Peace, Propaganda and the Promised Land, 2004

On 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.

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