The BBC has broadcast a refreshingly unbiased, unflinchingly real documentary telling the story of a fateful day in history from both sides of a divide. One Day in Gaza is a testament to documentary making and a must-watch programme.
A day that will go down in Israeli history as a day of national pride, 14 May 2018 was the day that the US Embassy was moved formally from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. As US and Israeli officials celebrated the event, a few kilometres away on the other side of a wire fence yet a whole world apart, a nation nursed the wounds of a seventy-year old occupation that by the end of that day had claimed the lives of another sixty Palestinians.
Olly Lambert’s documentary forced into the spotlight some of the harsh truths of that fateful day exactly one year ago, confronting his audience with emotionally charged stories of human experience: love, loss and pride seep in excess through Lambert’s camera and into the homes of the viewers. Aided by excerpts from hours of footage compiled from both sides of the conflict, Lambert’s documentary provides a harrowing 58 minutes of raw humanity under a microscope.
Never have I been made so physically uncomfortable by something on my television screen. Lambert’s unflinching approach to depicting the lowest rungs of humanity’s moral ladder comes in the form of unedited, uncut footage of the carnage that day. Seconds upon seconds of writhing, bleeding bodies; people struggling for breath on the floor of an overcrowded field hospital; limbs ripped apart and the screams of hysterical tear gas victims. Over a period of 8 hours, the Israel Defence Forces shot over 1,000 Palestinians taking part in the Great March of Return protests; that’s approximately one every 30 seconds on average. One interviewee from Médecins Sans Frontières describes graphically how the majority of victims had been shot in the legs: “Bones turned to dust… when you say an outbreak of disease, it [was] like an outbreak of gunshots.”
The magnitude of the situation is expanded by Lambert’s ability to convey the intimacy of individual stories. We feel a connection to these people, some telling us in person their story of that day; others now exist only in memory, their stories recounted tearfully by family members. We see the bigger picture for what it is; an amalgamation of single experiences amounting to a terrifying picture of chaos.
The subject of one such story is Wisal Sheikh Khalil, whose final hours were spent praying and protesting near the nominal border fence separating Israel from the Gaza Strip for her right as a refugee to return to her family home. The phone-camera footage of her killing is low quality and shaky but devastating nonetheless: she stands, talking to a friend, before an Israeli sniper’s bullet hits her in the head and she falls to the ground. Watching a 14 year old girl die on screen is not a fun way to spend your evening, yet seeing this child lose her life before it even really began makes the IDF spokesperson’s claim that it was a “stray bullet that hit a target then changed direction” ring more than hollow under the weight of Wisal’s senseless killing. The same claim has been made by Israel about the shooting and killing of 21-year-old volunteer medic Razan Al-Najjar last June.
Another interviewee, Bashir, is only filmed from the waist up until he reveals that his leg was amputated after being hit by what he calls “the bullet of pride”, just one of over 2,000 injuries inflicted on Palestinians that day. His odd description of the object that changed his young life irrevocably is unsettling to say the least, but the way in which he speaks of that fateful day last May seems anything but regretful; even young Wisal had told her mother that she wanted to “die a martyr”. If anything, Lambert’s documentary solidifies the fact that the Palestinian people have a deep love for their land and heritage, and US President Donald Trump’s provocative decision to move the embassy — brushing aside international law in the process — incited them to act on their feelings.
And so it was. The majority of protestors amassed peacefully to protest against the embassy move, but Hamas and other resistance groups arrived and fanned the flames of patriotism already raging at the border, giving the IDF an excuse to retaliate. However, Lambert’s no-nonsense documentary allows the viewers to make their own decision as to whether the level of this “retaliation” was warranted or proportionate. The director lays the facts bare and focuses on what actually happened that day, devoid of external factors such as historical context or politics that often overshadow factual programmes and belittle the stories they tell.
The documentary also draws ironic juxtapositions between both sides of the protest. An Israeli grandmother relates how the idea of a “Great March of Return” terrifies and worries her, whilst a Palestinian mother tells of all the food she had packed for protest day as if it were a picnic in the park.
And that is perhaps the most terrifying aspect of the entire documentary. As one IDF soldier puts it, “A fence, made of metal, less than one centimetre thick, but different worlds. Completely different worlds.”