On Monday night the BBC Panorama aired a half hour in-depth documentary investigating the events of the flotilla incident at the end of May.
The programme was ridiculously – for the BBC – fair and balanced, airing previously unseen footage of the incident - from the IDF, from the Mavi Marmara's security cameras, and taken by the activists themselves and uploaded onto a website called Cultures Of Resistance. They interviewed the head of Israel's investigation into the incident and IDF officers including those who were attacked when they landed on the ship. They also interviewed the head of Turkey's Islamist IHH "charity", the head of Free Gaza who organised the flotilla, and several activists who were on board the MM.
The programme was in no way pro-Israel, it was just balanced. And yet people are calling it lies and propaganda. If it was pro-Israel propaganda then wouldn't they say that all of the activists were armed terrorists? And that Israel didn't kill anyone and was completely in the right? The truth was that Israel made some mistakes in planning the operation, and on the other hand that from the BBC's footage there was at least one activist on board who probably saved the life of at least one Israeli soldier. But all the evidence, footage and testimonies – fromboth sides – prove that Israel was acting in self defence from a barbaric pre-planned lynching. And there was simply no way for the BBC to suggest anything else. That must be why people are so incensed.
In one piece of footage, the IHH leader on board the MM declared to the activists "We're going to defeat the Israeli commandos... If you bring your soldiers here, we will throw you off the ship". Later he told Panorama presenter Jane Corbin, "If we organised another boat, and Israel attempted to illegally invade it, we'd use our right to passive resistance. We'd throw them into the sea."
Before and after the incident, and in the documentary, numerous activists themselves openly stated that the aim was not to bring aid to Gaza but to break the naval security blockade. The Free Gaza coordinator on board, Lubna Masarwa, also confirmed this, in her interview with Panorama.
The documentary mentioned Hamas’ refusal to recognise Israel's right to exist and that they have fired thousands of rockets at Israeli civilians. Corbin also mentioned that the restrictions Israel imposes on what enters Gaza are to prevent the manufacture of weapons and bunkers. This must have irked the Hamas lovers who try to pretend it’s not a terrorist organisation.
Corbin refers to the Turkish government's support for Hamas, the government's links to the IHH, and the fact that the IHH has been accused of links to terror - although she does not mention the evidence that proves this. Should I complain to the BBC about this anti-Israel bias? Corbin interviewed Israel’s head of the flotilla investigation, saying the Turkish government knew about it and that Turkish MPs were going to join but decided in the end not to – but she adds that the Turkish government denies involvement.
I don’t think we’ve got to the “propaganda” bit yet.
Through testimonies and footage from both sides, the documentary pieces together what happened that night: Israel gave five warnings for the ship not to approach Gaza, offering to transfer the aid there through the Ashdod port instead. In response to the warnings, the ships made antisemitic and abusive comments to Israel by radio: "shut up - go back to Auschwitz", and "we're helping Arabs going against the US. Don't forget 9/11, guys". Corbin quotes that the organisers were unaware of the comments.
Panorama showed one activist say he wanted to die as a martyr for Gaza – there is footage that the BBC didn’t air of other activists also saying this. More footage showed the activists’ preparations for their attack, cutting metal bars from the ship to use as weapons, one activist confirming in clear language that their intention was to attack the soldiers if they boarded. Meanwhile the Israelis interviewed acknowledged their mistake in underestimating the violent behaviour of the activists, and the Israeli investigator was clear that whilst 40 IHH activists planned the attack, there were hundreds of innocent people on board who did not know what was going on.
Fair, balanced and truthful so far.
Then we see the activists begin attacking the Israeli soldiers in their own boats as they approached the MM, before they boarded the ship - the IDF responding with paintball guns. An Israeli commander said, "They were throwing at us stones and junk that they had on board the ship". An activist confirms this to the BBC, describing how "we threw chairs and anything we could find down on them."
Another Israeli commander describes how he was set upon and beaten as soon as he landed, flung over the side of the deck, clinging to the side as they clubbed his hands until he fell to the level below, then cornered and stabbed in his stomach. Video evidence confirms his account.
The IHH leader claimed that the activists were acting in self defence as the IDF were shooting from the beginning, but Corbin quotes the IDF’s dismissal that it’s impossible to fire whilst abseiling from a helicopter, and shows the chilling footage of the moment the unprepared Israelis realised they were under live fire. The Israeli investigator confirmed that whilst three stolen IDF weapons were fired on the soldiers, one non-IDF weapon was also used. Footage of the weapons that were found on board indicates that the attack was planned in advance.
Meanwhile, activist Ken O'Keefe spoke about the need to break the blockade and their willingness to employ "non lethal force" in self-defence. He described how he took the Israeli commander’s gun and emptied it, and described the scenes of the dead and wounded activists.
The most eye-opening footage came near the end though: an injured Israeli soldier, taken below deck – shielded by one activist from the others who wanted to finish him off.
Asked if the deaths were worth the attention on Gaza, Free Gaza's coordinator said "there is no resistance, there is no freedom without paying a price".
The BBC is finally balanced on an Israeli matter and yet people call it Israeli propaganda.
Chas Newkey-Burden fisks the Guardian’s critical review; Harry’s Place also does; as well as listing some of the “Islamists, Communists, [and] Nutters” that were infuriated by the programme (strange that it’s mostly terrorist supporting antisemites who didn’t like it). Even before Panorama was aired, the extremist Muslim Public Affairs Committee claimed: “No doubt, the BBC will once again be airing and spreading propaganda on Israel’s behalf. Enough is enough, we all know the truth of the terrorist attacks committed by Israel on unarmed peace activists.” ‘Unarmed peace activists’ haha!
They then link to the BBC’s response to the complaints, saying “This means your complaints have been noticed - well done!” – but the BBC defends Panorama, saying the footage was verified for accuracy, and that the footage and interviews came from sources on both sides of the dispute, ensuring it was fair.
News website Mathaba (who have written articles such as one perpetuating the blood libel that Israel was harvesting organs of Haitians), also accuse the BBC of broadcasting “Zionist propaganda”, supporting this with a bunch of lies such as that the programme never mentioned the MM was in international waters (it did mention this actually), that the people on the flotilla were “humanitarians” (they never stated their aim to was bring aid to Gaza; it was to break the blockade), that they “had the legal right to defend themselves in any way they thought fit” (footage and testimonies from both sides proved the activists attacked first, not in self defence), that “the only weapons they had to defend themselves were parts of the boat itself and kitchen utensils” (evidence shows they had at least one gun, and the ‘kitchen utensils’ were knives that didn’t actually look very kitchen-y. Also, we’ve already established they weren’t acting in self defence), that “the Israelis carried with them pictures and a list of those they intended to assassinate” (first I’ve heard of it), that the “go back to Auschwitz” comment was “down to Israeli editing” (it wasn’t), that “It was claimed one IHH activist said ‘he was prepared to die’ although it was abundantly clear that he actually said ‘If I die give a message to my loved ones’ (actually, he did say – abundantly clearly – that he was prepared to die and wanted to be a ‘shahid’ – martyr), and, their stupidest remark of all, that: “The IHH were described as having links with Terrorism although it was clear from the video footage who exactly the real terrorists were” (and I don’t think they’re referring to the activists who planned their attack and tried to murder Israeli soldiers armed with paintball guns).
There is yet more very telling footage from the ship (from EoZ) that wasn’t included in Panorama – it shows Israeli soldiers and a doctor wanting to take the injured activists to an Israeli hospital, arguing with an Arab MK whorepeatedly says “they don’t want to go”, whilst the doctor asks “so what do you want, do you want him to die?”
The answer to that question appears to be a big "meh".