On the morning of November 16th the BBC News website published a report headlined ‘How the dead are counted in Gaza’ which is credited to “BBC Verify team”.
The original version of that report referred repeatedly to “the health ministry” in the Gaza Strip:
“The health ministry is Gaza’s official source for death numbers – which it updates regularly.”
“The health ministry in Gaza reports a regular death total on social media, with an additional breakdown of the number of women, children and the elderly who have been killed.”
“Health ministry officials say the death figures are recorded by medical professionals before being passed on to them and the figures only include people recorded dead in hospital.”
“…the health ministry in Gaza provided more information…”
Only in the fortieth paragraph (out of 45) of that report did readers find a second-hand reference to the obviously relevant fact that “the health ministry” is run by the same terrorist organisation which initiated the current war by carrying out a massacre of Israeli civilians unprecedented in both scale and cruelty. [emphasis added]
“When the BBC approached a spokesperson for the Israel Defense Forces about why they have cast doubt on the Gazan death figures it said the health ministry was a branch of Hamas and that any information provided by it should be “viewed with caution”. But it did not provide any evidence of inconsistencies in the data released by the health ministry.”
Some seven hours after its initial publication – apparently as a result of public pressure – the BBC News website amended that report’s fourth paragraph by inserting the words “Hamas-run” in front of “health ministry”.
The paragraph after the amended one promotes redundant linkage between Israel’s scepticism concerning casualty figures supplied by a brutal terrorist organisation and a revision of the number of Israeli casualties following over a month of as yet uncompleted efforts to identify the victims of Hamas’ murderous rampage.
“The Hamas-run health ministry is Gaza’s official source for death numbers – which it updates regularly. On Monday evening, it said 11,240 people had been killed, including 4,630 children, since the Hamas attacks on Israel on 7 October which prompted the current war.
The figures have been publicly doubted by Israel, although it has recently had to revise its own death figures down by about 200 – from 1,400 to about 1,200.”
Only in paragraph ten are readers informed that the “health ministry” run by a proscribed terrorist organisation is not transparent on the issue of how many of the casualties were members of its own organisation’s armed militias.
“Health ministry officials say the death figures are recorded by medical professionals before being passed on to them and the figures only include people recorded dead in hospital. The figures do not distinguish between military and civilian deaths.”
The BBC Verify team makes no attempt to explain why that is the case and readers are not told that Hamas has long employed a policy of deliberately failing to distinguish between civilian and combatant casualties for propaganda purposes. Guidelines published by Hamas’ interior ministry in July 2014 include the following:
“Anyone killed or martyred is to be called a civilian from Gaza or Palestine, before we talk about his status in jihad or his military rank. Don’t forget to always add ‘innocent civilian’ or ‘innocent citizen’ in your description of those killed in Israeli attacks on Gaza.”
In August 2014 the ITIC reported that the same ministry put out the following announcement:
“The ministry of the interior and national security [in Gaza] calls on all our [Palestinian] people and the resistance factions [i.e. the terrorist organizations] to be wary of disseminating information and pictures of fatalities of the resistance, and [about] mentioning details about [the circumstances of] their deaths as martyrs and where they died. That is because the occupation is collecting all the information and reports [about the martyrs] and uses them as evidence to justify its crimes against [Palestinian] civilians and [to justify] the destruction of buildings and to take advantage [of the information] for security purposes.”
The ITIC noted that:
“The Hamas-controlled ministry of the interior in the Gaza Strip is responsible for enforcing Hamas’ policy of concealment and deception, which seeks to minimize the extent of information about the numbers and identities of terrorist operatives killed in Operation Protective Edge to preserve the image of “victory” Hamas is attempting to establish. At the same time, Hamas is trying to minimize the number of terrorist operatives killed and to maximize the number of civilian casualties to smear Israel and exert media, political and legal pressure on it the morning after.
So far Hamas has maintained a policy of not divulging details about its own and the other terrorist organizations’ operatives killed in Operation Protective Edge. It provides generalized lists with a minimum number of details, creating the impression that they were civilians. The daily notices published by the Hamas-controlled ministry of health clearly serve that policy.”
The BBC Verify team does not provide any evidence to indicate that Hamas has changed its policy since 2014.
Likewise, the BBC Verify team fails to inform readers that in the past, Hamas health ministry reports on casualties supposedly killed by Israel have included people who died from unrelated causes and people killed by shortfall missiles fired by terrorist organisations in the Gaza Strip or in ‘work accidents’.
The failure to note those facts is particularly remarkable in light of this report’s presentation of the explosion at Al Ahli hospital without any clarification of the fact that it was caused by a missile fired by the Palestinian Islamic Jihad.
“However, one discrepancy remains hotly contested – that of the death toll after a blast at al-Ahli hospital in Gaza City on 17 October. The health ministry said 500 people had been killed, and that figure was later revised down to 471. An assessment by US intelligence was lower, “probably at the low end of the 100-to-300 spectrum”. Israel’s military cited the al-Ahli figures as the basis for a claim that the Gaza health ministry “continuously inflates the number of civilian casualties.””
Among the organisations cited by the BBC Verify team in order to back up its overall messaging that Hamas supplied casualty figures are credible is a political NGO which engages in lawfare against Israel.
“The BBC also spoke to the UN and Human Rights Watch – both of which said they had no reason to disbelieve the figures released by the health ministry in Gaza.
The UN relies on the health ministry as a source for casualty figures in the area.”
The BBC Verify team’s report also claims that “health ministry death figures from the Israel-Gaza conflict in 2014, in which Gaza was bombed” showed “overall consistency” with those produced by other bodies, including another NGO involved in anti-Israel lawfare.
Long time readers may recall the BBC’s highly problematic coverage of the topic of Palestinian casualties both during and after the 2014 conflict:
The fact that the BBC long since abandoned any attempts to independently verify casualty figures provided by the Hamas terrorist organisation’s health ministry does not only mean that audiences are all too often underinformed on the issue of the numbers of casualties and the civilian/combatant casualty ratios. It also creates a situation whereby the not insignificant number of Palestinian casualties that are the result of the actions of terrorist groups are effectively made to disappear by the world’s largest media organisation.
Nevertheless, the take-away messaging of this report by the BBC Verify team – a department specifically set up to counter ‘fake news’ and disinformation – is that despite reservations from Israel and the US president, BBC audiences should have no qualms about taking at face value propaganda in the form of combatant concealing casualty figures provided by the terrorist organisation Hamas.