After Hamas had fired rockets at Jerusalem on the evening of May 10th – and as attacks continued in other parts of Israel and Israeli forces responded – Radio 4 began to report that story to the BBC’s domestic audiences.
A significant proportion of that evening’s edition of ‘The World Tonight’, presented by Ritula Shah, was given over to that story, with both the programme title – ‘Israel carries out air strikes on the Gaza Strip’ – and the reporting using the familiar ‘last-first’ formula to portray events.
Another familiar aspect to the reporting in that programme was the repeated failure to clarify that the Gaza Strip casualty figures quoted were supplied by the same terrorist organisation that instigated the violence and was, as BBC journalists spoke, still attacking Israeli civilians.
For example in a news bulletin at 03:17 listeners heard the following: [emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]
Newsreader: “Israel has carried out airstrikes on the Gaza Strip in retaliation after Palestinian rockets were fired towards Jerusalem. Officials in Gaza say 20 people were killed in the Israeli attacks. Palestinian militants fired rockets after more than 300 Palestinians were injured this morning in clashes with Israeli police in Jerusalem.” […]
The BBC Jerusalem bureau’s Tom Bateman was then brought in and he too commenced with the ‘last-first’ formula:
Bateman: “Waves of Israeli airstrikes have hit the Gaza Strip. Palestinian officials said nine children were among the dead and called the actions a crime and escalation by Israel. It follows repeated rounds of rocket fire into Israel by the Palestinian militant group Hamas.”
With the BBC relying on information from “officials” from the terror group it refuses to describe as such, it is not surprising that listeners were wrongly led to believe that those nine children were all killed by Israeli fire.
Significantly, neither the recording of this programme (which is still available online over three weeks on) nor additional BBC reports claiming that children in Beit Hanoun were killed by Israeli fire have been amended to relieve audiences of that false impression.
From 07:49 listeners heard a long item which was introduced by Ritula Shah using the same formulas after a recording of explosions:
Shah: “The sound of Israeli airstrikes on targets in the Gaza Strip on a day of increasing violence between Palestinians and the Israeli security forces. Palestinian officials in Gaza say 22 people were killed in the strikes which came hours after rockets were fired from the territory towards Jerusalem. Hamas, which runs Gaza, said the rare targeting of Jerusalem was a response to what it termed Israeli aggression, especially at al Aqsa Mosque – one of the most sensitive sites in the city.”
Listeners next heard from the BBC’s Rushdi Abualouf in the Gaza Strip who repeated the claim from the “ministry of health in Gaza” that nine children had been killed by Israel.
Shah then turned audience attentions to the rioting which had begun that morning on Temple Mount after agitators had stockpiled rocks and other makeshift weapons at the site.
Shah: “Earlier today there’s been fierce clashes at the site of al Aqsa Mosque in the Old City of Jerusalem in which hundreds of Palestinians were injured and more than 20 police officers. Police fired stun grenades and rubber bullets to disperse stone-throwing crowds in and around the mosque. For Muslims it’s one of the holiest times of the year – the month of Ramadan.”
Listeners then heard from the BBC’s Middle East editor Jeremy Bowen who apparently is not familiar with the various apps providing real-time alerts to rocket fire in Israel.
Bowen: “…more rockets have been fired, though not towards Jerusalem as far as I can tell in London. It’s hard for me to say.”
When asked by Shah what were the triggers to the violence, Bowen cited the “enormous open wound which is the long-term crisis between Palestinians and Israelis” and went on:
Bowen: “…what’s been happening is increased tensions around Jerusalem about possible con…evictions, confiscation of property where Palestinians live in a central Jerusalem Palestinian district not far from the Old City called Sheikh Jarrah.”
Bowen also mentioned the postponement of the Palestinian elections and “police restrictions on Palestinians during the holy month of Ramadan”, without clarifying that he was referring to crowd control barriers placed at one location and subsequently removed. He even went on to allege that one of the contributing factors to the violence is the Covid 19 pandemic.
Bowen: “…and after a year of pandemic where Palestinians, a lot of them have lost their jobs, they’re feeling the pinch, they’re frustrated, they’re angry…”
At 14:40 Shah brought in the Israeli ambassador to the UK, Tzipi Hotovely, with whom she pursued a monotone line of questioning while using politicised terminology to describe Temple Mount.
Shah: “Was it an over-reaction for Israeli security officers to enter the al Aqsa compound this morning?”
Shah: “But the security forces going into the mosque – a holy site – during the month of Ramadan; it was bound to inflame tensions. Wasn’t there a more peaceful way – a softer approach – that could have been taken to defuse tensions…?”
Shah: “Is it de-escalation to go into the mosque?”
Shah: “But the security forces were able to retaliate with stun guns and with rubber bullets. It is rocks versus guns.”
After Hotovely had repeatedly tried to explain that the police were responding to preplanned violent rioting, Shah moved on to the topic of the Sheikh Jarrah court case which BBC audiences have not seen properly portrayed to this day. When Hotovely explained that the court case had been postponed in an effort to “ease tensions”, Shah retorted:
Shah: “But for Palestinian families though there is no de-escalation if they’re going to lose their homes.”
After closing that interview Shah repeated Hamas claims concerning casualties – yet again without clarifying their source.
Shah: “Voices in Gaza say that more than 20 people were killed in that attack.”
The programme’s producers then chose to bring in (from 20:17) the head of the PA mission in the UK, Husam Zomlot, who – given the frequency of his appearances in BBC content – they were no doubt aware would provide listeners with five full minutes of falsehoods, propaganda and hyperbole. Shah’s failure to challenge his intentional distortions of the truth is therefore all the more noteworthy.
Shah: “Rockets were fired into Israel. It was inevitable that there would be some kind of response from the Israeli Defence Forces, wasn’t there?”
Zomlot: “You know this has been happening for a long time. The Israelis do the act – the act of provocation, the act of violence. Only this morning they have injured more than 300 peaceful worshippers in al Aqsa Mosque. They have stormed the clinic the night before and therefore all these injured did not have a place to be attended to. And therefore if you were on [in] Palestine [sic] tonight you would see people peacefully demonstrating all over – not only the West Bank and Gaza but actually Palestinian cities inside.”
Even that reference to locations in Israel as “Palestinian cities” failed to solicit a reaction from Shah.
Zomlot: “Why people are doing this? Because people are fed up of being pushed around, of being dispossessed, of their homes being taken away and this has been ongoing for a long time.”
Shah: “But I put it to the ambassador whether it was an over-reaction for Israeli security forces to go into the mosque this morning. She pointed out that there were people in the mosque armed with stones, ready to throw those stones at people who were passing by. There is an escalation of tensions on all sides.”
Zomlot: “Yeah I heard the interview before I came here. It was sheer propaganda – really. The cameras are there…the cameras are there; it’s very well documented. They have attacked worshippers as they were praying. There was nothing inside the mosque except tens of thousands of people going inside the mosque in the holiest month of Ramadan. The provocation was deliberate.”
Those blatant lies also failed to prompt any challenge from Shah who went on to ask “where does this lead the Palestinians?”
Zomlot: “Well you saw the Palestinians over the last few days – very dignified…err, err, err…struggling for their rights with their smiles, with their bare bodies. Really sending such a message of resilience because they are fighting for their very sacred internationally-granted rights. They are sick and tired. We are all sick and tired of these rights being denied and deprived, of the story being twisted…”
Shah: “Do you think you are going to get international support?”
Zomlot: “Yes we seek international support. We want the world to take its own responsibility of applying sanctions on countries that do commit such war crimes and crimes against humanity.”
Shah failed to challenge those allegations too.
Shah: “But if you want clear international support, don’t you need to be able to put pressure on Hamas to stop the firing of rockets from Gaza?”
Zomlot: “The pressure must be on the one entity that has been committing all these illegalities for all these years, since its inception, for more than a hundred years, by the way, since the Balfour Declaration that promised our land to the Jewish people without consulting us. Since then Israel has been engaged in a systematic ethnic cleansing campaign. The Sheikh Jarrah and Jerusalem was just the last episode of that very long-held campaign of displacement and replacement and therefore we must put focus on the root cause of the whole thing.”
Once again Shah failed to react to Zomlot’s falsehoods and libels. Instead she asked whether he thought that a reported phone call between the Iranian foreign minister and Hamas “can only serve to inflame the situation”.
Zomlot: “This is a diversion. You see we always look at the reactions. We don’t look at the real act that has been going on, provoking people to the very core. We always look at the symptoms. All these are symptoms of a [sic] endemic inbuilt racism inside Israel, inbuilt quest for more land, without people.”
Shah could have pointed out to Zomlot – and her listeners – at that point that “claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavor” is one manifestation of antisemitism but of course she failed to do so, saying only: choosing instead to presume to know what ‘Israelis would say’.
Shah: “Well the Israelis would say that they have a right to defend their country and their nationhood.”
She next asked Zomlot about the Sheikh Jarrah court case, once again failing to challenge his predictable lies.
Zomlot: “Israel has always its laws, its courts as a mechanism to implement its ethnic cleansing plan. The Israeli courts are not impartial. They are part and parcel of…”
Shah: “But do you think that the intervention of the Attorney General is likely to make a difference? Something the Palestinian families have called for.”
Zomlot: “I don’t think so. I think that Israel needs international security like South Africa. I believe that Israel will only heed international pressure, international sanctions, international actions like embargoes, like arms and trade embargoes, like the recognition of the State of Palestine, like all the companies that illegally work in the occupied territories and the settlements. Israel can only heed pressure.”
Ignoring that ‘apartheid’ analogy, the call for BDS and the false claim concerning companies, Shah asked her last question.
Shah: “Very briefly then, people are calling for de-escalation. Do you see any sign of that tonight?”
Zomlot: “Unless Israel really heeds these calls and respect the very, very basic rights for people to stay in their homes, to be dignified, not their kids to be murdered as happened just tonight in Gaza – 20 were killed, among them nine children – unless that stops you will continue to see people resisting this.”
The producers of ‘The World Tonight’ cannot possibly claim that Zomlot’s five-minute barrage of unchallenged lies and distortions – along with the item’s other failures such as the lack of clarification concerning the source of casualty figures, the repeated false claim that nine children had been killed by Israel and the focus of audience attentions on fictional ‘attacks on worshippers’ by Israeli security forces “during the holy month of Ramadan” – contributed to building audience understanding of the events.
One can of course only speculate as to the linkage between such irresponsible journalism and the scenes on British streets in the days after this report – and others – were aired.