BBC Arabic corrects on civilian captives in the Gaza Strip four months on

A post by CAMERA Arabic

(All translations, emphases and in-bracket remarks by CAMERA Arabic)

On November 3rd, 2022, BBC Arabic editors finally amended a June 28th report on its website which questioned the fact that the two living Israelis held captive in the Gaza Strip – Hisham as-Sayed and Avera Mengistu – are civilians.

The report misleadingly presented their purported “military affiliation” as an “Israel says, Hamas says” matter, promoting added falsehoods concerning the Israeli position on the matter.

Discussing a recording released by Hamas which featured as-Sayed, the report originally read:

“[Subheading:] Palestinian resistance movement Hamas has presented a video segment showing a person it says is a captive Israeli soldier in its possession. […]

“[Body:] Hamas insists on al-Sayed’s military affiliation although reports indicate he entered the Gaza Strip as an individual sometime in 2015 and under ambiguous circumstances.

“Israeli sources describe both al-Sayed and Mengistu as former conscripts in the IDF ranks who were released due to mental conditions

In fact, Avera Mengistu is not a “former conscript”. Due to his mental condition, he was exempted from military service and has therefore been a civilian throughout his entire life.

“Israeli sources” are not the only ones to describe Mengistu and al-Sayed as civilians (in BBC Arabic’s inaccurate wording: “former conscripts”): even NGOs such as Human Rights Watch have long acknowledged that fact. Moreover, according to an HRW representative who met with Hamas co-founder and senior official Mahmoud az-Zahar in 2016, when the latter was presented with the argument that Hamas keeps mentally ill Israeli civilians as captives, the claim he used to reject it was that “there are no civilians in Israel” since all serve in the army and “Israelis who enter Gaza are spies”.

BBC Arabic nevertheless presented the unfounded Hamas claim that Mengistu and al-Sayed are soldiers on equal footing with the well documented fact they are civilians. This is a clear case of false equivalence which compromises audience understanding of the facts.

CAMERA Arabic approached the BBC on the matter in early July. However action was only taken four months later – 87 working days after submission of the original complaint. That is more than 8 times the timeframe for addressing a complaint as set by the BBC itself.

The amended version of the article now reads:

“[Subheading:] Palestinian resistance movement Hamas has presented a video segment showing an Israeli captive in its possession. […]

“[Body:] Hamas insists on al-Sayed’s military affiliation although reports indicate he entered the Gaza Strip as an individual sometime in 2015 and under ambiguous circumstances.

“Israeli sources describe both al-Sayed and Mengistu as civilians, with Mengistu exempt from military service due to his mental illness. As for Hisham al-Sayed, an HRW investigation has shown that he did not have any connection to the military or Israeli government at the time he was captured, and that he also suffers from a mental illness.

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