One of the most consistent aspects of the BBC’s reporting of Gaza and Israel is the insistence of its journalists that any “outbreak of violence” is the fault of the Palestinians.

When Israel bombs or shells Gaza, this is unfailingly reported by the BBC as being in “response” or “retaliation” to rockets being fired from the blockaded territory. The unflinching regularity of this one-sided reporting by the UK’s state broadcaster is meticulously recorded in More Bad News from Israel, the book by Greg Philo and Mike Berry which contains research by the Glasgow Media Unit into the BBC’s reporting of the occupation.

The BBC’s coverage of Israel’s most recent assault on Gaza in November was no exception. An article published on the BBC’s website the day Hamas commander Ahmed al-Jabari was assassinated in an Israeli airstrike in Gaza City stated that the killing “follows a wave of rocket attacks against Israel from the territory” (“Israeli air strike kills Hamas military chief Jabari,” 14 November 2012).

The article went on to feature an Israeli army spokesperson’s claim that al-Jabari had “a lot of blood on his hands” and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s assertion that a “clear message” had been sent to “Hamas and other terrorist organizations.” Netanyahu’s comments ended with the words: “We will continue to do everything to protect our citizens.”

All of Israel’s key propaganda messages were conveyed, while the reality was carefully hidden. There is, of course, the ongoing reality that Israel is an occupier and a serial violator of international law — facts which are buried under the credibility and authority the BBC accords to its politicians and spokespeople and what they say.

Ignoring reality

On an immediate level, another crucial reality was ignored. By assassinating al-Jabari — itself an illegal act of extrajudicial murder which the BBC failed to examine, even as it printed Netanyahu’s triumphal “clear message” — Israel had violated a ceasefire brokered three days earlier.

This information, so casually ditched by the BBC’s journalists — online, on television and on radio news — was absolutely crucial. It emboldened the lie, disseminated across the BBC’s media outlets, that al-Jabari’s killing and the eight-day onslaught that came next followed “a wave of rocket attacks” from Gaza.

It didn’t. Al-Jabari’s assassination and the ensuing attack on Gaza which killed more than 160 Palestinians, including more than 30 children, followed a ceasefire, which the Palestinian groups in Gaza had been observing and may well have carried on observing if Israel hadn’t broken it. Couple this with the fact that, in 2008, Israel broke another ceasefire to instigate a three-week massacre in Gaza, killing 1,400 Palestinians, including 352 children, and a picture builds of an aggressive Israeli state, regularly bombing and shelling a civilian population with no regard for agreed truce arrangements.

Uneasy pattern

Take into account that both attacks on Gaza, in 2008 and 2012, came just months before Israeli elections, and an uneasy pattern begins to emerge — one which responsible journalists would, presumably, want to question and investigate.

Moreover, al-Jabari was killed as he carried with him, in the car that was hit, a draft agreement for a permanent truce with Israel, raising yet another vital question: was Israel trying to sabotage a possible end to the violence?

Such facts and the questions they prompted appeared to be irrelevant to the BBC’s presenters. On 18 November, four days after al-Jabari was killed, Samira Ahmed hosted BBC One’s Sunday Morning Live program. This included a 15-minute debate entitled “Are Israeli military actions justified?” featuring Abdel Bari Atwan, editor of the newspaper Al-Quds Al-Arabi, and right-wing political commentator Charlie Wolf.

The justification for military action put forward by Ahmed to start the debate was “Hamas rocket attacks.” And this is where the debate stuck. Any attempt by Atwan to give depth or context to the discussion, by mentioning the blockade, the occupation, or Israel’s year-round attacks on Gaza, were batted away by Ahmed who unfailingly came back with the rejoinder: “But wouldn’t it all stop if Hamas stopped firing rockets?” The implication of course was that Hamas starts violence, and Israel responds because it has to protect its citizens.

That Palestinian rocket attacks might be a response to 45 years of ongoing occupation, combined since 2006 with a crippling blockade, is not a possibility the BBC is willing to discuss on its airwaves.

In just 15 minutes, the former Channel 4 News presenter revealed how completely she has attuned herself to the BBC’s commitment to the Israeli narrative by referring to “Hamas rocket attacks” 15 times, and never once to Israel’s ceasefire violations and the complicated questions these violations raise.

Blaming the victims

This fits in with what would appear to be her employer’s editorial policy on Israel and Gaza. In an email sent on 21 November to a member of the UK-based Palestine Solidarity Campaign, and seen by this writer, the BBC Complaints Department explains in some detail how the broadcaster had gone out of its way to lay the blame for the violence of the previous eight days on the Palestinians.

The email, signed off “BBC Complaints,” states: “Since the news of Israeli air strikes in Gaza our coverage has pointed out on numerous occasions that the attacks are in response to recent rocket attacks on Israel from the Gaza Strip.”

It adds: “Our initial online report on 14 November pointed to how the attack on Ahmed Said Khalil al-Jabari and another Hamas official ‘follows a wave of rocket attacks against Israel from the territory’ and how ‘the United States said it supported Israel’s right to self-defense, and condemned militant rocket attacks on southern Israel.’”

Seemingly oblivious to or unfazed by the inaccuracy of its own reporting, the message goes on: “On the BBC’s News at Ten that same evening, the BBC’s Gaza and West Bank correspondent Jon Donnison’s report explained that ‘Israel says the strike followed a wave of rocket attacks from inside Gaza,’ before hearing directly from Israeli Army Spokeswoman Lt. Col. Avital Leibovich as she explained how ‘I can just elaborate that the target of the operation is to protect Israeli civilians. The same lives of Israelis that have been under constant rocket attack for the past year.’”

In a twist of almost comic absurdity, given eight days of reporting which squarely blamed Hamas for the violence and equated the fear caused by the 12-pound and 90-pound Palestinian rockets with the terror induced by Israel’s 500-pound to 2,000-pound bombs, the email ends with: “We will continue to report on developments from the region in a fair, accurate and impartial way.”

The email highlights the BBC’s willingness to ignore facts and important questions — for example, why did Israel really kill al-Jabari? — in favor of a narrative that, deliberately or not, echoes that of the Israeli government.

Child deaths unreported

Less than a week before al-Jabari’s execution, Israel had killed seven Palestinians in Gaza in the space of 48 hours. Of these, five were teenage boys (“New Israeli escalation against the Gaza Strip,” Palestinian Centre for Human Rights, 11 November 2012).

The first to die, 13-year-old Ahmad Abu Daqqa, was shot in the abdomen by Israeli soldiers. Two days later, brothers 16-year-old Mohammed Harara and 17-year-old Ahmed Harara were killed playing football when Israeli forces fired shells at their playground. As people rushed to help, three more shells were fired, and an 18-year-old and 19-year-old were killed.

It is safe to assume that if five Israeli teenagers, including two brothers playing football and a 13-year-old, had been killed by Palestinian rockets fired from Gaza, it would be headline news for the BBC.

The Israeli killing of the Palestinian youngsters was ignored on BBC television and prime-time radio news. Even when al-Jabari was killed, four days after the Harara brothers lost their lives, and some kind of premeditated build-up to the eight-day assault began to emerge, the BBC still refused to mention Israel’s two-day killing spree in Gaza a few days earlier.

Official line

All BBC journalists stuck to Israel’s official line that the assassination of 14 November, and what followed, was in retaliation to Palestinian rockets — and conveniently omitted from their reports the fact that Israel had been engaged in killing Palestinian children in the days immediately preceding al-Jabari’s execution.

The Palestine Solidarity Campaign wrote to the BBC’s flagship news and current affairs program Today on 12 November to ask why it had not covered the killing of the five Palestinian teenagers on 8 and 10 November.

The program’s assistant editor, Dominic Groves, wrote back to say: “Even in the space of a three hour program it is not always possible to cover every development in a story — especially one as long running and complex as the one in the Middle East.”

And yet the killing of five young boys by Israel isn’t a “development in a story;” it is news in itself. When the Today program can give prominent coverage to a Palestinian rocket attack on a bus in April 2011, which killed a 16-year-old Israeli schoolboy, how can Groves claim the same program has no room to report on the slaughter of five Palestinian boys by the Israeli army? (“Israeli boy Daniel Viflic dies after rocket hits bus,” 18 April 2011).

Since the latest “ceasefire” came into effect on the evening of 21 November, Israel has been flying its F-16s over the skies of Gaza, 40 Gaza fishermen have been detained by Israeli forces, and a 20-year-old Palestinian has been shot and killed by Israeli fire, while 54 Palestinians, including six children have been injured (“Protection of civilians weekly report,” UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, 28 November - 4 December 2012 [PDF]).

Like the everyday struggle of Palestinians in Gaza, currently dealing with power cuts lasting eight hours each day, this has gone unreported by the BBC and other mainstream media because no one, yet, is firing rockets back.

Amena Saleem is active with the Palestine Solidarity Campaign in the UK and keeps a close eye on the media’s coverage of Palestine as part of her brief. She has twice driven on convoys to Gaza for PSC. More information on PSC is available at www.palestinecampaign.org.

Comments

One expects nothing from a pig but a grunt.

Not sure about the title to this article - unfortunately the BBC do not seem to have admitted to anything at all - and they do not seem to have understood the arguments raised by the PSC; the journalists come across as very ignorant about the subject (what's new?!).

I agree with Hilary Rosser that the title is misleading. The BBC has defended its position, not admitted that it is doing anything wrong. Please see my video on this issue: BBC Bias: The Gaza Freedom Flotilla (I am sorry I'm not allowed to give a link to this video, and I cannot fathom why not.)

Hi Amena. This is an excellent piece, thank you. I just wondered what your source is for this - "Moreover, al-Jabari was killed as he carried with him, in the car that was hit, a draft agreement for a permanent truce with Israel". Thanks again.

Hi Chris. This has been widely reported, and was the subject of an investigative piece in Ha'artez, the Israeli paper. This is the link to the article: http://www.haaretz.com/opinion...
To read the whole article, you need to subscribe to Ha'artez. This is as much of the article as fits into the word limit for this post::
"The real story behind Operation Pillar of Defense in Gaza has not yet been investigated, but now that the explosions have stopped, we are obligated to delve into the truth. The decision to kill Hamas military chief Ahmed Jabari, which was the opening shot of the operation, was made even though he was involved in negotiations on signing a long-term cease-fire agreement. A few hours before he was assassinated, he had received a draft of an agreement for a permanent cease-fire with Israel, and he was apparently expected to reply to it affirmatively. The indirect contacts with Jabari had taken place over the course of months via Hamas' deputy foreign minister, Ghazi Hamad, with the knowledge and consent of Defense Minister Ehud Barak. These contacts with Hamas were conducted by Gershon Baskin, who served as an intermediary in the deal for the return of kidnapped soldier Gilad Shalit. Baskin had reported his progress toward a draft agreement to the members of a special committee appointed by Barak back in May, a panel that also included representatives of other government ministries.In other words, our decision makers, including the defense minister and perhaps also Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, knew about Jabari's role in advancing a permanent cease-fire agreement. Jabari was the strongman of the Gaza Strip - Israel's "subcontractor," as Haaretz editor-in-chief Aluf Benn characterized him - so Hamad submitted each draft prepared with Baskin to Jabari for approval. Also party to the negotiations on a permanent cease-fire were Egyptian intelligence officials"

This is, without question, first rate journalism - insightful and factual reporting of the kind which is sorely censored in virtually all of the long-established 'Western' media outlets. Amena, you are certainly doing your share in the important struggle for equality among all of the people in The Middle East. Thank you so much for articulating the truth of what is really going on in Palestine and The Middle East.

It's not just the 'news' reporting. The BBC's excellent "Dispatches" exposé of Israel's UK lobby in 2009 put blinkers on to repeat the old shibboleths that Israel's attacks on Lebanon in 2006 and Gaza in 2008-9 were responses to Palestinian provocations. As usual, the opposite was true.

I got bland rhubarb in response to my complaint that the coverage was biased to Israel, including that they had included many regional voices (while not that they were often talked down/over or challenged, while pro-Israel voices were not). They also proudly put in this quote from Jon Donnison:
“International pressure for a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas is mounting after the deadliest day of violence in the region so far. Reports say 26 people were killed in Gaza by Israeli airstrikes - and more rockets were fired from Gaza into Israel - including two shot down over Tel Aviv by Israel's "iron dome" defence system.”
So while stating the number of deaths in Gaza, without number or tonnage of ordnance dropped, they still have to throw in that rockets were fired from Gaza, no matter that they were ineffective. Gives a brag to "iron dome".

Salaymah was murdered Wednesday, his 17th birthday, in Hebron by an Israeli occupying soldier.

BBC did not report this on their news website. Only afterwards, when the story got bigger, they had to squeeze it in other reports:

"Israeli soldiers 'assault two Reuters cameramen'" (Fri 14th, 11.43 GMT)
http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/worl...

"Palestinians attend Hamas rally in Hebron in West Bank" (Fri 14th, 13.18h GMT) http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/worl...

Note: both reports say: "On Thursday, a Palestinian teenager was shot dead ... a metal toy pistol". Really, it was Wednesday (11th), not Thursday, and that it was a "metal" toy is reported nowhere else. His name or age is not mentioned.

Both reports also say: "Tensions have been running high in Hebron in the past week following repeated clashes between soldiers and stone-throwing youths", which is suggesting a fallacy (post hoc ergo propter hoc).

Wednesday 12th, of course.

It is not only the BBc that distorts the truth and out and out lies about Israeli atrocities but ALL Western media. In Canada the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation , the CBC , follows in lock step with the official Government of Steven Harper line that it is the fault of the Palestinians that they were being attacked ; Israel was only protecting itself is the official line of the Harper Government of Canada.
In one broadcast I timed the responses of both Israeli and Palestinians and the time allotted to Israel was 3x that of the time allotted to the Palestinians. Seems that Canada has a bad case of can't tell the truth . The CBC is an agent of the government and is flogging its line no matter what the truth may be.

Is this suppose to come as some kind of surprise or shocking revelation? Every news outlet in the world panders to Israel. The reasons as to why is an entirely different cup of tea.

Like Anne O'Nimmus above, the BBC replied to my complaint acknowledging in no way that it was anything but absolutely "impartial, accurate and fair". As Amena shows, their coverage is abjectly Israel-sided and censors all context.
Two details: BBC might have added that Netanyahu (also) "has blood on his hands". And from their reply to me: [John Donnison said:] "This was a clear message from Israel that anything or anyone associated with the militants is a legitimate target." No journalistic challenge to the phrase 'associated with' and full support for Israel's implication that ONLY those 'associates' are targeted.
May the names of phoney journalists Jon Donnison, Wyre Davies, Paul Danahar and Jeremy Bowen remain forever sullied.

Having previewed my original comment, I then came across the SAVE option. Would it not make more sense if the word SUBMIT was used rather than SAVE?
Save to where?

MSM is complicit in these war crimes again and again. It can only be due to the power of the pro Israeli lobby, the head of which is AIPAC.