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April 4, 2005

Peace, Propaganda and the Promised Land, 2004

peace.gifOn June 5, 1967, Israel launched a pre-emptive war against Syria, Jordan and Egypt in a six-day war that culminated with the country's seizure of the West Bank, Gaza Strip, and East Jerusalem, leading to the Israeli government's continued, illegitimate military occupation in violation of the 1967 UN Security Council Resolution 242 that ordered its immediate withdrawal from the occupied territories. This often overlooked (or, more appropriately, conveniently sidestepped) historical fact provides the basis for filmmakers Sut Jhally and Bathsheba Ratzkoff's articulate, impassioned, and incisive exposition on the irresponsible, inequitable, and often incestuous role of the American media in enabling the perpetuation of the Arab-Israeli conflict and the marginalization of the Palestinians in their native, occupied land. Citing the global backlash following the media coverage of the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 1982 as a watershed incident that lead to the government's re-architecture of its modern day public relations policy, the film breaks down the underlying, implemented tenets of The Hasbara Project, an aggressive, comprehensive, and proactive public relations initiative that sought to cast a favorable light (or at least, less detrimental media spin) on the government's controversial occupation policies, calling for the sustained cultivation of interpersonal relationships with media professionals and influential newsmakers, the early dissemination of news capsule press releases to foreign bureau offices in order to have an on-hand, convenient, ready-made response and included viewpoint in the accounting of the day's significant events, and even the publication of prescribed vernacular and reporting guidelines that not only sanitize the tone, but more importantly, help to implicitly shape the lexicon - and consequently, the underlying sympathetic attachment - of the news articles. The effect of this altered nuance of language is illustrated in the government's (and media parroted) euphemistic reference to the illegally occupied settlement (or colony) of Gilo in East Jerusalem as a Jewish neighborhood on the outskirts of Israel proper - the characterization of "neighborhood" evoking a wholesome, cross-cultural familiarity while simultaneously avoiding the issue of its legitimacy of existence in the occupied territory. This perspective bias is especially evident in the presentation of side-by-side reports on the death of six Palestinian children in two separate incidents by the BBC and CNN: the BBC pointing out that the Israeli military had mined a public street used by children to walk to school, while CNN removes the mundane (and humanizing) context surrounding the children's actions and attributes their deaths to a seeming freak accident caused by one of the children kicking an inferentially errant, unexploded tank shell - in essence, blaming the victim and absolving the perpetrator in the court of public opinion. Another manifestation of this altered nuance is in the characterization of cause and effect in the reporting of news by the American media, usually attributing the act of aggression to the Palestinians, and the defensive position to the Israelis - an assignment of blame that not only trivializes the multifaceted, cyclical nature of the conflict into discrete, complementary acts of attack and retaliation, but also loses sight of the fundamental, overarching specter of the Six Day War that had initially sparked the region's modern day instability and escalating violence. It is this illusory claim of self-defense that is further exploited in the wake of the September 11 attacks, as the Israeli government began to perceptionally redefine the occupation and subsequent heavy-handed military action in the occupied territories as another ongoing facet in a protracted war on terrorism, a politically expedient, ideological alignment that conveniently circumvents the internationally pricklier questions of usurped sovereignty, inequitable justice, ethnic cleansing, and human rights violations. By deconstructing and analyzing the informational structure by which the U.S. media has contributed to the systematic oppression of an indigenous people, Peace, Propaganda and the Promised Land: U.S. Media and the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict offers an intelligently constructed, compelling, and thoughtfully bracing alternative perspective to the seemingly incomprehensible cycle of violence of the Middle East. Rather than a presenting a vitriolic diatribe on the transgressions of occupation and a compromised media, the film serves as a sincere and constructive open invitation to an inclusive, cross-cultural dialogue on the complex issues and deeply rooted human emotions that have contributed to the elusiveness of a lasting and just peace.

Posted by acquarello on Apr 04, 2005 | | Filed under 2005, Ancillary Film Notes


Author's note: I realize that the topic of this film is a sensitive issue for a great number of people, and I am certainly open to comments with opposing viewpoints regarding the merits or weaknesses of this film. However, please refrain from posting rambling, tangential, running list statements of "facts" and "myths" (and blame) on the nature of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that make no attempt to engage in meaningful dialogue on (or even cite references within the context of) the film itself. I think that it's fairly clear for people who have seen the film that it is not about who is responsible for the continued conflict, but rather, the role that the U.S. media has played in sustaining that conflict.

Posted by: acquarello on Apr 05, 2005 12:41 PM | Permalink

i AM JUST WONDERING if the photo above was taken in 1967 ?
for this i have serious doubt.
2* there many other points in your article i would like to comments
but i believe chances of having my opinion shown in this dialogue are very limited.


Posted by: frankie on Apr 05, 2005 3:17 PM | Permalink

Hi, I don't know when the photograph was taken; it was used in the film as a transitional image in the context of humanizing the conflict and not as a photojournalist documentation of the 1967 incident. I doubt it is also, I believe it taken after a home was demolished, probably around the issue of legal permits (which the film also talks about the difficulty in obtaining one).

As I've mentioned earlier, I don't have a problem with politically-toned posts if they are in the context of the film (such as responding to points brought up by the film). However, I received one particularly long, impersonal comment this morning that just enumerated a list of "facts and myths" about the conflict, none of which was really germane to anything discussed in the film. I really don't want to be goaded into a political debate on who is right and wrong on this issue, and that was clearly what that comment was aiming to do. I honestly tried to pare down that particular comment to capture this person's position, but in the end, none of the issues cited in the comment had anything to do with the issues raised in the film. I couldn't correlate them to the written analysis of the film - specifically, because they were irrelevant with respect to the contextual scope of the film - and I ended up deleting it. This is a film analysis site, and that's what I have done with respect to the film: 1. What are the themes and ideas being presented?, 2. How do the filmmakers illustrate/expound on these ideas?, 3. Does it work? If there are some glaring (or even subtle) misstaments made in the film, by all means, I'm happy to hear them.

Posted by: acquarello on Apr 05, 2005 4:15 PM | Permalink

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