BBC News report on UNRWA scandal quotes former BBC and UNRWA staffer

Early on the evening of January 26th the BBC News website published a report headlined “Hamas attack: US pauses UNRWA funding over claims of staff involvement”.

That BBC report was the first of several relating to the US State Department’s announcement that it would pause funding for UNRWA in light of allegations that some of its employees were involved in the October 7th Hamas attack on Israel and its early versions were credited to BBC News journalist Sarah Fowler, whose CV includes a five-month stint as an intern with UNRWA.

The report was amended eleven times over the next 25 hours or so as the story developed and additional countries made similar announcements, with subsequent headlines reading “Hamas attack: More countries pause UN funding over claims of staff involvement”, “Funding paused as UNRWA staff probed over Hamas attack” and “UNRWA Hamas attack claims: UK becomes latest country to pause funding for agency”.  

The report currently appears under the headline “UNRWA claims: UK halts aid to UN agency over allegation staff helped Hamas attack” and is now credited to Sarah Fowler and Lipika Pelham. It includes statements from a variety of sources opposed to the suspension of aid:

“But the Palestinian Authority’s minister for civilian affairs, Hussein Al-Sheikh, said the decision by some countries to pause support for the vital UN agency “entails great political and humanitarian relief risks”.

Mr al-Sheikh urged Western donors to immediately reverse their decision, adding: “We need the maximum support for this international organisation.”

The Irish deputy premier, Micheál Martin, said his country had no plans to suspend its funding for the agency, saying it provided “life saving assistance to 2.3m people and at incredible personal cost – with over 100 staff killed in last four months”.

In a post on Telegram, Hamas’s press office said the group urged the UN and the international organisations “to not cave in to the threats and blackmail” from Israel.”

From the ninth amendment onwards, the report also includes a contribution from a former UNRWA spokesman (until 2019) who is also a past BBC employee and who now runs an organisation which lists among its staff members a film director called Rishi Pelham who made a film for UNRWA in 2012 and who appears to be the son of one of the BBC journalists to whom this report is credited.

“Speaking to the BBC, the organisation’s former chief spokesperson, Christopher Gunness, said that the suspension of aid to UNRWA was disproportionate and can only lead to further suffering in Gaza.

Mr Gunness believes UNRWA has demonstrated its zero-tolerance policy by sacking the staff members before their internal investigation was complete.

“One million displaced people are currently taking refuge in and around UNRWA buildings. They are the ones who will suffer as a result of this decision,” said Mr Gunness, adding: “The curtailing of UNRWA services will also destabilise the region at a time when Western governments are trying to contain a regional conflagration.””

Fowler and Pelham apparently did not ask Chris Gunness (who in the past few months has given US and Israel slamming interviews to the Hamas-supporting Qatari outlet Al Jazeera and done podcasts with the anti-Israel outfit Electronic Intifada) about the efficacy of that alleged “zero-tolerance policy” in relation to previous cases – including during his term of office – in which, for example, rockets were found in UNRWA schools in the Gaza Strip and the chairman of the Hamas-controlled UNRWA staff union was elected to the Hamas political bureau in the Gaza Strip.

The recent exposure of widespread support for the October 7th Hamas massacre in an UNRWA teachers Telegram group (including a former BBC employee) is only mentioned in the BBC’s report in the context of a quote from an Israeli spokesman and no further details are provided. The report makes no mention of past documentation of incitement to violence by UNRWA employees.

The five later versions of Fowler and Pelham’s article are illustrated with a photograph carrying the caption “UNRWA has been struggling to get humanitarian aid to many Gazans” and all versions of the report include a section on that topic with the latest reading:

“The agency says it is struggling to get humanitarian aid to many of the estimated 1.7 million people – nearly three-quarters of the population – displaced by 12 weeks of fighting.”

As in previous BBC reporting, no mention is made of the relevant topic of the theftand resale – of humanitarian aid by Hamas.

Fowler and Pelham close their report as follows:

“A number of UN facilities where Gazans had taken shelter have been hit in Israeli air strikes.

On Wednesday, 12 people were killed when a UN shelter was struck in Khan Younis in southern Gaza.”

With Pelham having also co-written that linked report, she must be well aware of the fact that there is no evidence to connect the incident at that UN shelter in Khan Younis to “Israeli air strikes”. Notably, readers are not provided with any information concerning the location of terror assets in and around UNRWA facilities.  

As our long-time readers will know, there is nothing remotely novel about uncritical BBC amplification of UNRWA talking points, including during the current conflict. As we see, even the participation of employees of a UN agency in the massacre of citizens of a UN member state has not prompted the BBC to adopt a more critical approach to UNRWA.

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1 Comment

  1. says: Neil C

    There are no claims, there is evidential proof and has been for some time, which is why UNWRA staff have already been sacked, I remember the report claiming Israel has killed an UNWRA aid worker but he was actually a member of Hamas, the BBC just do not wish to admit any of it because they are both involved and complicit in the scandal. #defundthebbc

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