BBC reporting on Hamas sexual violence omits crucial context

On December 4th the BBC finally began to produce content concerning the many cases of rape and sexual assault committed during Hamas’ October 7th invasion of Israel.

That day’s edition of the BBC Radio 4 ‘Today’ programme included an item presented by Mishal Husain which included an interview with Professor Ruth Halperin-Kaddari (from 2:10:14 here) and an interview (from 2:17:29) with UK peer Baroness Arminka Helić.

Also on December 4th, the BBC News website published a report by Marita Moloney based on that ‘Today’ item under the headline “Hamas planned sexual violence as weapon of war – Israeli campaigner”.

During the conversation with Baroness Helić listeners heard her refer to “valid reports” according to which, due to the very high number of people killed on that day and staff shortages, “Israeli forensic teams have not been able to do as much forensic work as is necessary”. That issue had already been reported by the Israeli press almost a month earlier:

“Now, a month after the massacre, the window for collecting physical evidence of rape that can stand up in court is closed, said a forensic official who spoke on the condition of anonymity. Under good conditions, authorities would have had about a week to collect evidence from bodies if they were promptly found and professionally handled.

But these were not optimal conditions for evidence collection. In the wake of the massacre, resources were overwhelmingly directed toward identifying victims — not their cause of death — a process that is still ongoing. The circumstances of the mass casualty event and the ongoing war contaminated crime scenes, or did not allow for the collecting of relevant evidence. And in many cases, the bodies were in such states of mutilation or decay when found that it was impossible to obtain evidence.”

Baroness Helić continued: [emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]

“…and this is, I think, where the next step should have been taken and I don’t know whether Israeli government has actually reached out to, for example, UN Independent International Commission of Inquiry which was…would have had a mandate…is a mandate holder that could have carried out such an investigation and would have then needed to have access to Israeli territory, which at the very beginning was not possible but my understanding is that it has then, once the hostilities had ceased in that part, has not been open to external support and investigation. And I think had there been that process in place, this evidence would have come out sooner.”

In other words, Baroness Helić told BBC Radio 4 audiences that had the UN Human Rights Council’s ‘Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem, and Israel’ – to use its full title – been called in by Israel and given access to what is still a closed military zone, evidence of the atrocities currently being investigated by the Israeli police “would have come out sooner”.

Later on in the conversation and in response to a question from Mishal Husain about Israelis being “hurt” by the UN’s “failure to say anything” on the topic until very recently, listeners heard Baroness Helić say:

“…but I do have to…we have to look into the context. There are strained relationships between Israel and UN and…eh…this shouldn’t be at any point being turned into a political issue or being politicised because it is way…it is so important that survivors and their families get all the support that they need. And above everything it is also important that evidence is collected so that you can…we can have some justice and have some accountability because only then can we move on forward. Otherwise this remains like an open wound and that is not what you want to have.”

While Baroness Helić did not state exactly who she thinks has “politicised” the issue, her comments may well have been understood as referring to the fact that Israel has long declined to cooperate with the UNHRC’s commission. That point was not questioned or clarified by Husain before the interview was closed.

In the BBC’s written report readers are told that: [emphasis added]

“An ongoing UN commission of inquiry investigating alleged war crimes on both sides of the Israel-Hamas conflict will include a focus on sexual violence carried out during the attacks on 7 October. However, Israel has not so far co-operated with the commission, viewing it as biased.

Navi Pillay, who chairs the inquiry, said if Tel Aviv [sic] did not want to co-operate, her team could still take evidence from survivors and witnesses outside the country.

“All they [Israel] have to do is let us in,” she told the BBC, adding that survivors of the attacks should be able to get a UN hearing.

Ms Pillay also rejected claims that the UN delayed acknowledging that sexual violence had taken place during Hamas’s attacks and said “every effort” was being made as part of her team’s investigations.”

As we see, neither of those two BBC items took the trouble to explain why Israel does not cooperate with the UNHRC’s ‘Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem, and Israel’. The fact that that very commission has already produced highly problematic reports – such as those published in June 2022, October 2022 and June 2023 – is not mentioned.

As noted here on previous occasions, the BBC has done remarkably little over the years to contribute to audience understanding of the UNHRC’s politically motivated bias against Israel. Despite having reported the establishment of that ‘Commission of Inquiry’ in May 2021, when evidence emerged concerning highly problematic statements made by its three members, the corporation was silent:

BBC SILENT ON UNHRC COMMISSION BIAS

The BBC has long employed an entirely uncritical approach to the UN which includes whitewashing of its notorious anti-Israel bias.

BBC CONTINUES TO OBSTRUCT AUDIENCE UNDERSTANDING OF UN BIAS

EXAMINING UNHRC STATEMENTS UNCRITICALLY AMPLIFIED BY BBC NEWS

BBC IGNORES UNHRC’S NOMINATION OF CONTROVERSIAL OFFICIAL

WILL THE BBC AGAIN AVOID THE ISSUE OF A CONTROVERSIAL UNHRC SPECIAL RAPPORTEUR?

THE PARTIAL SOURCES BEHIND ANDREW MARR’S BBC ONE TALKING POINTS

That of course means that members of its audience reading Marita Moloney’s report or listening to Baroness Helić’s assertions that victims of sexual assault perpetrated by Hamas terrorists have yet to “have some justice” because “[t]here are strained relationships between Israel and UN” lack the background information needed to comprehend why Israel does not cooperate with a UNHRC commission which has already on repeated occasions put its anti-Israel bias on public record and which is headed by a person who in 2015 told the BBC:

“…and of course the pro-Israel lobby – the extremist groups – were critical that I was biased and in favour of Palestine all the time because I come from South Africa and South Africans are known to be sympathetic to the right of self-determination that the Palestinians want.”

The BBC’s failure to provide that essential context in both its December 4th reports obviously has the effect of compromising audience understanding of this story in general and of the UN’s dismal response in particular. 

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2 Comments

  1. says: Neil C

    Why would Israel cooperate with a UN body so obviously biased against it. The sooner people understand the depth of corruption in the UN, the UNHRC and UNWRA the sooner changes will be made to these blatantly antisemitic organisations. Israel and the 17million strong worldwide Jewish nation are fighting for survival against the barbaric Islamists whose moral values have no place in any western or Middle Eastern democracy. #defundthebbc

  2. says: Frank Adam

    He only way things will change is if the US and other donors to UNWRA cancel their contributions – then the Arab states will have to at last put up the money or shut up.

    There are also two UN committees exceptionalist and unique dedicated to rights and events in Palestine whch also need closing down and defunding.

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