Siding with the Powerful: UK Media Coverage of the Assault on Gaza


The Editors, 16 November 2012 | 9 Comments

Categories: Israel | Gaza | Palestine | BBC News | The Guardian | War |


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The BBC News, and particularly the reports from Diplomatic Correspondent Jonathan Marcus, on the ongoing Israeli military attacks on the Gaza Strip has presented the violence as little more than a defensive policy manoeuvre by Israel, whose government, in Marcus's view, 'clearly wants' another ceasefire.

On Wednesday Marcus wrote that the Israeli assassination of Ahmed Said Khalil al-Jabari, the head of the military wing of Hamas, was 'a taste of things to come'. As with his reporting on Israel's threats towards Iran, Marcus does not point towards the illegalities of such behaviour. Rather this shows, for him, Netanyahu's 'determination to act', his 'initial choice, a return to the policy of targeted killings'. Excluding the BBC's complacent response to news of Obama's 'kill list' in May 2012 (with North America Editor, Mark Mardell, choosing to emphasise ‘that the care taken by the president is significant’), in what other situations might a BBC correspondent nonchalantly report on a ‘policy of targeted killings’ by a country’s leader? How many other leaders are seen by news correspondents to have a valid ‘choice’ as to whether they want to establish a policy of targeted killings?

Marcus’s analysis goes on to say that ‘the danger’ of Israel carrying out such attacks is that it ‘could eventually prompt a major Israeli engagement on the ground’. Note the wording here: there is no mention of invasion, attack, or force; ‘engagement’ would merely be ‘prompted’ by such a situation. Israel, it seems, does not attack; it is merely drawn into ‘engagement’ as it works towards ‘re-establish[ing] its deterrence and achieve a longer-lasting ceasefire’.

With regard to rocket attacks from Hamas, Marcus reverts to more explicit terminology: there has been a ‘recent upsurge in rocket attacks against Israel from the Gaza Strip and the firing of a missile against an Israeli military vehicle patrolling the border fence’. In further defence of Israel’s behaviour it is commented that there ‘has been a significant increase in the number of armed jihadist elements in the Gaza Strip’, according to ‘analysts’. In other words, we are to infer from this that the people of Gaza have brought this violence from Israel upon themselves.

After his baffling flurry of reasons for justifying the Israeli attacks (increase in jihadists; choice of policy; a warning ‘taste of things to come’) Marcus somehow assumes that Netanyahu ‘wants to avoid a full-scale ground war, like Operation Cast Lead that was launched in December 2008’.

Discussing Operation Cast Lead, another recent report on the BBC website tells us that in 2008 ‘hundreds of Palestinians were killed on the first day of Israel's operation’. Note again that this was an ‘operation’, not an ‘attack’. Hamas rocket fire into Israel, in contrast, is never referred to merely as an ‘operation’. In another example, in the same vein as Jonathan Marcus’s reporting, Jeremy Bowen, the BBC’s Middle East Editor, writes that ‘the danger of the kind of operation Israel has started is that rising casualties on both sides cause a violent escalation that neither side can control’. Once again, what Israel has started is an ‘operation’, and the depiction of the circumstance as a ‘violent escalation that neither side can control’ leads a reader away from any assumption of there being a clear instigator to this violence.

As ‘speculation … mount[ed] that the Israeli army [was] preparing to launch a ground offensive into the Gaza Strip’, the BBC news website of 15 November highlighted the conflict from what could be seen as a somewhat one-sided perspective. The homepage featured 5 headlines (pictured on the right), the top story of which read, ‘Gaza missiles fired at Tel Aviv’. Also featured were reports titled: ‘Israel’s Gaza rocket problem’; ‘UK’s Hague criticises Hamas’; ‘Determined to follow the path of Jihad’; and ‘Hamas targets our children’. In this range of headlines, the residents of the Gaza Strip, on the receiving end of Israel’s bombardment, do not feature. One might have wondered if any ‘problems’ were experienced on the other side of the separation barrier, but information of the effects on the civilian population of the Gaza Strip was sparse. On Thursday 130 casualties were reported in Gaza and 19 deaths, but details of the civilian deaths and casualties are absent from reports.

Providing an analysis of international media coverage from the beginning of the Israeli assault, Noam Chomsky and others wrote on 14 November ‘There was … hardly any mention on the morning of November 12 of military attacks on Gaza that continued throughout the weekend. A cursory scan confirms this … for the New York Times and for the BBC’. In news reports, they write, ‘[w]hat is not in focus are the shellings and bombardments on Gaza, which have resulted in numerous severe and fatal casualties’. This despite ‘[t]he fact that casualties have overwhelmingly been civilians [which] indicates that Israel is not so much engaged in "targeted" killings, as in "collective" killings, thus once again committing the crime of collective punishment’.

Responsibility for any escalation of violence between Israel and Gaza is firmly laid at the hands of Hamas. A headline in The Guardian reads: ‘Obama presses Egypt to rein in Hamas as Gaza conflict escalates’. The idea is not floated in the media that Israel could or should halt its attack (neither do condemnations appear of the initial breach by Israel of the ceasefire). It is noted in The Guardian that Egyptian foreign minister, Mohamed Kamel Amr, called on the US to ‘put pressure on the Israelis to halt the assault on Gaza’. Reports of reactions such as this from non-allied states form the only appearances of such a suggestion.

Further, a BBC report on the deaths of Israeli civilians provided ample space for Benjamin Netanyahu to justify civilian casualties in Gaza. Netanyahu claimed that Hamas ‘deliberately place their rockets next to their children’ we are told by the report. The message is clear: if Palestinian children die, it is not because of Israeli behaviour, but rather it is because of the evil ‘militants’ who have engineered the situation this way.

The reporting has so far downplayed the assassination that instigated the conflict, and omits altogether the killing by Israel of 20-year-old Ahmad al-Nabaheen on 5 November, and of the 13-year-old boy killed as he played football outside his home on 8 November, portraying the Israeli assault on Gaza instead as a defensive measure. The history of these events is already being written from the point of view of the more powerful side of the conflict, and mainstream journalists are proving themselves complicit in this process.


Categories in which this article appears: Israel | Gaza | Palestine | BBC News | The Guardian | War |

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Comments (9)

1. Jo 16 November 2012 11:53


The BBC get worse, not only do they appear to find genocide, mass murder and persecution acceptable they also seem to cover for those responsible. There is no other explanation for their coverage of the horrendous treatment of the Palestinian people. Not forgetting they are also embroiled in a huge "alleged" child sex abuse scandal as well. Despicable.



2. zafer shihabi16 November 2012 12:55


At what public is the above article directed????



3. Sabiha Saleem16 November 2012 16:21


BBC is celebrating the birth of it's radio in 1924.
Now it can celebrate its"unbiased,factual"reporting.



4. Tom16 November 2012 16:26


"The idea is not floated in the media that Israel could or should halt its attack (neither do condemnations appear of the initial breach by Israel of the ceasefire)".

"The reporting has so far downplayed the assassination that instigated the conflict".

I believe a couple of hundred rockets had been fired into Israel by the time Ahmed Jabari was assassinated, so it's probably fair to say the rockets "instigated the conflict", isn't it?



5. Amy, Editor News Unspun16 November 2012 20:05


Tom, it is difficult to 'pinpoint when a specific escalation in violence started' (as the BBC's Jon Donnison puts it). However, as Noam Chomsky and others write, 'articles that do mention the Palestinian casualties in Gaza consistently report that Israeli operations are in response to rockets from Gaza and to the injuring of Israeli soldiers. However, the chronology of events of the recent flare-up began on November 5, when an innocent, apparently mentally unfit, 20-year old man, Ahmad al-Nabaheen, was shot when he wandered close to the border'. We would also certainly consider the assassination of Ahmed Jabari as provocative in the escalation of the current events.



6. Ahmad Senany16 November 2012 21:15


Thank you well done



7. Moin uddin18 November 2012 08:12


I think it is a great injustice if wrong committed by Israel is considered as Operation. The leaders of western world seems to be clueless about what is happening or the education they recieved in their schools
is all Evil and it is what they practice.



8. Richard18 November 2012 22:49


I think the BBCs bias is so blatant that they should be the target of a specific campaign, I live in West London so I can make any demos outside of the BBC White City headquarters and I'd also be willing to record and analyse BBC News broadcastes. Lets do this thing :)



9. chris19 November 2012 11:29


This diabolically motivated bias by the BBC is a blatant contravention of section 5 of the broadcasting code. Besides failing on their obligation to impartiality, the BBC are masking and glossing-over crimes against humanity.

Exercise your statuary rights REFUSE TO PAY YOUR TV LICENSE FEE!!!!



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