‘When did you stop beating your wife?’ reporting from the BBC

Eleven years have passed since the BBC vigorously promoted the unverified claim that the infant son of one of its employees in the Gaza Strip had been killed in an Israeli airstrike:


Had one assumed that perhaps the self-styled provider of ‘accurate and impartial’ news had learned something from that hasty and irresponsible coverage of a tragic incident which a UN investigation later showed was caused by a shortfall rocket fired by Palestinian terrorists, recent multi-platform reports featuring the same BBC employee indicate otherwise.

On December 21st the BBC News website published an article headlined “Israel Gaza: ‘I walked my kids past explosions and rotting corpses’”.

“After weeks of Israeli bombing, on 16 November Jehad El-Mashhrawi and his young family fled their home in northern Gaza. The BBC Arabic cameraman shares a vivid and shocking account of what he, his wife and children experienced as they headed south.”

Later the same morning, an audio version of that report (narrated by BBC Arabic’s Marwa Nasser) was aired on BBC Radio 4’s ‘Today’ programme (from 2:44:51 here) and on the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newsday’ (from 07:36 here). On the afternoon of December 21st, that audio report was also aired on the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour’ (from 03:56 here).

“We hear about the traumatic journey of a BBC cameraman and his family forced to leave their home in northern Gaza.”

In addition, a filmed version of the same item was aired on the BBC News channel programme ‘Newsday’.

In the written version (the one which will remain online as ‘permanent public record’) Masharawi’s account begins as follows:

“We left in such a hurry. We were in the middle of baking some bread and realised the houses opposite us were being bombed, one by one. I knew it would soon be our turn. We had packed some bags in case this happened but everything was so rushed we forgot to take them. We didn’t even shut the front door.

We had waited to leave because we didn’t want to move my elderly parents and we had taken years to save up to build our house in al-Zeitoun, but in the end we had to go. My baby son, Omar, died there in November 2012, killed when shrapnel hit our house in another war with Israel and I couldn’t risk losing any more children.”

Readers are not informed of the circumstances of the death of Omar Masharawi but the report does re-promote a photograph which was widely used at the time.

Masharawi’s account of his family’s journey along the Salah al-Din road evacuation route includes the following: [emphasis added]

“We walked for hours and knew that eventually we would have to go through an Israeli checkpoint that was set up during the war. We were nervous and my children kept asking: “What will the army do to us?” […]

There were two open-sided shipping containers near the tent. All the men had to pass through one and the women through the other, with cameras constantly trained on us. When we had gone through, Israeli soldiers asked to see our IDs and we were photographed.

It was like judgement day.

I saw about 50 people detained, all men, including two of my neighbours. One young man was stopped because he had lost his documents and couldn’t remember his ID number. Another man next to me in the queue was called a terrorist by an Israeli soldier, before he too was taken away.

They were told to strip down to their underwear and sit on the ground. Some were later asked to get dressed and leave, while others were blindfolded.

I saw four blindfolded detainees, including my neighbours, taken behind a sand hill by a demolished building. When they were out of sight, we heard gunfire. I have no idea whether they were shot or not.”

In other words, despite the fact that Masharawi has “no idea” whether the four detainees “were shot or not”, the BBC nevertheless chose to promote that completely unverified conjecture as a possibility. The same speculation was promoted in the audio and filmed versions of the report. The written version goes on:

“Separately, other people who made the same journey as me were contacted by a colleague of mine in Cairo. One of them, Kamal Aljojo, said that just after he went through the checkpoint a week earlier, he had seen dead bodies, but he didn’t know how they had died.

My colleague also spoke to a man called Muhammed who went through the same checkpoint on 13 November. “A soldier asked me to strip off all of my clothes, even my underwear,” Muhammed told the BBC. He added: “I was naked in front of everyone walking past. I felt ashamed. Suddenly a female soldier pointed her gun at me and laughed before quickly moving it away. I was humiliated.” Muhammed said he had to wait naked for about two hours before he was allowed to go.”

Masharawi continues:

“Although my wife, children, parents and I all got through the checkpoint safely, two of my brothers were delayed.

While we were waiting for them, an Israeli soldier shouted at a group of people in front of us who were trying to go back towards the containers to check on their relatives, who had been held up.

He used a loudspeaker to tell them to move on and to stay at least 300yds (300m) away, then a soldier started shooting in the air in their direction to intimidate them. We had heard a lot of gunshots while we were queueing.

Everyone was crying and my mother was sobbing: “What happened to my sons? Did they shoot them?”

After well over an hour my brothers finally appeared.”

BBC audiences were not informed that in the same 2012 incident in which his son was killed, one of Jihad Masharawi’s brothers was injured and later died. Footage still available on the BBC News website (to which a footnote about the later UN findings concerning a shortfall rocket was not added, despite reporter Aleem Maqbool’s reference to an “Israeli strike”) shows Ahmed Masharawi being buried wrapped in a Hamas flag.

All versions of Jihad Masharawi’s account include at least parts of a response from the IDF solicited by the BBC.

The written version states:

The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) told the BBC that “individuals suspected of affiliations with terrorist organisations” were detained for preliminary inquiries, and if they remained suspects they were transferred to Israel for further questioning. Others were “promptly released”, it said.

It said clothes had to be removed to check for explosive vests or other weapons and detainees were clothed as soon possible. It said it did not aim to “undermine the security and dignity of the detainees” and that the IDF “operates in accordance with international law”.

The IDF also said it “does not shoot at civilians moving along the humanitarian corridor from the north to the south”, but when young men tried to move in the opposite direction they “were met with shots for the purposes of dispersal, after they were told with a loudspeaker not to advance towards the position of the troops and continued to do so”.

It added that the sound of shooting was common and “the sound of gunfire alone does not constitute an indication of shooting from a specific place or of a certain type”.

What the BBC has done in these written, audio and filmed reports is to amplify completely unverified speculations about the shooting of detainees along with hearsay allegations, to request and publish a response to those insinuations from the IDF and thereby promote a ‘when did you stop beating your wife?’ account of something that it does not even know happened. 

Is it really any wonder that the BBC’s reputation as an ‘accurate and impartial’ provider of news and current affairs reporting has reached such a nadir?

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  1. says: Neil C

    Forced to leave their homes? Is stupidity and lack of common sense a prerequisite of pro Hamas support? Mind you judging by these idiotic supporters of Hamas in Western cities, anti establishment, anti Western, marching every week, stopping their children from being at school, preferring to ‘educate’ i.e. brainwash them how to hate Jews, it would seem that those two characteristics are indeed part of their makeup. Trust the pro Islamic BBC to promote this story, continuing to ignore the 300,000 Israelis displaced from their homes, refusing to acknowledge the 17 years of daily terror perpetrated by Hamas with glee, hacking people to death with machetes whilst praying, ramming into them with vehicles at bus stops, slitting children’s throats whilst sleeping in their beds and the launch of hundreds of thousands of rockets onto innocent civilians. #paybacktimeisnow #defundthebbc

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