Monday, February 2, 2009

BBC slammed for refusing to air appeal for crisis in Gaza

After the ceasefire between Hamas and the Israeli government in the past few weeks, many aid appeals have been launched by various organizations. Tens of thousands of people in Gaza are left homeless as houses and buildings were being bombarded to shreds. Medical supplies are running low for those who are injured and many more  are waiting for food and shelter. Unless we want more people and children to die from injuries, diseases, malnutrition, dehydration and starvation, sufficient aid needs to reach them as soon as possible.

BBC was recently criticized by many including the British members of Parliament, for its decision not to air any aid appeal for the humanitarian crisis in Gaza. Its justification was that they want to be seen as impartial in this crisis. Their logic seems to lie on the assumption that if they air such an appeal, the world would think that they are on the Palestinian side.

I think BBC stands to be corrected on its understanding of humanitarian aid. The humanitarian concept itself carries the notion of non-political and impartiality which is one of the reasons why the International Committee of Red Cross (ICRC) has long being seen as one of the leading humanitarian institutions, given access to many political hotspot areas. The whole concept of humanitarian law was created after the founding fathers (mainly Henry Dunant, a Swiss businessman) of ICRC saw the number of injured and dying civilians and soldiers at the Battle of Solferino. He and several others thought that whether the injured person was a soldier, prisoner of war, civilian, child or woman, he/she deserved to be given medical treatment.

In order to simplify the concept, I shall provide you with an example of a doctor. In essence, a doctor’s main duty is to provide treatment to his/her patients regardless of gender, political affiliations, etc. Such duty is seen to be so important that doctors are being stationed in prisons, refugee camps, conflict areas, etc. It is not a doctor’s job to determine who deserves medical treatment or not, even if the person is convicted of war crimes, crimes against humanity or genocide. This is where the principle of impartiality comes about.

So when the BBC justified its refusal to air humanitarian appeal for Gaza by claiming that it wants to remain impartial, not only has it defied its moral obligation as an international broadcasting agency, it went against the whole principle of providing humanitarian aid. When it comes to giving humanitarian aid, it has nothing to do with who is right or wrong, whose side is it on but simply because it is a necessity.

By taking a stand that it wants to be impartial and hence willing to compromise the tens of thousands of people’s life is not being humanitarian and in a way, not being impartial. True impartiality comes about when one does not judge or care  who or where is the person from but by virtue that he/she is a person in need of aid.  By saying that we don’t want to be seen as supporting Gaza can be interpreted as we want to remain impartial to the Israeli government. At the end of the day, a huge majority of Gazans who are in desperate need of aid are those who are not responsible for the conflict.

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