On 13th May 2019, the BBC aired One Day In Gaza for the first time, marking a year since the most fateful day of the “Great March of Return” protests: the 14th May 2018, when around 60 Palestinians were killed. At least 50 of the dead were members of Hamas; of course, this is something which was only revealed at the end of the programme. Using exclusive footage captured from both sides of the border, this documentary aimed to establish the “truth” behind the violence that occurred on that day. However, given the BBC’s illustrious history of distorting and manipulating information in a way to demonise Israel, did One Day in Gaza just do more of the same?
The programme begins by rewinding to the 6th December 2017, when U.S. President Donald Trump promised to relocate the American Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Because the Palestinians still claim Jerusalem as their capital city, this declaration was certainly a blow to their cause, and some degree of backlash was anticipated.
On the morning of May 14th 2018, thousands of Gaza residents began to arrive at what the programme labelled as “Gaza’s unofficial border”. The logic behind this terminology is not clear, and appears to be the first in a series of factual discrepancies in this segment alone. Moments later, viewers are informed that as a consequence of Hamas’ election victory in Gaza and violent expulsion of its rivals in 2006-7, “Israel tightened its economic blockade on the region”, implying that Israel had already begun imposing sanctions on Gaza prior to Hamas seizing power. However, there were no Israeli sanctions on Gaza before Hamas’ rule, and no mention is made of Egypt’s tight sanctions on their own border with Gaza, implying that only Israel has caused the decline of Gaza’s economy.
Nevertheless, for all of the inaccuracies regarding the context behind the current situation in Gaza, the programme does provide comprehensive coverage of the perspective from both sides of the Gaza fence.
Highly revealing interviews with elite members of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) illustrated the extreme pressure that soldiers and intelligence officers felt while trying to repel violent rioters. The Commander of the Gaza Southern Brigade Col. Kobi Heller and the IDF International Media Spokesperson Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus unequivocally emphasised the need for the IDF to protect Israel’s civilians proportionately, precisely, and professionally.
Meanwhile, the violent nature of the protests was confirmed by Palestinian leaders and civilians alike. Family members and friends of Wisal Khalil, a 14-year-old girl who was killed on the 14th May, recalled that during the protests, she would try to cut the security fence and hand out stones for men to throw at the Israeli soldiers. Another Gaza resident, Bashar Faraj, boasted about the protests’ violent nature, and that his aims were to cut the wire, enter Israel and murder a soldier. Other eyewitnesses in Gaza recalled widespread use of firearms; these reports were confirmed by Hamas Deputy Leader Khalil al-Hayya, who acknowledged that “many Palestinians have weapons” and expressed regret that no Israeli soldiers were harmed.
To make matters worse, the attitudes expressed by some Gazans were not only violent but also deeply antisemitic, something which the BBC shamefully chose to downplay. For example, a Gaza resident named Badar Saleh admitted that he felt compelled to rip off the head of a Yahud,which the BBC erroneously translated as ‘Israeli’. In fact, Yahud is the Arabic equivalent of the Hebrew termYehud, meaning ‘Jew’. This illustrates that despite Hamas’ claim in their amended Charter that they do not “wage a struggle against the Jews because they are Jewish”, such references to Yahud (of which there are several in this documentary) are clearly not directed towards Israeli Arabs or Christians, but Jews. We can only assume that the BBC’s not-so-subtle deception is meant to minimise the extremely prevalent issue of antisemitism within the ranks of Hamas, Islamic Jihad and the wider Gazan population, and to frame the conflict as merely a nationalistic one.
In summary, while the documentary presents several factual inaccuracies regarding the situation in Gaza, it does sufficiently repudiate the claim that these protests were peaceful, providing numerous accounts of Palestinian violence on the border. Additionally, it does not present the Israeli forces involved in a negative light, as several IDF officials stressed the importance of minimising civilian casualties on both sides in defence of their country’s sovereignty. Therefore, I would strongly recommend watching this documentary for useful insight into the goals of both the Palestinians and the Israelis involved in the fateful events of the 14th May 2018. However, as the documentary does not sufficiently outline the prelude to the current round of conflict, I strongly advise all readers to utilise other sources to inform themselves of the history of the Gaza Strip (since the Israeli disengagement in 2005) before watching this documentary.