BBC’s Williamson promotes a pernicious narrative

On January 17th the BBC News website published a report by Lucy Williamson titled ‘West Bank strike: Israel accused of targeting civilians in deadly attack’ which opens as follows:

“Israel is accused of having targeted a group of Palestinian civilians with no links to armed groups and who posed no threat to Israeli forces, according to witnesses in the occupied West Bank.

Seven men – four of them brothers – were killed in an Israeli air strike early on 7 January, as they sat around a fire next to the road through al-Shuhada village, 10km (six miles) from the city of Jenin.

The BBC has spoken to relatives of the men killed, witnesses in the area at the time, and a paramedic at the scene. All provided strong evidence that the men were not members of armed militant groups, and that no clashes with Israeli forces were taking place in the location at the time.” [emphasis added]

Williamson quotes an IDF statement relating to events in and around Jenin on January 7th:

“The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) has linked the strike to a military operation hours earlier in Jenin refugee camp, in which a female soldier was killed.

The IDF directed us to a statement it released at the time, which said that “during the operation, an aircraft struck a terrorist squad that hurled explosives at the forces operating in the area”.”

Williamson does not clarify that in addition to Border Police officer Sgt. Shay Germay, three other members of the security forces were injured in the same attack. As reported by the Times of Israel on that day:

“The IDF says that during the extraction of the wounded officers, an attack helicopter carried out an airstrike against a group of Palestinian gunmen hurling explosives at troops.”

Williamson continues with the following claim:

“Footage from both the IDF and a nearby CCTV camera does not show any clear evidence of confrontations with Palestinians in al-Shuhada at the time of the strike.”

A Palestinian Red Crescent “paramedic at the scene” upon whose “strong evidence” Williamson bases her report has been quoted in the past by other news outlets in relation to counter-terrorism operations in Jenin.

“Khalid al-Ahmad, the first paramedic to arrive that morning, is convinced the men were doing nothing wrong.

“One of them was wearing slippers and pyjamas,” he told the BBC. “Don’t you think that someone who wants to resist [the Israeli occupation] would at least wear proper shoes?”” […]

“The paramedic, Khalid al-Ahmad, said that after 20 years working in Jenin, he was used to scanning trauma sites for weapons or explosives, as a basic safety routine.

“I would tell you if there were weapons there,” he said. “Honestly, these were civilians. There was nothing relating to the resistance – no bullets, no weapons. And there was no Israeli presence at all.””

Failing to clarify that last sentence, Williamson continues:

“Armed Palestinian groups – usually quick to claim any members killed by Israeli forces – have been silent about these seven men, with no statement describing any of them as “martyrs” for their cause.”

Williamson does not tell BBC audiences that the IED attack which killed one Israeli soldier and injured three others was claimed by the Jenin Battalion:

“The Jerusalem Brigades’ Jenin Battalion claimed responsibility for detonating the IED in the early morning hours and noted that its operatives had engaged in battles and exchanges of fire with the Israeli security forces.”

She goes on:

“At their funeral, their bodies were wrapped in the flags of Palestinian groups, including Hamas. The bodies of those killed by Israel are often wrapped in the flags of movements supported by friends or family members – even when the deceased are not supporters themselves.

Relatives and neighbours all told us the men had no connection with militant groups – as did the head of Jenin’s main hospital, Wissam Bakr, where the bodies were brought that morning.”

In other words, Williamson’s sole explanation for the fact that the bodies of four of the dead were wrapped in Hamas flags and one in a Fatah Al Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades flag is that their family and friends – some of whom she quotes in her report – apparently support those terrorist organisations.

Readers may recall that in November of last year Williamson employed a similar argument:

“The BBC’s report continues:

“As Basel’s body was prepared for burial in the crowded hospital morgue, a relative watched as the teenager was wrapped in the green flag of Hamas. It wasn’t what Basel would have wanted, he told the BBC.

“He’s innocent, not from the militias,” he said, teetering between anger and grief. “He’s perfect in school, a good boy, kind.””

The same messaging appears in the caption to the main photograph illustrating the report: “Basel Abu al-Wafa’s body was wrapped in a Hamas flag – something a relative said he would not have wanted”.

Williamson apparently did not bother to enquire who had wrapped the teenager’s body in “the green flag of Hamas” if his family objected. […]

Notably, the fact that – as reported by Reuters and others –  Hamas had claimed Basel Abu al-Wafa as a member of that terrorist organisation was not added to the BBC’s report.”

The basic claim put forward by Williamson in this report is that the strike on January 7th targeted seven civilians “with no links to armed groups and who posed no threat to Israeli forces”. Among the sources she cites are unnamed witnesses:

“Two witnesses who were in the coffee shop that morning told us that the army convoy left al-Shuhada between 04:00 and 04:45 local time (02:00-02:45 GMT), before the air strike took place, and that there were no clashes with local people.

“The soldiers passed four times and nobody approached them,” one said. “When the [vehicles] were fully outside the village, they bombed. Young men, sitting near a fire to stay warm, were hit with a rocket.”” [emphasis added]

However, reports on the incident from other sources present a different picture:

“The unfortunate incident followed an incursion by Israeli occupation forces into Jenin last night, leading to confrontations with local youth in various areas of the city.” [Wafa – the official state-run news agency of the Palestinian National Authority.]

“This tragic event unfolded following an incursion by Israeli occupation forces into Jenin overnight, leading to clashes with local youths in various parts of the city and the neighboring villages.” [Quds News Network – Hamas affiliated]

“Israeli forces were withdrawing south from a military incursion into Jenin that began around midnight when a number of young Palestinian men opposite the Iraqi Army Martyrs’ Cemetery targeted Israeli military vehicles with homemade explosive devices.” [DCI-PalestinePFLP affiliated NGO]

“A man who works at a nearby car repair shop told Mondoweiss that he heard the sound of pipe bombs and gunfire shortly before the Israeli airstrike.” [Mondoweiss – anti-Israel website]

Williamson tells her readers that:

“The UN’s human rights body described the situation in the West Bank at the end of last year as “alarming and urgent”.

“Israeli forces have increasingly used military tactics and weapons in law enforcement operations,” a statement from its spokesperson said in November. “Law enforcement is governed by international human rights law, which prohibits the intentional use of lethal force except when strictly necessary to protect life.””

She does not however clarify that the January 7th incident that is the topic of her report took place in a location in Area A, which is under full Palestinian Authority civilian and security control and that Israeli operations in such locations are not “law enforcement” but counterterrorism.

Williamson’s overall aim in this report is to promote the narrative that Israel indiscriminately targets civilians. In order to do so, she quotes one-sided accounts from people described as witnesses and family members of the deceased without any transparency on the topic of how she made contact with them, downplays the fact that five of the casualties were buried in the flags of terrorist organisations and negates reports of attacks on Israeli troops evacuating injured soldiers.

Quoting the above-mentioned paramedic, she writes:

“At the end of the day, anyone Palestinian is a target – if you are an armed person, then you are targeted; and if you are a civilian, then you are also a target.”

Regardless of whether or not all or some of the Darwish brothers and members of their extended family were members of terrorist organisations, whether or not all or some of them were participating in the IED attacks or unfortunately happened to be in close proximity to the perpetrators at the time, Williamson’s promotion of the accusation that Israel deliberately targeted uninvolved civilians once again highlights her continuing failure to report accurately, impartially and fully on counter-terrorism operations.

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  1. says: Neil C

    Same old same old, Red Crescent, Red Cross, UNWRA, UN UNICEF UNHRC, they are all tarred with the same affliction, being affiliated to or supportive of terrorist regimes who care not for the Western world and merely wish to take over the West and create a bigger caliphate that nobody actually wants. Even the people of Iran do not want it because radical Islam is a flawed system commensurate with a cult of doom and destruction and just like Hamas only the top enchelon get to enjoy the rewards at the expense of the rest of the citizens. The BBC are complicit in this takeover in both word and deed #defundthebbc

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