Gaza film will not change any minds

By Simon Plosker

THE sense of trepidation from pro-Israel advocates was palpable leading up to the broadcast of BBC One’s This World — One Day in Gaza.

After all, when it comes to negative coverage of Israel, the BBC is a serial offender.

And what better way to bash Israel than the issue of violence on the Gaza border that has cost the lives of more than 150 Palestinians and injured thousands more?

The story has been framed by most of the media and non-governmental organisations as Israel’s disproportionate response to Palestinians peacefully protesting to return to ancestral lands now in the State of Israel.

So did the BBC stay true to form? Yes and no.

Freelance documentary filmmaker Olly Lambert deserves credit for not defaulting to a transparent attempt to prove an existing thesis that places sole responsibility for the situation on Israel.

The end result, however, is a programme that doesn’t really challenge its viewers or force them to face hard questions. Those with strong opinions, be they anti or pro-Israel, are unlikely to have changed their minds.

But what about the majority without strongly-held convictions in the first place?

The title of the programme itself is testament to its biggest weakness. Gaza’s problems cannot be compressed into “one day” or even several months prior to May 14, 2018.

They require a level of context absent from Lambert’s film, which only briefly skimmed the surface of the history needed for an uninformed viewer to understand why Gazans find themselves in such an abysmal situation.

The BBC is infamous for its selective omissions when it comes to Israel and here it didn’t disappoint. For example, when referencing the Israeli blockade of Gaza, there was no mention that Egypt is also blockading Gaza.

Incredibly, in an age of easy infographics, there was no geographical image or map onscreen to give the locations of the numerous Israeli border communities threatened by a potential invasion of Palestinian rioters.

While one of those communities is described as being only 250 metres from the security fence, the concept of distance and threat to Israeli civilians is therefore somewhat abstract.

The construct of the fence itself is barely touched upon and viewers would probably be astonished to learn that this is not an electrified fence that could keep a T-Rex contained in Jurassic Park, but something far less robust.

Likewise, the events of May 14, 2018 cannot be taken in isolation. Why then did the documentary not reference or show footage of previous incidents of armed Palestinians breaching the security fence, one example of which occurred only a few weeks before?

Or an incident in February, 2018, in which four IDF soldiers were wounded by an explosive device when they approached the fence to remove a Palestinian flag Hamas had placed during riots in the Strip?

Indeed, throughout the incidences of regular violence on the Gaza border, Israel has competed against graphic footage and imagery coming from the Gaza side of the fence.

The BBC was given access to IDF video footage to piece together its timeline. Ultimately, however, all of the available footage was focused on one side of the fence — the Gazan side.

Numerous media outlets reported and recorded from inside Gaza. Palestinians with mobile phones captured huge amounts of raw footage.

The Israeli footage as broadcast by the BBC was sterile in comparison. A single interviewee from the Israeli border community of Nirim. An interview with an unidentifiable IDF intelligence officer who experienced the violence, not at the fence itself, but through video cameras controlled from a base somewhere in southern Israel.

While we are treated to the emotional and humanising testimonies of Palestinians who were either injured or lost family members, Lambert did not feature any personal testimonies from young Israeli soldiers experiencing real fear in the face of thousands of rioters surging towards the security fence.

Israel has been losing the PR battle on this issue precisely because there have been no comparable images from the Israeli side of the border fence.

This is somewhat understandable given that the IDF, for operational and security reasons, has not allowed journalists access to that area. So the sometimes grainy IDF video footage trained on the Gaza side of the border is no match for that from the other side.

While the IDF footage may have helped Lambert piece together a timeline of events, either the BBC or the IDF missed an opportunity.

The Palestinian testimonies themselves have caused an outcry from the pro-Israel community. Anyone with a rudimentary knowledge of Arabic would have noticed the translation of the word ‘Yahud’ to ‘Israeli’ rather than ‘Jew’.

A deliberate mistranslation to cover up Palestinian antisemitism? The Palestinian interviewee was openly stating his desire to murder a Jew. Not an Israeli, but a Jew.

While that may have been missed by most people, watching Palestinians seemingly convulsing in agony towards the end of the programme was an assault on the senses.

The narrator described Israelis deploying ‘gas’ against the Gazan people in much the same way that the Syrian regime has used chemical weapons during that country’s civil war.

That the BBC notably failed to say ‘teargas’ as it had done earlier in the programme undoubtedly left viewers wondering if Israel was using chlorine or something far worse than a legitimate means of crowd dispersal used by other western states.

But what about the positives? There were some significant takeaways.

For the first time, an outside media outlet has effectively confirmed the Israeli version of events. While the Palestinian March of Return may have started off as a peaceful grassroots initiative, Lambert makes it clear that by May 14, 2018, the demonstrations had been infiltrated and co-opted by Hamas as well as the Islamic Jihad.

We see the open incitement from the leaders of those organisations and even the efforts to bus Palestinian women leaving a mosque to a dangerous area near the fence against their will.

We hear the admittance from a Hamas official that the Israeli shooting on that day started as a direct response to armed Palestinians firing on IDF soldiers finally laying to rest the myth that all of these Palestinian protesters were unarmed innocents.

This myth is further buried by the multiple testimonies of Palestinians openly stating their intentions that day to breach the security fence and enter Israel.

We are informed that a substantial number of the dead that day were claimed by Hamas as operatives of its military wing.

We see footage of deliberate disinformation being spread through the crowds encouraging Palestinians to swarm the fence that they have been falsely told has been breached.

Sadly we also watch Palestinian testimonies from people, possibly brainwashed, desperate or delusional, who are prepared to ‘martyr’ themselves for the cause.

Simon Plosker is managing editor of HonestReporting, the world’s largest grassroots organisation defending Israel against media bias.

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