BBC sidesteps Hamas terrorism and oppression in order to advance a narrative

Here’s a real tear-jerker of a story from BBC 2 ‘Newsnight‘ reporter Tim Whewell. Entitled “Unusual jobs highlight restricted choices of Gaza youth“, it appeared in the Middle East section of the BBC News website on December 11th

There is also a film version of the report, entitled “Life as a teenager on [sic] the Gaza Strip”, which appeared on the BBC’s flagship news programme ‘Newsnight‘.

Unfortunately, Whewell’s selective and stereotypical treatment of the subject matter ensures that his resulting story has all the essential ingredients of a Victorian-era novel. Noble, poverty-stricken young people are unable to pursue their dreams due to being forced into dangerous manual labour in order to support ageing, invalid parents and numerous siblings. In the background is a shady, oppressive, all-powerful entity which controls their lives and shatters their hopes and dreams from afar. One can almost hear Tim Whewell channelling his inner Isabella Banks.  

In Whewell’s story, a young man is forced – against his will – to work 12 hour shifts in Rafah’s smuggling tunnels. Highlighted in bold in the side bar are Mohammed Ismail’s words:

“Have you ever seen anyone dig their own grave? While you are digging, the tunnel might collapse. It could collapse any time and kill you.” 

Not only does Whewell fail to provide proper context regarding the smuggling tunnels of Rafah, but he also distorts the history and facts. Whewell states:

 “The smuggling tunnels have flourished since Israel imposed its blockade, assisted by Egypt, in 2007, after Hamas came to power in Gaza.”

In fact, the smuggling tunnels have been in existence since the time of the Oslo Accords, but from the beginning of the second Intifada – i.e. for a good seven years at least before the partial blockade was introduced – they were used to smuggle weapons and terror operatives into the Gaza Strip in addition to drugs and contraband. Rather than the tunnels being a product of the partial blockade, they are actually one of its causes.

Whewell continues: [emphasis added]

“Although travel restrictions for people crossing the Rafah border were eased in 2011, the shipment of goods into Gaza remains blocked. All building materials must be smuggled, since Israel fears Hamas might use them for military infrastructure.”

We have previously noted here – in light of one of Jon Donnison’s attempts to promote the same theme – that the notion that “all building materials must be smuggled” is entirely inaccurate and a clear breach of BBC Editorial Guidelines. As pointed out two months ago: 

“In practice, thousands of tons of building materials are transported into Gaza on a regular basis and in accordance with their having been designated for a particular project. Thus we see, for example, that in June 2012 alone, 1,142 truckloads of building materials and 476 truckloads of ceramics and plumbing entered the Gaza Strip. 

As well as monthly reports, COGAT also issues more detailed weekly reports and so, for example, we can see that in the week September 16th to 22nd 2012, 155 truckloads of aggregates, 27 truckloads of cement, 4 truckloads of iron and 10 truckloads of glass, aluminum and wood profiles entered the Gaza Strip – ie a total of 413 truckloads of construction materials in one week alone. 

For a detailed look at projects in the Gaza Strip between 2010 and 2012, see this comprehensive COGAT report which includes details of 17 approved housing projects, 17 approved clinic projects, 70 approved new schools and 24 school renovation projects, 37 approved water and sewage projects, 14 approved road projects and 39 approved infrastructure projects – all since 2010.” 

Whewell – conveniently for his emotions-targeted story which goes on to include the abuse of narcotic-like painkillers – makes absolutely no mention in the written version of the use of those same smuggling tunnels to flood the Gaza Strip with military-grade missiles and other weaponry which is later used by terrorist organisations for the purpose of committing the war crime of deliberately targeting Israeli civilians. In the filmed version, a brief throwaway line of narrative says “weapons of course must be smuggled too” and Whewell informs his audience in a derisory tone that “a few rockets from here have hit central Israel”. 

Neither does he bother to include in his story the aspect of Hamas control over and profit-making from those tunnels or their export functions. Only in the film version is a brief reference made to the fact that goods smuggle through the tunnels are “taxed by Hamas, providing much of the government’s revenue”. The written report fails to include even that brief sliver of information. 

Instead, Whewell frames the narrative to be absorbed by his audience to include only hapless, poverty-stricken Gazans who have no choice but to operate smuggling tunnels in order to survive the ravages of the completely unexplained – but obviously evil – partial blockade. The decision made by Hamas and other terrorist organisations to turn the Gaza Strip into a launching pad for non-stop terror activities against the civilians of a neighbouring country has no place in Whewell’s narrative because it is one in which Palestinians have no agency and no responsibility for their situation.

That same lack of context for the partial blockade continues in his second story, which feature a young woman named Madeline Kullab who works in fishing. Again, sad tales of a beleaguered Gazan fishing industry are told, with only a bizarre and unexplained reference to what Whewell euphemistically terms “gun-running” – as though the problem were a few dusty old carbine rifles.

“But the ceasefire has already brought a small benefit to Madeline. Before, Israel – afraid of gun-running – only allowed Gaza’s fishing boats to go up to three nautical miles offshore. Now, the limit has been extended to six miles.”

There is, however, another story here which Tim Whewell could have chosen to tell but did not. In what is almost an aside, Whewell makes a brief reference to Madeline Kullab’s difficulties with the Hamas authorities:

“She has been going out to sea almost every day since she was 14, despite attempts by Gaza’s police force, run by the Islamist movement Hamas, which governs the Gaza Strip, to stop her working in an otherwise wholly-male industry.”

Western journalists often gravitate towards the same people and stories in this region – often guided in the ‘right’ direction by their local fixers. Thus a simple internet search shows that Ms Kullab has been making headlines at least since summer 2010. 

Here is an ITN story from August 2010 and here is another one from the same month in which we learn that Madeline “has just finished her training in fashion design at Gaza’s Union of Churches”. In August 2012 Madeline Kullab was featured in a Press TV report  and a month later she was the focus of an article by Yann Renoult on the International Solidarity Movement’s French website. According to that article, it seems that the naval blockade is hardly the Kullab family’s only problem. [emphasis added and here in the original French – the link can be translated.]

“La raréfaction des ressources halieutiques, conséquence de la minuscule zone de pêche autorisée, ne lui permet de ramener beaucoup de poissons. Mais pour son père, c’est Hamas qui leur fait le plus de mal.

Au début, certains pêcheurs refusaient l’idée qu’une femme puisse être des leurs. Même si quelques uns, des amis de son père, l’ont appuyé comme des frères, d’autres refusaient son choix ou l’enviaient pour son talent. Des rumeurs nausé abondes ont été lancées sur elle. On a dit d’elle qu’elle travaillait avec des hommes n’appartenant pas à sa famille, ce qui est interdit, et pire encore. Elle s’est fait dénoncé auprès des autorités, qui ont commencé à les harceler.

Pour son père, le Hamas est un cauchemar quotidien. Insultes, intimidation, mesures coercitives et injustes… Il s’est fait arrêter plusieurs fois, et Madeline a négocier avec la police pour qu’il soit libéré. La première fois, un officier leur a dit qu’il avait un document leur interdisait d’accéder au port, à la plage et de partir en mer, tout en refusant de le leur montrer. La deuxième fois qu’ils ont arrêté son père, elle a écrit une lettre demandant sa libération et la restitution de son permis de pêche et de navigation. Elle s’est tournée vers des organisations humanitaires qui sont intervenues auprès du gouvernement, qui a fini par renvoyer l’officier de police concerné. Pour se venger, la police continue à les harceler. Elle peut maintenant partir pêcher du port de Gaza, mais pas des plages au nord de Gaza, contrôlées par la police. Mais elle a retrouvé sa licence de pêche.

Après quelques années, la famille a pu acheter un bateau à moteur, mais il a été rapidement confisqué par le Hamas qui ne le lui a jamais rendu. Elle est donc retourné à son petit bateau à fond plat. Quand elle le peut, elle emprunte ou loue le bateau d’autres pêcheurs pour ramener plus de poissons. Sa cahute de pêche a été incendiée. Le Hamas trouve moyen de lui nuire jusqu’en mer. Son père explique que pour les pêcheurs qui partent des plages, le Hamas a mis en place des couloirs de 100m ces pêcheurs peuvent travailler. Cela correspond à l’emplacement des différents îlots de cahutes sur la plage. Chaque pêcheur se voit allouer un couloir dans lequel il doit pêcher. Le Hamas a refusé de leur donner la totalité de ces 100m. Ils ont été jusqu’à retirer son filet de l’eau, parfois à le détruire.”

It seems, however, that the story of Hamas’ harassment of Ms Kullab and her father did not interest the BBC’s Tim Whewell very much. Like Hamas terrorism and Hamas weapons smuggling, that story just does not fit into the narrative he is trying to advance to his audience.

The promotion of specific politically-inspired narratives through the blatantly selective use of information and the advancement of stereotypes can never meet the standards required of the BBC on accuracy and impartiality and that should clearly be a cause for concern to Tim Whewell’s editors.

But no less disturbing to them should be the fact that a campaigning organization such as the ISM – the whole raison d’etre of which is to discredit, defame and destroy Israel – is capable of being more open and honest about Hamas oppression of women than the BBC. 

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