How the BBC is re-writing history in its reporting of Israel's assault on Gaza
How the BBC is re-writing history in its reporting of Israel's assault on Gaza
By The Editors /

The BBC News, and particularly the reports from Diplomatic Correspondent Jonathan Marcus, on the ongoing Israeli military attacks on the Gaza Strip has presented the violence as little more than a defensive policy manoeuvre by Israel, whose government, in Marcus's view, 'clearly wants' another ceasefire.

On Wednesday Marcus wrote that the Israeli assassination of Ahmed Said Khalil al-Jabari, the head of the military wing of Hamas, was 'a taste of things to come'. As with his reporting on Israel's threats towards Iran, Marcus does not point towards the illegalities of such behaviour. Rather this shows, for him, Netanyahu's 'determination to act', his 'initial choice, a return to the policy of targeted killings'. Excluding the BBC's complacent response to news of Obama's 'kill list' in May 2012 (with North America Editor, Mark Mardell, choosing to emphasise ‘that the care taken by the president is significant’), in what other situations might a BBC correspondent nonchalantly report on a ‘policy of targeted killings’ by a country’s leader? How many other leaders are seen by news correspondents to have a valid ‘choice’ as to whether they want to establish a policy of targeted killings?

Marcus’s analysis goes on to say that ‘the danger’ of Israel carrying out such attacks is that it ‘could eventually prompt a major Israeli engagement on the ground’. Note the wording here: there is no mention of invasion, attack, or force; ‘engagement’ would merely be ‘prompted’ by such a situation. Israel, it seems, does not attack; it is merely drawn into ‘engagement’ as it works towards ‘re-establish[ing] its deterrence and achieve a longer-lasting ceasefire’.

With regard to rocket attacks from Hamas, Marcus reverts to more explicit terminology: there has been a ‘recent upsurge in rocket attacks against Israel from the Gaza Strip and the firing of a missile against an Israeli military vehicle patrolling the border fence’. In further defence of Israel’s behaviour it is commented that there ‘has been a significant increase in the number of armed jihadist elements in the Gaza Strip’, according to ‘analysts’. In other words, we are to infer from this that the people of Gaza have brought this violence from Israel upon themselves.

After his baffling flurry of reasons for justifying the Israeli attacks (increase in jihadists; choice of policy; a warning ‘taste of things to come’) Marcus somehow assumes that Netanyahu ‘wants to avoid a full-scale ground war, like Operation Cast Lead that was launched in December 2008’.

Discussing Operation Cast Lead, another recent report on the BBC website tells us that in 2008 ‘hundreds of Palestinians were killed on the first day of Israel's operation’. Note again that this was an ‘operation’, not an ‘attack’. Hamas rocket fire into Israel, in contrast, is never referred to merely as an ‘operation’. In another example, in the same vein as Jonathan Marcus’s reporting, Jeremy Bowen, the BBC’s Middle East Editor, writes that ‘the danger of the kind of operation Israel has started is that rising casualties on both sides cause a violent escalation that neither side can control’. Once again, what Israel has started is an ‘operation’, and the depiction of the circumstance as a ‘violent escalation that neither side can control’ leads a reader away from any assumption of there being a clear instigator to this violence.

As ‘speculation … mount[ed] that the Israeli army [was] preparing to launch a ground offensive into the Gaza Strip’, the BBC news website of 15 November highlighted the conflict from what could be seen as a somewhat one-sided perspective. The homepage featured 5 headlines (pictured on the right), the top story of which read, ‘Gaza missiles fired at Tel Aviv’. Also featured were reports titled: ‘Israel’s Gaza rocket problem’; ‘UK’s Hague criticises Hamas’; ‘Determined to follow the path of Jihad’; and ‘Hamas targets our children’. In this range of headlines, the residents of the Gaza Strip, on the receiving end of Israel’s bombardment, do not feature. One might have wondered if any ‘problems’ were experienced on the other side of the separation barrier, but information of the effects on the civilian population of the Gaza Strip was sparse. On Thursday 130 casualties were reported in Gaza and 19 deaths, but details of the civilian deaths and casualties are absent from reports.

Providing an analysis of international media coverage from the beginning of the Israeli assault, Noam Chomsky and others wrote on 14 November ‘There was … hardly any mention on the morning of November 12 of military attacks on Gaza that continued throughout the weekend. A cursory scan confirms this … for the New York Times and for the BBC’. In news reports, they write, ‘[w]hat is not in focus are the shellings and bombardments on Gaza, which have resulted in numerous severe and fatal casualties’. This despite ‘[t]he fact that casualties have overwhelmingly been civilians [which] indicates that Israel is not so much engaged in "targeted" killings, as in "collective" killings, thus once again committing the crime of collective punishment’.

Responsibility for any escalation of violence between Israel and Gaza is firmly laid at the hands of Hamas. A headline in The Guardian reads: ‘Obama presses Egypt to rein in Hamas as Gaza conflict escalates’. The idea is not floated in the media that Israel could or should halt its attack (neither do condemnations appear of the initial breach by Israel of the ceasefire). It is noted in The Guardian that Egyptian foreign minister, Mohamed Kamel Amr, called on the US to ‘put pressure on the Israelis to halt the assault on Gaza’. Reports of reactions such as this from non-allied states form the only appearances of such a suggestion.

Further, a BBC report on the deaths of Israeli civilians provided ample space for Benjamin Netanyahu to justify civilian casualties in Gaza. Netanyahu claimed that Hamas ‘deliberately place their rockets next to their children’ we are told by the report. The message is clear: if Palestinian children die, it is not because of Israeli behaviour, but rather it is because of the evil ‘militants’ who have engineered the situation this way.

The reporting has so far downplayed the assassination that instigated the conflict, and omits altogether the killing by Israel of 20-year-old Ahmad al-Nabaheen on 5 November, and of the 13-year-old boy killed as he played football outside his home on 8 November, portraying the Israeli assault on Gaza instead as a defensive measure. The history of these events is already being written from the point of view of the more powerful side of the conflict, and mainstream journalists are proving themselves complicit in this process.

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How the BBC is re-writing history in its reporting of Israel's assault on Gaza