BBC Documentary Almost Gets Gaza Right

A BBC documentary, One Day In Gaza (also to be shown on PBS in the US), makes a decent attempt of examining the events of May 14, 2018, when tens of thousands of people in Gaza protested along the border with Israel, but sadly fails in its attempts to be balanced and tell the full story.

Censoring Palestinian antisemitism

The film demonstrated that some of the Palestinians involved in the protests were potentially violent and extremist. A Gazan boy says “the revolutionary songs excite you, they encourage you… to rip a Jew’s head off.” However, instead of translating the Arabic word for Jew, ‘Yahud,’ accurately, the translation is inaccurately rendered, and replaced with a more sterile one – Israeli, thus minimizing antisemitism.

Seth Frantzman of the Jerusalem Post writes:

Arabic media throughout the Middle East does not use the term “Yahud” to refer to Israel, but rather “Israel” written in Arabic letters. On any day numerous articles at newspaper like Al-Ghad in Jordan illustrate this. Even Hamas writes “Israel” in its official press release for media, not “Yahud.”

Yahud is translated as “Jew” in almost every other circumstance by major media. For instance, a doctor accused of making antisemitic comments was fired in January. “She tweeted that she would ‘puposely give all the yahood [sic] the wrong meds,’ using the Arabic word, Yahud, which means Jews,” NBC noted.

Removing context

The documentary sets out to frame the protest against the backdrop of the US embassy relocating from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. In reality, the protests had been occurring on a weekly basis for over a month by this point. The protests of May 14 were originally scheduled to occur a day later, but Hamas deliberately brought the protest forward a day so as to compel the media to cover the embassy transfer in the context of mass riots and casualties. In not mentioning this, the BBC helped Hamas achieved its objective.

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‘Gassing’ Palestinians?

While that may have been missed by most people, watching Palestinians seemingly convulsing in agony towards the end of the program was an assault on the senses. Footage of Gazans suffering from the effects of an unknown gas is shown. Viewers are told that a “drone came and started dropping gas” and the narrator described Israelis deploying “gas” against the Gazan people in much the same way that as the Syrian regime has used chemical weapons during that country’s civil war.  People are seen writhing, convulsing and crying out, with others appearing flat on their backs, receiving saline solution to their eyes and hands. Some have breathing tubes.

There is no problem in documenting this, the very real result of Israel’s response to the mass rioting and attempted breach of its border. However, no description of the gas is given. All viewers are told is that Israel used “gas.” That the BBC notably failed to say “teargas” as it had done earlier in the program 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.

As a result of the failure to define exactly what tools Israel used, a clip taken from the program swiftly found its way onto social media within hours of the program being aired, purporting to be evidence of Israeli ‘chemical weapons.’

Israel’s measures to avoid mass casualties

Finally, entirely absent from the program were the measures Israel took to avoid mass casualties. Due to the most violent rioters and terrorists concealing themselves within larger groups of protesters, regular Israeli soldiers were taken off border duty, and only snipers were allowed to shoot. The guiding principle was that only a sniper rifle would be accurate enough to take aim at the most violent people without injuring the innocent people around them. Whether or not this was enough is a matter of opinion, but the fact that this was Israeli policy is undisputed and should have been mentioned.

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The positives

Despite these serious flaws, some positives should be recognized: This is an incredibly difficult, and thorny topic to cover. The Israel-Gaza conflict specifically has many facets, including Israel’s right to self-defense, the suffering of the Palestinian people under Hamas’ decade-long reign of terror, their legitimate right to self-expression, and the willingness of Gazan civilians to allow themselves to be used as human shields.

The documentary addresses all of these in context, allowing people to speak in their own words. It allowed Israeli Adele Raemer to show Israelis are “on edge” and anxious about Israel being invaded. The documentary does well to show one young protester sharing his thoughts from the night before: “We’re going in, we’ll cross the fence. We’re going in and we’ll give them hell,” and another who speaks openly about his fantasy to “rip a Jew’s head off.”

“We line up like a human shield so the men could advance further” says one Gazan woman. Another tells viewers that previously, “some of us distracted the Israelis with stones and Molotov Cocktails” before cutting the fence. An Israeli soldier, tasked with watching events through security cameras, speaks of Israel’s recognition that “tens of thousands of people aren’t all enemies,” and that the situation was complex and dynamic. “We’re talking about civilians, and that’s what makes this difficult.”

In allowing her to state clearly that she and others genuinely had no desire to hurt anyone who’s innocent, the documentary allows Israel’s humanity to come through.

In many ways, the documentary backs up the Israeli account of events that day, showing how hell-bent the protesters were on breaking through the fence and murdering Israelis. It’s just a pity that a lack of context and one lamentable translation ruined an otherwise fair program.

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Source material can be found at this site.

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