BBC News framing of a strike on terrorists using human shields

Late on the afternoon of July 6th the BBC News website published a “breaking news story” written by Rushdi Abualouf – who is located in Istanbul – and a relatively new UK-based BBC journalist called Tom McArthur.

From the outset, the BBC’s account of the story included a qualified reference to the fact that the location of the strike that is its topic – an UNRWA-run school – was being exploited by Hamas.

Nevertheless, headlines and promotions told BBC audiences merely of an Israeli airstrike on a “Gaza school” without mention of the relevant context.

The current version of that report (which includes a video also published separately on the BBC News website) is headlined “Israeli air strike on Gaza school kills at least 16” and it opens with the same qualification: [emphasis added]

“At least 16 people have been killed in an Israeli air strike on a school in the Gaza Strip, Palestinian officials have said. Dozens more have been injured.

The building was sheltering thousands of displaced people at Nuseirat refugee camp in central Gaza, according to the Hamas-run health ministry.

The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) said it struck several “terrorists operating in structures located in the area of Al-Jaouni School”.

A local source said the target was a room allegedly used by Hamas police. The BBC is unable to verify this claim.”

Interestingly, claims which Abualouf and McArthur did not find it necessary to clarify that the BBC had not been able to verify include the following:

“The BBC understands that up to 7,000 people were using the building as shelter.

One woman told the AFP news agency how some children were killed as they were reading the Koran when the building was hit. […]

Hamas said five local journalists were among those killed in Israeli attacks on Saturday. Members of their family were also reportedly targeted.

More than 100 journalists have lost their lives in Gaza since the 7 October attacks, according to Reporters Without Borders.

Hamas said the five latest fatalities brings the number to 158. […]

Hamas called the attack a “massacre” on “defenceless displaced civilians”.

Many of the dead and wounded were women, children and the elderly, the group claimed via its English language Telegram channel.”

The report links to a previous article credited to Abualouf about a strike on a different UNRWA school in the same district:

“A previous attack in June on another packed UN-run school in Nuseirat killed at least 35 people.

Local journalists told the BBC at the time that a warplane fired two missiles at classrooms on the top floor of the school.

After that attack, Israel’s military said it had “conducted a precise strike on a Hamas compound” in the school and killed many of the 20 to 30 fighters it believed were inside.

The head of the UN agency for Palestinian refugees (Unrwa), which runs the school, described the June incident as “horrific” and said the claim that armed groups might have been inside a shelter was “shocking” but could not be confirmed.”

Abualouf and McArthur fail to inform their readers that the IDF identified seventeen of the Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad terrorists who had been exploiting that UNRWA school:


Not content with amplifying that “could not be confirmed” spin from one UNRWA official, Abualouf and McArthur tell readers that in response to the claims from locals that Hamas was also using the school which was the location of this latest strike:

“A spokeswoman for Unrwa said the claims were “very, very serious” and should be investigated.”

Readers are also told that:

“Many schools and other UN facilities have been used as shelters by the 1.7 million people who have fled their homes during the war, which has lasted almost eight [sic] months.

Israel has accused Unrwa of supporting Hamas, which is proscribed as a terrorist organisation by Israel, the UK, US and other countries.

The organisation has rejected this. In April, an investigation found Israel had failed to back up a claim that many of the agency’s staff belonged militant groups, but also said the organisation could improve its neutrality, staff vetting and transparency.

“We don’t have all the information yet. Since the war began, we have had more than half of our facilities hit,” Juliette Touma, Unrwa’s communications director, told the BBC.

“Many of them were shelters, and as a result at least 500 people sheltering in those facilities have been killed. Many were women and children.”

She added it was not the first time Israel had made such claims, and that they should be investigated.”

Contrary to the claim made by Abualouf and McArthur, the UN report published in April – dubbed the Colonna Report – did not address the issue of whether or not some UNRWA staff “belonged to militant groups”, as recently explained by a former legal advisor to UNRWA:

“Given its intent to evaluate UNRWA’s efforts to ensure neutrality and respond to alleged breaches of neutrality, the report does not purport to investigate either the Israeli allegations that UNRWA Gaza staff members participated in the October 7 atrocities, or the subsequent Israeli allegations that significant numbers of the Gaza staff belong to Hamas and that nearly half have a close relative who is a Hamas member. The secretary-general has directed the UN Office of Internal Oversight Services to address at least the first of those accusations.”

That OIOS investigation is apparently still ongoing.

The Colonna report does however address the issue of the “neutrality of installations” (p25):

“In line with UNRWA’s Neutrality Framework, the agency is responsible for ensuring the neutrality of these installations, including preventing misuse for political or military objectives. […]

UNRWA has due diligence mechanisms in place to prevent neutrality breaches in its installations, and it has established protocols to respond to breaches. However, security and capacity challenges may hamper their due implementation.

UNRWA delivers on its obligations in two ways, which will be further discussed below. Firstly, it regularly inspects and assesses the compliance of premises with the principle of neutrality. Secondly, it signals any critical breaches and reports on them to host States and donors.”

This latest exploitation of an UNRWA school by terrorists is of course by no means the first. In addition to the other school in the same neighbourhood that was targeted in early June, IDF forces have recently discovered terrorists operating out of UNRWA schools in the “Alqahirah” School in Al-Furqan and the “Musa” School in Daraj Tuffah as well as others in Shuja’iya, Shati and elsewhere. Additional types of UNRWA installations have also been exploited by terrorists, including its main headquarters in the Gaza Strip.

Neither, of course, is this by any means the first conflict in which UNRWA facilities have been compromised by terrorists.

Clearly – as the Colonna report acknowledges – UNRWA’s “due diligence mechanisms” do not work. But instead of challenging UNRWA’s communications director on the issue of why its supposed regular inspections have not signalled “critical breaches” that result in civilians being used as human shields by terrorists, Abualouf and McArthur instead preferred to once again provide her with an uncritical platform from which to promote her talking points.

Related Articles:




More from Hadar Sela
CAMERA UK co-editor interviewed on Israeli podcast
On March 20th, Adam Levick was interviewed on the podcast of Israeli...
Read More
Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *