As previously documented, BBC News website reporting on the violence and rioting on the border between Israel and the Gaza Strip on March 30th failed to provide audiences with a clear view of what the Palestinian demand for ‘right of return’ means in terms of the two-state solution, that its real intention is to threaten the existence of Israel as the Jewish state or what the non-binding UN GA resolution upon which that demand is supposedly based actually says.
Seeing as the agitprop organised by Hamas and other terror factions such as the PIJ and DFLP that is dubbed ‘the Great Return March’ uses that issue as its justification, it is obviously necessary for BBC reporting on the topic to provide audiences with that essential context and background.
So did BBC radio programmes do any better than the corporation’s website?
In the news bulletin at the start of the programme (from 01:34 here) listeners heard the following from newsreader Kathy Clugston: [emphasis in bold added, emphasis in italics in the original]
Clugston: “Palestinian officials say at least 15 people have been shot dead and hundreds wounded during a mass protest on the border between Gaza and Israel. Thousands of demonstrators gathered for the start of a six-week campaign for the right to return to homes that are now in Israel. The Israeli military said it had fired weapons to disperse rioters. The UN Security Council is meeting tonight to discuss the situation.”
Later on (from 07:42) listeners heard Coomarasamy claim that Israelis will be celebrating Independence Day in May – rather than on April 18/19th as is actually the case – and give a context-free portrayal of the circumstances under which Palestinians became refugees when Arab armies invaded the nascent Jewish state while portraying (as he also did right at the top of the programme) the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as “the Middle East conflict”.
Coomarasamy: “When Israelis celebrate the 70th anniversary of the founding of their state in May, Palestinians will be commemorating what for them is known as the Nakba or catastrophe: the point in history when hundreds of thousands of their forefathers became refugees. Today marked the beginning of six weeks of protests across the Palestinian territories in the lead-up to that date with thousands of people heading towards Gaza’s border with Israel chanting slogans on what is known as Land Day – the anniversary of the killing of six protesters by Israeli security forces in 1976. The demonstrators said they wanted to send a clear message that they have a right to return to what used to be Palestinian land: one of the major issues of contention in the Middle East conflict.”
Listeners then heard a voice-over translation of the words of an unidentified (and severely factually challenged) speaker, with no clarification of the fact that the Gaza Strip has not been ‘occupied’ for nearly 13 years.
V/O: “We need to change the way we deal with the Israeli occupation. Every peaceful and non-peaceful way has failed. We must find a way to go back to our homeland. It’s been 100 years now and Palestinians are stranded while all other nations of the world are enjoying peace and democracy.”
Coomarasmay: “Well despite calls for today’s protest to be peaceful it ended with some of the bloodiest confrontations in recent years. As the marchers moved towards the fortified fence separating Gaza and Israel, Israeli forces fired tear gas and bullets at the crowds just across the border after what they described as riots broke out. By nightfall at least 15 Palestinians had died and hundreds of others were injured and in the last hour the Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas blamed Israel for the deaths of the demonstrators and called on the United Nations to provide protection to the Palestinians.”
Coomarasamy did not bother to clarify to listeners that the casualty figures he quoted come from the same terror group which organised the ‘Great Return March’ publicity stunt.
Coomarasamy: “Well Issam Hamad is the vice-chair of the international coordinating committee of the ‘Great Return March’ – the six-week series of protests.”
Hamad: “We have been waiting 70 years for the right of return to be implemented and also the Palestinian-Israeli issue and we have to rise up for our rights and try to draw a new line in the Palestinian era requesting the rights to be implemented.”
Coomarasamy: “But what has been achieved today is the deaths of more than a dozen Palestinians. That could have been avoided, surely?”
Hamad: “They have shoot by snipers 16 people; unarmed civilians as declared their intention earlier that they are going to be peaceful. It just ensures again towards the international community that this country [Israel] is working above the law.”
Coomarasamy: “The Israelis insist that amongst civilians there were armed members of Hamas who were using the civilians as cover.”
Hamad: “Today Gaza has received hundreds of journalists and has media coverage, satellite coverage, that has never been in Gaza since the day of the prophet Adam. Also we are in 2018: people have their mobile phones. If there is a single seen between those hundreds of thousands of civilians there was a rifle or a gun or anything, that can be easily seen. We have not seen today any arms – only civilian people.”
Failing to challenge Hamad’s inflated portrayal of the number of people taking part in the publicity stunt Coomarasamy went on:
Coomarasamy: “But amongst those crowds there were many children. Surely that was irresponsible to bring children to a march like this when you could have foreseen what was the expected Israeli response?”
Hamad: “We will continue calling on the Palestinian refugees to be present in these camps over the coming weeks and it is the responsibility of Israel to keep their safety and not use these tools and snipe the people and kill them because this is not in accordance with the international law and the camera can look…”
Coomarasamy [interrupts]: “So just to be clear, what’s happened today is not going to stop these marches: they’re going to continue for several more weeks.”
Hamad: “Today is a celebration [sic] of Land Day. This Great Return March will start tomorrow and it will continue until we go back to our lands and homes and property that was confiscated from us and we were expelled out of Palestine in 1948.”
Coomarasamy: “When the Israelis hear that they hear a threat to their security.”
Actually, when Israelis hear that they understand that the intention of Issam Hamad and his fellow march organisers is to destroy the Jewish state but Coomarasamy did not clarify that point to Radio 4 listeners.
Hamad: “This is our land. We are going to go back to our land no matter who is ruling, no matter who’s in the political parties or leading the country.”
Coomarasamy: “But you have to deal with the leadership of the country, don’t you? You can’t simply demand this right in a vacuum.”
Hamad: “This debate you are talking about, this is a political debate. This is we are not interested in. We the refugees have been thrown in the diaspora. Now in Gaza is not suitable for dogs to live so why should we stay in Gaza while we have a resolution calling that we return to our land? Why if we are registered by the United Nations and we carry registration number and each one has his name written on it and the place he should return to – why should we wait? Why should the people in Syria now suffer from the war – the Palestinian? Why should they? They were thrown in 1948 and the resolution say they must be allowed to return. So they should return. It’s the problem of Israel how to manage this return journey.”
Making no effort to relieve listeners of the erroneous impressions created by Hamad’s deliberate misrepresentation of UN GA resolution 194, Coomarasamy changed the subject.
Coomarasamy: “But at the moment Israel is adamant that what’s happening is sponsored by Hamas and it is a threat to the Israeli state.”
Hamad: “They say this. The cameras have seen, have shown today hundreds of thousands of people coming: children, babies, pregnant women, elderly, men, youth, girls. Every kind of the society today were. There was not a single flag of Hamas. There’s only the Palestine flag.”
Coomarasamy: “The other thing that is said by the Israeli army is that people were throwing stones, firebombs and that there was rioting.”
Hamad: “Today they used snipers to kill people and to injure them. If this is according to the international law, then they can claim this. But today the Palestinians are talking peace and law. People did not like rockets, did not like war, did not like that way. Now we are showing a new way. This is our right. It’s a legal right. It’s a humanitarian right. They cannot deny it. They have accepted. The only thing they can do now is implement it. It’s over. The Palestinian people have taken their decision. If we want to create a third World War now we can go ahead and do it. But halass [enough] it’s over. The people have decided. We are fed up now. It’s over.”
Coomarasamy ended that five-minute long interview at that point and went on to speak to former IDF spokesperson Avital Leibovich about the day’s events. However, the item closed without listeners being informed that UN GA resolution 194 is non-binding, that it does not specifically relate to Palestinian refugees (despite long-standing BBC claims to that effect) and – contrary to often heard assertions – neither does it grant any unconditional ‘right of return’.
Neither did Coomarasamy bother to clarify to listeners that the vast majority of the people his interviewee termed ‘refugees’ are in fact descendants of refugees condemned to that status by the fact that the UN agency responsible for their care does not have an active program for “local integration” of refugees where they now reside (even if that is under Palestinian rule) nor resettlement in third countries.
Once again we see that while the BBC provides a platform for exactly the type of media coverage that this publicity stunt was intended to garner, it fails to provide its audiences with the background information necessary for full understanding of this latest Hamas campaign to delegitimise Israel.