Tuesday 16 October 2018

Picking Sides

I watched episode two of Simon Reeve’s journey through the Med. I don’t often watch Simon Reeve’s programmes, but I don’t particularly avoid them either. The raggedy kaffiyeh he drapes around his neck is a bit of a turn-off; but on the other hand, he does seem like a well-meaning kinda guy.

Well, like a programme that’s typical of a kaffiyeh-wearing but well-meaning guy, it brimmed with well-meaning and probably unconscious bias. The bias seemed so embedded - almost subliminal - that the thought of unpicking it all seemed wearisome and not really worth the trouble.

Then I spotted James Delingpole’s review tagged onto the end of Jodie Whittaker’s Doctor Who. (I don’t watch that either)
“Let us move swiftly on to Simon Reeve’s Mediterranean. Even though Reeve is the BBC’s go-to adventurous young travel presenter I’ve never sat through one of his documentaries before. Probably, what with his youth, stubble, cheeky-chappy grin and warmth, I just knew I was going to hate him.”

Ah, there’s a man after my own heart.

“Damn, he’s watchable though. He’s brave, curious, empathetic and tender but never sickmakingly mawkish — a complete TV natural. “

Yep. Still agree. But then I realised Dellers was actually reviewing the previous episode, some of which I saw - when a tearful farmer in Puglia was mourning the loss of his olive groves, which were being ravaged by a disease called Xylella, and Reeve put a consoling hand on his arm. It was sad.

I have no idea what James Delingpole would say about the episode I watched, the following one, and the section about Israel and Gaza in particular.

I don’t want to go into a tediously long and dull transcription of the programme However, I fear I might have to do bits of it, otherwise you won’t know what I’m talking about. And even then, possibly not. It all depends how reliant on the BBC you are for your Middle East ‘education’.

The section about Lebanon wasn’t all hang-gliding and hiking - it did include Hezbollah in the form of a disturbing visit to a weird tourist attraction - a Hezbollah museum with relics from “their victory over Israel”.

Now, Simon is in Israel with the Ashdod Naval Fleet, “patrolling your patch of the Mediterranean”. Very military. Very serious. He narrates the military patrol scenario in a matter-of-fact voice, carefully inserting the obligatory caveat “Israel says” before putting out anything that appears to justify Israel’s militarised activities. 

Simon’s voice-over:
“Israel was founded in the aftermath of the Holocaust. Its early years and often the decades since were marked by conflict and the threat of annihilation. In response, Israel invested heavily in the  military and innovation.”

The simplistic, Corbynesque implication in those few opening words “founded in the aftermath of the Holocaust” didn’t augur well for what we were about to receive, but may the Lord make us truly thankful for the fact that he threw in “the threat of annihilation” to the mix; a nod towards reality.

Suddenly we’re in Tel Aviv, beachside. Two guys on a motorbike give the peace sign.

“Here, this is party town” Simon declares, surprised. He’d been brought up to believe to expect wall-to-wall conflict within Israel.

Then, a section about Israel’s huge desalination plant. The biggest in the world. “Israel has discovered how to make drinking water out of seawater.” 
Energy efficient and almost entirely chemical free, 2 billion litres of fresh water a day. And almost entirely automated.
“Two people operate this place at night. One is drinking coffee, and one is making coffee. Then they change” jokes Dr Boris Liberman who is showing us around.

“This is an example of Israeli innovation, which is something very special about the country,” says Simon cheerfully.

“Israeli is made from the brain. It is technology. How you save money, from the brain” says Dr Liberman in heavily accented English. 

Next, we’re off to Gaza.
“ Over two million people live there. It was the most dangerous part of the journey” intones Simon ominously yet mysteriously.

And now a monologue; superficial, unsubtle, emotive, and very BBC.
“I cross one of the world’s most heavily fortified borders. This is a long walk through a cage. A caged passageway that takes us from the very modern, pretty wealthy, state of Israel to the much poorer and densely packed Gaza Strip. I’ve never been through a border crossing quite like this. It is extraordinary in every possible sense. 
My God! Look across here. Look at the barrier that encircles Gaza; a very forbidding, foreboding place to walk towards, quite frankly. There’s a dehumanisation of the people who live here. The whole process makes you feel like you’re entering the cage of the wild animals. 
Westerners are at risk of kidnap and shooting in Gaza, but also from being caught up in an Israeli military strike. Our crew vehicle had some special modifications.
Footage of a heavily armoured vehicle, in which they can be safe.

Are Westerners really in danger of being caught up in an Israeli military strike? That sounds as if the Israelis are prone to making random, unprovoked airstrikes. I suppose inserting that odd idea into it is the BBC’s idea of even-handedness. And, as for “dehumanising" -  who’s dehumanising whom? Has Simon never taken a peek at Hamas’s school curriculum? 
“Now this is Rushdi here. Rushdi’s going to be our guide in Gaza.”
We’ve met Rushdi Abualouf before. He’s one of the BBC’s reporters 'on the ground' in Gaza, and very well on it he looks too, if I may say so. 

“It’s the most bizarre thing, crossing” remarks Simon.

“Of course. I mean they keep calling Gaza the biggest open-air prison, which is true because it’s closed from (?) sight. Israel is calling this strip of land is like a hostile ….(?)” replies Rushdi, (if I caught, at least the gist of it, correctly)
“Gaza has been controlled by Hamas, a militant Islamic group considered terrorists by Israel and many Western governments. It’s not the only militant group here” 
intones Simon’s voice-over, as an accompaniment to bleak scenes shot from the moving car -  piles of rubbish and derelict-looking buildings.

In the car, he turns to Rushdi.
“That’s the black flag flying there. Is that Hamas, or…?”
“Islamic Jihad” 
murmurs Rushdi

“We’ve just gone past an Islamic Jihad checkpoint.”
“It’s not a checkpoint, it’s like military compound.”
“Bloody hell! Is this a safe..? This isn’t a safe place”

“They operate in this area because it’s not far from the border so they always try to be ready for any Israeli escalation, or..”
“Checkpoint ahead!”
“Put the cameras down.”
“They’ve taken our cameras!”
“They want to see what you’ve been filming. They are Hamas …border police”
“Hamas border force. I’m actually slightly relieved…being stopped by Hamas - phew.” 

Voice-over again:
Since 2006 Gaza has endured one Palestinian war, three wars between Hamas and Israel, ten years of strict rule by Hamas and blockade by Israel and Egypt. This has all crippled the economy”

Aaannndd…back in the room car Rushdi speaks:

“How long you can struggle? How long you have to find a way to produce power and to buy clean water? This is basic. In any part of the world, you have to worry about electricity or water for the safety of your people.” 

Then, Simon’s narrative once again; pure BBC copybook, complete with context-free factoids and statistics regurgitated, direct from Hamas headquarters.

“Israelis and Palestinians have endured endless cycles of violence. Here, militants can fire rockets into Israel. Israel can attack with overwhelming force. Weeks of conflict here in 2014 between Israel and Palestinians left 2000 civilians dead, including an estimated 500 children. 18,000 homes were destroyed. Israel restricts the supply of many building materials like cement into Gaza. Israel says to prevent Hamas building tunnels for attacks. But (a hijab-wearing female) engineering graduate Majid Maserawi (phonetic) has invented an ingenious way to help rebuild in Gaza.

“We call it green cake,” she says, and “Welcome to “our factory” where they’re making breeze-blocks out of what appears to be cinders. 
The demo didn’t go too well; the first samples crumbled to dust when touched. But the next attempt was better, to much amusement. Bake-off cum builders’ merchant and, to a cynic like me, this edit was the BBC’s attempt at pathos. Juxtaposing Israel’s ‘mighty’ innovation - turning water into wine - with Gaza’s plucky response in the face of adversity all wrapped up in a heartwarming, comical and humanising bit of film. So typical of the BBC.

The lady engineer had come back to Gaza, voluntarily ‘To help my people” “Hope! We will achieve our dream one day”.  
“The blockade here has devastated Gaza’s economy. Gaza now has among the highest unemployment rate in the world……..” says Simon. An unsuccessful fishing trip rounds off his visit to Gaza as an Israeli drone buzzes overhead.  

“It’s intimidating and frightening really” he remarks.

“Look, for young people in Gaza, the only thing know about the Israelis is that they are the occupier”
 reflects Rushdi.

“You don’t sound very hopeful for the future”
“The economic situation is hard and people are losing hope. They don’t have job. they don’t have money. The poverty is very high, the unemployment is more than 60 %.
There’s gonna be an exeblution. (!) (Explosion?) I think. But where I don’t know. When, I don’t know. But the possible of war? I don’t know. I think it’s 50%…. 50/50.”

Now for the most disingenuous bit of superficial philosophy in a summary that we’ve heard from the BBC’s go-to adventurous young travel presenter so far:

The situation here is utterly shocking and maddening. So much about the Arab Israeli conflict is about picking a side. 
And personally, I refuse to. 
My heart breaks for the suffering of the Jewish people, throughout history. 
My heart breaks for the suffering of the Palestinians.So many opportunities for real lasting peace have been lost here, and we see two sides - which seem in many ways to be moving further apart, not closer together.

So Simon’s poor heart is breaking. But for the Jews “throughout history” as per the school of Jeremy Corbyn  - not for the present-day Jews, Israelis who have endured endless cycles of violence from Gaza. Not for the Palestinians who have been corrupted by Islamic-rooted antisemitic hatred and indoctrinated by Hamas and misguided useful idiots from the west who perpetuate the conflict by fuelling the false hope of fulfilling their ‘dream’  - the annihilation of Israel and encouraging their belief in a fantasy. Their unique, moral and everlasting Right of Return to land they lost in their own self-inflicted wars.

The BBC hasn’t made much of it, but ever since June, balloons rigged with explosive and incendiary material have been launched from Gaza, setting fire to acres of Israel’s land and turning a child ’s toy into an instrument of terror. 
Hamas has intensified its violent demonstrations against Israel, turning the border between the Jewish state and the Gaza Strip into a "24/7" war zone as the terrorist group amps up its efforts to kidnap Israeli soldiers, according to Israeli security sources and regional reports. 
Hamas ramped up this past week its months-long violent demonstrations along the Gaza border as part of new plans to "kidnap soldiers so that it will have a bargaining chip to use against Israel for speeding up the removal of the blockade," according to an investigation into new ways Hamas is probing Israel's defenses provided by the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, or JCPA, a security research institute. 
Violence raged throughout the weekend and into late Monday, with some 20,000 Palestinians participating in the demonstration, which have grown increasingly violent as Hamas operatives begin to deploy explosive devices, grenades, incendiary balloons, and other makeshift weapons. 
Hamas's goal is create as much confusion and violence on the border as possible to elicit a response from the Israeli Defense Forces that could provide the terror group with an opportunity to kidnap soldiers. The renewed border violence is part of an effort by Hamas to test Israel's will and provoke a violent response.

When Simon was in Israel, he didn’t mention inconvenient accounts of Gaza's innovative enterprises like this one, H/T Vildechaye (via Facebook.)
"What does this look like to you? To my neighbors and I, we've had to retrain our kids that balloons are explosives.
Yeah, this is not a school project finding out how far a helium balloon can fly with a postcard at the bottom. This is an explosive balloon sent from Gaza that landed 38 kilometers away in my neighborhood, and that if touched, will explode for max impact.
This lovely gift was just sent to my 'hood from our friends in Gaza. They've sent thousands of these since the summer. The package at the bottom is an explosive device. Balloons like this have burned 1000 of acres of fields, 1000's of wild animals, hundreds of small businesses face financial ruin with their fields and crops destroyed. Yet the world is silent. 
Gazans wants peace? Gaza is Israel's problem? Gaza is a humanitarian disaster? BDS is the answer?
Well, here's a newsflash. We pulled out of Gaza 10 years ago. We destroyed 17 Israeli communities and the lives of thousands of families to do it. We did everything the world asked us to. Everything. We asked for one thing in return. Stop the terror against our cities. 
We've sent them more aid than any other location in the world has ever received (per capita). We continue to transfer aid in 18 wheel trucks every day. What does Gaza look like today? Abject poverty, minimized water and electricity (they attacked the plants we left them for both and ruined them --they've gotten billions and never built another), terror tunnels and thousands of missiles rained onto our cities. And last but not least, thousands of incendiary balloons.
What did y'all think would happen?
Were you expecting Kumbaya and a prayer circle?  
Gaza has proven time and time again it cannot lead itself out of this mess. Their leadership is corrupt. The majority of the aid money stolen. Their people suffer. But you asked us to disengage, so we tore up our country and did it. 
Now what?
Why balloons? Because they know the value we place on human life and our children. Hamas is once again targeting our children. On purpose. Explicitly. 
PS. In case you thought it was just explosives at the bottom...nope, they pack them with rat poison and nails for maximum damage when they explode. Oh, and even you can learn how to make one on YouTube. Because while a nursing boob is apparently offensive to humanity, instructions for how to make killer Gazan balloons don't appear to violate any community standards.
What next? I honestly have no idea.”

Simon refuses to pick sides. But ‘sides’ are not something you just ‘pick’. Only if you’re completely ignorant of the facts, past and present, can you see it as a mere matter of “picking sides".
I’d be very disappointed if James Delingpole thinks this episode of Simon Reeves's documentary demonstrates bravery or curiosity, and if Simon Reeve thinks he’s made a fair and even-handed documentary about suffering, he is deluding himself. On this particular topic, he’s shown us that he’s certainly not curious. He may be empathetic and tender and only a little sickmakingly mawkish, but Dellers is quite right about one thing - he is a complete TV natural. 


  1. Simon Reeves has an interesting, troubled background. He seem to have some real spirit about him. However I think he's genuinely quite naive...a more experienced SJW PC journo would have covered up the facts about how openly Islamic Jihad operate in Hamas controlled Gaza.

    I suspect he's fallen victim to the Lawrence of Arabia syndrome as many a donner of the kaffiyeh does. Romance rather than malice seems to be his motivation.

    It would be nice to see a positive documentary about Israel, which is a very remarkable place: having essentially invented a completely new identity on the back of a shared religious heritage (of varying depth)and not much else. It's the only state I can think of that has invented an identity (a modern version of Hebrew) as its language. Its old kibbutz system was a remarkable social experiment. Its technological sector is incredibly successful. Likewise its agriculture. It has a stable rule of law. Its politics is pretty corrupt and rickety but is again fascinating in being the only country in the world, I believe, with a pure PR system.

    1. Yes, it would be good to see a positive documentary (or anything positive) about Israel.

      In fact the BBC often covers Israel’s scientific innovations, albeit buried in their niche ‘scientific’ part of the web. The product itself is usually featured and sometimes the specific university or institution where it was developed - not necessarily shouting about it being located in Israel.

      A few Israeli dramas or productions adapted from Israeli originals are doing the rounds. ‘Fauda' (Netfix) was much admired. Wasn’t Channel Four’s never-ending series Homeland originally based on an Israeli production? The BBC Four’s Saturday night foreign slot is crying out for one.

      I’ve just updated this post with a new link to a BBC clip I hadn’t spotted before. The choice reveals the BBC’s idea of the programme’s “best bits”. It features some friendly Gazan fellows laughing and joking with Reeve.
      Click on “humanising bit of film” (last line of para starting: “We call it green cake”)

    2. BBC 4 showed Hostages in February 2015.

  2. A brief window to comment having signed in and out of Blogger several times on the only Mac device that stands a chance...

    If Simon thinks any tour conducted by or for the BBC to or around Gaza is representative, he is rather simple.


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