Eager to Place the Blame for a Never-Ending Conflict
By NED MARTEL
Published: January 28, 2005
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The attacks and counterattacks in and around Israel leave so many wounds to heal and lives to rebuild that one task seems beside the point, impossible even: assigning blame. Still, some bloodshed rises to the level of war crimes in the eyes of various international observers, and a new 80-minute pro-Palestinian documentary presents a condensed argument in favor of prosecuting Israeli leaders in the court of American public opinion.
The film, "Peace, Propaganda and the Promised Land: U.S. Media and the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict," makes a relentless case against what it sees as bigoted, brutal Israeli soldiers who demand papers and permits from Palestinians who are merely trying to live ordinary lives. The film casts Ariel Sharon, Israel's prime minister, as the decisive destabilizer who has thrown the region seriously, murderously out of balance. Mr. Sharon, the filmmakers assert, has crossed military and symbolic boundaries in a way that seemed destined and perhaps intended to ignite hostility. The film also finds fault with American broadcast networks for, it says, minimizing protests against such actions and, in effect, condoning increased violence.
The documentary was written and directed by Bathsheba Ratzkoff and Sut Jhally. Mr. Jhally is a professor of communications at the University of Massachusetts, from which Ms. Ratzkoff graduated in 1999. The two worked together on a 2004 documentary, "Hijacking Catastrophe: 9/11, Fear and the Selling of American Empire," which explored similar themes of war and media manipulation.
In their current film, on-camera interviews with academics and advocates - like Noam Chomsky and Michael Lerner, the editor of the magazine Tikkun - add to the Palestinian outcry that Arabs in the region are largely ignored, mischaracterized and even demonized in the American news media. This perceived lack of sympathy is described in conspiratorial terms as the masterstroke of Israeli image-makers and message massagers.
Excerpts from American news reports are shown in which the word "retaliate" is often assigned to Israeli military operations, while "attack" is used in the case of Palestinian actions, when, the film says, the opposite is often true. A former Palestinian spokeswoman, Hanan Ashrawi, laments the honors bestowed on the Israeli dead after a skirmish, while the Arab losses are barely noted. "You get the fullness of his humanity," she says, noting American news reports of one Israeli victim. "You learn a lot: his name, his hopes, his dreams." American audiences, we are told, are also manipulated into grouping Arab suicide bombers in this conflict with those adding to the chaos in Iraq.
Robert Jensen, a journalism professor at the University of Texas, takes the blame game further, implying that American broadcasters are pliant and reductionist. "In addition to the military occupation of the West Bank and Gaza, Israel is also involved in an attempt to ideologically occupy the American media," Mr. Jensen says.
As eager as the film is to measure American journalists' shortcomings, the documentarians make little effort to detail diplomatic failures by the Palestinian leadership. The conflict is known for many broken vows and broken hearts on both sides. This one-sided account brings some lesser-known offenses to light and advances a scenario that is bold and detailed. But it is hardly dispassionate.
'Peace, Propaganda and the Promised Land: 'U.S. Media and the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict'
Opens today in Manhattan.
Written (in English) and directed by Bathsheba Ratzkoff and Sut Jhally; director of photography, Kelly Garner; edited by Kenyon King and Ms. Ratzkoff; music by Thom Monahan; produced by Ms. Ratzkoff; released by Arab Film Distribution. At the Cinema Village, 22 East 12th Street, Greenwich Village. Running time: 80 minutes. This film is not rated.
WITH: Loretta Alper (Narrator) and Seth Ackerman, Maj. Stav Adivi, Rabbi Arik Ascherman, Hanan Ashrawi, Noam Chomsky, Robert Fisk, Neve Gordon, Toufic Haddad, Sam Husseini, Hussein Ibish, Robert Jensen, Michael Lerner, Karen Pfeifer, Alisa Solomon and Gila Svirsky Neve Gordon