A fresh Israeli onslaught against Palestinians began at the start of October, resulting in almost 50 Palestinians killed in just under three weeks.
Nearly 10 Israelis were slain during that same period.
While extreme and sustained Israeli violence against Palestinians is a routine feature of Israel’s military occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, just as predictable is the BBC’s coverage of it.
And so it comes as no surprise to witness the BBC focusing almost exclusively on Palestinian attacks on Israelis while presenting Israel, not only as the victim, but the sole victim of October’s violence — while mentioning Palestinian fatalities only in passing.
A prime example this week was a segment on the BBC’s flagship radio news program Today. On 19 October it broadcast a four-minute chat between veteran presenter John Humphrys and one of its Middle East correspondents, Kevin Connolly.
With 42 Palestinians killed at that time, and thousands more injured in attacks by settlers and soldiers, Humphrys began his conversation with Connolly like this: “Yet another attack on Israelis last night. This time an Arab man with a gun and a knife killed a soldier and wounded 10 people. Our Middle East correspondent is Kevin Connolly. The number is mounting, isn’t it Kevin? The number is about 50 now, isn’t it?”
Not only does Humphrys’ introduction make it sound as though only Israelis are being attacked, he quite extraordinarily implies that the 50 who had been killed since the beginning of the month were all Israelis.
Connolly doesn’t correct him. He instead adds: “We think around 50 dead over the course of the last month or so, John. This sudden sharp uptick of violence; not just that attack at the bus station in Beersheva, inside Israel itself, but also, on Saturday, a wave of stabbing attacks in Hebron and in Jerusalem.”
Concern for the occupier
The Middle East correspondent corroborates the presenter’s estimate of “around 50 dead” but fails to mention that all but eight of them were Palestinian, including young children, and allows the idea that all the victims are Israeli to remain floating in listeners’ minds.
The two continue in the same vein for four minutes, only ever referring to Palestinians as attackers of Israelis, never as victims of Israeli violence.
Midway through, Connolly launches into an emotive description of Israeli fear of Palestinians.
The “very random and spontaneous nature of the attacks,” he says, “has left many Israeli citizens feeling that any Palestinian passing them in the street might be carrying a knife, might be planning to attack them. Any passing car might at any moment be used as a vehicle against Israeli civilian pedestrians.”
Palestinians in the West Bank suffered more than 130 settler attacks in the first week of October alone and, in Gaza, have endured more than 700 Israeli attacks since a ceasefire was signed on 26 August last year. But they are unlikely to ever have their fears of armed settlers and soldiers described with such understanding by Connolly.
Connolly’s concern is for the occupiers, not the occupied. That there have been any Palestinian fatalities at all is only given a passing mention in the very last sentence of this two-way conversation. Connolly tells Humphrys that “individuals are taking the decisions to stage these attacks for reasons we’re often left to guess at because, of course, the attackers often die in the course of the attack.”
Palestinian deaths ignored
The Palestinians, then, are “attackers” only, and they just happen to “die in the course of the attack.”
The reality, which Connolly does not want to go into, is that Palestinians are being gunned down by Israeli soldiers and settlers. And not just “in the course of the attack.”
Connolly chooses to ignore the growing video evidence which shows that several of the Palestinians shot dead or wounded by Israeli soldiers over the last three weeks have not posed any danger, despite Israeli claims to the contrary.
He chooses to ignore condemnation of these killings by human rights groups including Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and B’Tselem.
He chooses not to criticize Israel for shooting dead suspected attackers rather than arresting them and putting them through a proper trial.
And he chooses to ignore the fact that the toddler Rahaf Hassan and her pregnant mother, Nour, were not attacking anyone when Israel hit Gaza with an airstrike on 11 October, killing them both. Or that 14 of the Palestinians killed in October were shot dead in Gaza.
And he chooses to pretend that we cannot possibly know why Palestinians are so frustrated that some of them are attacking Israelis — Israelis who occupy their land, who demolish their homes, who raid their refugee camps at night and drag their children, terrified, from their beds and into detention.
Israel as victim
For the BBC’s audiences, Palestinians must be presented only as attackers: attackers who deserve what they get, and their violence must be presented as random and inexplicable to the rational observer.
The choices made by Connolly and Humphrys in this odd conversation, which was neither a news item nor an interview, but felt more like a little interlude for Israeli propaganda on Today, are mirrored elsewhere in the BBC’s reporting.
A BBC Online article, insultingly headlined “Is Palestinian-Israeli violence being driven by social media?“ purports to provide “some key questions and answers about what is going on.”
The BBC’s answer to “what is going on” is, of course, given entirely from the Israeli perspective of Israel as victim, Palestinians as crazed attackers.
The first question asked is: “What is happening between Israelis and Palestinians?”
Echoing Humphrys’ introduction on Today, the BBC article begins: “There has been a spate of stabbings and gun attacks on Israelis by Palestinians since early October, and one apparent revenge stabbing by an Israeli.”
It adds: “Israel has tightened security and clashed with rioting Palestinians, leading to deaths on the Palestinian side. There has also been associated violence in the border area inside the Gaza Strip.”
Again, what is happening between Israelis and Palestinians is not the occupation, as far as the BBC is concerned, but Palestinian attacks on Israelis.
In fact, the BBC does everything it can to take responsibility for what is happening away from the occupation and Israel. According to the BBC’s coverage, Israel does not actively attack Palestinians. It merely “tightens security,” and this happens to “lead to Palestinian deaths.”
Specific numbers, which would make it shockingly clear that Palestinian fatalities far outnumber those on the Israeli side, are not given. The killing of 14 Palestinians in Gaza is reduced to “associated violence.”
This concern for the occupier is highlighted in the article with a graph titled “Stabbing attacks on Israelis by Palestinians.” The graph uses statistics dating back to December 2014.
There is no graph showing Israeli settler and soldier attacks on Palestinians in the West Bank during the same period.
If there was, it would show countless attacks and 47 fatalities – 19 Palestinians in the West Bank killed between January and August 2015 – a figure which would shoot up if fatalities in Gaza were included.
But the BBC does not like to bring its audience’s attention to the pain Israel inflicts on the people it holds under occupation.
On the morning of 10 October, Marwan Barbakh, 10 years old, and Khalil Othman, 18, were shot dead by Israeli soldiers in Gaza. Their slayings were not covered anywhere on the BBC.
Instead, the BBC Online headline for the day was: “Jerusalem attacks: Israelis hurt in two Palestinian stabbings.”
An hour later, the BBC changed the headline to “Israeli-Palestinian violence continues” and began the article with news of the killing of the two Palestinians in Gaza. It could not bring itself to humanize the youths, however, by providing their names, and the rest of the article continued with details of stabbing attacks on Israelis.
Similarly, when the toddler Rahaf, and her mother Nour, were killed in their Gaza home, the BBC did not name them when it mentioned their deaths in an online article, nor did it report on the grief of their family as it might have done had they had been Israeli.
The horror of their killing was not reflected in the headline and it merited only two sentences in an article which, again, focused on detailing Palestinian attacks on Israelis.
It is disgraceful that a news organization which has a commitment to impartiality written into its charter chooses to show such open concern for Israelis under attack while, at the same time, displaying a near disdain for the killing of occupied Palestinians.
Yes, the BBC’s Israel-centered reporting and the way it rallies behind the occupier at times like this is predictable, but its reports are watched, heard and read worldwide, and the global dissemination of this shocking bias should concern us all.