A voice note of radio personality Gareth Cliff endorsing the State of Israel on his Wednesday morning Cliff Central show went viral on social media. His show, said to provide “uncensored, real conversation that is meant to be provocative” seemed to be peppered with untruths and misinformation. Usually, we don’t suffer fools gladly but for the sake of Gareth Cliff, and those who agree with him, let’s clear up some falsehood shall we?
In the clip, Cliff said the South African media is being biased in its interpretation of the mass protest in Gaza on 14 May in which at least 64 Palestinians were shot dead and thousands injured after Israeli snipers fired from across a border fence.
“I looked at what was going on over there and I’ve done quite a lot of reading and looked at quite a lot of the news articles from around the world. This claim that Israel shot demonstrators is just a blatant lie, it’s an absolute falsehood. This was an attempt to invade a sovereign nation and border communities to indiscriminately slaughter civilians,” he said.
In a six-week campaign from 30 March to 15 May called the “Great March of Return”, Palestinians were marking 70 years since the Nakba (Catastrophe) when the state of Israel was established on May 15 1948 in a violent ethnic cleansing campaign. They were demanding the right of Palestinian refugees and their descendants to be allowed to return to their land that they were forcibly expelled from by Zionist militias in 1948. They were also protesting the blockade of the Gaza Strip.
Since the beginning of the protests on 30 March, Israeli forces have killed at least 113 Palestinians and wounded more than 12 000 people.
Cliff claimed that a successful “border breach” would have resulted in “real carnage on both sides”. He said thousands of people would have streamed through the fence “and there would have been fires set, communities would have engaged in war”. He also proposed that the protests were led by Hamas. Not only is this melodramatic and misinformed, it also ignores the unequal struggle between Palestinians and Israelis.
All Cliff did was regurgitate propaganda from Danny Danon, Israel’s ambassador to the UN, who described the enduring Palestinian demand for the right of return as a call to destroy Israel. Danon accused Hamas of using “orchestrated riots” and “planned casualties” to solicit international sympathy. He further said Hamas activists used civilians as human shields in the protests in an attempt to breach the fence and attack Israel.
This is despite that a number of observers have said the protests were non-violent. Political scientist Norman Gary Finkelstein told Al-Monitor that Hamas operatives were checking demonstrators to ensure that they were unarmed and didn’t carry any weapons or arms in the non-violent protests. No Hamas flags or posters were visible at the protests. Is someone’s membership to an organisation – be it a political or “terrorist” – a justification for their murder?
Besides, Hamas did not organise the protest. Nabeel Diab, a member of a grassroots Gaza organisation Mondoweiss said the Israeli government’s allegations that Hamas organised these protests are lies. According to Israeli journalist Amira Hass, Hamas inflated the numbers of its members participating in the march in part for internal reasons.
Overwhelmingly, unarmed protesters hundreds of meters from the border fence were gunned down by snipers with automatic weapons, sitting on dunes behind the fence. Protests are a provocation to get people to ask moral questions. Gunning down protesters is morally wrong, there is no defense for it.
Not to mention that Israeli forces also attacked journalists and medical personnel.
Cliff labelled the Palestinian people as being “hellbent” on violence and said that Israel had a right to defend itself. Editor of the Palestinian Chronicle Ramzy Baroud wrote in response to the US administration statement claiming “Israel has the right to defend itself” in Arab News. “Peaceful protesters were not threatening the existence of Israel; rock-throwing kids were not about to overwhelm hundreds of Israeli snipers, who shot, killed and wounded Gazan youngsters with no legal or moral boundary whatsoever,” he wrote.
Cliff also seems to know little to nothing about international relations and diplomacy. He spoke of the US decision to move its embassy to Jerusalem on May 14 and said: “I may move my embassy, if I’m American, to wherever the fuck I want.” (This came after Trump recognised Jerusalem as the capital of Israel last year in December.)
But if Cliff bothered to pick up a newspaper or a history book, or learn the first thing about the Palestine-Israel conflict he would know that Jerusalem is a highly contested space, especially in the Palestine-Israel conflict. For the US to move it’s embassy there means that it gives legitimacy to Israel’s claim of the area, it means that the US picked Israel’s side and in so doing reversed decades of American foreign policy on the conflict. This, and the embassy move, has undermined the credibility and effectiveness of the US as a mediator.
What Israel is doing to the Palestinian people is settler-colonialism and apartheid at its finest. It is an affront to freedom and human dignity and irresponsible voices in the media such as Cliff amplify it. If Cliff had bothered to find out about the conditions that the Palestinians live under in Gaza, he would know that it has been likened to an open-air prison. About two million people live in Gaza, which faces a collapsing economy and socio-economic devastation. It has an unemployment rate of over 40%, while 80% of Palestinians in Gaza dependent on humanitarian aid. In the face of such oppression, Palestinians have no other option than to resist.