When Roger Hearing went to Gaza for a BBC World Service series about business he obviously went with a load of baggage; if you know what I mean.
Now I do realise that the interviews recorded for these programmes need to be edited, so I imagine a good deal of recorded material stays on the cutting room floor, and there’s probably some off the record gossip and chatter as well that goes unreported. In other words, what we end up with is not necessarily the truth, the whole truth (and / or nothing but.)
So let’s just use what we’ve got; the broadcasts the BBC saw fit to release, via the airwaves into our brains.
Roger Hearing and his entourage went to the Gaza strip to see how business was doing in Gaza. On the 19th May the first of three Business Matters reports went out on the BBC World service.
We heard Roger giving an on-the-spot account of a (not very) arduous border crossing, and excerpts from a conversation with Ashraf Abushaban, the ice-cream businessman whom befriended Roger as they walked together along the lengthy border-crossing corridor.
Ashraf, who was to become a little bit famous as the ice-cream entrepreneur of Gaza, provided a rich source of material for a couple of Roger’s future BBC ventures, eg., From Our Own Correspondent Radio 4, and the BBC Website.
To help you understand my confusion, I’ve transcribed the conversation, lucky you, between Roger and Ashraf during a very very long walk within the crossing (from Israel)
“I was in Tel Aviv yesterday, and Ramallah today, and I just crossed the border going back to Gaza.”
RH:And what were you doing in Israel?
Well, I was having a course, like a seminar of making Italian gelato.
RH: Well in this kind of weather, Ice cream very popular I imagine.
AA: Ice cream is very popular in Gaza. We have an ice cream store since 1950, but I took the responsibility of developing the ice cream, bringing new flavours to Gaza, and as you know Italians are very good at that, so I took a couple of courses from Italy in Tel Aviv and right now we have Gelato in Gaza”
RH: Is it easy for you to come and go across the border?
Well, I’ve been going back and forth for the last year only - only after I grew up after 35 years, because you’re only allowed if you’re over 35 and if you are a businessman and if you prove to them that you do import so many stuff from Israel and Europe.’
RH: Right, so you’re importing the goods to make the ice cream”
It (?) for me because I do have to pay the taxes in Israel and I do have to pay another 18% taxes to the PA, and then it comes to the Hamas government in Gaza because you know we have two governments actually.
RH:I know, I know,”
AA:So Hamas decided they want more taxes right now so I pay more taxes - for the government of Gaza.
RH:Wow. That’s expensive. But the business works? It’s profitable?
Well, it’s not bad, I can’t complain about it. We’ve been in the market since 1950 we’ve got like a good name in Gaza. But we have a lot of expenses for electricity we have four generators which consumes - sometimes I pay more than $ 5,000 just for fuel.
RH:And are there enough people in Gaza with enough money to buy ice cream to make it work ?
AA:Well. Let me say that people in Gaza are kind of used to war and these difficult situations so sometimes you can see gelato on the beaches as the only way they can express their feelings. Sometimes business depends on the PA workers, if they get their salaries in time it’s good business. If they don’t get their salaries then business is very down.
RH:What do you feel about the way Gaza is at the moment for businessmen like yourself? You think you can keep going?
AA:If the borders are open to Gaza, trust me, it will be a great city. And too - much great friends in Israel, they don’t mind dealing with me and I don’t mind dealing with them. When you do business with people for a long time you make good relations with them. My Israeli friend his name is Judu(?), he even, like, just yesterday, he saved me a product worth more than 70.000 shekels to Gaza without taking any money from me because you know there is trust between us we’ve been dealing for a long time. I was with him yesterday in Tel Aviv, we had lunch, we had dinner together, we went together for a seminar and he sent me some products for more than 70,000 shekels. I think this is called friendship.”
So, what impression did you get from that conversation?
Evidently Ashraf has metamorphosed. From the enterprising businessman who has established a great business and good working and personal relationship with his Israeli supplier, who has had freedom of movement because he is known to be ‘above board’ - let’s call it kosher - from all of that, he’s transformed himself into a frustrated do-gooder, selflessly working amongst the rubble despite all the restrictions needlessly imposed by the Israelis. All, in the creative imagination of the BBC’s Roger Hearing, in the space of one month.
The FOOC is of course a monologue. No Ashraf, no Mohammad, and no Nasser, more of whom later. Only Roger, and we’ll just have to take his word for it.
“He proudly showed us the shiny Italian gelato machines installed in the back rooms of his cafe building. When he was trying to import them, it was hard to convince the Israelis apparently that there wasn't some other, more threatening purpose for the tall chrome boxes with pipes and chutes and nozzles.”
Says the web.
The first sentence is profoundly patronising and the rest is unadulterated out-of-context Israel-bashing spin. I can’t even be bothered to explain why, and if you don’t know what I mean then you’re reading the wrong blog.
“He draws some comfort from the fact that the Israelis do know who he is and what he is doing.”
He draws some comfort? The Israeli guy has just entrusted him with 70,000 shekels worth of goods. He’s been to a bleeding seminar. He’s been to lunch and dinner with the guy. What an arsehole Roger Hearing looks for spinning this story in such a manner.
So, let’s talk about baggage. The baggage Roger brought with him from the BBC to Gaza.
See what BBC Watch has to say about the FOOC, which was obviously cobbled together from the BBC World Service Business Matters jaunt. Heres’ the blurb from the Business Matters webpage:
How does the economy work in what some have described as the world's biggest prison? Presenter Roger Hearing is live from the seafront in the Gaza Strip at the start of a week of coverage from Israel and the Palestinian territories. He hears from the man who arguably makes Gaza's best ice-cream, the factory owner rebuilding from bombed out rubble and the singer of a band that can't tour because they can't leave. Joining him are Nasser Elhelo who has a business making steel doors and is also on the board of the Gaza Chamber of Commerce and Muhammed Al Alamy who runs the Future Tech IT company here in Gaza City and is on the board of the Pal Trade association. (Image: Ice cream producer Ashraf Abushaban, BBC)
Roger’s grasp of the situation in Gaza was set out very clearly in the first part of the Business Matters episode featuring Ashraf and co.
Here’s Roger’s intro:
“But first, let me describe where we are. The Gaza strip is a rectangular area of land slightly more than twice the size of Washington DC. It’s sandy, flat and runs along the Mediterranean coast between Israel and Egypt.
These 360 sq. Kilometers contain almost 2m people, so, it’s one of the most densely populated places on the planet. (bingo)
More than 5,000 people per square kilometer. One more statistic - three quarters of the people here are under 25 - and the vast majority of these people can never leave. (bingo)
Why is that? Well, the answer lies in the controversial and complicated politics of Gaza.Now it is technically, not a state but an entity.
Let me give you a necessarily abbreviated history.
Back in 1948, when Israel became a state Palestinian refugees crowded into camps here. Then it was run by Egypt, until Israel occupied it in 1967.Israel finally pulled out of Gaza in 2005, leaving it to the control of the Palestinian Authority.The Palestinian Islamist group Hamas, regarded by Israel, the E U and the US as a terrorist organisation took over in 2007, and they’ve run Gaza ever since.”A potted history indeed. Piss-pot variety. Next, the current situation, BBC style :
“And since Hamas is committed to the destruction of Israel, Israel closed down the borders. For a while the border with Egypt was open, but that’s been shut now, under the new Egyptian government.And now the most controversial part of all. Hamas fired rockets into Israel and staged raids across the border in what Palestinians say is a response to the terrible conditions they’re in as a result of the blockade.
Israel has launched drone strikes and bombings and conducted full scale military offensives into Gaza as well as tightening the partial blockade, they say, in response to the Hamas rockets.
The most recent war, last summer was the most destructive, more than 2,000 Palestinians, many of them children, died, 66 Israeli soldiers and 6 civilians were killed.large areas of the Gaza strip were reduced to rubble.
In this programme we’re going to try and park the politics and look at how the economy”
A neat idea, parking the politics at that point, after having driven all the way along a one-way street in the wrong direction and, phew, we got away with it.
.......”One of the reasons Gaza’s described as the largest open prison in the world (bingo) is the difficulty of getting over the border with Israel.
Before his meeting with Ashraf Roger makes some observations during his mighty battle with the Erez crossing. Some excerpts:
“People are allowed in and out for medical reasons.” “Got through the Israeli part, now the Palestinian part.” “Not great for us, but we’re through! People trying to get through with massive bags of stuff they’ve brought through with them”“What this is is a barrier between the Israeli controlled area - the Israeli border - and what they describe as an entity - Gaza - controlled by a group they consider to be terrorists. So it’s somewhat unusual as an international border.”
Let’s try and park this.
The difficulties of getting through didn’t seem all that difficult, but lest his experience gave the ‘wrong’ impression Roger was keen to point out that the press seemed to have it easier than the riff-raff.
People were bringing stuff in? We’ll let that pass.
This ‘entity’ thing - which Roger appear to find unseemly. He might just recall that the Arab World’s description of Israel is ‘ Zionist entity’. Okay, that’s a bit of whataboutery, but what about it?
A group they consider to be terrorists. Hamas ARE terrorists, in that they perpetrate terrorist activities. They target Israeli civilians with rockets, suicide bombings, stabbings, kidnappings and try to kill them by whatever murderous means they can; and, by the way, they are committed to Israel’s destruction.
So even Roger Hearing might admit that Hamas are fully qualified terrorists with up-to-date terrorist credentials; probably even under Amnesty International’s Human Rights restrictions on nasty descriptions of groups they adore.
So really, no need to be all shy about calling Hamas terrorists yourself, Roger. You know you ought to.
Roger is very interested in the opinions of his guests, businessmen Muhammad and Nasser, and they discuss fracking. They don’t like it. They think 100 years ahead, talk about clean energy and the price of oil. Nasser says we should think about human health. One of them says it’s hard to bring solar panels in.
Roger moves on to more bingo-scoring territory. See if you can tell what it is yet.
Nasser’s story. RH:Everyone in Gaza has a story about how they came to be here. How did you come to be in Gaza?
NE:My grandfather was in Gaza part of my uncle left in 67to Egypt and stayed in Egypt to have their families over there. My father preferred to stay in Gaza, and many Gazans prefer to have their dignity in Gaza because they feel that they are something big in Gaza and they might be just a fig...just a number in anywhere else out of Gaza.
RH:Could you have left Gaza yourself? Could you have gone elsewhere, perhaps had a more comfortable time?
NE:For study, for business, for journey, yes. But to stay out of Gaza, I don’t plan for that and I don’t think in this way.
RH:Okay, Muhammed, let me ask you. Now you were telling me earlier that your family originally comes from Jerusalem, is that right?
Exactly, yes, we moved to Gaza in 1930s, my grandfather - and I was born in Gaza and I lived most of my life in Gaza I had to go to the States for a few years for my education and came back to Gaza in 1995”
RH:So you certainly could have left if you wanted to. So many people can’t leave, but you could.
MAA: I had the opportunity to stay in the states but I chose to come back home, this is home where I was born. i have to contribute to the community where I was raised in.And, yes this is home.
RH: Do you like living in Gaza?
I love it”
RH: Despite everything. Nasser, do you enjoy living here.
NE:Of course we suffer, during the last eight years, due to the blockade, from the sea, from the air , from the land, but we find that we have our dignity on this piece of land.
And of course many people feel the same but they are under a lot of pressure , I mean let me give you a few statistics, I mean we’ve put a few in before, here’s a few more.
More than a fifth of the population is in what the US describes as deep poverty, I mean surviving on less than $500 a month, unemployment is more than 40% and under 25s it’s more than 50%. Now since the Egyptians recently closed the tunnels under the border that brought smuggled goods into Gaza, poverty has in fact got worse here and in fact many civil servants are not being paid at all. So how do ordinary Gazans make ends meet? How do they get the basics of everyday life.
A steel worker interviewed by one of Roger’s colleagues used to work in Israel for 25 years earning good money but since the intifada he can’t anymore. A market is bursting with goods. Fruit and veg. A mini market stocks products from outside Gaza. .....
I gave up at this point, but I’m willing to have another go at the latter half of these at a later date. This has taken up too much of my time thank you.
I’d just like to say that Roger got a lot of unexpected, perhaps unwelcome answers to his leading questions, time and time again. I can't help thinking that he was a bit disappointed that neither Nasser nor Muhammed's parents had been 'driven out of Israel' in 1948, and wasn't it a shame for Roger that neither of them had been unable to get out of the biggest open prison on the planet? But he didn’t let any of that distract him from the main message.
He’s like the producer who flew home early from a war zone because ‘he’d already told the crew on the ground what he wanted’
Roger took little notice of what the Gazan businessmen actually said. He spun it till he got what he wanted.