The October 24th and 25th editions of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘The Fifth Floor’ (which describes itself as providing “a fresh look at the stories of the week with journalists from our 27 language sections”) ran under the heading “After the Ceasefire: the Cost of Reporting Gaza”. The item referred to in that title can be heard from around 1:02 here and its synopsis reads as follows:
“For years he has been BBC Arabic’s man in Gaza, reporting and living through conflict and peace time. We last spoke to Shahdi Alkashif during the recent offensive, when rockets and mortars were raining down between Gaza and parts of Israel. More than 2,000 people died during that particular conflict. Shahdi told us that he had spent 27 nights sleeping on the floor of the BBC office, battling with a lack of electricity and food and water, and trying to make sure that his family were safe. The ceasefire has now been in place for two months and Shahdi talks about how his family and others in Gaza are living today and some of the difficulties of living in and reporting conflict.”
Where exactly is the mysterious place “between Gaza and parts of Israel” in which “rockets and mortars were raining down” is unclear, but presenter David Amanor uses the same peculiar phrase in his introduction.
DA: “Shahdi is BBC Arabic’s reporter in Gaza. He was there during the recent conflict when mortars and rockets were raining down between Gaza and Israel. He tells me about the impact on his own family. You might find some of his descriptions later on disturbing.”
Shahdi Alkashif: “In 2012 in the second war, Aya my daughter she asked me to promise her that this war will be the last war. And I did that actually. I did not expect that after two wars that there’s another war will happen. But I think that’s happen again in this war. She said you promise me that this will be the last war. And I…I did not, you know, I did not know what I should say. I mean you know that this is not easy. But at least we deal with it. I mean sometimes she need me to promise her that nothing will happen to her and I have to promise…”
DA: “You have to as a father…”
SA: “As a father. But you and me know this is difficult. And I moved my family three times from the area in the west of Gaza to the area in the south and to the north because all the areas was under bombing.”
DA: “You mean during this recent…during the recent conflict?”
SA: “Yes, yes.”
DA: “You moved three times?”
SA: “I moved from my house – a lot of tank shells fall around my house and I take them to my father house and the building beside him is bombed also so I take them after that to my brother house. So you’re moving your family all the time.”
DA: “What kind of effect has that – you know – those bombings, the mortars and the terror of it? Has it had an impact on people you know? Your family, of course, your daughter and…”
SA: “I mean Aya my daughter she’s…she’s sleeping under the stairs. The war is finished and she’s still sleeping under the stairs because she thought that this is the safer place in the world. I’m just talking about Aya but the others also they, you know, they feel that all of Gaza is not safe. I mean it’s not easy to ask them to go out to play now because they are all the time, you know, looking to the sky…”
SA: “….which is not normal, I mean.”
DA: “And they know – I mean – there’s…there’s a mind on some of those instances like the children who were playing on the beach for example.”
SA: “And nobody can forget this, I mean…”
SA: “The people still talking about the kids who’s killed near the beach.”
DA: “Was that one of the – coming back to you as a reporter, as a journalist – was that one of the most poignant, most significant moments in your reportage? The kids on the beach – or were there others?”
SA: “The kids on the beach and when the first time I…I entered to the El Shuja’iya neighbourhood in east of Gaza. It’s….the Israeli army bombed this area for more than three weeks and we get a chance to visit the area for just a couple of hours through the ceasefire and when I reach to the El Shuja’iya neighbourhood I discovered that I did not recognize it. It’s completely different. Dozens of houses is destroyed and when I go to the area inside – it’s called Amalsour [phonetic] – inside the Shuja’iya, I discovered that there is a lot of bodies that not, you know, evacuated yet and I step over the bodies of kids and I think nobody can, you know, deal with that picture. I mean, to see the bodies of kids without heads, without arms….and this is was I think the difficult moment that I saw within this war.”
DA: “These are the kind of things you have to see as a reporter…”
SA: “Yeah because you need to check the area. You need to see what exactly happened there. You hear sometimes about areas but you need to go there to see exactly and to ask what exactly happened. You are the witness because you are in that place and under this bad circumstances.”
DA: “Seeing these things; you have to witness them but what kind of witness does it…what kind of witness do you become? Do you just remain – try and remain – dispassionate? Do you become angry – an angry witness, a cold witness, a partial witness and a subjective witness? What effect does it have on you?”
SA: “Our challenge is to keep covering under our rules and I think this is why BBC – the people’s listening to the BBC – because the people trying to listen to the informations without emotions.”
The conversation between Amanor and Alkashif continues in much the same vein until the end of the item and – notably – the word Hamas still does not appear once.
Alkashif’s decidedly debatable claim that the BBC provides information “without emotions” is of course all the more jarring due to its appearance in an item which is all about manipulating the emotions of its listeners.
The entire item presents audiences with a subjective and inaccurate picture of a war waged by Israel on the civilian population of Gaza with the accent on children: Alkashif’s own children, the children on the beach, the dead children he saw in Shuja’iya. No attempt is made whatsoever to place Alkashif’s experiences in context: there are no terrorists in his war, the population of the Gaza Strip is entirely passive, Shuja’iya is just a residential neighbourhood rather than the site of Hamas assets and installations, buildings are just “bombed” for no apparent reason.
Two months after the ceasefire which brought the war to an end, it is blatantly obvious that the manipulation of public opinion by means of selective presentation of the conflict remains a priority for the BBC.