Monday, 6 June 2011

BBC and the murder of Golan protesters

More brutal Israeli executions of unarmed civilians.  No condemnation or serious action from complicit governments. Another shameless inversion of the truth from the BBC.

The latest ruthless murder of defenceless Palestinian-Syrian demonstrators, this time on Naksa Day (5 June), indicates Israel's deepening concern over Arab Spring ferment and the power of peaceful Palestinian protest.

If this was peaceful, popular dissent in, say, Iran or any other official enemy of the West, we can be sure that BBC correspondents like John Simpson and Kevin Connolly would be on the ground castigating the regime and talking-up the protesters' democratic aims.  Not so when it comes to Israel and the Palestinians.

What we get, instead, is not only token, second-hand reportage of the killings, but a loaded narrative implying that Israel was merely 'responding to provocation', with the demonstrators bringing about their own killing.

A letter to the BBC's Middle East online editor Tarik Kafala.


Dear Tarik Kafala

The BBC's coverage of unarmed Palestinian-Syrian protesters being shot dead by Israeli soldiers was as oblivious to balanced, impartial reportage as the disregard those soldiers seemingly showed their victims.

The wording and omissions in this article coupled with brazenly-biased references to Israeli sources tells us all we need to know about 'BBC neutrality'.

The opening line - always important in getting the essence of the story across - states that:

"Israeli troops have fired on pro-Palestinian protesters".

Why not, at the very least:

'Israeli troops have killed unarmed pro-Palestinian protesters'?

The words 'killed' and 'unarmed' should not only be part of this line, they should be the headline and basis of the story.

Indeed, why isn't such killing referred to as a "massacre" - as in South Africa's Sharpeville massacre?  Or does the BBC think it anything less than open state murder for troops to wilfully gun down unarmed civilians?

Moreover, why is there no questions in the report about Israel's failure to wait and try to arrest the protesters?  Or, like Israel, do the BBC consider the life of Arab 'others' so cheap as to negate that line of enquiry?

The report goes on to say that the "protesters defied razor-wire fences", while "Israel had vowed to prevent a repeat of a similar march last month, in which hundreds of people breached the fence."

All very 'factual', you will, no doubt, claim.  But the impression conveyed is that this 'defiance' was met with legitimate, fore-warned force.  Where in this line, or anywhere else in the piece, does the BBC consider the disproportionality of Israel's 'response'?

It goes on:  

"The US state department said it was "troubled" by the "loss of life". "We call for all sides to exercise restraint," it said. "Provocative actions like this should be avoided." "

Isn't this statement worthy of even a little deconstruction?  Isn't its classic understatement on calculated murder and the 'provocative invitation' to being shot not worthy of critical or alternative comment?

It seems not, with the piece moving seamlessly into the first direct Israeli-sided statement:

"Israel's military said its soldiers shouted warnings in Arabic and fired warning shots in the air, before aiming at the legs of those who had reached the fence."

Again, why is there no counter-statement here on the disproportionality of Israeli actions?  Are we even to believe that they fired at the protesters' legs?  Isn't this also unlawful use of force?

Instead of noting such points, the piece offers this loaded take on what Israeli troops seemed 'forced' to do:

"After live gunfire failed to disperse the crowds, Israeli troops fired volleys of tear gas over the border. Many people fled while others lay on the ground."

This is the BBC tacitly accepting that Israel acted 'reluctantly' in only firing after they had 'failed' to disperse the crowd.  The dispersal of the crowd is, in itself, implied to be the imperative issue and objective rather than the lives or safety of civilians.   The tenor of this wording implies, as stated by Israel, that the crowd were 'threatening', and, thus, 'responsible' for their own killing.   

The report's token attempt at 'balance' is no less effective in casting doubt over the level of deaths and injuries.  It begins, lazily, with this set of other media-sourced claims: 

"Syrian TV said more than 300 protesters had been wounded. An Israeli military spokeswoman told The Jerusalem Post newspaper they were only aware of 12 injuries."

But then, immediately, in the report's second direct Israeli statement, Mark Regev is allowed to dismiss the Syrian view:   

"Israeli spokesman Mark Regev told the BBC that the Syrian figures could not be trusted."

Rather than include any counter-view here to Regev, the piece goes on to cite, in substantive detail, Netanyahu's own 'pre-warning':  

"Ahead of Sunday's march, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he would not allow "extremists" to breach Israel's borders." "I have instructed our security forces to act with determination and restraint in order to protect our sovereignty our borders," he said at the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem."

One might expect, even by now, some sort of Palestinian voice.  Instead, here's what we get:

"Another Israeli military spokeswoman, Avital Leibovich, told reporters: "This is an attempt by the Syrian regime to divert the world's attention from the Syrian bloodshed that has been taking place in recent weeks."  She added that Israeli forces were better able to stop border protests now than they were last month as they had since prepared "for a variety of operation scenarios"."

In what the BBC will cite as definitive 'balance', Regev - again - and Fatah official Hossam Zomlot get to air their views in small pieces to camera.  But the Palestinian account seems massively outweighed here by the text, exclusions and comments afforded to Israel.   

The report ends with no other oppositional statements, permitting only some basic background words on Israel's 'seizure' of the Golan in 1967.  The "Naksa" is 'explained' as a "known in Arabic" term, allowing it only some kind of marginal significance.

The meaning of "Nakba" is, likewise, defined here in the course of noting the outcome of its recent anniversary: 

"At least 12 people died during the 15 May demonstrations, which at one point saw hundreds manage to cross into the Golan Heights."

Again, people - innocent, unarmed civilians - somehow "died" in the demonstration.  They weren't shot, or killed, or murdered or massacred.  They just "died".

All this, the BBC will say, is consistent with applying its codes of 'impartiality' and 'straight reporting'.

Yet, the use of anodyne language like "died", where people have been calculatingly executed, is the most effective way of disguising and mitigating the truth of such atrocities.

Exclude words like "unarmed" or "defenceless", while introducing words like "defied", and we have the impression of a threatening mob bringing-on their own misfortune.

Add to that loaded mix a blanket range of Israeli statements and Washington apologetics and we're left with a report utterly devoid of balance and truthful information.

As with regime reactions to Arab Spring protest, Israeli violence is becoming more brutal, desperate and apparent to the world.  Yet, the BBC's own output is still serving to mask that criminality.

As with the BBC's reporting of Libya, viewers might expect to see a more regime-critical journalism and accurate use of words to describe Israeli actions.  In making such charges against the BBC, we're more likely to get Regev-type defence and denial from their spokespersons.

BBC state media will, of course, deny any such bias or service to power. Increasingly, viewers are coming to see through both Regev's and the BBC's parallel distortions.

Kind regards

John Hilley


Shai H said...

Dear John

Your blog entry signals a clear bias in its opening line: 'More brutal Israeli executions of unarmed civilians'.

You make the claim that the BBC would have reacted with indignation to Iran's stifling of domestic dissent and without basis compare that scenario to a breach of the sovereign Israeli-Syrian border by Syrian/Palestinian protesters, dozens of which managed to enter Israel proper and who have taken refuge in a Druze village. Comparisons to Sharpeville?! Where is your sense of perspective? I agree, Israel should not shoot illegal border-crossers, they should mine the border zone to prevent such crossings in the first place.

It's interesting how we tend to view media reports through our tinted lenses, and I include myself here. As an Israel-South African now living in Portugal I take an interest in MidEast developments and have found the BBC's grilling of Israeli government spokespeople (eg Mark Regev) in the past to have been condescending and irreverent, so if anything I would accuse the BBC of bias in the opposite direction to the one you describe.

On 'do the BBC consider the life of Arab 'others' so cheap..' - I think it's enough to see how Assad, Ghaddafi, Ahmadenijad, the Hamas leaders, et al value the lives of their own citizens to see that your question is misdirected.

I urge you to take more care when making comparisons which superficially look legitimate but in fact have no ground as you present them.

Shai H

Shai H said...

I realised after posting the comment above that your article followed the 'naqsa' events of June 6th and not those of the 'naqba' on May 15th. Here's what The Economist had to say about that:

'For Mr Assad, television pictures of killings by Israelis may be a relief from scenes of Syrians dying every day at the hands of his own security men in cities across the country. Hence the ease with which the demonstrators got to the border zone, which is usually blocked to Syrians. But on June 6th Syrian army roadblocks prevented them from coming back, while in the huge Yarmouk refugee camp on the edge of Damascus mourners burned the office of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, a radical group, blaming it for sending the demonstrators to their deaths.'

John Hilley said...

Dear Shai H

Some elementary points to consider against your charge of 'superficial comparisons'.

You note:

"Your blog entry signals a clear bias in its opening line: 'More brutal Israeli executions of unarmed civilians'."

Every single word in that sentence is accurate, pointing to the unvarnished truth that yet another set of innocent victims have been ruthlessly cut down by Israel's unsparing military.

It was, indeed, a massacre - a massacre of innocent, unarmed protesters.

And, yes, my views and interpretations are definitively biased - towards the victims and all other such civilians who suffer at the hands of uncontrolled power.

You consider the:

"BBC's grilling of Israeli government spokespeople (eg Mark Regev) in the past to have been condescending and irreverent".

If only. The timidity of the BBC towards Regev and his associates is well-documented - try reading the just-published More Bad News From Israel, a careful study of such interviews and other forms of BBC bias by omission, loaded language, weighted Israeli sources and grossly false context.

"I think it's enough to see how Assad, Ghaddafi, Ahmadenijad, the Hamas leaders, et al value the lives of their own citizens to see that your question is misdirected."

A standard and tiresome disclaimer. Whatever issues prevail in the region, why don't you look at, primarily, what Israel is doing to Palestinians/Arabs, such as its prison/laboratory containment of Gaza, its apartheid treatment of the settlement-dominated West Bank or the cruel evictions/ethnic cleansing taking place in East Jerusalem?

"Comparisons to Sharpeville?!"

Absolutely. You should also, of course, know about the close and mutually-supportive relationship that always existed between apartheid South Africa and apartheid Israel.

"I agree, Israel should not shoot illegal border-crossers, they should mine the border zone to prevent such crossings in the first place."

Yes, let's see them all blown to bits, instead. How very liberal. We'll, no doubt, soon see the introduction of joystick executions there, as around the wire fences of Gaza where farmers and other innocents are regularly taken-out by by fixed guns linked-back to video operators (mostly women, apparently). Kill a Palestinian from the comfort of an office, then take a break for tea.

It's an illustration of the deep-militarist mindset encouraged by Israel that you just can't seem to contemplate any more humane ways of looking at such situations and the problems that underlie them. The only 'answer' seems to be yet more violence, all dressed-up in the ideology of 'security'.

There's not a single word amongst your comments about the actual illegality of Israel's land thefts, the Palestinians' (UN-entrenched) right of return and decades of Israeli defiance of international law. That's why people have been demonstrating on the Nakba and Naqsa anniversaries.

(continued at next comment)

John Hilley said...


Your latter comment on apparent Syrian facilitation of the Golan protests is yet another desperate get-out argument. Again, whatever persecutions are being meted out by Assad's brutes, the movement of Palestinians and their supporters around Israel's borders is driven by legitimate claims and the nascent Arab Spring.

You acknowledge viewing the issues through tinted glasses (from the apparent comfort of countries far from the suffering Israel inflicts on Palestinians). That's fine. I prefer when people are open about their interpretations and allegiances. There's no such thing as 'objectivity' in these matters.

Which all amounts to this.

You openly support a state which is responsible for a sixty-odd-year occupation and an illegal apartheid wall, thousands of murdered Palestinians, including the 1400 slaughtered during so-called Cast Lead, the continued expansion of illegal settlements and the refusal of that state's leaders ever to cede an in inch of what they've stolen.

I support those at the receiving end of all that occupation, victimisation and brutality.

The BBC claims to support neither 'side', feigning it's usual cloak of 'impartiality', while, in its constrained questioning, loaded language and unreporting of daily Israeli brutalty, permitting so many false and loaded impressions to cloud the issue.

So, here's a comparative question - not too 'superficial' I hope - you might want to ponder: which of us - you, me or the BBC - is the more complicit in allowing that suffering to go on?


David M said...

A late comment John, after coming on your blog from Media Lens, following my post about ABC (Australia) bias on the Death on the Med. When the story about the Naksa protests was aired on the ABC our own middle east correspondent produced a report almost to a word like the one you report, and I wrote a very similar complaint to the ABC ( though as I'm a serial complainer on this issue it gets hard to remember). I have a pathological dislike for Regev, who is treated with more reverence here for being an "Australian", something quite compatible nowadays with being an Israeli as we become the 53rd state. I also took great exception to Israel's claims that Syria 'had paid Palestinians $US1000 to protest', as also the later report that Israeli police had gone into Majdal Shams and arrested 3 people for stone throwing.
As you said, Israel shot a dozen unarmed civilian protestors DEAD, and on their own land ---
Sorry the only comment you had on this was from a mr hasbara.

John Hilley said...

Thanks, David, for that account of the media distortion from Australia.

And, yes, it's woeful to think that Regev gets added respect because of his Australian background.