How the BBC turned the killing of 11-month-old Omar into Hamas propaganda
WHEN a child dies there are no winners. So, when an 11-month-old child died in Gaza during another battle between Iran-backed Hamas and Israel, the news can be only grim. The mood must be regretful. But it’s important to know the truth.
The child killed was the very young son of Jihad Misharawi. He was called Omar. Jihad has worked as a journalist for the BBC’s Arabic division.
Mr Misharawi’s brother and his sister-in-law also died from the explosion that killed the child.
The image of the dead child in his father’s arms was spread by media. It was heart-wrenching. It was also politically charged. The Palestinians have used dead children to paint the Israelis black before. (The BBC has bought into alleged fakery.) It would be wise not to rush to judgement.
But many did.
The Washington Post reported on its front page:
An Israeli round hit Misharawi’s four-room home in Gaza Wednesday, killing his son, according to BBC Middle East bureau chief Paul Danahar, who arrived in Gaza earlier Thursday.
The Daily Mail said:
The BBC Arabic employee’s son Omar was killed in Gaza by an Israeli airstrike
The Mail said the killing sparked “retaliation“:
Today Hamas hit back, firing missiles into southern Israel. Last night air sirens were heard in Tel Aviv. Fifteen Palestinians and three Israelis have so far been killed.
Masharawi was quoted:
‘The Israelis say they are targeting militants but my son was an innocent.”
Jihad al-Masharawi, a Palestinian employee of BBC Arabic in Gaza, mourns over the body of his 11-month-old son Omar, who was killed in an Israeli airstrike
The Telegraph stated:
Mr Misharawi’s brother was also seriously injured when his house was struck in the Israeli operation and his sister in law was killed.
The Sun was more balanced. In its version of events the Israelis were doing the retaliating:
And in Israel, a bloodied baby wounded in a missile strike by Gaza-based Hamas militants was cradled by a medic. The blast in southern city Kiryat Malachi claimed the first three Israeli lives in the escalating conflict… Israel blamed civilian casualties, including 130 injured, on Hamas firing rockets from densely-populated areas. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu insisted: “There is no moral symmetry between Israel and the terrorists in Gaza — Hamas deliberately targets children and they deliberately place their rockets next to their children.”
But over on the BBC, emotion had overtaken objective reporting. Jon Donnison wrote… Oh, yeah, this is the same Jon Donnison, the “BBC Gaza and West Bank Correspondent”, who tweeted an old photo of a dead child killed in Syria and said it was a picture of a child killed in Gaza. He writes:
My friend and colleague Jehad Mashhrawi is usually the last to leave our Gaza bureau. Hard-working but softly spoken, he often stays late, beavering away on a laptop that is rarely out of arm’s reach. He has a cool head – unflappable, when others like me are flapping around him. He is a video editor and just one of our local BBC Arabic Service staff who make the office tick.
But on the Wednesday before last – only an hour or so after Gaza’s latest war erupted with Israel’s killing of Hamas military commander Ahmed al-Jabari – Jehad burst out of the editing suite screaming. He sprinted down the stairs, his head in his hands, his face ripped with anguish. He had just had a call from a friend to tell him the Israeli military had bombed his house and that his 11-month-old baby boy Omar was dead.
Most fathers will tell you their children are beautiful.
Omar was a picture-book baby.
Every child’s death in war is hideous. But if you know a BBC journalist, you get extra coverage.
Standing in what is left of his burnt-out home this week, Jehad showed me a photo on his mobile phone. It was of a cheeky, chunky, round-faced little boy in denim dungarees, chuckling in a pushchair, dark-eyed with a fringe of fine brown hair pushed across his brow.
“He only knew how to smile,” Jehad told me, as we both struggled to hold back the tears. “He could say just two words – Baba and Mama,” his father went on.
Also on Jehad’s phone is another photo. A hideous tiny corpse. Omar’s smiling face virtually burnt off, that fine hair appearing to be melted on to his scalp.
The grim details seem unnecessary. But Donnison is reporting the facts, apparently.
Jehad’s sister-in-law Heba was also killed.
“We still haven’t found her head,” Jehad said.
His brother, Ahmad, suffered massive burns and died of his injuries in hospital several days later.
Jehad has another son Ali, four years old, who was slightly injured. He keeps asking where his baby brother has gone. Eleven members of the Mashhrawi family lived in the tiny breezeblock house in the Sabra district of Gaza City. Five people slept in one room. The beds are now only good for charcoal. The cupboards are full of heaps of burnt children’s clothes.
On the kitchen shelves, there are rows of melted plastic jars full of Palestinian herbs and spices, their shapes distorted as if reflected from a fairground mirror.
Aren’t they just herbs and spices? Is Donnison just reminding his readers what side he is on. No. Not what side he backs and sympathises with, just what side he is standing on. He is , of course, unbiased. He adds:
And in the entrance hall, a two-foot-wide hole in the flimsy metal ceiling where the missile ripped through.
Despite the evidence pointing towards an Israeli air strike, some bloggers have suggested it might have been a misfired Hamas rocket.
Was it? Are those bloggers – not real reporters, mind – correct?
But at that time, so soon after the launch of Israel’s operation, the Israeli military says mortars had been launched from Gaza but very few rockets.
Mortar fire would not cause the fireball that appears to have engulfed Jehad’s house.
Other bloggers have said that the damage to Jehad’s home was not consistent with powerful Israeli attacks but the BBC visited other bombsites this week with very similar fire damage, where Israel acknowledged carrying out what it called “surgical strikes”.
Those Israelis surgically struck a child?
As at Jehad’s home, there was very little structural damage but the victims were brought out with massive and fatal burns. Most likely is that Omar died in the one of the more than 20 bombings across Gaza that the Israeli military says made up its initial wave of attacks.
Omar was not a terrorist.
Of course every civilian death on either side – not just Omar’s – is tragic. The United Nations says its preliminary investigation shows that 103 of the 158 people killed in Gaza were civilians.
Of those, 30 were children – 12 of whom were under the age of 10. More than 1,000 people were injured.
Stop firing. Both sides must stop firing. It’s the only way to prevent more casualties.
The Israeli government spokesman Mark Regev said every non-combatant death or injury was tragic and an “operational failure”.
In Israel, too, there were fatalities: four civilians and two soldiers. There were also many injuries. But the fact the Israeli Ambulance Service was also reporting those suffering from anxiety and bruises is an indication of the asymmetric nature of the conflict…
Before I left Jehad’s house, leaving him sitting round a camp fire with other mourners, I asked him – perhaps stupidly – if he was angry over Omar’s death. “Very, very angry,” he said, his jaw tensing as he glanced at the photos on his phone.
This from a man who I cannot ever remember raising his voice in anger
Emotive stuff from the BBC’s man. And then the UN investigated. It looked at the facts behind the story. On March 6th 2013 the UNHRC broadcast an early look of its report on the November 2012 war. Page 14 states:
By 19 November, according to IDF sources, at least 99 rockets fired between 14 and 19 November from within the Gaza Strip had landed in Gaza. On 14 November, a woman, her 11-month-old infant, and an 18-year-old adult in Al-Zaitoun were killed by what appeared to be a Palestinian rocket that fell short of Israel. In addition, OHCHR received reports related to an incident in which two civilians, including a child, were killed, and five persons, including three children, were injured, as a result of what appeared to be a Palestinian rocket that fell short and hit a house in Al-Quds Street, near Khilla Gas Station, Jabalya, on 16 November. For its part, Izz Al-Din Al-Qassam Brigades underlined the limited military arsenal of Palestinian armed groups as a reason for failing to precisely attack military targets.70 Yet the military capacity of the conflicting parties is irrelevant to the duty, under international humanitarian law, of these parties to take all feasible measures to avoid loss among civilians and damage to civilian property
Such are the facts.