Ross Kemp – Middle East : Gaza

Hamas, stop dragging Israel into fighting.
Image by ShadoWalker Photography via Flickr

Sky One had low-keyed the build-up to Ross Kemp’s latest trip to a conflict zone – perhaps as the period prior to tonight’s first of two parts was the Christmas holidays. Regardless, I watched with low expectations that Kemp would provide much insight into the origins of the conflict or the true realities of life on the strip. The opening scenes exaggerated my impatience for some explanation into the geography and history. I became frustrated. But then Kemp got busy ……………..

Rattling off the sorry statistics of the January retaliatory attacks by Israel into Gaza, he confirmed the targetting of schools and political infrastructure in Gaza by the IDF (Israeli Defence Force) last January. Kemp amplified the view of the local UN rep that this went beyond any practical attempt to limit the elected government of nominated terrorist organisation Hamas to otherwise wage war on Israel. Whilst perhaps not exactly news, the destruction of 200 schools followed by the blockade of the territory could perhaps be seen as beyond any justification. When Ross dipped into the economic consequences, the folly of the policy becomes clear. In parallels with the short-sighted efforts in Iraq – where the triumphant coalition promptly put the world’s 4th largest standing army on the dole and released over 1 million highly trained armed men to an indistinct future – Israel’s blockade ensured the closure of an inland port responsible for 10,000 jobs. These jobs alone provided the means for support for 10,000 families suggesting a figure which is approaching 10% of the entire territory. Ignoring the death and injury, this economic pressure alone is subjugating an already poor and bewildered population.

It was difficult as a removed viewer to watch as Kemp was shown an active operation to plant an IED targetting Israeli Special Forces. I am not sure if this constitutes propoganda, journalism or immoral voyeurism but it certainly caught my attention. Kemp asked many questions of these operatives of Islamic Jihad but never a straight “Why … ?”. You might argue that the objectives of their campaign are obvious. I don’t and I feel it was the burning question and one which – in next week’s show – he will hopefully ask of the Israelis.

Kemp then interviewed a group of affected children and provided the most poignant and altogether scariest observations of the 60 minute slot. All the children were clear in their desire to die in any cause against “the Jews” for two reasons: one to avenge loved ones killed in front of them but also because they saw Paradise as infinitely better than what they were forced to live through on earth. This kind of belief – deftly illuminated by Kemp’s otherwise blunt style – demonstrates the ‘rationale’ behind the desire to martyr oneself. It is less about jihad or even faith – more about escaping the misery of their current existence. Growing within such youngsters, you could see through this programme how it would take root into adolescence and prevail amongst youths with little other reason to carry on living. Horribly informative stuff. Surely the Israelis must see the counter-productivity of their tactics ?

To end, Kemp was hurriedly invited to meet another military / terrorist faction. I would not have gone near this potential trap with an armoured tank division but Kemp characteristically dived in – and I have to concede that it was hard to discern any element of stage-managing this for the cameras. I was horrified to see Ross marshalled into a makeshift tent to witness the recording of a martyrdom video by a 24 year old Law graduate. I am sure there will be protests about this element of the documentary but it was dreadfully compelling. The viewer could look into the eyes of this devout young man as he stood there dressed in explosives and – not too convincingly – declared his commitment to die and seek the deaths of others. Again, Kemp drifted around actually asking the chap outright why he was doing this. To his credit, Kemp did attempt to elicit whether the young man saw his potential act as peace-making. No surprise that the depressing answer was of course, no.

I am still trying to make up my mind about the programme. Sensational ? Sure – but in a revealing, terrifying and deeply saddening way. Immoral ? – in my view not. There is some insight here. This is not the explanatory political documentary I have written about before as something I want to watch. Yet, the production – from Tiger Aspect / Mongoose and helmed by Olly Lambert – went so much further than I expected. Kemp himself said – rather like Jeremy Bowen’s report for BBC Panorama last year – that he had no answers to offer. Yet he did go further than Bowen in suggesting that the Israeli policies were incomprehensible and indefensible. Let’s see how he tackles the Israelis next week.