Creating new perspectives since 2009

The BBC and its choice of words must surely make it complicit in war crimes

February 12, 2024 at 8:56 am

In tweets to report the death of a baby in Ukraine, the BBC names Russia as the aggressor. When the victim is a Palestinian child, no details are given as to who murdered her, she is simply reported as having been ‘found dead’ [X/Twitter]

I joined Media Workers 4 Palestine recently, and took part in the group’s first rally outside the rather grand headquarters of the BBC in London. The Beeb, is it used to be known affectionately, has long been in the firing line for its blatantly biased, if not racist, coverage of events in Gaza and the rest of occupied Palestine. You may have noticed, for example, that Arab children have been “found dead” in Gaza, whereas in Ukraine, white European children are “killed in strikes” by Russia.

The photograph I’ve used to illustrate this point isn’t a one off. A colleague of mine in MW4Palestine has dissected a recent story about the Palestinian child Hind Rajab, whose plight in Gaza touched the heart of everyone who read her story. Hind, was just six years old when she called the Palestine Red Crescent Society (PRCS) emergency line to ask for help. That a child so young would know how to do this speaks volumes about being brought up in Palestine under a brutal occupation.

The PRCS broadcast the dramatic calls to emergency operators. It soon emerged that she was the only person left alive in a car, and had been able to survive by hiding among the dead bodies of her relatives who had all been killed by Israeli occupation forces.

PRCS paramedics were unable to enter what was an active combat zone near Al-Azhar University, south of Gaza City. They appealed to the better nature of the Israeli military and explained the situation. By this time, thanks to media savvy PRCS workers and citizen journalists, the story was hot news and had gone viral.

READ: In direct targeting of journalists, Israel destroys Press House in Gaza

Hind’s uncle had been driving the family away from Israeli air strikes when he saw Israeli tanks and pulled into Fares petrol station for safety. As we all know, though, there’s no safe place in Gaza. The family called relatives for help, including Hind’s mother, and were directed to the PRCS emergency centre 50 miles away in the occupied West Bank. Operators at the call-centre in Ramallah called the mobile phone number for Hind’s uncle, but his 15-year-old daughter, Layan, answered instead. In the recorded message Layan told the PRCS staff that her parents and siblings had all been killed, and that there was a tank next to the car.

“They are firing at us,” she said, before the conversation ends with the sound of gunfire and screaming.

When the PRCS team rang back, it was Hind who answered, her voice almost inaudible, such was her fear. She said that she was the only survivor and the Israelis were continuing to fire at the car.

Like everyone else who heard this on social media, I was gripped by the story and heartbroken that one so young was having to endure such terror at the hands of these Israeli monsters.

Anyone who listened to her faint, terrified little voice could not be failed to be moved; anyone, that is, except members of the so-called “most moral army in the world”. The Israeli soldiers continued firing and instead of trying to rescue the child, they killed her.

The mindset of soldiers who see a child as vulnerable as Hind as a legitimate target is incomprehensible. How much hate do you have to hold in your heart to pull the trigger?

Two paramedics managed to reach the area on Saturday and they found the black Kia that Hind had been travelling in, its windscreen and dashboard smashed to pieces, bullet holes along the side. The family’s bodies were found nearby later. Yes, they too had been murdered. Murder is the only word to describe their killings. The Israeli occupation forces did, after all, give them clearance to enter, and then killed them, but “murder” is not the word that the BBC used in its sanitised script for what was obviously a war crime.

READ: Israel targets Red Crescent headquarters in Gaza

What the BBC fails to realise is that, by sanitising its language, it is complicit in the murder of innocent children like Hind; it is giving a green light to war crimes being carried out by the occupation forces; and it is whitewashing Israel’s murderous intent.

As a journalist, words are the tools of my trade. I cannot for the life of me see why fellow journalists writing the scripts used in TV news bulletins and online media are going along with this sanitised and possibly racist narrative.

It is obvious that Hind and her family were massacred by Israeli soldiers, but an article published online by the BBC is headlined “Hind Rajab, 6, found dead in Gaza days after phone calls for help”, implying that she died of natural causes. And yet the child was killed in a murderous act which is clearly defined as a war crime.

The BBC systematically dehumanises Palestinians.

The “journalist” concludes the article by claiming that Hamas uses ambulances to transport weapons, as if to justify the murder of the two paramedics.

“This report is racist and sanitises the brutal truth of what happened to Hind and her family. It seeks to improperly provide justification for the killing of Palestinians by Israel,” a colleague in MW4P told the BBC. “Israel has at no point asserted that they suspected that particular ambulance of being used by Hamas and, in fact, your own article states that the ambulance was given clearance by the Israeli authorities to be in that area.”

Hind had set off from her home in Gaza City earlier that day with her uncle, aunt and five cousins. It was Monday, 29 January. That morning, the Israeli army had told people to evacuate areas in the west of the city and move south along the coast road.

Hind’s mother, Wissam, told journalists that there was intense shelling in their area. “We were terrified, and we wanted to escape,” she explained. “We were fleeing from place to place, to avoid the air strikes.”

The story of Hind illustrates three points: there are no safe places for Palestinians in Gaza; the Israeli military continues with its war crimes; and the BBC is no longer a trusted source of information. Former BBC employee and journalistic legend and author George Orwell (1903-1950) said that the BBC was a cross between a girls’ boarding school and a lunatic asylum. To that we can add “home for Zionist sympathisers”.

However, BBC chiefs chose a different quote from the author of 1984 to engrave on a wall of their central London HQ: “If liberty means anything at all it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear.” Unless those “people” are Israelis, of course.

The corporation’s CEO of News and Current Affairs, Deborah Turness, recently defended its coverage and boasted of its impartiality. I’m not sure Hind’s mother will appreciate such impartiality over the coverage of her daughter’s murder. The little girl was murdered by war criminals, as were the two brave paramedics who tried so courageously to rescue her. The BBC, however, didn’t have the guts to say so. Its choice of words must surely make it complicit in war crimes.

READ: Palestinians in northern Gaza Strip cannot even find fodder to eat: Gaza gov’t

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