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July 15, 2014 9:30 am

Uncovering the Sources of Jeremy Bowen’s BBC Gaza Casualty Figures

avatar by Hadar Sela

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Several readers wrote in to bring our attention to the less than impartial Tweets sent by Jeremy Bowen since his arrival in the Gaza Strip on Friday morning. A couple of examples are shown below, and readers can see more here.

In some of his reports filed since July 11, Bowen has also promoted his own amateur opinion (and here is a professional one from a real professor of humanitarian law, for comparison) that Israel has “serious questions” to answer, with another notable recurrent feature of those reports (and his Tweets) being the citing of figures reported by the UN.

In a filmed report broadcast on BBC television news on July 11 – and also promoted on the BBC News website under the title “Israel defends Gaza military campaign“ – Bowen promoted figures provided by the health ministry in Gaza, but without clarifying to viewers that the ministry is run by Hamas.

“More than half of over 100 people killed in Gaza by Israeli raids were women and children, according to the health ministry.”

In a similar report from later in the same day – also promoted on the BBC News website under the title “Gaza crisis: Death toll from Israeli strikes ‘hits 100“ – Bowen tells viewers:

“Israel says it tries hard to make sure civilians don’t get killed. It says it targets Hamas and its fighters. [….] More than half of over 100 people killed in Gaza by Israeli raids so far this week were women and children, according to the health ministry. […] The UN Human Rights commissioner says there’s serious doubt Israel is complying with the laws of war that protect civilians.”

As noted here previously, Bowen’s paraphrasing of the Navi Pillay’s statement from July 11 omits her criticism of the Hamas practice of launching missiles indiscriminately at Israeli civilians from residential areas in the Gaza Strip and concealing weapons caches in such areas.

A third report from Bowen which was broadcast to viewers of BBC television news on July 12and promoted on the BBC News website under the title “Israel-Gaza conflict: Home for disabled hit in Beit Lahiya“ includes footage of a relative of one of the casualties saying:

“How many of the people killed so far are civilians? […] and how many are terrorists? And they’re not terrorists; they’re resistance – we’re proud of them.”

Bowen goes on to cite more figures – this time from “the UN:”

“The United Nations says that 77% of the Palestinians killed in this campaign were civilians. […] Belligerents are obliged under the laws of war to protect civilians. The UN has already asked whether Israel is working in the way that it should to fulfill those obligations. After the attack on the centre for the disabled it is clear that the Israelis have someserious questions to answer.”

Revealingly, Bowen fails to clarify to viewers that the missile launched by some terrorist organization from the vicinity of the location from which he was reporting, whilst he was reporting – as shown in the footage – could indeed be the reason for Israeli operations in the area. He closes:

“So do Hamas about their attacks. Both sides say they’re protecting their people.”

Bowen’s cursory ‘impartiality’ box-ticking with that brief mention of Hamas does not mean that his report conforms to BBC standards of accuracy and impartiality. To date, the BBC has not made any serious effort to inform audiences of Hamas’ deliberate use of human shields and its violation of the laws of war by both storing weapons in, and firing them from, residential areas. Neither has it been adequately clarified that every missile fired indiscriminately at civilians in Israel also breaches those laws.

Clearly, Bowen’s primary aim is to steer audiences towards a view that Israel is in breach of legal standards and he does that by creating false linkage between casualty figures provided by a source he fails to clarify is connected to Hamas, and figures and statements from a supposedly neutral and reliable source – the UN.

That practice was repeated in written BBC reports too, such as the one titled “Gaza: Israel hits security HQ and rocket site,” which appeared on the BBC News website on July 13.

“Israel says it is targeting Hamas militants and facilities, including the homes of senior operatives. However, the United Nations has estimated that 77% of the people killed in Gaza have been civilians.”

An additional written report from July 13 – titled “UN calls for Israel-Gaza ceasefire“ – leads with Bowen’s above video report which is captioned:

“The BBC’s Jeremy Bowen: “It is clear the Israelis have some serious questions to answer”

The report also includes the following passage:

“Israel says it is targeting militants and militant facilities, including the homes of senior operatives. “Dozens of terrorists” are among those who have been killed, it says. However, the UN has estimated that 77% of the people killed in Gaza have been civilians.”

In other words, the notion that the BBC – led by Jeremy Bowen – is trying to advance here is that the proportion of civilians to combatants among the casualties is a litmus test for the legality of Israel’s actions. That notion is of course incorrect. As Col. Richard Kemp noted after Operation Cast Lead in 2008/9:

“The UN estimate that there has been an average three-to one ratio of civilian to combatant deaths in such conflicts worldwide. Three civilians for every combatant killed. That is the estimated ratio in Afghanistan: three to one.In Iraq, and in Kosovo, it was worse: the ratio is believed to be four-to-one. Anecdotal evidence suggests the ratios were very much higher in Chechnya and Serbia.”

But, whilst it is obviously important to appreciate that Bowen, et. al. are deliberately misleading BBC audiences with regard to the bearing of the proportion of civilian casualties on the legality of Israeli actions, it is also important to understand the additional intent behind their repeated amplification of those figures and the reliability of the source of that information being promoted to BBC audiences.

Earlier BBC reports cited casualty figures provided by the notoriously unreliable Ministry of Health in Gaza. That ministry is still run by Hamas and the personalities quoted in previous conflicts and incidents have not changed. Later reports stress figures supplied by what Bowen describes as “the United Nations”. In fact he – and those other BBC reports – refers to a document put out by UN OCHA on July 11,which can be seen here. That report does indeed state:

“114 Palestinians have been killed since the beginning of the Gaza emergency, of whom 88 (77%) are civilians.”

The question is, of course, where did UN OCHA – an organization that has itself been the subject of controversy in the past – get its information?

So – BBC Watch telephoned the person who complied that report in order to find out.

Katleen Maes informed us that UN OCHA’s three primary sources are B’Tselemthe PCHR, and Al Mezan – all of which are political NGOs with a less than pristine record on impartiality in Israel-related matters. Maes added that the secondary sources used by UN OCHA to arrive at its 77% civilian casualty rate figures are the Hamas-run Health Ministry in Gaza, the Palestinian Red Crescent, and the local Arabic media in Gaza, some of which is also run by Hamas – with the rest operating with Hamas consent, of course.

We also asked Katleen Maes if those casualty figures include civilians killed by short-falling missiles launched by terrorist organizations that  land in the Gaza Strip, and she replied that they do, but that so far they had no knowledge of any such incident in this particular round of conflict. In other words, UN OCHA figures for civilian casualties in Gaza – currently being used by the BBC as ‘evidence’ of Israeli ‘wrongdoing’ – would also include those killed by Palestinian terrorist organizations.

Readers no doubt recall that the BBC’s recent repeated promotion of the lie that Israel deliberately targets civilians came from one of the sources of these UN OCHA figures – the PCHR.

In conclusion, Jeremy Bowen and his colleagues are promoting to BBC audiences figures from an ostensibly neutral and reliable source – the “United Nations” – which they have not independently verified and which in fact come from highly partisan politically motivated sources with an interest in promoting the notion of a high number of civilian casualties in order to influence world opinion. In addition to providing amplification for those figures, Bowen and colleagues then employ them to advance the mistaken notion that Israel is not adhering to the laws of war – a theme also obviously intended to influence public opinion, especially because it is based on inaccurate and amateur interpretation of those laws.

That is not accurate and impartial reporting: it is self-conscription to political campaigning, led by the man who is the gate-keeper of all the BBC’s Middle East reporting.

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