On April 30th and May 1st 2013 the homepage of the Middle East section of the BBC News website featured the headline “Strike on Gaza kills Palestinian”.
That vaguely titled link leads to an article entitled “Gaza city: Israeli air strike kills Palestinian militant” which has been amended several times since its original publication.
Seeing as the BBC invests a great deal of effort in the branding of Palestinian terror organisations of all stripes as ‘militants’ (with the aim of avoiding “value judgements“), readers might naturally assume that Haytham al Mishal belonged to any one of the plethora of well-known terror organisations operating in the Gaza Strip such as Hamas, the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, Fatah or the PFLP. In fact, the article opens by providing readers with more information about his transport arrangements than his terror affiliations.
“A Palestinian militant has been killed in an Israeli air strike on Gaza City.
Haytham al-Mishal, 29, was hit while riding a motorcycle. At least one other person was reportedly also injured.”
Only in the third paragraph do we find a foggy reference to some unspecified “militant group” or other:
“A militant group which fired rockets at the southern Israeli city of Eilat two weeks ago said Mishal had been one of its members.”
That still does not adequately explain events to the reader and only in the ninth paragraph does any light begin to be cast upon the real background to the story.
“The Israel Defence Forces (IDF) said Mishal was a weapons expert who had made rockets and bombs for different militant groups.
It said Mishal had been involved in “extensive terror activity against Israeli civilians and IDF soldiers”, including the attack on Eilat, a popular tourist destination on Israel’s southern Red Sea coast.
In that incident, two rockets fired from the Egyptian Sinai by Gaza-based militants landed in open areas, without causing damage or injury.”
Finally, in the twelfth paragraph, readers are informed:
“The Mujahedeen Shura Council said Misshal had been one of its members.”
Does the BBC make any effort to explain to its audiences who or what the Mujahedeen Shura Council (also known as the Mujahideen Shura Council in the environs of Jerusalem and the Majilis Shura al Mujahideen) actually are? Not at all: as far as the BBC is concerned, this is just another group for readers to file away under “Palestinian militants”.
The use of the word “militants” is of course very misleading as, by definition, militance may or may not include physical violence such as terrorism. Thus, BBC audiences actually have no idea whether the people so described by the BBC are placard-waving political activists or missile-firing terrorists. As often stated here in the past, the fact that the BBC elects to use that word in order to avoid making “value judgements” is in fact a value judgement in itself.
So what exactly is the Mujahedeen Shura Council (MSC)? Apparently established in 2011, the organisation is actually a coalition of Salafist Jihadist groups based in the Gaza Strip, although some of its operatives appear to be foreigners. The group has on several occasions engaged in missile fire from the Gaza Strip directed at Israeli civilians in nearby communities as well as in attacks upon Israeli soldiers and it was responsible for the terror attack of June 18th 2012 in which 35 year-old Saeed Fashafshe from Haifa was killed. Following that terror attack, the group stated that it was ” ‘a gift to our brothers in Qaedat al Jihad and Sheikh Zawahiri’ and a retaliation for the death of Osama bin Laden.” After the launch of missiles in August 2012, the MSC put out an ‘explanatory’ statement saying, inter alia:
“Jihad for the sake of Allah against the criminal Jews is an obligation that we draw closer to Allah whenever we find a way to that, in any place, by what Allah facilitates to us from the reasons of power and repelling. […]
Let the Jews know that the holy sites, sanctities and blood have men who don’t sleep over oppression, and aren’t pleased by humiliation, and spend their blood and what they own cheaply for that, and what is coming is worst and more bitter by the willing of Allah the Irresistible Avenger.”
Most recently, as stated in the BBC article, on April 17th the MSC launched missile attacks on Eilat from the Sinai.
The BBC article also makes no attempt to provide readers with the vital background necessary to understand this incident in context. It does not explain that the MSC is just one of several Jihadist groups operating in the Sinai and bringing about deterioration in the stability of that area which is of great concern not only to Israel, but to Egypt in particular. Neither does the report make any mention of the ensuing tensions between Egypt and Hamas which stem from the latter’s ‘blind eye’ policy towards Salafist Jihadists moving back and forth unhindered from the Gaza Strip to Sinai as and when they please and their firing of missiles from territory controlled by Hamas.
For the BBC, this is a simple story of a “Palestinian militant” on a motorbike killed by an Israeli air strike. It apparently does not believe that its audiences need to know anything more than that.
So much for the BBC stated mission to “build a global understanding of international issues” and to “enhance UK audiences’ awareness and understanding of international issues”.