Death in the Med

August 21, 2010
Richard Kuper
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On Monday 16 August Panorama screened “Death in the Med” a report on the attack on the Gaza flotilla. It was contentious in many ways and the Palestine Solidarity Campaign immediately organised a protest to the BBC. Its call is published below as is by Jamie Stern-Weiner’s New Left Project blog analysis Panorama: Righteous Slaughter in the Med, 19 August 2010. Plus two personal reactions to the film by activists Ewa Jasiewicz and Kamil Mahdi

You can see the Panorama programme here – it will be available online for one year.


Action Alert

Tuesday, 17 August, 2010, 14:59

Panorama ‘Death on the Med’ – Contact the BBC

Last night, the BBC broadcast a Panorama programme entitled ‘Death on the Med’. It claimed to reveal ‘what really happened’ when Israeli commandoes boarded the Mavi Marmara on 31 May 2010.

Watch the programme here.

The programme was extremely biased, portraying the activists on board as violent terrorists who set out to kill Israeli soldiers.

Please write to the BBC asking the following questions:

  • Why was Israel ’s ‘right’ to board the ship presumed throughout the programme?
  • Why did the programme completely fail to mention that Israel ’s siege of Gaza has been declared illegal by the UN? The assumption was made that Israel has the right to blockade Gaza , while the motives of those attempting to break an illegal blockade were questioned.
  • Why did Jane Corbin not mention the bombs, rockets and white phosphorus dropped on Gaza by Israel during Operation Cast Lead over a three week period in 2008/9, killing 1,400 people? She did, however, mention the ‘thousands of rockets’ fired from Gaza into Israel , but did not say over what time period.
  • Why was the Israeli evidence of how and when they killed the activists unquestioned? Activists who were on the top deck of the ship say the first person was killed – shot from a helicopter – before any Israeli had even landed on the deck. However, none of these activists were interviewed.
  • Activists shot footage of the Israeli attack, but their cameras, laptops and other recording equipment was taken by the Israelis and has not been returned. Why was this point not raised during the programme, or put to the Israeli spokespeople?
  • Why were the autopsy reports – which reveal that each victim was shot several times at close range, in a way that can’t constitute self-defence – not used, or even mentioned?
  • Why was there no footage of the Israeli assaults on the activists – which led to nine deaths?
  • Jane Corbin never questions the use of the word ‘terrorists’ to describe the activists, or their alleged willingness to attack the commandoes. Why does she then fail to examine why there were no fatalities or serious injuries among the Israeli commandoes, when these ‘terrorists’ were so willing to attack?
  • Why were there no interviews with any of the British activists on board the ship, or with any of the journalists who were on board?
  • Why was it not pointed out that the IDF has admitted doctoring the audio footage used in the programme, that the BBC claims was broadcast from the captain’s deck?

You can find more points to make on the PSC website

Where to send your complaint:

Online: BBC complaints link: Follow the link and fill out the online form:
BBC complaint line number: 03700 100 212
Email Panorama

BBC Panorama, MC4A1, Media Centre, Media Village , 201 Wood Lane , London , W12 7TQ

new-left-projectPanorama: Righteous Slaughter in the Med

By Jamie; posted 19 August 2010

The BBC has, predictably, “dismiss[ed]” claims that a recent Panorama documentary on the Gaza flotilla was biased towards Israel. But its response itself illustrates the crux of the problem:

“Israel has been accused of breaking international law by seizing a Turkish ship. Israel says they were terrorists. Turkey insists they were innocent victims.”

That same opposition was proposed throughout the documentary on the flotilla: were the activists terrorists, or were they innocent peace activists? Or, in an alternative formulation,

“But did Israel fall into a trap, and what was the real agenda of some of those people who called themselves ‘peace activists’ on board the Free Gaza flotilla?” [As you watch the film, note how often the “real agenda” of the Israeli military sources Corbin relies upon is called into question]

Or, alternatively: “Self-defence, or excessive force – what really happened that night?”

The documentary sets out to resolve these questions by examining, in a highly selective fashion, what happened on the ship. But to structure the program in this way is already to accept and propagate Israel’s framing of the incident:

– First, it immediately puts the activists on the defensive, as if they are the ones with a case to answer. The Israeli soldiers, those responsible for killing nine civilians, and those responsible for maintaining the collective punishment of a civilian population, are in effect let off the hook, despite the fact that they can far more plausibly be accused of “terrorism” than the flotilla peace activists.

– Second, throughout the documentary it is clearly implied that if Israel’s characterisation of what happened on the Mavi Marmara is accurate, then it would be wrong to call the activists “innocent civilians”, and vice versa. That is to say, “innocence” and “peace activism” are assumed to be synonymous with “allowing the Israeli military to hijack one’s vessel in international waters without offering up any resistance”. In fact, it is commonly accepted that people are allowed to defend themselves, and no one is accusing the activists of rappelling onto an Israeli helicopter and bashing the pilot with a metal bar. Everyone accepts that the violence took place *on the Mavi Marmara*. The implications of this are left totally unexplored by the Panorama doc, which, like the Israeli government, apparently considers them irrelevant.

– Needless to say, virtually no attention was paid to background to the flotilla, the collective punishment of the population of Gaza, except to minimise its severity (by misleadingly claiming that the problem is not a lack of food and medicine) and to repeat Israel’s justification for collective punishment as if it were fact (by stating as fact that the reason Israel prevents concrete and steel from entering Gaza is fear that they might be used for building weapons and bunkers).

The result is a documentary that proceeds entirely on Israel’s terms. Israel’s right to be anywhere near the flotilla in the first place is presupposed. At one point Corbin (the ‘reporter’), speaking to one of the flotilla activists, asks why they chose to defend the ship, knowing that doing so could lead to a “confrontation”. Apparently, then, a “confrontation” begins not when armed Israeli soldiers illegally hijack a civilian ship in international waters, but when passengers on that ship attempt to repel them. This echoes the way the BBC typically reports the Israel-Palestine conflict generally: just as a “confrontation” can only be provoked by peace activists, an “escalation” in violence can by definition only be initiated by Palestinians.

The whole documentary, then, is a non-sequitur. It limits itself to answering a question that is, at most, of secondary importance: on the Mavi Marmara itself, what happened, and who fired first? (It leaves the latter question, innuendo aside, unanswered). More salient questions – what right did Israel have to board the boats in the first place? What right does Israel have to terrorise and immiserate a desperate civilian population? etc. – are ignored by the documentary, as they are by Israeli propaganda. Even if every accusation the documentary allows the IDF to level, virtually unchallenged, against the flotilla activists were true, it would change not a jot about the political and moral implications of the incident.

The documentary’s bias is most evident in its choice of topic, but it also manifests itself throughout in everything from the sources used, to the preferred terminology, to what information was provided and what was left out. For instance, right at the beginning of the documentary an Israeli commando is permitted to accuse the activists of being “terrorists” without any interrogation of what “terrorist” could possibly mean in this context. Even if all the Israeli accusations are true, no one is accusing the activists of targeting civilians. How, then, can they be “terrorists”? Jane Corbin doesn’t bother to ask.

Indeed, Corbin remains distinctly uncurious throughout her interviews with anonymous Israeli commandos and the head of the Israeli military’s internal investigation into the flotilla, Gen. (Ret.) Giora Eiland. Eiland in particular is permitted to speak unchallenged at several points in the film, which indeed promotes a narrative identical to his. You might remember Gen. Eiland as the man who advocates, in any future war in Lebanon, “the elimination of the Lebanese military, the destruction of the national infrastructure, and intense suffering among the population”.

Needless to say, Corbin did not inform Panorama viewers of one of her top source’s history of advocating terrorism. Near the end of the film Corbin states that Israel has set up its own inquiry into the flotilla and that it is cooperating with the UN inquiry. She doesn’t mention Israel’s “poor track record of investigating unlawful killings by its armed forces”; the criticisms that have been levelled at the Israel inquiry (according to Amnesty International, it is “neither independent nor sufficiently transparent”); the serious problems with the structure of the UN inquiry; or Israel’s refusal to cooperate with the UN HRC investigation, whose investigators are far more credible. But then, why would she? That would only serve to call into question Israel’s version of events.

Some other clear instances of bias, by no means exhaustive:

– The programme broadcasts the recording, released by Israel, of the alleged response of some flotilla activists to the warnings issued by Israeli soldiers – “Go back to Auschwitz”, etc. Corbin then notes correctly that the authenticity of these recordings has been questioned. But she then proceeds to accept Israel’s claim that they are genuine, saying: “For the Israelis it was a warning sign things wouldn’t go that smoothly” – how could it be, if, as some have claimed, the recordings aren’t authentic?

– Corbin notes that Israel “offered to take the aid to an Israeli port and deliver it to Gaza”. The sincerity and significance of this offer is not explored – to do so, some background on the “humanitarian implosion” of “unprecedented” proportions Israel has imposed on the population of Gaza would have to be provided, something Corbin plainly isn’t prepared to do.

– The film contains lots of innuendo about IHH “Islamists”, their offices located in the “most Islamic” part of town, etc. What is Corbin trying to say, exactly? And if it’s so important to stress the “Islamist” and “Islamic” background of many IHH members, why no mention of the Zionist background of the IDF? Similarly, Corbin mentions that IHH has been accused of links to terrorism, a charge IHH “vehemently denies” (BBC ‘balance’: check!). The fact that the Israeli military has been accused of directly perpetrating terrorism – indeed, has been documented doing so, in extensive detail, by multiple internationally respected human rights organisations and UN investigations (Amnesty International, the Goldstone Report, etc.) – goes unmentioned.

– In the film’s brief gesture towards the situation in Gaza, this context is provided: Hamas “refuses to recognise Israel’s right to exist” and militants have fired “thousands of rockets” at “civilian targets in Israel”. Nothing is said about Israel’s (far more extensive) violence against Palestinians and its refusal – not only in words but in deed – to recognise a Palestinian state in the boundaries allocated to it under international law. Even repeating the “right to exist” canard – as if said “right” actually exists in international law – is to regurgitate Israeli propaganda, especially since Corbin doesn’t mention that Hamas has repeatedly offered to end the conflict on the basis of the international consensus two-state settlement.

– The film obviously made use of footage released to the filmmakers by Israeli authorities. The fact that Israel seized a great amount of footage from flotilla activists and then released only select, edited parts of it is not mentioned, far less questioned. Finally, a couple of points. First, the claim (shown in the film) by flotilla activist Ken O’Keefe that the activists used at most “non-lethal force to defend ourselves” was supported, not undermined, by the documentary; and second, the documentary supports the activists’ claims that Israeli forces fired (with “stun grenades”) before boarding the boat.

BONUS misplaced question: Nine people were killed – “was it a price worth paying?” – Corbin to a Free Gaza activist.
BONUS vapid, meaningless conclusion: *reporter’s voice* “The battle of the Med … isn’t … over … yet”. UGH, srsly?

BONUS bit that could have been from The Day Today: *grave voice* “[The footage of the Mavi Marmara] shows men wielding bars and hoses”
  1. JamieSW 15:56 – 19 Aug 2010
    Further reading: – The PSC’s complaints about the doc: – lenin on the BBC’s refusal, last year, to broadcast the DEC emergency appeal for victims of the Gaza massacre: (For further background, it’s worth searching through the Media Lens archive for other cases of BBC bias against Palestinians)
  2. Samuel Grove 21:04 – 19 Aug 2010
    Ken O’Keefe’s response to the Panorma programme I solicited an agreement with the BBC producers, in return for my interview the program would include the fact that we disarmed, captured and ultimately released three Israeli commandos (after giving them medical attention no less).  That was the deal, a deal I made with an audio recorder in service.!/video/video.php?v=1440199638883… …And so it is that the BBC, absent of integrity, contemptuous of humanity, attempts in this program to turn disarmed, helpless Israeli commandos into heroic self-rescuing commandos who managed to Superman their way out of a circle of well over 100 very motivated men whose brothers lay murdered with multiple gunshot wounds.  That is what we call a bald-faced lie.  Big time lie, in your face lie, you in the audience are a bunch of drooling idiots lie.
  3. Jamie 17:32 – 20 Aug 2010
  4. Jamie 17:48 – 20 Aug 2010
  5. joe kane 18:31 – 20 Aug 2010
    Excellent stuff. It would be interesting to find out when the UK Government knew British citizens, who were part of the MV Mavi Marmara flotilla, were going to be attacked by Israeli state terrorists in neutral international waters and also what it’s response was when they did find out. Were they going to carry ot a rescue mission using the fabled SAS, for instance? As I’ve said elsewhere, Amongst other things, what this appalling BBC propaganda implies is that it is ‘open season’ on British citizens in international neutral waters in the East Mediterranean. As if it isn’t already clear to the Israel authorities that the British Government’s response to its own citizens being subject to Israeli international terrorism is to give them the green light to carry out its terrorist attacks on us with impunity and immunity. There are British military bases in Cyprus not too far away from the MV Mavi Marmara terrorist massacre and they just sat on their hands whilst British citizens were under attack in international waters. It the job of the British military to protect us abrood in neutral waters. Jane Corbin and BBC Panorama used the ‘go back to Auschwitz radio messege reportedly sent by someone on-board the MV Mavi Marmara. She failed to point out that the Israeli’s attacking the peace flotilla deliberately jammed all communication links to the outside world. This itself is criminal but also meant there would be no outside independent witnesses or sources of information outwith Israel control. If Israel wants people to trust its evidence then it shouldn’t isolate its victims and exclude the outside world from observing what it is getting up to. If Israel has nothing to hide then why does it do everything it can to hide what it does from independent scrutiny? All the best!

Two personal reactions to the film by activists Ewa Jasiewicz and Kamil Mahdi

Briefly, anyone who missed the BBC Panorama documentary on the Freedom Flotilla attack tonight should catch it on the bbc website, its just 30mins. I just watched it and it was sickening.
Jane Corbin and her team reduced the Israeli navy’s violent attack on six ships down to the attack on the Mavi Marmara. It was clearly the worst attacked, but by singling it out as an exception/provocation and ignoring the fact that each ship was extremely violently attacked by Israeli commandos who fired fired as they boarded and passengers from each ship put up resistance, served to split and isolate activists on the Marmara from the rest of the movement.
The Freedom Flotilla was reduced to a ‘Turkish’ one-boat show and an ‘Islamist’ one (the whole tone and framing is utterly islamophobic and racist and demonising of muslim activists) with IHH cast as a ‘terrorist’ group in tone and insinuation ignoring the facts about the organisation and that the whole flotilla that was made up of a coalition of groups and representative of a diverse and unapologetically political – solidarity NOT charity focused – movement).
The BBC’s ‘scoop’ is apparently that the flotilla was not a charity aid mission but a political action – obviously ignoring the whole politics of the solidarity movement which were clear from the start and opting, solidly, throughout, to tow the Israeli govt propaganda line.
Israeli propaganda including the ‘go back to auschwitz’ recordings which are clearly false – I heard everything myself in the wheelhouse of the challenger 1, we had every channel open – and which have been discredited were reported by the BBC as fact, along with claims that activists shot commandos.
New depths have been sunken to with this documentary, really people need to get out and complain about this appalling whitewash of Israeli crimes masquerading as ‘journalism’.
Ewa Jasiewicz

If you have just watched Panorama on the Mavi Marmara, please complain in the strongest terms to the BBC about outrageous Israeli propaganda being passed as investigative journalism. Please also circulate this.
You can still watch the disgusting programme on:
Here are the BBC complaints contacts: Make a complaint Phone: 03700 100 222* Textphone: 03700 100 212* Email: Write: BBC Complaints PO Box 1922 Darlington DL3 0UR
The programme gives none of the real Gaza background: the prison camp reality, the extent of the blockade, the humanitarian catastrophe, continuing incursions, the huge destruction of the last invasion, the fact of occupation of Palestinian land, etc. Instead, it says there is no shortage of food and medicine and shows contruction going, albeit with some difficulty and none of the rubble of Israeli destruction. It repeats the talk about Hamas not recognising Israel and thousands of rockets fired at apparently peaceful Israel.
The Israelis are given most of the programme time to tell their story and their claims are not challenged, while the people on the Mavi Marmara are subjected to an inquisition rather than asked for their story. Simple facts such as people being shot in the back and shot repeatedly are not given. The huge number of casualties is just reported and not questioned. Israel’s alternatives in stopping the ships are not considered. Israeli surveillance and prior knowledge of readiness to obstruct the takeover are not considered, leaving the claims of Israeli spokepeople unchallenged and the premeditated nature of the massacre ignored. The illegality of the Israeli piracy is not even mentioned and the BBC simply claimed that Israel is co-operating with a UN investigation, ignoring the fact that they have sought to prevent it for so long. Israeli allegations of “terrorism” coming from the ship and IHH’s alleged terrorist links are given BBC credence (for what it is worth). The whole tone is also disgusting.
Please pass this on and ask all to complain.
Kamil Mahdi

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