Whitewashing an Assault: BBC Coverage of the Israel-Gaza Ceasefire

The Editors, 22 November 2012 | 6 Comments

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

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Last night a ceasefire came into effect after a week of attacks on Gaza which left over 150 Palestinians dead (at least 40 of them children) and rocket fire into Israel which left 5 Israelis dead. Before the news of the ceasefire became the front-page headline on the BBC News website, the headline story for the entire day concerned the bus bombing in Tel Aviv, which injured 21 civilians. Luckily this attack did not result in civilian deaths, however it was still deemed more newsworthy than the 13 Palestinians in Gaza who were killed by air strikes that same day. The news coverage was another glaring example of the different value assigned to life by our media, depending on which side of the Gaza border it resides.

When this round of violence began, William Hague, UK Foreign Minister, said in a statement that 'Hamas bears principal responsibility for the current crisis. I utterly condemn rocket attacks from Gaza into southern Israel by Hamas and other armed groups'. This followed the killings by Israel of 20-year-old Ahmad al-Nabaheen on 5 November, a 13-year-old boy as he played football, and the Hamas head of military. Yet the BBC News reports immediately represented Hague's narrative faithfully, to the detriment of balance and historical perspective. Sixteen people were killed in Gaza that day alone, yet the BBC front-page story was ‘Gaza missiles fired at Tel Aviv’. The bus bombing yesterday, 21 November, which left ‘three people needing surgery’ served as a symbolic story, one which fitted the previously propagated assumptions perfectly: that there is one aggressor in this conflict, and it is not Israel. Readers and viewers were again told the story of Israel defending itself; in other words, the official narrative as put forward by Netanyahu, Hague, Obama and Clinton was again relayed. As Mehdi Hasan told BBC World Tonight on 19 November, 'Israel has a bit of a pass from the western media' and despite being the 'stronger, more powerful, oppressive side' is 'portrayed as the victim'.

Now that the ceasefire has come into effect, how does the BBC describe what has happened during the last week? For a start, before the news page mentions the fact that Egypt brokered the deal, a video of Netanyahu giving a speech is shown, with a quote from his speech in the caption: ‘some citizens expected a stronger military operation’. It seems to suggest that task of bringing peace, and avoiding a ‘stronger military operation’ is the work of the Israeli Prime Minister, a notion backed up further down in the article: ‘US President Barack Obama praised the Israeli leader for accepting the deal’. The article’s sole sub-headline near the start of the article summed up the western media’s almost one-sided view of the conflict: ‘Stop rocket attacks’.

For such a significant news story regarding the conflict, many of the important details are buried at the end of the article. For example, at the start we are told that ‘at least 157 people have died since the flare-up of violence began last week’. The breakdown of deaths on each side is not given for another 22 paragraphs, and the violence ‘flare-up’ is not explained for 20 paragraphs. Given the day-long coverage of the bus attack, and the emphasis on rockets all week, the reader might get the impression of a fair fight, when casualty numbers indicate anything but.

Other points in the article raise important questions – why is the word ‘attack’ never used in relation to Israeli actions? If 40 Israeli children had been killed, and the Israeli prime minister’s home and offices were targeted by Hamas, would this just be referred to simply as ‘hostilities’?

‘In Jerusalem tonight, Israel’s Prime Minister hinted at more severe military action if the new ceasefire doesn’t hold’, we were told in the televised news on the ceasefire. It is yet another example of BBC journalists not holding a critical eye on power, like last week when Jonathan Marcus wrote of Netanyahu’s ‘choice’ to establish a ‘policy of targeted killings’. Now, Netanyahu may flippantly ‘hint’ at ‘more severe military action’ without scrutiny applied to the praise of his ‘peace-bringing’ role offered by Obama et al.

When questioning the unconditional support shown by western leaders for the government of Israel, one can find that it has little to do with offering support for Israel’s ‘right’ to ‘defend’ itself and everything to do with imperialism in the Middle East. The Israeli paper Ha’aretz wrote in September 1950 that:

Israel is to become the watchdog. There is no fear that Israel will undertake any aggressive Policy towards the Arab states when this would explicitly contradict the wishes of the US and Britain. But if for any reasons the Western powers should sometimes prefer to close their eyes, Israel could be relied upon to punish one or several neighbouring states whose discourtesy to the West went beyond the bounds of the permissible.

And to this day the logic applies. As As’ad AbuKhalil wrote on 14 November, ‘In a few weeks, Israel bombed Sudan, bombed Syria, and bombed Palestine and kidnapped a Lebanese shepherd’. Israeli threats towards Iran are also symptomatic of the role of the state referred to by Noam Chomsky as the ‘Middle East Policeman’.

During the last week BBC’s journalists in Gaza have provided an exceptional level of reporting throughout the conflict, their twitter accounts a valuable resource in keeping up-to-date with events inside Gaza. This standard, however, does not extend to the reports on the BBC website, which instead rely heavily on the rhetoric of ‘officials’ and politicians.

It is interesting to contrast this with a simple note from BBC correspondent Jon Donnison on twitter, distinguishing between that which is said by Israeli officials and the effects of their actions:

Jon Donnison ‏@JonDonnison
On WNYC's @Thetakeaway Israel's Dep FM says most of people hit in Gaza deserved it." http://wny.cc/UfatFs 40 children killed since Wed

At the start of what the BBC now calls the ‘flare-up’ of violence, the news focussed heavily on Israel’s right to defend itself. Rarely would a state get such an easy run from the media after killing so many civilians, many of whom were children. Yet again, there has been a systemic failure at the BBC to critically question anything beyond the limits defined by UK foreign policy.

For more analysis of the coverage Israel-Palestine from last week, see our article 'Siding with the Powerful: UK Media Coverage of the Assault on Gaza'.

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

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Comments (6)

1. K Crosby22 November 2012 10:52

Please stop using the aggressor's euphemisms. Bomb attacks, missile attacks, artillery bombardments, machine-gun and sniper fire are not "strikes".

2. mark golding - Children of Iraq Association22 November 2012 12:03

One hopes the BBC is set on a path of destruction simply because the BBC is blindly resolute in supporting a long deceased great power structure that has continued to extend the impossible by deception and war.

That deception endeavors to manipulate our thinking by diversion and entertainment in much the same way an ancient Rome near to collapse staged gladiator gore in the arena’s of death.

Yet this fondling of our cognitive map is finally emerging as bankrupt simply because the Internet, that great British HTTP invention called the ‘www’ has already begun to evolve our lives from people like Craig who speak the truth in the face of this collective delusion. We realise to understand something is to be liberated from it.

We exist in an age of consequence. Too long have we endured a rapacious financial system, abject poverty for millions, escalating war, violence, torture and environmental fall-out.

Government and religion have stalled. Our lives reside with war, conquest, poverty disparity and death.

Those four Horsemen are active and real. The very trait that enabled us to survive is the very trait that has suppressed us.

I believe we can no longer allow the gate-keepers to overwhelm our thoughts and obscure our reasoning.

The power of intention forced Israel to cease fire with Hamas. It is that power in our blogs, tweets, websites, films, voice and boots on the ground that will free the people of Gaza from the blades of genocide; the blood of their children will stain Israel, putrefy her cause and render her leaders prostate and paralysed. The sequel is overdue.

3. @SketchBlog23 November 2012 10:27

You say "Before the news of the ceasefire became the front-page headline on the BBC News website, the headline story for the entire day concerned the bus bombing in Tel Aviv, which injured 21 civilians."

You're sure they were civilians? The Ha'aretz report never once descrbed them as civilians. Do you know their occupations? Most of them seemed to be between ages of 18-45 which would make them reservists in the Israeli Armed Forces.

4. AliPali26 November 2012 20:29

What is conspicuously absent from most media reports is any acknowledgement of the care that Israeli took to minimise loss of human life.
It is absolutely astounding that Israel managed to inflict so much damage to 1500 infrastructure targets, over a period of 8 days, yet despite the high population density of Gaza were responsible for less than 60 civilian deaths. It is doubtful that any other aerial bombardment campaign has achieved such a ratio. Even the International bombardment of Libya was a massacre by comparison, and Syria, although admittedly deliberate targeting civilians, is responsible for more civilian deaths on a daily basis.

5. Colin26 November 2012 23:19

It's irrelevant how much 'care' they took with their pinpoint precision-guided missile attacks to only kill 40 children. The plain fact is that they shouldn't be either attacking the residents of Gaza AT ALL, nor should they be imprisoning over a million people in what is the third-most densely populated area of the planet, or parcelling up the West Bank into lots of little high-security prisons with an 8m concrete wall that separates thousands of people from the land that provides them with a living, with the aim of creating a deliberately-unsustainable series of Bantustan-style enclaves meant to be their version of a de-facto two-state solution. Let's just ask the question - what are all those people doing in Gaza in the first place? Did they choose to live there? All else flows from that.

6. Eddie 11 December 2012 07:47

According to comment 4's logic.. the Yorshire Ripper (Peter Sutcliffe) is a fabulous human being because with due care and attention he only got round to murdering 13 females. Had he been a bit more carefree, he could've murdered so many more. Not only that, but there are serial killers out there who have killed far more than him. For this he should be celebrated for the fine human being that he really is.

Seriously you couldn't make this nonsense up, but this is the ignorant inbred logic that gets left on comment sections all over the internet by Israel's paid-trolls.

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