BBC News yet again touts Hamas denials of exploitation of hospitals

Readers no doubt recall that back in April the BBC News website promoted unverified (and later debunked) claims concerning ‘mass graves’ at the Nasser hospital in Khan Younis following an IDF operation at that site:


As noted at the time, the Hamas-run “Palestinian civil defence crews” were the source of the disinformation, which was amplified  by the Qatari media outlet Al Jazeera and later taken up by the BBC.

Nevertheless, on June 5th the BBC News website decided to do a re-run in the form of a report presented with the incendiary headline “Mass graves and body bags: al-Shifa hospital after Israel withdrew its forces” and credited to “Yolande Knell, Middle East Correspondent • Rushdi Abu Alouf, Gaza Correspondent”, even though the latter left the Gaza Strip for Turkey over six months ago.

As in David Gritten’s April report and much other BBC coverage, Yolande Knell and Rushdi Abualouf employ the now standard practice of promoting the denials of the Hamas terrorist organisation concerning its exploitation of hospitals, despite ample proof to the contrary. [emphasis added]

“During the past eight months of war, hospitals have come under repeated attack, with Israel claiming they are used as bases by Hamas; something the group denies.”


“Al-Shifa has been at the heart of a debate about whether Hamas uses medical sites as a cover. Israel has consistently claimed that the group hides its fighters and infrastructure behind the sick and wounded, which it suggests has rendered hospitals legitimate military targets.

Hamas denies misusing civilian sites and accuses Israel of violating international humanitarian law by targeting hospitals.”

In other words, eight months into the current war initiated by Hamas, Yolande Knell is still promoting that terrorist organisation’s redundant denials of a practice she herself described a decade ago in a report from Shifa hospital:

“We’re here at the main hospital in Gaza City. This is one of the few locations where Hamas officials feel they’re safe enough from a possible Israeli attack to come out and speak to the media.” [Yolande Knell, July 15 2014]

In Knell and Abualouf’s latest report readers also find unnecessarily qualified accounts of documented events that took place during the IDF operation at Shifa hospital in the second half of March:

“Grainy drone footage shared by the IDF after it launched its raid on 18 March showed Palestinian gunmen apparently shooting at soldiers from inside al-Shifa hospital. Later, the gunmen were said to have barricaded themselves in wards and corridors, opening fire and throwing explosives.

Three Israeli soldiers were confirmed to have been killed during the two-week long operation.

The IDF briefed journalists that its action at the hospital was taken based on “concrete intelligence” that Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad had taken over parts of the site, suggesting their operatives had been using it to access basic supplies as well as power and the internet.”

Abualouf and Knell go on to promote a particularly absurd claim:

“While Hamas denied using al-Shifa as a base, its officials did not deny the presence of some members inside the complex, indicating that they may have been among displaced people sheltering there.”

The basis of Knell and Abualouf’s report is described thus:

“After Israeli forces pulled out of Gaza City’s vast al-Shifa hospital complex on 1 April, following their second raid there, stunned Palestinians who pored over the burnt-out ruins said it reeked of death. […]

With decaying bodies sticking out of the sand piled up by combat bulldozers in the courtyards of al-Shifa, the claim that there had been no civilian casualties was immediately questioned.

In recent weeks, four mass graves have been uncovered at the site, with Palestinian search teams saying that several hundred bodies have been found.

We have worked with a journalist in Gaza to follow developments.”

As has been the case in far too much recent BBC reporting of events in the Gaza Strip, that “journalist in Gaza” is at no point identified throughout the entire report, meaning that audiences have no way of checking out his or her credentials, affiliations and possible agenda.

The claims promoted in Knell and Abualouf’s report are sourced primarily from those “Palestinian search teams” but at no point are readers informed that the “Civil Defence” is run by Hamas and that it was also the source of the similar claims regarding the Nasser hospital.

““We’ve extracted martyrs, many of whom are decomposed and completely unidentifiable,” a Palestinian Civil Defence worker, Rami Dababesh told us grimly on 8 May as he stood by a line of white plastic body bags at al-Shifa, wearing a face mask and full protective gear.

“We’ve found corpses of women, children and individuals without heads as well as torn body parts,” he added.

The Civil Defence lacks forensic equipment and expertise, but its teams have been using photos and videos to document the remains. A director, Dr Mohamed Mughir, told us there were suspicious finds; describing how “signs of field executions, binding marks, gunshot wounds to the head and torture marks on the limbs were observed on the bodies of some martyrs”.”

Just ten days before this BBC report was published, the same “director” – actually of the supply department at Gaza’s Civil Defense unit – gave an interview to an Egyptian media outlet in which he inaccurately claimed that tents had been hit by missiles in Rafah and falsely told NBC that the location concerned was “a designated humanitarian area”. Mughir was previously one of those who spread the disinformation concerning mass graves at the Nasser hospital.

The point of Knell and Abualouf’s report (which was translated into other languages and also promoted in filmed and audio versions) is to try to persuade readers that the IDF operation at Shifa hospital in late March did result in civilian casualties.

“With decaying bodies sticking out of the sand piled up by combat bulldozers in the courtyards of al-Shifa, the claim that there had been no civilian casualties was immediately questioned. […]

However, at least some of the corpses found recently at al-Shifa were those of patients who died during Israel’s latest military action. A paramedic involved in the search said some had IV catheters still attached.

On 15 April, the BBC met two men whose dead mothers were last seen being treated at the hospital. Their bodies had just been recovered from a mass grave. […]

After it began its operation at the hospital early on 18 March, the IDF ordered thousands of civilians sheltering there and living in the vicinity to leave and head south. However, it said the hospital could continue to function. By the end of two weeks, only some 140 patients and medics reportedly remained.

The local WHO representative, Dr Rik Peeperkorn, says this group endured “horrific conditions”. After being repeatedly moved around the complex, he says, they “actually ended up in the human resources building which was completely unfit for treatment”. Ultimately, he says, 20 patients died.”

Readers are also told that:

“Despite the Israeli claim that there was “not a single civilian casualty” from its raid, we have been given strong testimony that there were Palestinian civilians killed by heavy Israeli bombardment and intense shooting in the surrounding neighbourhood.

The Palestinian Civil Defence told us that hundreds of Palestinians were still reported to be missing following the raid in March.”

The aim of the promotion of that unsubstantiated claim is to advance a narrative which actors including Hamas and Al Jazeera have been promoting for months:

“The UN Security Council has expressed “deep concern” at the discovery of mass graves at both al-Shifa and Nasser hospital in southern Gaza. Along with the US and the European Union, it has called for an independent investigation into possible war crimes.”

The report also includes the following:

“In April, when the UN called for “a clear, transparent and credible investigation” of mass graves in Gaza, its spokesman Stephane Dujarric told reporters that more journalists needed to be able to work safely in the territory to report on the facts. During the war, Israel and Egypt have denied free access to foreign media.”

This of course is not the first time that BBC journalists have promoted the decidedly flimsy claim that the presence of foreign journalists in the Gaza Strip would provide reporting “on the facts”. As we have repeatedly witnessed throughout the past eight months – including in this particular report by Knell and Abualouf – BBC journalists have in fact been only too willing to provide uncritical amplification for the propaganda and misinformation put out by the terrorist organisation which started the current war. And as those of us who have followed BBC reporting over the years well know, there is nothing new about that.

Those among the BBC’s staff and management who wish to preserve whatever is left of the corporation’s reputation need to urgently challenge the cadre of activist journalists producing reporting such as this, based on accounts from unidentified parties portrayed as local ‘journalists’ and unverified claims from a terrorist organisation.

So long as BBC journalists fail to accurately inform their audiences on basic issues such as the long-known exploitation of hospitals and other civilian infrastructure by terrorist organisations in the Gaza Strip, they cannot seriously expect the corporation’s funding public to place trust in any supposed commitment “to report on the facts”.

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