Melanie Phillips’ controversial Gaza comments on Question Time, fact checked

A fierce debate erupted on the BBC’s Question Time on Thursday night over the issue of the Israeli-Gaza conflict and the delivery of humanitarian aid.

There were angry scenes between Times columnist Melanie Phillips and the Scottish National Party’s Westminster leader Stephen Flynn as the panel discussed whether the Government and Opposition are doing enough to help end the war in Gaza.

Phillips, a British citizen who lives part-time in Israel, accused the SNP MP of “epic hypocrisy” over the situation in the Middle East during the televised panel discussion, and said his views were “so distorted and so untrue”.

Phillips claimed food aid was prevented from reaching Gazans because it was ‘stolen by Hamas’ (Photo: Dawoud Abo Alkas/Anadolu/Getty)

Phillips claimed, to gasps in the audience, that Israel was trying to prevent “a second Holocaust from happening”.

Mr Flynn said he had watched raw video footage of the scenes on 7 October, when Hamas attacked southern Israel killing around 1,200 people and seizing 253 hostages. But he added that he was able to differentiate between the horrors that occurred that day and Israel’s “unjustified response” and he hoped one day Phillips would be able to do this, too.

Claim: Food aid stopped from going through Gaza because ‘stolen by Hamas’

During the heated conversation, Mr Flynn argued that efforts to reach a ceasefire should be made at all costs because Gazans were being “collectively punished for the actions of a terrorist group” and denied access to food, water, medicine and electricity.

However, Phillips said it was “completely untrue” that Gazans were being denied access to food and humanitarian aid.

She said: “There have been hundreds of trucks stopped from going through Gaza because the food is being stolen by Hamas.

But Phillips said: “There have been hundreds of trucks stopped from going through Gaza because the food is being stolen by Hamas.

“The Gazans themselves are saying this.”

Reality: No independent evidence for this

Israel has said it is not obstructing aid deliveries into Gaza, blaming failures by aid agencies for delays and accusing Hamas of diverting aid.

Israel’s Co-ordination of Government Activities in the Territories, the agency responsible for getting aid into Gaza, has said “there is no limit to the amount of aid that can enter Gaza”.

The Israeli government said it plans to “flood” Gaza with humanitarian aid from various entry points, while the Israel Defence Forces says it has repeatedly filmed Hamas taking over aid trucks entering Gaza.

Hamas denies this and says Israel is using hunger as a weapon in its military offensive.

David Satterfield, the Biden administration’s special Middle East envoy for humanitarian issues, said in February that Israeli officials have not presented “specific evidence of diversion or theft” of UN assistance.

There have been mounting calls for something to be done to avert the risk of famine among the 2.3 million inhabitants of Gaza.

The UN’s World Food Programme said on Tuesday it had successfully delivered aid to Gaza City for the first time since 20 February. It added: “With people in northern Gaza on the brink of famine, we need deliveries every day and we need entry points directly into the north.”

Arrivals of aid into the territory have been met with chaotic scenes, with some dropped into the sea in February with people wading into the water to retrieve it.

At least 29 people were killed while awaiting aid in two separate Israeli attacks in the Gaza Strip on Thursday, according to Gaza’s health ministry.

Eight people were reportedly killed in an air strike on an aid distribution centre in Al-Nuseirat camp in central Gaza and 21 were said to have been hit by Israeli gunfire while awaiting aid trucks at a northern Gaza roundabout. Israel has denied these claims.

It comes after 112 people reportedly died trying to reach aid trucks in Gaza City on 29 February. Palestinian health authorities said Israeli forces shot many dead but Israel said the victims were trampled in the stampede or run over by trucks.

Claim: Photos and videos show stocked food markets in Gaza

Asked by panel host Fiona Bruce if she was denying there was famine in Gaza, Phillips said that people could go on YouTube and see “pictures of stocked food markets in Gaza”.

Mr Flynn said her comments were “outrageous”, adding: “If you want to talk about pictures, Melanie, I’m quite happy to send you some videos of civilians being bombed and slaughtered”.

Reality: Clear evidence of hunger in Gaza and images unverified

Bruce said she had seen some of those videos but they were not “timestamped”.

She said: “I have looked at some of them. They didn’t have timestamps on them.

“I don’t know when these pictures were taken.”

A fortnight ago, Adele Khodr, Unicef’s Middle East and North Africa regional director, said: “The child deaths we feared are here and are likely to rapidly increase unless the war ends and obstacles to humanitarian relief are immediately resolved.”

At least 10 children have reportedly died of dehydration and malnutrition at Kamal Adwan hospital in northern Gaza.

European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said on Thursday he wanted to see the US put more pressure on Israel to allow more aid into Gaza and not to impede humanitarian access.

“We have increased our humanitarian support but it’s certainly not enough. And a fact everybody recognises is that there is a clear impeding [of] humanitarian access by the one who controls the border [of Gaza], who is the Israeli government.”

Egypt’s foreign minister Sameh Shoukry called on Israel on Thursday to open land crossings to let more aid into Gaza. At present, land deliveries are made at Rafah crossing between Egypt and Gaza and the nearby, Israeli-controlled Kerem Shalom.

“Israel controls six other crossings that it should open. There is a long line of trucks waiting to enter but are subject to the procedures of vetting that must be complied to so that the trucks can enter safely, that the drivers are not targeted, that they are received on the other side.

“We have the capacity to increase the number of trucks but the authorisation has to come.”

RAFAH, GAZA - MARCH 12: Palestinians hold empty containers while they line up to receive food, distributed by aid organizations, on the second day of Ramadan as Israeli attacks continue in Rafah, Gaza on March 12, 2024. (Photo by Jehad Alshrafi/Anadolu via Getty Images)
Palestinians hold out containers as they queue for food from aid organisations in Gaza (Photo: Jehad Alshrafi/Anadolu/Getty)

Claim: A ceasefire now would mean further slaughter of Israelis

Phillips accused Mr Flynn of “crocodile tears” over Gaza, claiming an immediate ceasefire would mean the massacre of Israelis and Jewish people.

“Hamas and Hezbollah have said they intend to kill every Jew and wipe out the state of Israel,” she said. “If you had your way and there was a ceasefire now, there would be more pogroms and more slaughters of Israelis.

“The Israelis do not want to kill Palestinians in Gaza, it’s the last thing they want. Hamas has made the Gazans into not just human shields but canon fodder.”

Some in audience gasped as Phillips said Israel was trying to prevent “a second Holocaust from happening”.

Reality: Independent bodies and other countries believe a ceasefire is the solution

Hamas has long been committed to destroying Israel, and Israel has also said its goal is to eliminate Hamas.

However, more than 150 countries across the world have called for an immediate ceasefire, with the EU warning that Israel’s planned attack on the southern city of Rafah would create a humanitarian disaster.

Hamas said it presented to mediators a comprehensive vision of a truce deal based on stopping what it calls Israeli aggression against Palestinians, providing relief and aid, the return of displaced Gazans to their homes, and the withdrawal of Israeli forces. The office of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the Hamas position was based on “unrealistic demands.”

Israel’s air, sea and ground assault on Gaza since October has killed more than 31,000 people and wounded over 71,500, according to Gaza health authority figures that have been corrobated by international aid agencies.

Israel claims it has almost eliminated Hamas in Gaza, although the US has said it may face a “lingering armed resistance” for years to come.

Claim: The UN is ‘compromised’ by links to Hamas

Aid deliveries have been hampered after some countries withdrew funding for UNRWA, the UN’s main Palestinian relief agency, over allegations some of its staff were Hamas operatives and took part in the 7 October attack.

Phillips repeated the claim during the Question Time debate, saying the UN was “compromised” by links to Hamas.

Reality: EU and Australia say no evidence to prove Israel’s claims

The EU’s top humanitarian aid official said this week he has seen no evidence from Israel to back its accusations against staff from the UN Palestinian refugee agency (UNRWA), which should continue playing a “critical” role in Gaza.

Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong said on Friday the country was “unpausing” funding to UNRWA and refuted Israel’s accusations members of the agency’s staff had participated in the attacks in southern Israel.

She said: “The best available current advice from agencies and the Australian government lawyers is that UNRWA is not a terrorist organisation.”