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May 16, 2019 5:33 am

Flawed BBC Documentary Proves the Israeli Narrative Is Right

avatar by Emanuel Miller


Palestinian demonstrators riot on the Israel-Gaza Strip border, May 3, 2019. Photo: Reuters / Ibraheem Abu Mustafa.

A BBC documentary, One Day In Gaza, examining the events of May 14, 2018, when tens of thousands of people in Gaza protested along the border with Israel, confirmed Israel’s version of events and explanations of what went on that day.

Directed by award-winning documentary maker Olly Lambert, the program details how events on that dramatic day unfolded.

Despite a number of flaws, One Day In Gaza proves that Israel was not facing mere unarmed protesters, but dealing with a dynamic in which violent rioters and armed terrorists concealed themselves in large groups of civilians, including women and children, some of whom were willing human shields for the violence.

The Israel-Gaza conflict is an incredibly difficult and thorny topic to cover. It 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.

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One Day in Gaza addresses all of these in context, giving people a platform to speak in their own words. It allowed Israeli Adele Raemer to show Israelis are “on edge” and anxious about Israel being invaded. The film demonstrates that some of the Palestinians involved in the protests were potentially violent and extremist, with one young protester sharing his thoughts from the night before the march: “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.”

Israel has long held that the protesters acted as human shields for more violent elements, sometimes willingly. During the program, numerous women spoke and children openly admit their role in enabling terrorists and rioters to get closer to the border: “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.

Similarly, the program showed a Hamas official admitting that, at one location at least, Israeli shooting only commenced 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, and that Israel had attacked without cause. Gazan interviewees also reveal that the demonstrations, which originally were grassroots-motivated, were infiltrated and co-opted by the Hamas and Islamic Jihad terror groups.

For all this, the program should be praised. However, it was not without its flaws.

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 the antisemitism.

Seth Frantzman of the 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 routinely translated directly as “Jew” by the media in almost every other circumstance. In his article, Frantzman contrasts the BBC’s translation with news coverage after a doctor was fired in January following the surfacing of antisemitic tweets. In its coverage of the firing, NBC noted that: “She tweeted that she would ‘purposely give all the yahood [sic] the wrong meds,’ using the Arabic word, Yahud, which means Jews.”

Partly in response to these commentaries, a BBC spokesperson has responded to the uproar provoked by the mistranslation of “Yahud”: “We sought expert advice on the translation before broadcast and we believe the translation of ‘Yehudi’ as ‘Israeli’ in this documentary is both accurate and true to the speakers’ intentions.”

Furthermore, 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 achieve its objective.

Similarly, even if the documentary focused on one just one day, the BBC had a responsibility to explain events preceding that day. It certainly showed the Gazan narrative, in which the day came about as a “response” to the US transferring its embassy to Jerusalem. However, it didn’t show much from Israel’s perspective.

In the lead-up to the protest covered in the documentary, Israel was attacked on numerous occasions by terrorists in Gaza.

At previous protests, people had breached the border fence with weapons and shot at Israeli soldiers. For example, on March 30, in the very first in the series of protests, two men armed with AK-47 assault rifles and hand grenades opened fire on Israeli soldiers and then attempted to breach the security fence in the northern Gaza Strip.

The documentary could have found time to mention another border breach that took place a few weeks before, in which four Palestinians entered Israeli territory and tried to set fire to a military vehicle before fleeing back to Gaza. Video footage of that incident was shown on Al Jazeera and other outlets, and could easily have been integrated into the program.

The BBC could also have highlighted that only a few weeks before, three Gazans with grenades and knives successfully infiltrated Israel and were discovered near an army base 20 kilometers from Gaza.

Other clips, such as the one below, were freely available on social media.

Where was the footage? Why was there no mention of repeated attempts to lay booby-trapped flags, box-cutters, and other tools at the border fence in order to kill or injure Israelis, on one occasion injuring four IDF soldiers after they approached the fence to remove a bomb disguised as a flag? Why was there no mention of the countless flying Molotov cocktails in the form of balloons or kites with petrol bombs attached, causing massive fires?

Showing these videos, or even just describing these events, would have left viewers in no doubt that Israel faced an array of threats, and was genuinely fearful of a mass invasion, with hordes of people intent on causing harm to Israeli citizens and Israeli property.

Notably, entirely absent from the program were the measures taken by Israel 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.

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 describes 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. People are seen writhing, convulsing, and crying out, with others appearing flat on their backs, receiving saline solution for 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 “tear gas” 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 spread swiftly on social media within hours of the program being aired, purporting to be evidence of Israeli “chemical weapons.”

Despite the numerous flaws listed above, One Day in Gaza deserves a degree of credit. It shows that human shields were used regularly, that Hamas deliberately bused civilians into military zones, sometimes against their will, and displays the horrendous embrace of violence by Gazan teens and youths. The program also allowed people on both sides to talk about their frustrations and hopes, allowing the humanity of one Israeli citizen and of numerous Israeli soldiers to come through.

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 makes clear that the situation was complex and dynamic. “We’re talking about civilians, and that’s what makes this difficult.” Repeatedly, Israelis state clearly that they genuinely had no desire to hurt anyone innocent, but were forced to react to a military event.

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, background, and one lamentable translation ruined an otherwise fair program.

Emanuel Miller is a writer for HonestReporting. A version of this article was originally published at HonestReporting.

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