May 24 2019
A documentary aired recently by the BBC, One Day in Gaza, was produced by award-winning filmmaker Olly Lambert. It covered a day in 2018 of the ongoing protests when Palestinians specifically marked the 70th anniversary of the Nakba (Catastrophe) of the creation of the State of Israel, while Israelis and Americans celebrated the move of the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
The Nakba anniversary and the embassy relocation provoked the largest demonstration at the time since the start of the Great March of Return protests on 30 March last year. Unarmed Palestinians were met by lethal force from the Israeli army; soldiers killed at least 60 demonstrators and wounded more than 3,000 others in a single day.
Lambert showed Israeli brutality in his film, a rare occurrence on Western TV screens. Unfortunately, though, he was clearly trying to justify that brutality judging by the selective interviews with Palestinian and Israeli witnesses and spokespersons which survived the editing process.
In the trailer for the film, Lambert said that the Palestinians in Gaza planned “mass” and “peaceful” demonstrations in response to the announced relocation of the US Embassy, although what followed did not support this claim. Contradicting what he said about the “peaceful” demonstrations, he foreshadowed violent Palestinian action against the Israeli “civilians” by presenting an elderly Israeli lady — he did not mention that she was a settler — describing the protests as a war after three and a half years of quiet. Violence is expected and usually justified in a war, but not a legitimate demonstration, so what was Lambert trying to imply at this stage?
Although it was said that Palestinians at a grassroots level had planned the protests, this was followed by a senior Islamic Jihad official speaking about them as if to reiterate the participation of Palestinian factions designated by Western governments as terrorists. Justification for the snipers taking aim and firing at unarmed people? He even showed the same official saying that the protests are another tactic used by the “armed resistance” because that is what the world wants to see.
Ahmad Abu Ertema was the man behind the peaceful protests. He was critical of the way that his interview was used. It took place while he was on tour across the United States. “They asked for my permission to air the interview, and I approved, under one condition: that they do not twist my words or take them out of context. The documentary proved these concerns were well-founded.”
According to Israeli Colonel Kobi Heller, “As long as it was peaceful, we would have permitted them to protest, but that’s not what happened.” The following scenes of Palestinian casualties led to a voiceover saying “They are breaking through now.” We then saw Deputy Hamas Leader Dr Khalil Al-Hayya referring mistakenly to the fence as “the borders” and “We will not leave the borders until the siege is broken once for all.” This suggested to the viewer that the Palestinians themselves were responsible for the casualties thanks to incitement by Hamas, even though Al-Hayya was talking about the siege, the breaking of which is regarded by many around the world as entirely justifiable.
Did Lambert show a protester raising an axe and calling for others to move towards the fence just to show how difficult it would be for the Israeli soldiers to stop such Palestinians from crossing the “Israeli borders” and harming that elderly woman, sitting unarmed on the other side? Heller claimed that if the Israeli army had done nothing, the “rioters” and “terrorists” would have infiltrated the “borders” and arrived in his village — a settlement built on the rubble of an ethnically-cleansed Palestinian village — within three minutes.
The director cut from the axe scene to the US Embassy celebration in Jerusalem on what was also Israeli Independence Day. In my opinion, this was to show how Israel is living normally and hosting international guests, while these Palestinian “rioters” were trying to disrupt everything. In the midst of this emotional moment, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu popped onto our screens to claim that, “Our brave soldiers are protecting the borders of Israel as we speak today.”
Scenes of a Palestinian protester being shot and bleeding among hundreds running towards the fence, and Israeli soldiers using loudspeakers to warn the protesters about getting too close and firing only tear gas, were cut with Netanyahu claiming, “Remember this moment, we are making history!” The implication was that the soldiers only used tear gas after issuing warnings to the protesters. In fact, this was no ordinary gas; doctors in Gaza described it as “toxic” and of a kind they had never come across before.
The reality of Netanyahu’s “making history” is that his “brave soldiers” were shooting and killing unarmed Palestinian civilians in cold blood even though the victims posed no credible threat to the soldiers or any other Israelis.
In highlighting the claim that Hamas rejects Israel’s right to exist, Lambert pointed out that the movement had a history of suicide attacks and rocket launches against the “Jewish” state, and that Israel had fought three major conflicts with it. He did not need to justify overtly the use of lethal force by the Israeli army because he had already prepped the viewers to want to see such people being crushed.
Of course, we were also treated to the stereotype image of Palestinian Muslim women wearing long black dresses, head scarfs and face covers. This was followed by a young lady wearing camouflage jeans saying that women provided a human shield for men, thus supporting the accusation which the pro-Israeli media has been making against Hamas for years. In doing so, even unintentionally, Lambert basically justified the targeting of female protesters.
Many people have commented on the surreal nature of watching a young girl being shot in the head, in slow motion, on prime time television. However, 15-year-old Wisal Al-Sheikh Khalil’s dream, said her mother to the camera, was to be a martyr. Another witness appeared on screen only to say that Wisal’s nickname was the “stone bank” because she used to carry stones in her bag and give them to the men. Thus we were given a justification for this girl to be killed for aiding and abetting “terrorists”.
However, one Israeli witness, Lieutenant Colonel Jonathan Conricus, a spokesman of the Israeli Army, explained that Wisal was one of a number of Palestinians who were killed, it was claimed, unintentionally. “One of the working assumptions,” he explained, “is that a bullet hit a target and then changed direction.”
One child who was shot in the leg which had to be amputated explained that he was planning to break through the “borders” to “give them [Israelis] Hell.” The bullet that did the damage was, he said, “the bullet of pride”. This suggested to the viewer that such boys are not normal and so deserve special treatment. “As long as he’s classified as a terrorist,” said Heller, “we authorise a sniper to shoot him in the leg.”
Abdul Salam Wahba was also killed on that day. He and his brother, Ayman, were taking part peacefully. Ayman stressed that had never had any link with Palestinian factions. Lambert, though, delved 16 years into the past to prove the opposite and mentioned that their brother Ahmad was killed by Israel while taking part in a military operation with Al-Qassam Brigades, the military wing of Hamas. At this point, he also had Heller saying that the whole issue is Hamas-incitement to infiltrate the “borders”.
The most important thing is that Lambert did not say why the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip are really angry and wanted to cross the fence. He did not say that they were forced from their homes by the Israeli occupation’s deliberate ethnic cleansing of historic Palestine (to which they have a legitimate right of return). He only said that they fled during the Israeli war of independence. Nor did he mention the ongoing crisis of the Israeli-led siege which has turned Gaza into the largest open-air prison in the world and made it virtually unliveable.
Even though many people were happy that the BBC aired such a film, I believe that the British broadcaster needs to be much more objective in its coverage of the Israel-Palestine conflict instead of adopting the Israeli narrative. I cannot say that One Day in Gaza was better than nothing, because other objective sources are available for those who care to look for them. Lambert mixed poison with honey in this film, albeit very skilfully.
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The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Days of Palestine’s editorial policy.
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