On the evening of November 15th the BBC News website published a filmed item titled ‘Ros Atkins on… Do the rules of war protect hospitals?’
“Israeli forces have entered Gaza’s largest hospital in what the military calls a “precise and targeted” operation against Hamas.
The BBC’s Analysis editor Ros Atkins examines how the rules of war apply to hospitals caught up in military action.”
Atkins begins: [emphasis added]
Atkins: “Any hospital in a conflict is protected by the Geneva Conventions. They’re the foundations of the rules of war and they state that: “medical units shall be respected and protected at all times and shall not be the object of attack.” However, in some circumstances hospitals can lose their protection if they are “are used to commit, outside their humanitarian function, acts harmful to the enemy”. That’s something Israel says is happening at Al Shifa hospital; the biggest hospital in Gaza.”
Viewers then see footage of Mark Regev stating that Hamas has “deliberately built their military infrastructure under the hospital” before Atkins goes on:
Atkins: “Proving this is important according to the International Criminal Court’s chief prosecutor. He writes: “the burden of demonstration that this protective status is lost rests with those who fire the gun, the missile or the rocket in question”.
Notably, even that reference to rockets did not prompt Atkins to inform BBC audiences that Barzilai hospital in Ashkelon has been hit three times by rockets fired by terrorists in the Gaza Strip since October 8th. None of those attacks have been reported by the BBC.
Atkins: “Israel says it does have evidence Hamas is using Al Shifa hospital as a base and the US says this: [footage of Pentagon deputy press secretary] “We do have information that Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad uses some hospitals in the Gaza Strip including the al Shifa hospital as a way to conceal and support their military operations and hold hostages.”
Atkins then tells BBC audiences around the world that:
Atkins: “Hamas denies doing this.”
In other words, as far as the BBC is concerned the word of a proscribed terrorist organisation that recently carried out the worst slaughter of Israeli civilians on record carries as much weight as statements made by the Israeli authorities and US government and also the EU.
Notably, Atkins’ item does not inform BBC audiences of the fact that Hamas’ exploitation of Shifa and other hospitals in the Gaza Strip has been on record for years. An Amnesty International report from 2015 which documented Hamas’ use of Shifa hospital to interrogate and torture Palestinians is also not mentioned by Atkins before he goes on:
Atkins: “The Geneva Conventions are also clear that hospitals can only lose their protective status if a warning is being given and time is allowed for evacuation. Israel says it does do this, although that’s disputed.”
Viewers are not told by whom “that’s disputed” and neither are they informed that the day before Atkins’ item appeared, the World Health Organisation put out a statement referring to “Israel’s repeated orders for the evacuation of 22 hospitals”. As noted by the Jerusalem Post:
“Israel has been asking people to evacuate northern Gaza, including Gaza City and neighborhoods around it, since mid-October, after Hamas attacked Israel and massacred 1,200 people in Israel. According to Ynet “there are six hospitals and 25 health facilities” in the northern Gaza Strip. Israel had called on them to evacuate. Most of them refused.”
The IDF has also repeatedly provided information concerning the evacuation route from Shifa hospital.
Atkins closes his report as follows:
Atkins: “But even if there is evidence, even if warnings are given, the UN emphasises that Israel’s obligations under international law remain.”
The item ends with footage of the head of the notoriously anti-Israel UN High Commission for Human Rights describing those obligations as “To ensure that civilians are spared, that the principles of distinction, precaution, in attack and proportionality are respected”.
In July 2014 a Washington Post reporter described Shifa hospital as having “become a de facto headquarters for Hamas leaders, who can be seen in the hallways and offices”. Apparently the BBC has forgotten that on the same day its own Yolande Knell interviewed a Hamas spokesman at the same location, telling audiences that:
“We’re here at the main hospital in Gaza City. This is one of the few locations where Hamas officials feel they’re safe enough from a possible Israeli attack to come out and speak to the media.”
While there is certainly nothing novel about the banal ‘Israel says – Hamas denies’ stance adopted by the BBC on the topic of that terrorist organisation’s long-standing use of human shields and abuse of civilian facilities including hospitals, that framing clearly compromises the ability of its audiences to understand the issues concerned and renders any ‘explainer’ such as this one presented by Atkins completely pointless.