As we have often noted on these pages, the framing adopted by the BBC in its reporting on Israel and the Palestinians barely allows for the inclusion of stories which fall outside the subject matter of ‘the conflict’ and the corporation’s journalists overwhelmingly stay away from topics such as Palestinian social issues and internal affairs. Neither does that editorial policy leave any room for nuanced views of relations between Israelis and Palestinians. Hence, when such stories do slip through the net they are all the more remarkable – especially if the BBC’s UK audiences are hearing them for the first time.
On June 5th the BBC Radio 4 programme ‘Sunday’ included an item described thus in its synopsis:
“In his first UK media interview, Ed Stourton talks to John Calvin, grandson of the co-founder of Hamas, whose conversion to Christianity meant he had to flee the Middle East.”
Presenter Edward Stourton introduced the interview (from 19:30 here) as follows:
“A couple of months ago a young man going under the assumed name of John Calvin was told he could remain in the United States rather than being sent back to the West Bank where he grew up. His journey to New York, where he now lives, was all the more remarkable because he was born into a family committed to the radical Palestinian group Hamas. Indeed, his grandfather was one of the organisation’s founders. John Calvin converted to Christianity – his name will give you an idea which flavour – and he’s since come out as gay. In his first British broadcast interview he told me about growing up in a Hamas family.”
The interview is not particularly long but it does provide listeners with very rare glimpses into issues such as the status of women, the indoctrination of children and the treatment of apostates and homosexuals in certain sectors of Palestinian society. The audience also heard an account which is starkly different to the usual BBC caricature of Palestinians and Israelis.
Calvin: “…in early 2006 I’ve had a fight with my family and ran from home and went to Israel where I was detained for crossing the Israeli West Bank border without proper documentations. In the minors’ prison I had a cellmate who is a Palestinian young guy about two years older than me at the time. And I ended up being sexually assaulted heavily and repeatedly until I gathered my courage and ended up reporting that to the prison administration. There was an overwhelming amount of support both emotionally and physically and attempts to secure me – to make sure that that doesn’t come out. Being raped is still the victim’s fault in the West Bank. And that just countered everything I was told: stories about how Jewish people’s deepest desire is to hurt us, is to make sure that we don’t overcome anything. That was a breaking point.”
Stourton: “So you…you’d been told all your life that the Israelis were evil people and when you went to them with a problem in jail, you found that actually wasn’t true.”
Calvin: “No – they…as a matter of fact they showed me more compassion than what my own mother did.”
Unfortunately, this interview was broadcast at around half past seven on a Sunday morning on Radio 4: a slot which obviously does not ensure optimal outreach to BBC audiences serially deprived of such information.