Tuesday, January 6, 2015

When art is spoiled by propaganda

Just finished watching this four-part mini-series. It provoked a mix of very powerful emotions that, no doubt, will become the spur for an audacious blog on the situation in general, if I have the courage. For right now, let me just note this.
In the decades leading up to the 1967 six-day war the mythology surrounding the establishment of the state of Israel was full of romance and euphemism that buried or glossed over the traumas and injustices done to the Arab population, who we now refer to as Palestinians. Israel was the idol of the left, a phoenix risen from the ashes of Auschwitz - heroic testimony to the resilience of the Jewish people, a symbol of human potential, a confirmation of the validity of optimism. And the Palestinians were mostly ignored. Their plight was seized on as a tool for Pan-Arabism and (increasingly) radical Islam, so that rather than dealing with the problem it was deliberately perpetuated by the power brokers in the Arab world. The UN has been continuously complicit in this insofar as it has continued to recognize all of the descendants of the original refugees as refugees by inheritance. This is unique and totally unprecedented in the many cases of refugee populations with which the UN has had to deal. UNWRA (http://www.unrwa.org/), the agency specially created to deal with the Palestinian refugees continues to this day to encourage a state of dependence and hostility at the expense of the taxpayers of member-countries.
After 1967, with gathering momentum, the pendulum began to swing back as the economic and technological gap between Israel and Palestine widened and Israel became a country with an army of occupation, until today when the picture, the mythology, is exactly at the opposite end of the spectrum. Marx or Hegel would be pleased by this dialectic. The prevailing mythology is one that vilifies the Israelis beyond redemption and glorifies the suffering and resistance of the Palestinians no matter how barbaric it may seem - to leave no doubt that the underlying problem is the illegitimate establishment of Israel itself. We are left to figure out what the obviously implied next action step is.
This mini-series is a fairly sophisticated and very effective instance of this genre of mythology. It contains hard-truths, half-truths and lies, all mixed together, indistinguishable to anyone not very familiar with the real history. It is a clever story about a grandfather (a British soldier in Palestine during the occupation) and his granddaughter (living in England in present day, who goes to Israel to find out about his experiences there). The two stories are told in parallel, flashing back and forward in time. It should be just a very compelling story, but instead it is accompanied by insidious, seductive propaganda that will surely leave the innocent viewer with the conviction that Israel is an evil entity, albeit perhaps grown from a noble but futile dream. So, acts of terrorism are ultimately justified as acts of desperation, comparable to the acts of terrorism perpetrated by the Irgun against the British occupation - a clear case of moral equivalence - except that the Irgun are depicted as unscrupulous thugs, while the Palestinian terrorists remain out of site. We hear almost nothing of Hamas or any of the other terrorist groups and we see only one Hamas fighter very briefly towards the end of about eight hours - who happens to be a radicalized young boy. The depiction of the British occupation makes it seem like the Irgun was *the* Israeli resistance to the occupation, whereas, in truth, it was a very minority group of radicals, who were strongly condemned by the Israeli establishment and army of the time, the Haganah - even to the point that the Haganah outlawed and fought against the Irgun. The Irgun's tactics were never approved by any but a minority of the Israeli population. Can we say the same about the attitude of the Palestinian population about the acts of terror carried out by its radicals? Check the polls.
With regard to the present day, there are some hard-truths, like the brutalization of young Israeli soldiers (just kids, boys and girls) stationed in the midst of large hostile populations, inevitably hardened and morally compromised, and the arrogance and sense of entitlement of some of the radical settlers. It seems that some of the scenes in the series were there simply to make these points rather than to advance the story. But there are also half-truths and omissions - like the depiction of Israeli society as unbelievably affluent and decadent. The Arabs in the movie are always honorable victims and the Israelis are either monsters or hypocrites - even the peace activists.
The truth of the situation is tragic enough. Why the need to concoct these elaborate lies? Why the need to deny Israel of any credit for what it has achieved, and what the Palestinians and Israelis could achieve together in a different world where the power brokers have to defer to the desire for peace by enough people on both sides of the divide? It saddens and frustrates me.

The Promise is a gripping, political thriller that examines the origins of the Middle East conflict in events that took place under British rule sixty years ago.

No comments: