Palestine and the BBC's Hushed Tone

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Palestine: Collectively Punished by Israel
and Collectively Punished by the Media  
by William Bowles
  • ‘No general penalty, pecuniary or otherwise, shall be inflicted upon the population on account of the acts of individuals for which they cannot be regarded as jointly and severally responsible. — Laws and Customs of War on Land (Hague IV); October 18, 1907, Article 50’

International law also prohibits an occupying power from imposing collective punishment on the occupied population. The BBC however is apparently not aware of these laws judging by the BBC’s online Website where we read only that,

But click on the link to a story entitled ‘Gaza's rocket threat to Israel’ and we read that the rationale behind the incessant death and destruction rained down on Palestinians by the fourth largest army on the planet, the Israeli ‘Defence’ Force, is in response to
  • ‘… rockets [that] are crude, unguided two-metre-long steel weapons filled with explosives, that seldom do much damage but occasionally inflict casualties.’
Contrast this to the death and destruction inflicted on innocent civilians by the Israeli Occupation Force in just three days last week,
  • ‘Israeli Occupation Forces (IOF) have intensified their war crimes in the Gaza Strip with total disregard for civilian lives. During the last three days, nine Palestinians, including four civilians, have been killed by the IOF. Three of the civilian victims were women. In addition, 57 other people were injured, the majority of whom were also civilians. On January 18th shrapnel from a bomb fired from an Israeli fighter jet onto a governmental building hit a nearby wedding celebration, killing one woman and injuring dozens of others.’ — ‘Weekly Report: On Israeli Human Rights Violations in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, 10-16 January 2008’

The BBC of course fails in any of its recent ‘news’ items to report any of this. Worse still is its coverage of the actual reality on the ground which the blockade on the delivery of fuel, food and medical supplies has created.
Rather than talk to Palestinians, instead it quotes Israeli sources who of course downplay the disaster caused by Israel’s illegal collective punishment of 1.5 million people (out of the eleven articles hyperlinked to the original, only one gives us a picture of life in the Gaza strip, ‘Gaza economy crushed by embargo’ (20 January, 2008). Elsewhere, in another BBC piece we read the following,

  • ‘… many Palestinians believe that the rocket fire has simply prompted a collective punishment directed against all of Gaza's residents’, — ‘Propaganda battle over Gaza plight’, 21 January, 2008

Once again echoing the central BBC propaganda line that rather than collective punishment being a war crime, it’s presented to us as just being someone’s opinion, not a fact but a ‘belief’.

  • ‘Reprisals against protected persons and their property are prohibited.’ — Convention (IV) relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War, Geneva, 12 August 1949, Part III : Status and treatment of protected persons, Section I : Provisions common to the territories of the parties to the conflict and to occupied territories, Article 33’

Indeed, in going through all the links found with the initial article, I searched in vain for a Palestinian view of the situation aside from brief quotes from two of the officials who work at the power plant and a single person from one hospital. But there are no Palestinian views on the nature of the illegal Israeli actions in sealing off the Gaza Strip from the outside world, and this is on top of the already illegal occupation of the West Bank and Gaza strip in 1967. The BBC have simply airbrushed Israel’s war crimes out of the picture.

Contrast this with the many quotes from Israelis as well as the BBC’s incessant articulation of the Israeli point-of-view, eg ‘Israel to ease blockade of Gaza’ or ‘Propaganda battle over Gaza plight’.

Only one article actually presents the dire situation in the Gaza Strip ‘Gaza economy crushed by embargo’, but again fails to point out the illegal nature of the blockade. Indeed, the word ‘illegal’ is never used and only once did I come across the word ‘crime’ (but not war crime).

Instead, the entire situation is presented to the reader as merely an ‘humanitarian crisis’ which in any case is all Hamas’ fault for firing home-made rockets “that seldom do much damage”, whereas the IOF is using tanks, helicopter gun-ships, F16s, remote-controlled armed drones, chemical weapons, indeed the vast array of a mad scientist’s wet dream against a defenseless, imprisoned and starved population of 1.5 million people.

  • ‘No protected person may be punished for an offence he or she has not personally committed. Collective penalties and likewise all measures of intimidation or of terrorism are prohibited. — ‘Convention (IV) relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War, Geneva, 12 August 1949, Part III : Status and treatment of protected persons, Section III: Occupied Territories, Article 53

One BBC story, ‘Gaza's rocket threat to Israel’ goes into great detail describing the Quassam rocket referred to above but there’s not single reference to what kinds of weapons and their effects that the IOF is using, nor the vast disparity between casualties, with Palestinians getting murdered virtually every day, the vast majority of them defenseless civilians. By contrast, if a single Israeli is killed it makes the headlines (a total of eleven Israelis have been killed by Palestinian rockets according to the BBC compared to the hundreds of Palestinians whose deaths rarely get a mention). I wait in vain for a BBC story headed ‘Israel’s rocket threat to the Occupied Territories’.

What explains this indifference to the lives of Palestinians by the BBC? How is it possible for those who ‘report’ events in the Occupied Territories to ignore the reality of the situation?

Of course the inbuilt racism of Western journalism explains in part this indifference but far more important is the necessity for the BBC to rationalise the British government’s unconditional support of a racist and murderous settler regime which can only be accomplished by dehumanising Palestinian lives, which in turn makes international law simply not applicable to them. They are, it seems, beyond the Pale.


All references to applicable international laws quoted can be found at ‘Collective Punishment’.

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