[Ppnews] BBC’s cruel excuses for ignoring Palestinian hunger strikes

Political Prisoner News ppnews at freedomarchives.org
Fri Jan 11 11:23:20 EST 2013

  BBC’s cruel excuses for ignoring Palestinian hunger strikes

Amena Saleem <http://electronicintifada.net/people/amena-saleem>
10 January 2013

For almost 170 days, Samer Issawi 
<http://electronicintifada.net/tags/samer-issawi>, held without trial, 
has been refusing food in an Israeli jail. Aged just 33, he is now 
skeletal and his family says his life is on the line 

His fellow prisoner, Ayman Sharawna 
<http://electronicintifada.net/tags/ayman-sharawna>, is also refusing 
food. Like Issawi, he is being held by Israel under administrative 
detention <http://electronicintifada.net/tags/administrative-detention>, 
a system which ignores all due process and interns civilians without 
charge, trial or sentencing for an indefinite period of time.

Both Issawi and Sharawna are protesting against their arbitrary 
imprisonment and the brutal conditions under which they, and other 
prisoners, are held.

Their protest, a peaceful weapon of resistance against Israel’s 
occupation of their land, has been ignored by the largest state-funded 
global broadcaster in the world, the BBC 

This is despite the fact that it is not an isolated act of resistance, 
but part of a mass nonviolent uprising in the form of hunger strikes by 
Palestinian prisoners 
<http://electronicintifada.net/tags/palestinian-prisoners> that began in 
September 2011 
and was further fueled in December that year by Khader Adnan’s 
<http://electronicintifada.net/tags/khader-adnan> refusal to take food.

Inspired by Adnan, other prisoners, both male and female, began hunger 
strikes. Then, on a single day in 2012 — Palestinian Prisoners’ Day 
<http://electronicintifada.net/tags/prisoners-day> — 1,200 Palestinians 
held in Israel’s jails began an open-ended hunger strike, a figure which 
quickly grew to an estimated 2,000.

The men and women refusing food included Palestinian members of 
parliament, imprisoned by Israel as part of its attempts to crush 
Palestinian civil society. Mahmoud Sarsak 
<http://electronicintifada.net/tags/mahmoud-sarsak>, a member of the 
Palestinian national football team, jailed, like so many others, without 
having been charged or tried for any crime, also joined the hunger strikers.

    True to form

The BBC, true to form, shunned this extraordinary mass revolt by the 
Palestinians against the Israeli regime which rules them without their 

During the weeks of television and radio silence with which the BBC 
greeted the simultaneous hunger strike of 2,000 Palestinian prisoners, 
the UK’s Palestine Solidarity Campaign 
<http://electronicintifada.net/tags/palestine-solidarity-campaign> (PSC) 
wrote to the BBC’s Director of News, Helen Boaden.

In its letter, PSC pointed out: “In the same period, the BBC has given 
prominent coverage to the hunger strike of Ukrainian politician, Yulia 
Tymoshenko, but has ignored the Palestinian MPs [members of parliament] 
imprisoned by Israel who are on hunger strike. There has also been 
extensive coverage of Chinese dissident, Chen Guangcheng, but no 
coverage given to the 2,000 Palestinians who are expressing their 
opposition to an imposed regime by refusing food.”

More than 5,000 PSC members and activists sent email messages to BBC 
editors asking for the ordeal of the hunger strikers — some of whom, 
such as Thaer Halahleh 
<http://electronicintifada.net/tags/thaer-halahleh> and Bilal Diab 
<http://electronicintifada.net/tags/bilal-diab>, were bleeding from 
their eyes and gums and vomiting blood — to be covered. A protest 
demanding the BBC end its silence was held outside the corporation’s 
headquarters in central London.

Four weeks after the mass hunger strike began, BBC Middle East 
correspondent Kevin Connolly produced a short report which was aired on 
television’s /News at Ten/ and /News 24/, and on a 6pm BBC Radio 4 news 
bulletin, all on the same day (“Palestinians rally for hunger strikers 
<http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-18043758>,” 11 May 2012).

This proved to be the full extent of the BBC’s mainstream broadcast 
coverage of hunger strikes by 2,000 political prisoners which, if they 
had taken place in, say, Iran <http://electronicintifada.net/tags/iran>, 
China or Syria <http://electronicintifada.net/tags/syria>, would hardly 
have been ignored in the same way.

    Bias by omission

On 29 June, Boaden replied to PSC to say she was satisfied with the 
scale of the coverage and did not agree with PSC’s assertion that the 
BBC’s failure to give due weight to the mass hunger strike was bias by 

Boaden then proceeded to lay out the stringent criteria which the BBC 
feels Palestinian hunger strikers have to meet in order to be granted 
coverage on its taxpayer-funded airwaves.

She wrote: “[Hunger strikes] tend to be reported when the hunger 
strikers are on the point of death or in a grave state of medical 
crisis; when the hunger strike presents a critical political challenge 
to the imprisoning authority; and when the strikes inside prison provoke 
widespread hunger strikes on the outside. Furthermore, there are 
gradations of hunger strike which influence outcomes.”

According to Boaden’s sliding scale of hunger strikes, the Palestinians’ 
mass protest ranked as a “managed” hunger strike, because some of the 
prisoners had taken salts intravenously.

She added: “One of the most important factors in determining the level 
of coverage was the failure of the hunger strikes to capture the 
imagination of the Palestinian public. While the Palestinians did not 
consider the partial hunger strikes or managed hunger strikes important 
enough to take to the streets in any great numbers, BBC News did not 
give the campaign prominence.”

Boaden’s reply was extraordinary. She revealed that it is not enough for 
the BBC that a Palestinian, jailed without due process, denies 
themselves food for weeks or months, risking death, blindness or 
permanent organ damage, in order to protest against the denial of their 
human rights, but unless that hunger strike provokes others, it is not 

And if that hunger strike does provoke others, as Khader Adnan’s did, 
triggering a mass hunger strike of more than 2,000 prisoners, then the 
BBC demands that Palestinians outside the prisons must also go on hunger 

The elderly parents and sister of hunger striker Hana al-Shalabi 
<http://electronicintifada.net/tags/hana-al-shalabi> and the mothers of 
Thaer Halahleh and Hassan Safadi 
<http://electronicintifada.net/tags/hassan-safadi> all started hunger 
strikes, with Safadi’s mother being hospitalized, as did 50 former 
prisoners and supporters in Gaza 
<http://electronicintifada.net/tags/gaza>. But this is still not enough 
for the BBC. There must additionally be people protesting in the streets 
in “great numbers.”

When this happens, with daily demonstrations outside Ofer prison 
<http://electronicintifada.net/tags/ofer-prison> for a part of 2012 and 
demonstrations across towns and villages in the West Bank 
<http://electronicintifada.net/tags/west-bank> that were met with tear 
gas <http://electronicintifada.net/tags/tear-gas>, rubber bullets and 
water cannon by Israeli forces, when there is a constant flow of 
visitors to solidarity tents (including that of Samer Issawi’s family, 
which was recently torn down by Israeli soldiers), the BBC demands still 
more from the Palestinians before it can deem them worthy of space on 
its airwaves.

    Inhumane criteria

The criteria set out by Boaden has been met many times over in the last 
13 months, including the “point of death” she demands of the hunger 
strikers. Issawi’s health is failing and he suffered further injury 
after he was savagely beaten by seven Israeli soldiers at the end of 
December while he was shackled to his wheelchair 
He has lost more than half his body weight, his family says 
but still does not warrant a mention on the BBC.

Compare this to Yulia Tymoshenko or Abdulhadi al-Khawaja, the Bahraini 
dissident, both of whom received extensive coverage on the BBC when they 
went on hunger strike last year, despite not meeting the strict and 
almost inhumane criteria set out by Boaden for their Palestinian 

Boaden’s other self-imposed demands were also met, including her 
insistence that the hunger strikes should present a “critical political 
challenge to the imprisoning authority.”

During the course of the mass hunger strike, Tony Blair 
<http://electronicintifada.net/tags/tony-blair>, Britain’s former prime 
minister, called on Israel to “take all necessary measures to prevent a 
tragic outcome that could have serious implications for stability and 
security conditions on the ground” (“Tony Blair urges Israel to keep 
hunger strikers alive 
/The Independent/, 14 May 2012).

In the aforementioned article in /The Independent/, Mahmoud Abbas 
<http://electronicintifada.net/tags/mahmoud-abbas>, the Palestinian 
<http://electronicintifada.net/tags/palestinian-authority> leader, 
described the state of affairs as “very dangerous,” adding: “If anyone 
dies … it would be a disaster and no one could control the situation.”

Members of Israel’s parliament, the Knesset 
<http://electronicintifada.net/tags/knesset>, also recognized what was 
at stake. Jamal Zahalka, a Knesset member, said: “If one of the striking 
prisoners dies, a third intifada will break out” (“Israel warned of 
volatile situation as Palestinian hunger strikers near death 
<http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2012/may/13/palestinian-hunger-strikers-close-to-death>,”/ Guardian/, 
13 May 2012).

The circumstances were serious enough for Abbas to appeal to US 
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton 
<http://electronicintifada.net/tags/hillary-clinton> to intervene. But 
the prospect of a third intifada does not seem to be enough of a 
“critical political challenge” for the BBC to end its blackout of a 
momentous, coordinated uprising against an unwanted, authoritarian regime.

One can only assume that this is because that unwanted regime is the 
Israeli regime, and the BBC has so often shown that it is unwilling to 
portray Israel in a negative light.

    False assertions

Even in Kevin Connolly’s short report of 11 May — the only coverage 
given by the BBC in 13 months of the prisoners’ protests — no 
Palestinians were interviewed to explain the reasons for the hunger 
strikes. However, Mark Regev 
<http://electronicintifada.net/tags/mark-regev>, the Israeli government 
spokesperson, was brought on to give an Israeli perspective.

He used the opportunity to compare the hunger strikers to “suicide 
bombers” and falsely asserted that their protest was for an “Islamist 
cause.” None of this was challenged by a compliant Connolly who ended 
his report by dismissing the Palestinians’ overtly political cry for 
help as a “health crisis” in Israel’s jails.

And that is the sole coverage the BBC’s extensive news and radio network 
has given to the hunger strikers from Khader Adnan’s refusal to take 
food in December 2011 to the present day.

By consistently ignoring the Palestinian campaign of hunger strikes 
while giving prominent coverage to hunger strikers in other countries, 
by making up arbitrary criteria that only the Palestinians have to meet 
in order to be considered newsworthy by BBC journalists, and by then 
continuing to shun those hunger strikers even when the harsh criteria 
has been met, the BBC has shown, yet again, its bias against the 

For a broadcaster which has conditions of impartiality written into its 
royal charter, that is nothing short of a disgrace.

/Amena Saleem is active with the Palestine Solidarity Campaign in the UK 
and keeps a close eye on the media’s coverage of Palestine as part of 
her brief. She has twice driven on convoys to Gaza for PSC. More 
information on PSC is available at www.palestinecampaign.org 

Freedom Archives 522 Valencia Street San Francisco, CA 94110 415 
863.9977 www.freedomarchives.org
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