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Saturday, November 24, 2012

Follow-up on Omar Mishrawi's death and the BBC

The BBC on Saturday had a long radio piece about the death of Omar Mishrawi, going into details of the horror of a parent at losing a child. In that piece by Jon Donnison (who famously tweeted a photo of a dead baby from Gaza that was actually from Syria) he pretends to address the issues I brought up about inconsistencies in Mishrawi's death:
.., 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 airstrike, some have suggested it might have been a misfired Hamas rocket. But at that time, so soon after the launch of Israel's operation, Israel's military says mortars had been launched from Gaza, but very few rockets. Mortar fire would not cause the fireball that appears to have engulfed Jihad's house.

Others said the damage was not consistent with powerful Israeli attacks. But the BBC visited other bomb sites this week with very similar fire damage where Israel acknowledged carrying out what it called surgical strikes. Like at Jihad's house, there was very little structural damage, but the victims were brought out with massive and fatal burns. Most likely is that Omar died in one of the twenty bombings that the Israeli military says made up its initial wave of attacks. Omar was not a terrorist.
There is a bit of sleight of hand going on here.

Firstly, "very few rockets" does not mean "no rockets." The BBC admits that there were some rockets fired from Gaza in the initial hour after the Israeli airstrike that killed Ahmad Jaabari, when Omar Mishrawi was killed. GANSO does seem to confirm that initially, most of the terrorist fire was from mortars, not rockets, but GANSO misses a very large number of attacks in their list. Ma'an seems to confirm that a few terror groups shot missiles relatively soon after the Jaabari hit.

Secondly, Donnison is clearly implying that Israel's alleged airstrike against the Mishrawi home was identical to the strikes it made against terrorists - meaning that Israel was targeting the Mishrawi home. This makes no sense. Especially since...

Thirdly, the initial wave of Israeli attacks in the hours after the Jaabari hit had a single goal: to take out the Fajr-5 rocket locations in Gaza. There were some hits against suspected terrorists, however the IDF tweeted (a little cheekily) a warning for Hamas terrorists to stay underground.

Fourthly, the idea that an errant mortar (or rocket) could not cause the damage as seen assumes that the projectile does not ignite already flammable materials in the house. As I noted, most Gaza homes have propane and gasoline for heaters and generators because the electric power is not consistent, and apparently the Mishrawis are no exception (see photo in my initial post.)

Fifthly, Donnison repeatedly claims in this story that the house was hit by a missile. However, Mishrawi, in the initial BBC video report, said explicitly, and then confirmed, that the house was hit by "shrapnel," not a missile. The BBC's insistence now that it was an Israeli missile has really very little evidence, unless you trust Donnison's opinion that Mishrawi's house looks identical to those of houses that Israel admits they targeted for killing terrorists - none of whom he names.  A missile would certainly leave some traces.

Now, where does Mishrawi live? This BBC broadcast says he lives in the Sabra neighborhood, but that is not true - he lives in the Zeitoun neighborhood, as he says himself in that same initial BBC report.

Why is this important? Because the Zeitoun neighborhood is where there was at least one Fajr-5 rocket site that Israel targeted in that same time period, in the middle of a civilian area.

We've seen secondary explosions in videos from Israel's targeting underground missile sites, and there is no way of knowing where the fire-hot debris from those explosions will land.

Based on this evidence, the most likely explanation for Mishrawi's death now seems to be that shrapnel from a secondary explosion of a Hamas missile or ammunition cache targeted by Israel hit the Mishrawi home and ignited something inside, causing a fireball. A misfired Hamas rocket or mortar is still a possibility, though.

The idea that Israel, which managed to kill less than one civilian for every 30 airstrikes in Gaza, targeted the house of a low-level BBC employee during the initial wave of attacks - while he wasn't home - is simply not believable. Unless you are convinced, ab initio, of Israel's monstrous nature, there are other explanations that fit the incident far better.

But if you are the BBC, it is the only possible explanation.

While this radio story seems a bit like a whitewash to avoid any possibility that any other explanation besides a direct Israeli airstrike killed Omar Mishrawi, there is some good news. Questions were brought up and because they were retweeted and escalated, the BBC could not ignore them.

Yes, Donnison seems to have made up his mind before doing the pretense of research to answer the questions. And, yes, skeptics do not have any champions on the ground in Gaza to look at a story like this critically - we are completely at the mercy of the information and footage that the BBC itself is providing, when the BBC has great incentive not to make their employee look like he is mistaken in his grief and misplaced in his anger. (Is there other footage of Mishrawi's home that would shed light on what really happened? How far is his home from any major Israeli airstrikes on that first day? There are still lots of questions that an objective reporter would have asked.)

But the silver lining is that the Beeb was forced to respond; and we can see that its response is still far from objective (especially the insistence that it was a "missile.")

In the future, hopefully there will be journalists in the area who can overlook the camaraderie that the Western journalists in Gaza seemed to have shared and that can look at stories like this in a truly unbiased way.

(h/t JS for much of this)

UPDATE: See also BBCWatch for their take on this story.