Last week we looked at how the opening of the US embassy in Jerusalem was reported live in the May 14th afternoon edition of the BBC World Service radio flagship news and current affairs programme ‘Newshour’.
The same programme – presented by Razia Iqbal and available here – concurrently gave listeners a portrayal of events along the border between Israel and the Gaza Strip on that day – as described in its synopsis.
“Dozens of Palestinians have been killed and nearly 2,000 injured by Israeli forces on Gaza’s border. The clashes came as the United States formally opened its embassy in Jerusalem. We will hear from both Palestinian and Israeli voices.”
That content related to two topics: what was happening along the Gaza border and why. In this post we will first take a look at the ‘what’: how the events themselves were portrayed.
[emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]
03:34 Iqbal: “Thousands of Palestinians have gathered on the edge of the border between Gaza and Israel fanning out along the fence that separates Palestinian territory from Israel. There have been demonstrations by Palestinians in Gaza, in Jerusalem and in the West Bank.”
Listeners heard a report from Yolande Knell who began by failing to inform listeners that the “Palestinian health officials” she quoted are in fact Hamas employees.
03:56 Knell: Well the latest we’re hearing from Palestinian health officials is that at least 37 people have been killed, one of them as young as 14. Many hundreds of people have been injured – several of them are journalists – and this, of course, is on top of at least 40 people who’ve been killed by Israeli soldiers during the past 6 weeks of protests…eh…during the demonstrations themselves. So really a very deadly day: the bloodiest day since the war in Gaza back in 2014.
Knell – who had previously been described by Iqbal as being in Ramallah – refrained from describing the events in the BBC’s own words.
Knell: “We’re hearing there are about 35,000 Palestinians spread across 12 locations. These are figures from the Israeli military. They say that Palestinians are throwing fire bombs, burning tyres and throwing rocks along the border. They said that they are sticking to what they call the usual rules of engagement. They have been warning they expected hundreds of Palestinians to try to approach the perimeter fence, to try to cut their way through it and break into Israeli territory and they made it clear that they would open fire in such cases to stop people from attacking the fence and from possible attacks being carried out on the Israeli communities that live nearby.”
She went on to promote the view of additional people not actually present on the Gaza border but, like her, commenting from Ramallah.
Knell: “But the PA government is accusing the Israeli military of carrying out a terrible massacre in Gaza.”
That portrayal of Israeli army statements from Yolande Knell in the first five minutes of the programme was in fact also the last account listeners heard of what the Palestinians at the border were actually doing. Throughout the rest of the programme they heard a series of context-free statements from Razia Iqbal such as the following during an interview with Israeli MK Sharren Haskel.
12:11 Iqbal: “If I could just get your response to what is happening not very far away from where the embassy is being inaugurated. Gazans are being shot dead by Israeli forces.”
13:22 Iqbal: “Dozens of Palestinians have been killed and more than a thousand injured by Israeli forces on Gaza’s border. These clashes come as the United States formally opens its embassy in Jerusalem.”
At one point – as Haskel spoke of “violent riots in the attempt to break the border” – Razia Iqbal abandoned journalistic impartiality altogether:
15:07 Iqbal [interrupts, shouting]: “They’re unarmed, Sharren Haskel! They’re unarmed! It’s the Israeli forces who are armed and shooting at them.”
Listeners also heard a portrayal of the events along the Gaza border from yet another person located over a hundred kilometres away in Ramallah – Mustafa Barghouti.
16:46 Barghouti: “And now the Israelis are thinking that they got a green light from the Americans to do whatever they want. What we see today is a real massacre. So far Israel is responding to peaceful marches. They respond to us with lethal weapons. So far they killed 20 Palestinians and injured no less than 900.”
Despite the fact that many of those killed in prior bouts of rioting over the previous six weeks had been identified as members of Hamas and other terror groups (information that was not disclosed to listeners of this programme) Razia Iqbal provided Mustafa Barghouti with the cue to disseminate more propaganda.
19:11 Iqbal: “Those who speak on the side of Israel and Israeli security forces in particular will argue that Hamas is using in some cases children as human shields. Is there any truth to what they say?”
19:24 Barghouti: “Not at all. They are shooting civilians. The people who are killed are 30 years old. Some of them are children also. But no; people are marching peacefully. But Israel is shooting us. The world must take a stand here and must tell Israel enough is enough. You can’t continue to kill Palestinians as if they are not equal human beings.”
Later on in the programme Iqbal interviewed a Palestinian from Gaza.
33: 26 Iqbal: “Not very far from where people were hearing President Trump there are protests going on along the border between Gaza and Israel. We have just got through to a Palestinian activist. His name is Fadi Shamala…”
Shamala spoke of “tear gas” and “seeing hundreds of the youth are getting shot and killed”, claiming that:
Shamala: “More than 41 Palestinians is killed in these demonstration and more than also thousand of Palestinians were got injured.”
Referring to her first interview with Sharren Haskel, Iqbal asked:
34:41 Iqbal: “Fadi – so I was speaking to an Israeli member of the Knesset earlier and she was saying that the Palestinians are being provocative, they are armed and they are threatening Israel. Were you carrying a weapon today? Did you see other people who were protesting with you carrying weapons?”
After a sarcastic quip, Shamala replied:
Shamala: “No absolutely not. We were just thousands of Palestinian protesters who are unarmed. Just making a peaceful – a very peaceful – demonstration inside the Palestinian side. I mean they are till now are in the Palestinian side and around 3,000 journalists are seeing what is going on in the Palestinian side and also the activities of the demonstration, the protests themselves.”
During a later conversation with former Senator Joe Lieberman, Iqbal again gave a context-free portrayal of the day’s events:
41:07 Iqbal: “I wonder if I can just ask you to reflect then on the word ‘peace’ because today we are seeing Israeli forces shooting dead currently at least 16 protesters on the border between Gaza and Israel proper.”
41:52 Iqbal: “Since I did that interview with Senator Lieberman the number of Palestinians dead has gone up to 37.”
Later on, she repeated the exercise:
44:11 Iqbal: “Not very far from where the ceremony was taking place, dozens of Palestinians have been killed and more than a thousand injured by Israeli forces on Gaza’s border.”
48:20 Iqbal: “And what do you think then is going to be the direct result of what President Trump has done? I mean we’re seeing today coinciding with the opening of the embassy, continuation of protests on the border between Gaza and Israel and the death toll of Gazans is going up by the hour. What are we to make of those two parallel – almost parallel – universes that are existing today?”
Freidman: “This is part of a shifting, a recalibration of relations around Israel-Palestine and we don’t know where it goes just yet. It is currently being measured in blood.”
As we see, BBC World Service audiences were presented with a very blinkered view of what actually happened along the Gaza border on May 14th. Yolande Knell told listeners that the IDF had said that “Palestinians are throwing fire bombs, burning tyres and throwing rocks” but BBC audiences heard nothing at all about the more violent incidents that took place before and during the time that this programme was on air – including attempts to breach the border.
- “At around noon an IDF force near the fence in the Rafah region, the site of one of the main riots, prevented a three-man squad of armed terrorists from placing an IED. The force shot and killed the terrorists.
- Also during the afternoon, two shooting attacks were carried out against IDF forces. In response Israeli Air Force aircraft attacked a Hamas post in the Jabalia region (northern Gaza Strip).
- At around 1500 hours an IED exploded near the fence in the northern Gaza Strip. In response Israeli Air Force aircraft attacked 11 Hamas targets. IDF tanks shot at Hamas posts in the northern Gaza Strip.”
BBC audiences did however repeatedly hear descriptions of “peaceful marches” and “protests” and were led to believe time and time again that the IDF was shooting unarmed civilians, with Hamas’ role in organising the riots mentions erased from audience view. On two occasions the events were described as a “massacre” – even as the BBC concealed the more violent incidents from listeners.
Like the programme’s portrayal of the relocation of the US embassy to Jerusalem, the information and descriptions heard by BBC World Service listeners were obviously intended to steer audiences towards a very specific and one-sided understanding of events.
As Rod Liddle summed it up at the Times:
“Having listened to and watched the BBC news all last week, I am of the firm opinion that the fascist, apartheid state of Israel has been guilty of genocide against the peaceable Palestinian teenagers and toddlers who simply wanted to hold a kind of alcohol-free fundraising gala near that border fence, to celebrate diversity and niceness and raise money for worthy concerns. It is outrageous that the Israelis should have fired on unarmed civilians simply when they were running a tombola.
Some people will have been taken in by stuff less extensively reported by the BBC. Such as that more than four-fifths who were shot by Israeli soldiers were members of the terrorist organisation Hamas. Or that Hamas had ordered and in many cases paid demonstrators to breach the border and “tear the hearts out of the Jews”. Or that Egypt had summoned Hamas’s leader and told him to stop the bloodshed. Or that Molotov cocktails were thrown.
None of this has shifted my opinion, because it was not reported by our impartial state broadcaster. So it cannot possibly be true, can it?”