Mainstreaming anti-Israel rhetoric on the BBC World Service

In addition to the ‘Gaza Special’ broadcast on May 19th on the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Business Daily’, the edition of the show ‘Business Matters’ aired on the same station on the same day also devoted most of its content to the same subject matter.

In the introduction to that programme, however, listeners across the globe were treated to an interesting and revealing glimpse into the ‘BBC world view’ of the Gaza Strip. 

Presenter Roger Hearing tells listeners:

“We’ll also be […] hearing exactly how you get into one of the most restricted zones in the world. […]

But first let me describe where we are. The Gaza Strip is roughly a rectangular area of land slightly more than twice the size of Washington DC. It’s sandy, flat and runs along the Mediterranean coast between Israel and Egypt. These 360 square kilometers contain almost two million people so it’s one of the most densely populated places on the planet: more than five thousand people per square kilometer.”cities population density

This is of course far from the first time that the BBC has promoted the notion that the Gaza Strip is “one of the most densely populated places on the planet” and, as has been noted here before:

“As we know, there are many other cities in the world with a higher population density than Gaza City (6,708/km2) and other places in the world with higher population densities than the Gaza Strip as a whole (4,750.71/km2 in 2012). Interestingly, the BBC profiles for those places (Macau, Monaco, Singapore, Hong Kong) do not cite population density as a factor inevitably leading to social or economic problems.” 

Hearing continues:

“One more statistic: three-quarters of the people here are under 25 and the vast majority of these people can never leave. Why is that? Well the answer lies in the controversial and complicated politics of Gaza. Now it is technically not a state but an entity. Let me give you a necessarily abbreviated history. Back in 1948 when Israel became a state Palestinian refugees crowded into camps here. Then, it was run by Egypt until Israel occupied it in 1967.”

Note how Hearing’s “history” ignores the Gaza Strip’s status as part of the territory assigned by the League of Nations for the creation of the Jewish national home. Note too the absence of any mention of the fact that the Palestinian refugees were created because the nascent Israeli state was attacked by its Arab neighbours in 1948 and the euphemistic reference to the Gaza Strip being “run” – rather than occupied – by Egypt.

Hearing goes on to present a partial portrayal of Hamas’ terrorist designation and a whitewashed account of the violent Hamas coup which resulted in the expulsion of the internationally recognized representatives of the Palestinian people from the enclave.

“Israel finally pulled out in 2005, leaving it to the control of the Palestinian Authority. The Palestinian Islamist group Hamas –regarded by Israel, the European Union and the United States as a terrorist organization – took over in 2007 and they’ve run Gaza ever since.”

He then misrepresents the reasons for the closure of the Israeli and Egyptian borders with the Gaza Strip, eliminating from the picture all mention of Hamas terrorism in either country.

“And since Hamas is committed to the destruction of Israel, Israel closed down the borders. For a while the border with Egypt was open but that’s been shut now under the new Egyptian government.”

In fact, as has been noted here before:

“The violent Hamas take-over of Gaza took place between June 5th and 15th 2007 and the Palestinian Authority – the internationally recognized representative of the Palestinian people – was forcefully ejected from power. Following that event, both Egypt and Israel largely closed their borders with the Gaza Strip due to the fact that the body charged with joint security arrangements under the terms of the Oslo Accords – the Palestinian Authority – no longer exercised any control over the territory. 

Three months later – on September 19th 2007 – in light of the escalation of terrorist rocket attacks against Israeli civilians originating in the now Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip – the Israeli government declared Gaza to be ‘hostile territory’.”

That misrepresentation of events prepares the ground for Hearing to continue with a blatantly inaccurate portrayal of what came first – Hamas terrorism or the blockade.

“And now: the most controversial part of all this. Hamas fighters fired rockets into Israel and staged raids across the border in what Palestinians say is a response to the terrible conditions they’re in as a result of the blockade.”

He goes on to say:

“Israel has launched drone strikes and bombings and conducted full-scale military offensives into Gaza as well as tightening the partial blockade – they say – in response to the Hamas rockets.”

Actually, the blockade has been relaxed since 2010. Making no effort to inform listeners of the Gaza Strip civilian/combatant casualty ratio, Hearing continues:  

“The most recent war last summer was the most destructive. More than two thousand Palestinians – many of them children – died and 66 Israeli soldiers and 6 civilians were killed. Large areas of the Gaza Strip were reduced to rubble.”

In fact, that latter claim was shown to be inaccurate in post-conflict analysis carried out a full ten months ago.

“We find 8,952 of the 12,433 total points (72%) are within a 3 KM buffer abutting the border with Israel. The main objective of Operation Protective Edge was to find and destroy dozens of terror tunnels dug from Gaza into Israel.

That the most intensive damage was caused to the area where the tunnels naturally originated is thus perfectly understandable. Furthermore, of the 4,441 destroyed structures, 3,481 of them (78%) are within the 3 KM buffer, as are 2,531 of 3,303 (77%) of the lowest intensity damage (simple craters), which are mostly strikes on rocket launchers and tunnels.

Most of the attacks are grouped around certain neighborhoods or villages, such as Shuja’iyya, Johur ad-Dik, Sureij, and Khuza’a. These were probably the result of the ground operations that took place in dense urban areas also within the 3 KM buffer that housed multiple tunnel entrances and shafts, as well as launch sites for mortars and rockets.”

Amazingly, after that blatantly political and repeatedly inaccurate portrayal, Hearing states:

“In this programme we’re going to try and park the politics and look at how an economy under these circumstances functions at all.”

And to add insult to injury, he goes on to make use of one of the most jaded clichés in the rich lexicon of politically motivated anti-Israel rhetoric.Business Matters 19 5 Hearing intro

“One of the reasons Gaza’s often described as the largest open-air prison in the world is the difficulty of getting across the border with Israel.”

That same rhetoric is also used in the programme’s synopsis on the BBC website.

“How does the economy work in what some have described as the world’s biggest prison? Presenter Roger Hearing is live from the seafront in the Gaza Strip at the start of a week of coverage from Israel and the Palestinian territories.”

As we see, the BBC World Service has now extinguished any daylight that remained between itself and numerous assorted Hamas-supporting campaigning groups which employ the “world’s largest open-air prison” canard. And as Hearing’s jaundiced portrayal of the Gaza Strip shows, the problem with the broadcaster supposedly committed to accuracy and impartiality obviously does not by any means stop there. 

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