On August 15th a filmed report produced by Mike Lanchin for the BBC World Service radio history programme ‘Witness‘ appeared in the ‘Features’ section of the BBC News website’s Middle East page under the title “Gaza’s history-making female runner“.
“In 2004, the 800m runner Sanaa Abu Bkheet became the first athlete from the Gaza Strip to represent Palestine at the Olympic Games.
She led the Palestinian delegation at the opening ceremony, the first time a woman had carried the Palestinian flag at an Olympics.
Sanaa, who still lives in the Gaza Strip, tells Witness about overcoming poverty and prejudice on her journey to the biggest sporting stage in the world.”
In that film viewers heard a voice-over translation of Abu Bkheet saying:
“I’m still training but because of the siege I cannot go outside the Gaza Strip. I cannot compete in international races.”
This of course is far from the first time that BBC audiences have seen amplification of that inaccurate Hamas-approved terminology to describe counter-terrorism measures which in no way meet the definition of the term ‘siege’:
“a military operation in which enemy forces surround a town or building, cutting off essential supplies, with the aim of compelling those inside to surrender”
Viewers also heard Abu Bkheet say:
“For the past four years no athlete from Gaza has been able to take part in any event outside. A short while ago there was an invitation to go to Jerusalem and Ramallah for events but we were all denied travel permits.”
Seeing as the date of the recording of this video is unclear, it is impossible to identify the events for which Abu Bkheet claims she was denied travel permits and fact-check that claim. However, even the foreign funded political NGO ‘Gisha‘ states in a document (p. 12) updated in September 2017 that:
“Gaza Strip residents who are members of national and local sports teams may enter Israel to travel to Judaea and Samaria and abroad, for the purpose of official team activities. Entry is also approved for members of the Olympic Committee and the Palestinian Football Association.”
While issues have arisen in the past when applications for travel permits were not submitted in time, there is certainly no blanket ban on travel for athletes (or coaches) as viewers of this report are led to believe. Notably, the BBC did not offer its audiences any context concerning the reasons behind the need for counter-terrorism measures such as permits to enter Israel for residents of an enclave run by a terrorist organisation.
According to the International Association of Athletics Federations another runner from the Gaza Strip – Mohammed Abu Khousa – took part in events in France in 2014, in Qatar in 2016 and in Tunisia in 2017, among others. Abu Khousa also participated in the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio.
Even a grossly one-sided AP report from April of this year acknowledged that a delegation of athletes from the Gaza Strip attended – albeit belatedly – the 2018 Arab Junior Athletics Championships held in Jordan.
As those two small examples show, the BBC promoted claim that “no athlete from Gaza has been able to take part in any event outside” since 2014 is clearly inaccurate and misleading.