On August 18th the BBC’s ‘Hardtalk’ aired an interview with Mads Gilbert. The programme is promoted on multiple platforms: on BBC iPlayer for those in the UK or as a podcast or, for a limited period of time, on BBC World Service radio.
This is not the first time that the BBC has provided amplification for claims made by Gilbert himself or other members of the medical profession working at Shifa hospital since the commencement of Operation Protective Edge – as was documented here.
It is obviously difficult to comprehend the rationale behind ‘Hardtalk’ producers’ thinking in terms of their evaluation of any contribution to audiences’ factual knowledge and understanding of the conflict in Israel and the Gaza Strip which could possibly be made by the blatant propaganda of a long-time political activist such as Mads Gilbert. But in addition to the fact that nevertheless the BBC elected to allow amplification of Gilbert’s plethora of inaccurate and misleading claims, it is no less interesting to note the points at which his extremist narrative dovetails with that of the BBC representative conducting the interview, Zeinab Badawi.
Badawi’s introduction includes the following inaccurate statement:
“Close on two thousand died – nearly all civilians – and thousands more were injured, many seriously.” [emphasis added]
Preliminary examination (as yet uncompleted) of the casualties in fact shows that 46% were terrorist operatives.
She allows Gilbert to mislead audiences with a dishonest portrayal of the reasons for the shortage of medical supplies in the Gaza Strip.
“And bear in mind that Shifa hospital, along with the rest of the healthcare system in Gaza is suffering severely from the 7 years of siege and blockade. They are lacking everything: drugs, equipment, modern machinery, even – you know – trolleys and respirators to treat the patients…”
Badawi also permits Gilbert to lie unhindered about the topic of non-payment of salaries to Hamas employees which is in fact the result of a dispute between Hamas and the Palestinian unity government.
“On top of that they [medical staff] have not had any normal salaries for the last year actually due to the dispute between…between the Israeli…you know….politics of not allowing the Palestinians to pay these so-called Hamas-employed staff in the healthcare system from 2006. So they are working for nothing. For the last three months they have not had their salaries and this is extremely demanding.”
She makes absolutely no effort to counter Gilbert’s distorted description of the situation in Gaza as exclusively attributable to Israel by informing them that Hamas was given every opportunity to avoid the conflict but chose not to do so.
“All this could have been avoided if the bombing had stopped and the siege had been lifted.”
On two separate occasions Badawi allows Gilbert to wriggle out of the issue of Hamas’ use of Shifa hospital – despite journalists (including Yolande Knell) having documented the presence of Hamas leaders in that civilian facility.
“I haven’t been in every corner of Shifa but I’ve been there for many years and I’ve never seen any militants – armed people – in Shifa.”
“I have not seen it with my own eyes. I have not seen armed militias in Shifa or in any other hospital.”
Badawi makes no attempt to correct the inaccurate and misleading impression given by Gilbert to audiences on the issue of proportionality in warfare.
“There has so far been killed almost 1,900 Palestinians and three civilian Israelis. That says everything about the proportionality or the disproportionality of the use of weapons. It is not the Palestinians who are killing the Israelis. It is actually the Israelis who are killing the Palestinians by the thousands.”
Badawi fails to challenge Gilbert’s blatant lie about travel from the Gaza Strip:
“The point about Gaza is that nobody is allowed to leave…”
She likewise fails to correct his false claim that Israel broke the 2008 six-month lull. In fact it was Hamas which breached the agreement by both continuing to fire rockets and mortars throughout and with the construction of a cross-border tunnel aimed at kidnapping Israeli soldiers.
Not only does Badawi not challenge Gilbert’s inaccurate and misleading description of border restrictions implemented to curb the smuggling of weapons into the Gaza Strip as a “siege”, but – like many of her colleagues before her – she adopts that Hamas terminology herself. She also fails to adequately correct Gilbert’s inaccurate version of events, which of course entirely erases Hamas terrorism from the picture presented to audiences, as well as the violent Hamas coup of 2007.
Badawi: “Let me just pick up the siege first […] Gaza was free [in August 2005] – there are no Jews living there, there’s no occupation there, but what happened when the settlers left…”
Gilbert: “Who says there is no occupation? The Israeli government and army has full control of the land space, the airspace…”
Badawi: “But no siege, no siege. Picking up the point that you made: lift the siege – there was no siege originally.”
Gilbert: “It came in 2006.”
Badawi: “Fairly early on.”
Gilbert: “[….] and Hamas won the election. They tried to make a unified government. It was shot down. Then came the siege and it was, you know, increased and increased and increased as a collective punishment.”
Badawi: “Sure. But […] when the Jewish settlers did withdraw from Gaza and Gaza was left open there wasn’t a siege imposed straight away. Instantly it was very clear that the Palestinians in Gaza – or at least some of them: the militants – were not going to leave Israelis alone.”
Gilbert: ” […] It was still under full Israeli control with the airspace, with the sea, with the borders and with the electronic space. So the Palestinians in Gaza have never been unoccupied.”
Badawi: “No, the occupation remains. It was the siege I was pointing out.”
Gilbert: “Why did the siege come? The siege came as a collective punishment because they have elected [unintelligible].” [emphasis added]
At no point does Badawi clarify to audiences that Israeli control of Gaza’s coastal waters and airspace was agreed to by the representatives of the Palestinian people in 1995 when they signed the Interim Agreement and that no amendments were made to that status quo in the agreement signed by the PA and Israel after the 2005 withdrawal. Neither does she point out that – despite Gilbert’s inaccurate claim that the Gaza Strip is still occupied – the facts show otherwise.
Badawi’s vigorous promotion of statements made by Mahmoud Abbas in relation to missile fire from the Gaza Strip is not accompanied by the very relevant information that Fatah’s Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades have actively engaged in missile fire throughout the recent conflict.
Even Gilbert’s most off the wall comments go unchallenged and uncorrected by Badawi.
“Anybody who opposes the grand plan of the Israeli political government today – political Zionism – will be stamped as a terrorist and will be sort of outlawed. The Palestinians have been under strict, hard, brutal Israeli rule and oppression for the last seventy years and they have the right to defend themselves.” [emphasis added]
“…I don’t support Hamas, I don’t support Fatah or any faction. I support the Palestinian people and their right to resist occupation like we [the Norwegians] did.” (Nazi analogy)
“[Palestinians say] …we don’t want to live as slaves in our own country.”
“In my view the [Hamas-Fatah] coalition government now was the pretext for the attack on Gaza. […] It had nothing to do with the rockets.”
“I think that with the power distribution in the world today poor people – not only in Palestine and in other parts of the global south – are suffering from a new colonial wave of oppression which is coming precisely from the United States and they support the Israeli colonial project…”
“Respect for international law – totally omitted by Israel. Respect for the UN charter – totally omitted by Israel. We need all of us to stand up against this degeneration of the international order I think.”
Whilst viewers and listeners may have gained some insight into the mindset of Mads Gilbert from this interview, they gleaned no factual information which would help them better understand the conflict and indeed were actively misled by Gilbert’s propaganda thanks to Zeinab Badawi’s failure for the most part to challenge his blatant inaccuracies. What this interview does provide, however, is yet another example of the BBC’s adoption of Hamas terminology in its willfully inaccurate misrepresentation of border restrictions aimed at combatting terrorism against Israeli civilians as a “siege”.