Israel’s Illegal Assault On The Gaza ‘Prison’

Attacking The Prisoners

Israel has drawn international criticism for its latest series of onslaughts against the ‘prison’ of Gaza, the crowded home to 1.4 million Palestinians. Since last Wednesday (February 27), 112 Palestinians have died under Israeli air attacks and ‘incursions’ by Israeli troops. The dead include many women and children, such as four boys who had been out playing football and even babies killed in their homes. Last Saturday alone saw the deaths of 60 Palestinians under Israeli attacks. Three Israelis have died – one a civilian killed during a rocket attack by Hamas last Wednesday and, since then, two Israeli soldiers.

On February 29, Ron Prosor, Israel’s ambassador to the UK, said on the BBC Today programme that:

“We’ve been restraining ourselves for a very, very long time. But we have a responsibility to defend our citizens. This is the context.” (BBC Radio 4 Today interview with Edward Stourton, Friday, February 29, 2008, 7.30 am; today/ram/today3_israel_20080229.ram)

The same day, a senior Israeli source threatened a “holocaust” in Gaza. Matan Vilnai, the deputy defence minister, warned:

“The more [rocket] fire intensifies and the rockets reach a longer range, they (the Palestinians) will bring upon themselves a bigger holocaust because we will use all our might to defend ourselves.” (BBC news online, ‘Israel warns of Gaza “holocaust”,’ February 29, 2008; middle_east/7270650.stm)

The disconnect with the view of the Israeli public was stark: 64% support negotiations with Hamas, the ruling party in Gaza, in an attempt to bring about peace.

Palestinian Terrorism: The “Inevitable Consequence” Of Israeli Occupation

Just before this latest escalation in violence, the newswire service Associated Press briefly flagged up a report on the Occupied Territories, commissioned by the UN. (Bradley S. Klapper, ‘Report: Israeli occupation causes terror’, Associated Press, Feb 26, 6:11 PM ET, published on Yahoo news website, ap_on_re_mi_ea/un_israel&printer=1). It has since been ignored by the corporate media.

The report, authored by UN Special Rapporteur John Dugard, concludes that Palestinian terrorism is the “inevitable consequence” of Israeli occupation. While Palestinian terrorist acts are deplorable, “they must be understood as being a painful but inevitable consequence of colonialism, apartheid or occupation.” Dugard, a South African professor of law, accuses the Israeli state of acts and policies consistent with all three. (‘Human Rights Situation in Palestine and Other Occupied Arab Territories’, Report of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories occupied since 1967, John Dugard, United Nations Human Rights Council, A/HRC/7/17; bin/texis/vtx/refworld/rwmain?docid=47baaa262)

The report notes that Israel has attempted to justify its attacks and incursions as “defensive operations” aimed at preventing the launching of rockets into Israel. Dugard states clearly that “the firing of rockets into Israel by Palestinian militants without any military target, which has resulted in the killing and injury of Israelis, cannot be condoned and constitutes a war crime.”

But he also notes that “serious questions arise over the proportionality of Israel’s military response and its failure to distinguish between military and civilian targets. It is highly arguable that Israel has violated the most fundamental rules of international humanitarian law, which constitute war crimes.”

In particular:

“Above all, the Government of Israel has violated the prohibition on collective punishment of an occupied people contained in article 33 of the Fourth Geneva Convention.”

In the days that followed, as killings and injuries rapidly rose under a massive Israeli assault, we could find not a single mention in any UK national newspaper of this important assessment by the UN Special Rapporteur on the Occupied Territories.

Exchange With BBC Radio 4 Presenter

On February 29, we wrote to Edward Stourton in response to his interview that morning with Ron Prosor, Israel’s ambassador to the UK. First, we pointed out that Stourton had not challenged Prosor’s erroneous assertion that Gaza could now run its own affairs following the withdrawal of Israeli military forces in 2005. Prosor claimed: “Israel disengaged completely out of Gaza more than two years ago” so that “the Palestinians would take responsibility, would run Gaza.”

Indeed, the thrust of the BBC presenter’s own words, with multiple repetition of the loaded word “disengagement”, was that Israel was no longer the occupying power in Gaza.

We pointed out, by contrast, the assessment of John Dugard: “it is clear that Israel remains the occupying Power as technological developments have made it possible for Israel to assert control over the people of Gaza without a permanent military presence.”

We asked Stourton whether he was aware of this assessment. Moreover, as we saw above, Dugard had observed that Palestinian terrorism was the “inevitable consequence” of Israeli occupation. We asked why the Today programme had not addressed Dugard’s important new report. On the same day, Stourton responded, but only to the first point:

“This is such a difficult area to get right and I always welcome constructive comments – so thank you for your thoughts. I suppose the only point I would make is that if you challenge every statement in an interview like that it can get a bit arid.”

A similar email to Jeremy Bowen, the BBC’s Middle East news editor, about the corporation’s serious omission, went unanswered.

Stourton’s response was standard for the BBC – friendly, well-meaning but ultimately vacuous. By contrast, in 2004, Tim Llewellyn, the BBC’s Middle East Correspondent in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s, blew a loud whistle on the deep bias in BBC reporting:

“Watching a peculiarly crass, inaccurate and condescending programme about the endangered historical sites of ‘Israel’ – that is to say, the Israeli-occupied Palestinian Territories – on BBC2 in early June 2003, I determined to try to work out, as a former BBC Middle East correspondent, why the Corporation has in the past two and a half years been failing to report fairly the most central and lasting reason for the troubles of the region: the Palestinians’ struggle for freedom.”

He described some of his conclusions:

“In the news reporting of the domestic BBC TV bulletins, ‘balance‘, the BBC’s crudely applied device for avoiding trouble, means that Israel’s lethal modern army is one force, the Palestinians, with their rifles and home-made bombs, the other ‘force‘: two sides equally strong and culpable in a difficult dispute, it is implied, that could easily be sorted out if extremists on both sides would see reason and the leaders do as instructed by Washington…

“When suicide bombers attack inside Israel the shock is palpable. The BBC rarely reports the context, however. Many of these acts of killing and martyrdom are reprisals for assassinations by Israel’s death squads, soldiers and agents who risk nothing as they shoot from helicopters or send death down a telephone line. I rarely see or hear any analysis of how many times the Israelis have deliberately shattered a period of Palestinian calm with an egregious attack or murder. ‘Quiet’ periods mean no Israelis died… it is rarely shown that during these ‘quiet’ times Palestinians continued to be killed by the score.” (See our guest media alert: Why the BBC Ducks the Palestine Issue.)

This is the reality of a systematic BBC bias that works to suppress public awareness of the true gravity of Israel’s human rights abuses.


The goal of Media Lens is to promote rationality, compassion and respect for others. If you do write to journalists, we strongly urge you to maintain a polite, non-aggressive and non-abusive tone. Write to the following editors and ask them why they have not covered the latest assessment by the UN Special Rapporteur on the Occupied Territories; in particular that Palestinian terrorism is the “inevitable consequence” of Israeli occupation and that “the collective punishment of Gaza by Israel is expressly prohibited by international humanitarian law.”

Write to: Jeremy Bowen, the BBC’s Middle East news editor
Email: [email protected]

Write to Helen Boaden, the BBC’s news director
Email: [email protected]

Write to Ian Romsey, ITN’s head of output
Email: [email protected]

Write to Ian Black, the Guardian’s Middle East editor
Email: [email protected]

Write to Katherine Butler, the Independent’s foreign editor
Email: [email protected]