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Why does the BBC insist on whitewashing Israeli crimes against Palestinians?

BBC Broadcasting House [Alexander Svensson/Flickr]
BBC Broadcasting House, 15 July 2021 [Alexander Svensson/Flickr]

Early this week, the BBC published an article about a twitter campaign carried out by a group of Palestinians living abroad who are critical of the Palestinian Islamic Movement, Hamas, which is the de facto government in the Gaza Strip. The twitter campaign was under the heading "They Kidnapped Gaza", a reference to the Hamas leadership.

According to the BBC, "Hundreds of Palestinian activists have been taking part in a rare online event strongly criticising Hamas governance of the Gaza Strip." The article was under the joint byline of the corporation's Middle East correspondent and a reporter from Gaza. They included quotes from Twitter.

I live and work in the Gaza Strip, and I believe that the aim of the campaign was clearly to whitewash Israeli crimes and blame Hamas for the "dire" living conditions. The BBC seems to have adopted this narrative, given that contentious claims by the online activists weren't challenged.

A Twitter post by the now Belgium-based Mahmoud Nashwan was quoted by the BBC: "Imagine your one-month-old son dies because of the cold. Imagine your son dying because there is no electricity, no money, no wages and no home." The root cause of these problems, the Israeli occupation and, over the past 15 years, the siege imposed by Israel and its supporters, weren't mentioned. The impression given is that Hamas is responsible; nobody else. And this impression looks very deliberate.

READ: The BBC's decision to axe the Gaza aid appeal may come back to haunt it

The campaigners are living overseas because of the conditions in occupied Palestine. Hamas did not cause the latter; the occupation did, but if you read the article the BBC suggests that only the pandemic and "an 11-day conflict between Israel and Hamas militants in May 2021" are the reasons for the economy being "badly hit". In reality, they contributed to an already devastated economy which has resulted from the siege of Gaza and, underlying that, the Israeli occupation. So devastated, in fact, that the UN declared in 2015 that the enclave would be "uninhabitable" by 2020.

As a professionally-trained journalist, it is my understanding that news outlets must be objective, and provide alternative opinions; even throw some facts into the mix. The BBC article, though, reported the campaigners' claim that they left the occupied Palestinian territory — yes, Gaza is still legally and practically occupied by Israel — after joining the "We Want to Live" protests which were "violently suppressed" in March 2019. No mention was made of the violence of the protesters across the enclave and the chaos they caused. Nor that the Hamas security forces ended the protests after numerous complaints from local residents. Nor that the reason why there is a shortage of electricity, chronic unemployment and no decent standard of living, as mentioned by the protesters, is the Israeli siege and occupation.

There is indeed, as the article pointed out, almost no fresh water in Gaza, and no working sewage system, as well as lengthy power cuts. Is that the fault of the Hamas administration? It was Israel which bombed the power station and has refused to allow spare parts to enter Gaza for repairs to be made; it was Israel which has destroyed the aquifer upon which Gaza depends thanks to settlers taking too much water out and poisoning the water supply with chemical fertilisers; it was Israel which bombed and destroyed the sewage system, leaving raw sewage to drain into the Mediterranean, polluting local fish stocks. The BBC does not want you to know this, but they are the facts.

Another campaigner quoted by the corporation claimed that, "Hamas has billions of dollars in investments in many countries, while people [in Gaza] starve to death and migrate in search of work." Even the BBC must know that this is simply not true. The movement is dependent upon the largesse of Qatar and Turkey, and a degree of support from Egypt, and is unable to pay the salaries of its own employees and the public employees in Gaza. The Fatah-controlled Palestinian Authority in Ramallah, meanwhile, continues to pay its members in Gaza to stay at home rather than go to work in what remains a deliberate attempt to scupper the chances of the elected Hamas government from being able to work effectively.

READ: Israel is not a normal 'state'

Not even the BBC needs to be reminded that the PA under Mahmoud Abbas is backed by Israel (with which its security forces collaborate), the US and Britain, among others. And yet this allegedly "impartial" corporation has willingly boosted a campaign seeking to discredit Hamas, whose "free and fair" election victory in 2006 was not accepted by the West, where governments were banking on the more compliant and corrupt Fatah winning. This article by the BBC reinforces the claims of Israel and its allies about Hamas, most of which do not stand up to honest scrutiny.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in Sochi, Russia on 23 November 2021 [MIA Rossiya Segodnya/Anadolu Agency]

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in Sochi, Russia on 23 November 2021 [MIA Rossiya Segodnya/Anadolu Agency]

The article repeats the claim that Hamas ousted the Palestinian Authority from Gaza in 2007. This ignores the fact that Hamas ended the security chaos created by Fatah which made the life of the Palestinians living in Gaza hellish. Indeed, some Fatah members were funded by Israel and the US to carry out a coup against Hamas; this plot was discovered by the Islamic movement, which acted promptly to make sure that the attempted coup failed. The whole point of the siege imposed by Israel ever since has been to try to convince the Palestinians that they voted for the "wrong" movement in 2006, by making the enclave ungovernable.

Predictably, the BBC mentions that, "Internationally, Hamas is widely seen as a terrorist group." The reality is that it is a legitimate resistance movement; all people — not just the Palestinians — living under military occupation have the right to resist that occupation. Hamas has never carried out any resistance operations outside the borders of historic Palestine. The "terrorist" tag is part and parcel of the pro-Israel narrative adopted by western governments and mainstream media.

Language is important, so it is significant that the BBC chose to refer to those taking part in the Twitter campaign as "activists", but opted for "Hamas loyalist" to describe someone putting forward an opposing point of view. Given that in BBC eyes "Hamas means terrorist group", the "loyalist" label smears both the person and the alternative opinion.

It isn't hard to guess why the BBC highlighted the anti-Hamas campaign and has so far ignored — as far as I can tell — the much older anti-Fatah, anti-PA and anti-Israel campaigns. One prominent Palestinian journalist and writer living in exile because of the Israeli occupation, Yasser Zaatra, used the anti-Hamas campaign hashtag and criticised the campaigners: "They help the invaders to enjoy the cheapest occupation in history… They do not know what they want, but Gaza knows. So it is paying the price."

Is anyone surprised that the BBC is losing its audience? In January 2009, the corporation refused to air an appeal for aid to go to Gaza in the wake of Israel's military offensive which it started in the previous month. The then Director General of the BBC, Mark Thompson, claimed that to broadcast the Disasters Emergency Committee "would breach impartiality guidelines". It seems that the corporation hasn't learnt anything about impartiality since then. The article published earlier this week is just about the most biased I have seen in ages.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.

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