BBC turns Palestinian attacker into passive victim

The BBC News website’s Middle East section homepage of December 13th 2012 carried an article entitled “Hebron ‘fake gun’ teenager killed by Israeli troops”.

hp 13 12

The short article begins:

“Israeli troops have shot dead a Palestinian teenager carrying a fake gun in the West Bank city of Hebron.

Israeli police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said the youth had pulled out a fake pistol which border police thought was real, so they opened fire.

The boy was named locally as 16-year-old Mohammed Ziad Sulaima, Reuters reported.”

The Reuters report quoted actually gives more context, making it clear that the youth was not merely “carrying a fake gun”. [emphasis added]

“Micky Rosenfeld, a spokesman for Israeli police, said that “a Palestinian pulled a pistol in front of border police on patrol in Hebron” near a flashpoint holy site after darkness fell. “Police opened fire at him, critically injuring him. He was later pronounced dead at the scene,” Rosenfeld said.

Palestinian medical officials said the youth was 17.

Rosenfeld said an initial investigation indicated “he pulled a fake pistol. They (troops at the scene) thought it was real … it’s not clear why he did that.” “

The Jerusalem Post has more information:

“Border police said that “a Palestinian youth who arrived at a Border Police post next to the Tomb of the Patriarchs raised the suspicion of the officers. They asked him for his identification card and when they approached him to check his card he pulled out a gun and pointed it at the head of one of the soldiers.” “

The Times of Israel carries the account of the Border Police Officer who shot the youth:

“The officer, a 20-year-old from Tel Aviv, recounted the events in interviews with Israeli media late Tuesday night, saying that she and two border police soldiers under her command were manning a checkpoint near the Cave of the Patriarchs when the young Palestinian approached them.

“Following the standard procedure, the soldier who was with me asked him for an ID,” she said. “The Palestinian handed him his documents and I entered the room to run a background check.”

While inside, she continued, she looked out and saw that the Palestinian had charged the soldier and drawn what appeared to be a pistol.

“With one hand,” she related, “he grabbed the soldier’s neck and pressed against him, and with the other he put the pistol to the soldier’s temple. In that situation, the soldier couldn’t break free or react.”

The female officer, who was only a few meters away, cocked her weapon.

“I was looking for an angle from which to fire without hurting the soldier,” she said, and it was only after she ascertained that his life was in danger that she pulled the trigger.

“After the first shot, he continued to hold the pistol to the soldier’s temple, so I fired two more bullets,” she said, at which point the Palestinian fell to the ground, and she quickly kicked the gun away. […]

With a gun being held to her the soldier’s head, there was no way she could fire a warning shot, the officer said. “My subordinate’s life was in immediate danger,” and it was important to fire without hitting him, she said.”

Here is a picture of the replica firearm:

gun hevron

So let us now take a closer look at the specific wording used by the BBC to describe the incident.

The headline says:

“Hebron ‘fake gun’ teenager killed by Israeli troops”

This is yet another instance in which the BBC reports events in reverse sequence to their occurrence; as we have termed it in the past, “last-first reporting”. Note too the numerical imbalance implied: there is one teenager and he is killed by “troops” – plural – according to this headline, although actually only one Border Police Officer fired at him.

The strapline practically repeats – and thus reinforces – both the themes propagated in the headline

“Israeli troops have shot dead a Palestinian teenager carrying a fake gun in the West Bank city of Hebron.”

Up to this point, the youth is entirely passive: he is only “carrying” a fake gun. 

The third line of the report says:

“Israeli police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said the youth had pulled out a fake pistol which border police thought was real, so they opened fire.”

Even in this sentence, the youth’s actions are severely downplayed: he only “pulled out” what is in fact better termed a replica firearm rather than the more innocuous term “fake pistol” or “fake gun” and no mention at all is made of what he did actually with it. 

The reader is therefore left with a distorted impression of events which implies trigger-happy Israelis needlessly shooting Palestinians. And just in case the reader failed to get the ‘proper’ message, the article reinforces it by ending with the context-free words:

“Last week, Israeli security forces shot dead a Palestinian man armed with an axe in the northern West Bank.”

The disturbing trend of deliberate downplaying and distortion of security events by the BBC is a breach of Editorial Guidelines on both accuracy and impartiality. 

Update: 

 Security camera footage of the attack: 

Attack on Border Policeman, Hebron, December 12th 2012

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