On August 27th the CBBC website’s ‘Newsround’ section (which is aimed at children between the ages of six and twelve) updated a page titled “Guide: Why are Israel and the Palestinians fighting over Gaza?“.
The page itself is not new; it was originally created in November 2012 and was the subject of a complaint and a ruling by the BBC’s Editorial Complaints Unit in June 2013. Nevertheless, the item still includes many problematic statements – not least in its title.
Neither the most recent conflict of July/August 2014 nor the one before it in November 2012 was rooted in a dispute “over Gaza”. The idiom ‘to fight over’ means “to fight a battle that decides who gets […] something”. Israel does not – as that title incorrectly suggests – want Gaza. Both those conflicts, like the one before them, began because of escalated attacks on Israel’s civilian population. Neither was either conflict fought against “the Palestinians” but against Hamas and other terrorist organisations based in and acting from the Gaza Strip which perpetrate the attacks on Israeli communities. That same inaccuracy is repeated in the guide’s opening sentence.
“Israelis and Arabs have been fighting over Gaza on and off, for decades. It’s part of the wider Arab Israeli conflict.”
The item continues with an inaccurate description of events leading to the establishment of the State of Israel, erasing from view the Mandate for Palestine which preceded by 25 years the point in time bizarrely chosen by the BBC as the commencement of the story.
“After World War II and the Holocaust in which six million Jewish people were killed, more Jewish people wanted their own country.
They were given a large part of Palestine, which they considered their traditional home but the Arabs who already lived there and in neighbouring countries felt that was unfair and didn’t accept the new country.”
An inaccurate and highly sanitized representation of the fact that the nascent Israeli state was attacked by five Arab countries along with assorted irregulars and volunteers hours after it had declared independence conceals from readers which parties initiated the war and the fact that hostilities had actually begun six months beforehand. The fact that the Gaza Strip and Judea and Samaria are both areas designated as part of the Jewish homeland under the terms of the Mandate for Palestine is not made clear and neither is the very relevant issue of the lack of international recognition of Jordan’s occupation and subsequent annexation of Judea and Samaria and Jerusalem.
“In 1948, the two sides went to war. When it ended, Gaza was controlled by Egypt and another area, the West Bank, by Jordan. They contained thousands of Palestinians who fled what was now the new Jewish home, Israel.”
Equally lacking is the guide’s description of the Six Day War and the failure to explain which parties initiated that conflict and what was their aim.
“But then, in 1967, after another war, Israel occupied these Palestinian areas and Israeli troops stayed there for years. Israelis hoped they might exchange the land they won for Arab countries recognising Israel’s right to exist and an end to the fighting.”
The wording of the next paragraph leads children to mistakenly believe that Hamas’ control of the Gaza Strip came about through elections rather than a violent coup in which it ousted the Palestinian Authority and euphemises Hamas’ aim of bringing about the end of the Jewish state.
“Israel finally left Gaza in 2005 but soon after, a group called Hamas won elections and took control there. Much of the world calls Hamas a terrorist organisation. It refuses to recognise Israel as a country and wants Palestinians to be able to return to their old home – and will use violence to achieve its aims.”
Neither are readers informed of the fact that it was Hamas’ decision to escalate terrorism against Israeli civilians which made the implementation of border restrictions necessary.
“Since then, Israel has held Gaza under a blockade, which means it controls its borders and limits who can get in and out.”
Children are also mistakenly led to believe that power cuts in the Gaza Strip are connected to border restrictions whilst in fact the real reason is the dispute between Hamas and the Palestinian Authority. Likewise, they are inaccurately informed that exports abroad are restricted and that “not many goods get into or out of Gaza” when in fact the only limits are on weapons and dual-purpose items which can be misappropriated for terrorism.
“Israel controls its coastline and all the entry and exit crossings into Israel. There is another crossing point into Egypt. There is no working airport. Because access is so restricted, not many goods get into or out of Gaza. Food is allowed in, but aid agencies say families are not eating as much meat or fresh vegetables and fruit as they used to. There are often power cuts.
Large numbers of people are unemployed because businesses can get very few of their products out of Gaza to sell, and people don’t have much money to buy things.”
The item fails to clarify to readers the differences between Palestinian refugees and those from any other country or that their exceptional hereditary refugee status is in fact the result of the decision by the Arab league countries to refuse to grant them equal status in the countries in which most of them were born. Jewish refugees from Arab lands do not appear in the picture presented by CBBC.
“During the 1948 and 1967 wars hundreds of thousands of Palestinians left, or were forced out of, their homes and moved to neighbouring countries to become refugees.
More than 4.6 million Palestinians are refugees and their descendants, many living in camps in the West Bank, Gaza Strip, Syria, Jordan and Lebanon. They get help from the United Nations.”
Children are then informed that Israelis living under missile attack for almost a decade and a half have got used to it.
“Though the Palestinians don’t have an army, rockets are regularly fired from Gaza into Israel. Israelis living in border towns are used to having to take shelter and adapting their lives to deal with the rockets.”
The item continues with misrepresentation of casualty figures from three rounds of conflict.
“In the years since Israel withdrew its troops in 2005, Gaza has seen several Israeli offensives. Israel says these were aimed at putting a stop to rocket fire.
In 2008, Israel sent soldiers into Gaza. An estimated 1,300 people, many of them civilians, were killed in Gaza before a ceasefire was declared; 13 Israeli soldiers also died.”
Around 700 of the Gaza Strip casualties in Operation Cast Lead were terrorists and three of the 13 Israeli casualties inaccurately described by the BBC as all being soldiers were in fact civilians.
“In 2012, at least 167 Palestinians and six Israelis were killed during an Israeli operation. After eight days a ceasefire was declared with both sides promising to stop attacks.”
Around sixty percent of the Palestinian casualties in Operation Pillar of Defence were terrorists.
“Most recently in July 2014, authorities said over 2,200 people were killed – most of them Palestinians – and many more injured, during 50 days of violence. A ceasefire was agreed between Israel and Hamas on 26 August.”
Whilst the data for casualties in Operation Protective Edge is as yet incomplete, 46% of the names examined so far have been shown to be terrorists.
The item closes with whitewashing of the PA decision to scupper the Oslo peace process, presenting the failure to reach a negotiated agreement as a matter dependent solely upon Israeli agreement.
“Other countries, particularly America, have worked hard to settle the fighting between the Arabs and Israelis but so far nothing has worked. Many people want Gaza and the West Bank to be turned into a new country – Palestine. Israel won’t agree to this unless it feels safe – and Hamas accepts its right to exist. The other sticking points are what will happen to Israelis who’ve settled in the West Bank, who will run Jerusalem and what will happen to the Palestinian refugees.”
This is unfortunately not the first time that an inaccurate presentation of Israel-related issues has been promoted by ‘Newsround’ to young children. There is of course a vast and crucial difference between “simplification appropriate for an item intended for children” (as cited in the ECU ruling on this item from June 2013) and the presentation of inaccurate and misleading information.
Incidents such as the recent bout of conflict often prompt increased pondering of the topic of why so many educated people in Western countries exhibit a disturbing lack of factual knowledge with regard to Israel. With CBBC apparently reaching 34% of six to twelve year-olds weekly in the UK and its website having a million unique browsers a month, items such as this inaccurate and misleading ‘Newsround’ guide are clearly aiding to perpetuate that situation whilst failing young audience members and their licence fee-paying parents by neglecting the BBC’s obligation to promote “understanding of international issues”.