As previously mentioned, the December 17th edition of the ‘Today’ programme aired on the BBC’s domestic radio station Radio 4 was split between live broadcasts from London and the Gaza Strip. Over 40% of the programme’s airtime was devoted to the latter in various segments available here. (00:28 to 01:38, 09:35 to 24:20, 36:07 to 39:40, 47:53 to 57:25, 1:16:27 to 1:26:40, 1:34:15 to 1:44:00, 2:06:21 to 2:07:25, 2:10:13 to 2:23:30, 2:40:34 to 2:51:10 and 2:56:33 to 2:59:55)
Mishal Husain’s introduction to the broadcast (00:28 to 01:38) included the following explanation as to why the publicly funded domestic BBC radio station sent a reporter and crew all the way to the Gaza Strip despite having permanent staff both there and in nearby Jerusalem. [emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]
Husain: “And we’re broadcasting from Gaza this morning because this has been a year which has seen tension and violence flare up again between Gaza and Israel. There have been months of protests at the boundary between the two and I’ve been talking to people on both sides of the divide.”
As regular readers know, since the BBC began covering the ‘Great Return March’ events at the end of March the BBC has failed to provide its audiences with a clear and comprehensive explanation of who initiated, organised and facilitated that publicity stunt, even though the information was available before it began and despite its British connections. For the past nine months BBC audiences have seen that violent rioting repeatedly portrayed as ‘protests’ and ‘peaceful demonstrations’ despite the terror attacks and border infiltrations that have taken place under the ‘Great Return March’ banner.
That editorial policy was also evident in this broadcast (notwithstanding an occasional ‘Israel says’ scrap tossed in the direction of impartiality requirements) and additional themes that have long been featured in BBC reporting were also evident.
One of the main themes promoted in this broadcast was the idea that the “deplorable” situation in the Gaza Strip is essentially the result of the “blockade” imposed by Israel and Egypt. However in seventy-five minutes of reporting from the Gaza Strip, Radio 4 audiences did not hear Mishal Husain utter the word terrorism even once and neither did they hear anything of Hamas’ use of funds and resources (including building materials) for the purposes of terrorism at the expense of the civilian community.
Husain began (09:35 to 24:20) with a review of one Israeli newspaper two Hamas-linked Gaza Strip papers, noting coverage of “the rally that took place here yesterday where supporters marked the 31st anniversary of Hamas”. She did not bother to inform listeners of the pertinent fact that Hamas reportedly spent over half a million dollars on that rally.
Husain: “Well Gaza is a place that the UN said six years ago could be unlivable by 2020. Today they’re warning that two million people who live here are slipping deeper into poverty because of what they’re calling deplorable living conditions. The blockade maintained by Israel and Egypt – they say for security reasons – is a major factor. Matthias Schmale who’s head of Gaza operations for UNRWA – the UN agency for Palestinian refugees – has told us that needs to change.”
Husain of course did not bother to ask Matthias Schmale to explain to her listeners why there are still people classified as refugees in a place that has been under Palestinian control for over 13 years.
Schmale: “I understand the security argument but I also think that we need to be very careful not to put the entire 2 million population into that basket. You know I would claim that the Israelis know so well what goes on in here and know who the potential people are that would hold a security threat to them. If they wanted to they could with reasonable safety let the peace-loving population go out and earn a living for themselves.”
Listeners were not told that nearly a quarter of the population of the Gaza Strip attended that Hamas rally the previous day and neither did they hear any Israeli response to the idea that Gaza residents should and could be allowed to work in Israel “with reasonable safety” – despite the past history of dozens of terror attacks perpetrated by workers from the Gaza Strip.
Having just promoted the views of one interviewee who does not fall into the category of ‘ordinary people’ – and with more to come – Husain went on to make the following claim:
Husain: “Well we’re going to be hearing throughout the programme this morning not from politicians but from individuals and families experiencing the reality both of Gaza and of life in southern Israel where there are bomb shelters next to bus stops and in playgrounds and in every home.”
After listeners had heard clips from interviews with Israelis and Gaza residents that were repeated in full later on in the broadcast, Husain continued:
Husain: “Well more now on how the economy has been affected here in Gaza in recent years –something that I’ve been seeing first hand over the last few days.”
Notably listeners heard nothing throughout the entire programme concerning the economic effects of Gaza terrorism on businesses, tourism and agriculture southern Israel before Husain handed the item over to the BBC’s economics correspondent Darshini David who continued with promotion of the ‘blockade’ theme.
David: “From what you’ve been hearing there it may or may not surprise you to hear that the World Bank has been warning that the Gaza economy is in free fall – that’s after it contracted by 6% at the start of this year. It says that the impact of that decade long blockade has been compounded by budget cuts from the Palestinian Authority and a reduction in international aid. Four out of five people now rely on food aid. We can reveal this morning that the UK will be giving an extra £5 million in emergency supplies to sixty thousand refugees.”
Once again listeners were not told why there are Palestinian refugees in a place ruled and run by Palestinians. David then went on to introduce another not so ordinary interviewee: the World Bank’s director for the West Bank and Gaza, Marina Wes, clarifying that “she’s also the author of its report”.
Having presented unemployment and poverty statistics and discussed the relevance of “donor money” (but with no mention of Israel’s recent agreement to millions of dollars in cash given by Qatar entering the Gaza Strip), Wes went on to promote the ‘blockade’ theme again.
Wes: “…we also need to start working now on the medium term to put in place an enabling environment that will support jobs for Gaza’s youth and that will enable these youths to really make their own living. Critical to this is to remove the constraints on trade and movement of goods and people. They need to be relaxed otherwise there’s no way a small economy like Gaza can flourish.”
Neither at this point nor anywhere else in this programme were listeners given factual background information concerning the numbers of people who do exit the Gaza Strip on a daily basis or the amounts of fuel and goods entering the Gaza Strip via Israel.
David: “…can you put any kind of numbers on what kind of difference getting that greater access could mean?”
Wes was unable to answer that question.
David: “…what about security concerns? What kind of impact could that have on the economy as well?”
Wes: “I think relaxing the blockade is going to be critical going forward. There is for instance something called the dual-use list and if there is scope to relax that I think that could have a very large impact on the economy in Gaza.”
As readers may know, “dual-use” (or “dual-purpose”) items – i.e. items which can also be used for the purposes of terrorism – enter the Gaza Strip only in coordination with Israeli security officials in order to ensure that they are used for civilian purposes. When asked to explain that term, Wes went on:
Wes: “So this list puts, highlights, goods that have security concerns – for instance certain tubes. So I told you that there is a severe water crisis in Gaza. So getting pipes into Gaza that could help alleviate this crisis and that would simultaneously also take care of Israeli security concerns would be critical.”
It would of course have been helpful to listeners had they been told at this point of Hamas’ past use of water and sewage pipes to manufacture rockets that were then fired at Israeli civilians but instead David closed the conversation there and went on to introduce her next two interviewees.
David: “Now as we’ve been hearing it’s Gaza’s young who have been particularly hard hit as Marina Wes there was saying. Could they play a key part in turning round the economy? The blockade means they can’t rely on the industries that their parents may have turned to such as fishing or growing strawberries so they are looking at new areas. Gaza Sky Geeks is the Strip’s first tech hub. It was formed after a charity collaborated with Google in 2011.”
In fact – as even Palestinian outlets acknowledge – strawberries are exported annually from the Gaza Strip during the season.
David’s interview with two women from Gaza Sky Geeks included a question concerning electricity and “a stable internet connection”. Listeners were not however informed that the chronic electricity crisis in the Gaza Strip is entirely unconnected to Israel’s counter-terrorism measures.
As we see, in the first fourteen minutes of this broadcast from the Gaza Strip BBC Radio 4 listeners were repeatedly steered towards the view – promoted by two ‘experts’ – that the solution to the economic problems in the Gaza Strip is the lifting or easing of counter-terrorism measures. They did not however hear any serious portrayal of the Hamas terrorism which brought about those measures in the first place and continues to make them necessary. Neither were they given any information concerning the transportation of gas, fuel and goods into the Gaza Strip via Israel or Israel’s supply of electricity to the territory. The highly relevant topic of Hamas’ policy of prioritising terrorism over the needs of Gaza’s civilian population was – unsurprisingly – studiously avoided.
Additional themes seen in this programme will be discussed in part two of this post.
One to listen out for tomorrow on BBC Radio 4
Mishal Husain does ‘life in Gaza’ for BBC One TV
Documenting BBC amplification of an UNRWA campaign