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Monday, 26 January 2009
The BBC and Gaza


There was an explosion and white smoke. I saw my cousins screaming . . . I saw them burning and their clothes burning. I saw their skin melting.

~ Muhammad Tahseen, 20, who was sitting outside his home in Al-Qarara when a shell exploded above


The use of white phosphorus in densely populated areas of Gaza violates the requirement under international humanitarian law to take all feasible precautions to avoid civilian injury and loss of life

~ Statement by Human Rights Watch.

For the past three weeks I have heard almost every night statements broadcast by the BBC from people (Israeli spokespersons) arguing that I should have no sympathy for the Palestinians under attack in Gaza. They deserved it. They had elected a nasty bunch of people as their government. It was due to circumstances that they were themselves responsible for. And somehow it also gets suggested that even if the ordinary Palestinians weren’t responsible, then the nasty people that they elected should be held accountable for civilian deaths as they had been hiding among the civilians and shooting rockets at Israel.  And now we have the consequences. The balance of forces between Hamas/Israel has not significantly altered. We have another (predictable) cease-fire. But thousands of Palestinians are dead or injured, and there is a full-blown humanitarian crisis in Gaza. Hundreds of thousands of Palestinian lives are still at risk in the aftermath of the violence.

Yet last week the BBC decided not to broadcast the apolitical humanitarian appeal by the Disaster Emergency Committee:

the BBC made a rare breach of an agreement dating to 1963, saying it would not give free airtime to the appeal. Other broadcasters followed suit. Previously, broadcasters had agreed on the video and script to be used with the DEC, to be shown after prime-time news bulletins. The BBC, which has been criticised in the past over alleged bias in its coverage of the Middle East, said it did not want to risk public confidence in its impartiality. A BBC spokesperson said: “The decision was made because of question marks about the delivery of aid in a volatile situation and also to avoid any risk of compromising public confidence in the BBC’s impartiality in the context of [a] news story.”

The DEC’s chief executive, Brendan Gormley, said: “We are totally apolitical … this appeal is a response to humanitarian principles. The BBC seems to be confusing impartiality with equal airtime.”

I think Brendan’s comment applies even to the BBC’s coverage of the conflict since the Israeli army attacked Gaza. Why has the BBC not broadcast the voices of ordinary Palestinians and Israelis who want peace? In what other conflict do they give such prominent airtime to apologists for violence? You could say that the BBC has already risked my confidence in its impartiality by giving nightly airtime to Mark Ragev, spokesperson for the Israeli Prime Minister.

Here’s an interesting article which explains some of the background and contextual analysis to this story

And in the interests of “balance” and “fairness”, as I see it, I would like to highlight Jewish Voice for Peace and their Petition to President Obama. Also see Muzzle Watch who write about how “dissenting” voices for Peace are suppressed in Israel.

Donations for humanitarian, non-political aid can be made to the DEC.

Note: The photographs above (photo 1 and photo 2 are from illuminating_911’s flickr photo stream, and republished under the Creative Commons Licence. Here’s an article on the growing evidence of use of White Phosphorous.

Posted by bigblue on 26/01/2009 at 07:41 AM
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