BBC promotes Gaza church allegations in five items of content

On December 16th the BBC News website published a report by Alys Davies which, after several amendments, is now headlined ‘UK MP Layla Moran’s family among hundreds trapped in Gaza church’.

The original version of that report told BBC audiences that:

“UK MP Layla Moran says her relatives are among hundreds of civilians trapped in a Catholic Church in Gaza City as Israeli forces operate nearby.

The Liberal Democrat says her family are “days away from dying” without access to water or food.

Her relatives say six people including a mother and daughter have been killed inside the Holy Family Church complex by what appears to be sniper fire.

The BBC has contacted the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) for comment.”

Around half an hour later, the report was amended to include the following:

“Her relatives and the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem say a mother and daughter were killed inside the Holy Family Church complex on Saturday by what appeared to be sniper fire.

The BBC has asked the IDF for comment.

The Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem said two Christian women – named as Nahida and her daughter Samar – were shot and killed while walking to a building in the church complex known as the Sister’s Convent.

“One was killed as she tried to carry the other to safety,” a statement said. Seven more people were shot and wounded as they “tried to protect others inside the church compound” on Saturday.

The patriarchate said no warning had been given and added: “They were shot in cold blood inside the premises of the parish, where there are no belligerents.”

The patriarchate said that earlier on Saturday an Israeli tank fired on part of the church compound with 54 disabled people inside. It caused a fire that destroyed the building’s generator, the only source of electricity, and some of the disabled people can no longer use their respirators, the statement said.”

Over 24 hours later, on the evening of December 17th, the report was amended again and now includes the following, alongside the above claims from the Latin Patriarchate:

“The Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem say a mother and daughter were killed inside the Holy Family Church complex on Saturday by sniper fire.

The IDF said it found no evidence to show the incident took place.

In a statement, the Israel Defense Forces said: “During the dialogue between the IDF and representatives of the community, no reports of a hit on the church, nor civilians being injured or killed, were raised.

“A review of the IDF’s operational findings support this.”

On the afternoon of December 17th the BBC News website also published a filmed report – taken from a TV interview with Layla Moran – titled ‘Gaza: UK MP says family trapped in church area amid sniper fire’ which includes the following in its synopsis:

“Her relatives and the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem say a mother and daughter were killed inside the Holy Family Church complex on Saturday by what appeared to be sniper fire.”

Moran made that allegation and others during the interview.

In both the filmed and written reports, Layla Moran (a member of the advisory board of the ICJP) brought up the unrelated topic of Christmas:

Written: ‘”I’m now no longer sure they are going to survive until Christmas,” Ms Moran told the BBC.’

Filmed: “We’ve been desperately trying to raise the alarm…ah…in the hope that…I mean, bear in mind it’s the week before Christmas. You know, this time next week it will be Christmas Eve. This should be a moment where – as awful as all of this is, and I have to tell you that the Christmas carols stick in my throat at the moment, you know, ‘peace to all men’ etcetera – but this is a remarkably important time for Christians and yet they’re doing this to Christians in a church. It makes a mockery of when Israel says it’s not targeting civilians.” [emphasis added]

On the morning of December 18th the BBC Radio 4 ‘Today’ programme aired an item about the same story which was introduced by presenter Mishal Husain (from 1:09:24 here) as follows: [emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]

Husain: “Two Palestinian Christian women – a mother and daughter – died over the weekend inside the Holy Family Church in Gaza where they had been sheltering for weeks. They were shot dead. Israeli forces are known to be operating nearby but the IDF has said that they have found no evidence to show the incident took place.”

Nevertheless, Husain repeated allegations made by the Latin Patriarchate before introducing “Fifi Saba, a Catholic from Gaza who now lives in the US” whose sister is in the church concerned.

Like Layla Moran, Saba provided second and third-hand accounts of alleged events at the church. Notably, she was not able to answer Husain’s question “was there a sniper inside the compound?”. Her response to another question form Husain was as follows:

Husain: “Fifi, how do you understand why the church is under siege and being shot at in the way that you describe? Is there a possibility that Hamas fighters are using the compound?”

Saba: “Honestly, I really doubt it to be honest with you because we’ve seen…we’ve seen for the past 72 days […] how hospitals are attacked, schools are attacked, libraries are attacked, markets are attacked, bakeries are attacked. Like I find it hard to believe if that’s the narrative they’re using. I think it’s a crime what’s happening…”

Mishal Husain made no effort whatsoever to inform Radio 4 listeners of the fact that Hamas has indeed used civilian facilities such as schools, universities, hospitals and mosques for military purposes, including in the Rimal neighbourhood where the church in question is located.

Immediately after that interview with Saba, Husain brought in the BBC’s Frank Gardner who told listeners that:

Gardner: “There was a statement that was put out yesterday by the IDF […] where they say that their troops had been operating in an area where – as they put it – terrorists were operating. Ehm…and they make the point that…ehm…they take vast care to avoid civilian casualties and they’ve great respect for Christian places of worship and to protect minority Christians – ‘cos obviously this is very bad optics for Israel – and an investigation is being carried out but they have not admitted to any wrongdoing.”

The December 17th statement portrayed in that manner by Gardner reads as follows:

In other words, Gardner refrained from clarifying that the IDF had stated that troops were operating in a different area in the Gaza Strip and not in the neighbourhood where the church is located. Moreover, he went on to allege that the “big takeaway” is that “there is no safe place in the whole of Gaza” and then continued:

Gardner: “In the IDF determination to go after Hamas, the gloves are off and they are pursuing them with an absolutely relentless fury and a lot of mistakes are being made.”

Referring to the December 15th incident in which IDF forces mistakenly opened fire on three Israeli hostages, Gardner claimed that it “shows what the rest of the population – the resident population in Gaza – is confronting”.

Gardner: “I’m not saying people are being trigger-happy but, goodness me, the rules of engagement – which they don’t reveal – have clearly been relaxed so that an awful lot of people are getting shot here.”

Gardner of course had no evidence to provide to listeners concerning his allegation concerning the IDF’s rules of engagement. In fact, the IDF’s Chief of Staff had made it very clear that the soldiers involved in the shooting of the three Israeli hostages had acted in breach of those protocols.

Around an hour later (from 2:17:43 here), any members of the programme’s audience who were still listening heard Israeli spokesman Eylon Levy explain – in response to presenter Justin Webb’s presentation of comment (“he doesn’t believe the IDF”) from the leader of the Catholic church in Britain – that the IDF’s investigation into the incident at the Holy Family Church “does not support allegations” and that there was “no combat in the local area”.

Nevertheless, on the afternoon of December 18th the BBC News website chose to publish a report by Oliver Slow in which he uncritically and extensively reamplifies allegations made by Fifi Saba in that ‘Today’ interview, by Layla Moran in her earlier BBC interviews and by various Catholic church officials. In paragraphs 22 to 25 of that 36-paragraph report – titled ‘Gazans trapped in church fear being shot, says relative’ – Slow tells readers that:

“In response to the church’s letter, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), said it took “claims regarding harm to sensitive sites with the utmost seriousness”.

It said an incident with its troops took place near a church in the Shejaiya area, and that an “initial review suggests that IDF troops” were operating against a Hamas “threat that they identified in the area of the church”.

“The IDF is conducting a thorough review of the incident,” it said.

The BBC has contacted the IDF for further comment on the accusations of indiscriminate shooting.”

Slow did not bother to clarify to readers that the “church in the Shejaiya area” is not the church in the Rimal district which is the topic of the unevidenced allegations (and Christmas framing) that the BBC has chosen to widely amplify in at least five items of content to date despite the fact that investigations have yet to be completed.

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  1. says: Sid

    It was little concern to the BBC that whilst the Gaza Agreement of 9 May 1994, Annexes, Article 2, Section 15 states “The Palestinian Authority shall ensure free access in the Gaza Strip…. to ” Annex II Appendix A Section 4 “The Jewish Synagogue in Gaza city” such access was denied to Jews since 1994 as if synagogues are unimportant compared with churches!

  2. says: Neil C

    These useless reporters cannot seem to get their story straight, they need to make their minds up, Sky News claimed they were inside the church others claimed they were walking in the compound towards the convent. Has the pope got a satellite looking down on the compound? why was it not a Hamas sniper? Once again the media jumping to their blame Israel conclusions, just another form of antisemitism, #defundthebbc #journalismisdead

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