Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Channel 4's landmark TV series 'The Promise' is built on a serious historical falsehood about Israel

Channel 4 TV in the UK is currently broadcasting a 4 part documentary series “The Promise”, a dramatisation of the founding of Israel, and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict today, which is attracting 1.5 million viewers. The organization Beyond Images www.beyondimages.info has issued a briefing to counter many of the statements and claims made in this inaccurate and misinformed documentary.

We, at BIG, feel that this information should be circulated as widely as possible.

Channel 4's landmark TV series 'The Promise' is built on a serious historical falsehood about Israel

British TV channel Channel 4 has been broadcasting 'The Promise'. And it is a landmark piece of television. 'The Promise' is a four-part, six-hour dramatisation of the founding of Israel, and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict today.

We have been watching it. And it is gripping. We are not surprised that it has been receiving very good reviews, and is a likely candidate for future broadcasting awards. Over 1.5 million viewers in the UK have been watching its two episodes to date, including - we assume - most people with an active interest in the conflict: politicians, academics, students, members of human rights groups, writers and intellectuals, diplomats and civil servants.

The production is superb. The acting is excellent. It is meticulously observed and staged..And it is also built on a major historical falsehood. A falsehood so severe that it undermines the credibility of its messages. Its director Peter Kosminsky claims that he "told both sides of the story". But episode 1 reveals that he does not even know what the Israeli side of the story is......

'The Promise' describes the events of 1945-8 through the eyes of Len, a British sergeant who had witnessed the liberation of the Jews at Bergen-Belsen, and is later posted with British forces to Palestine. At a crucial moment in that first episode Len, together with other British army officers, receives a briefing from their British army commander on the purpose of their mission in Palestine, and the history behind it. This takes place shortly after the second world war.

The commander's words are not intended as a partisan speech. It is the moment at which the British soldiers (and by extension 1.5 million viewers) are provided with the background to the conflict, and indeed the subsequent episodes of 'The Promise'. Indeed it is the only piece of the script which endeavours to tell the story of how the Jews, the Arabs and the British found themselves in three-way conflict.

Here is what the British commanding officer in The Promise says:

"The Jews and Arabs have been living here in relative harmony for thousands of years. But our victory over the Germans has turned the trickle of Jews coming to this land into a flood. You must understand, the Jews see it as their holy land. But the Arabs, who have been here for over a thousand years, see them as stealing their land. Our job is to keep the two sides apart....."

There you have it. The historical narrative of Israel. And it is a narrative which does not operate to resolve the conflict, but to perpetuate it. Ever since World War Two, the Arabs have seen the Jewish national enterprise as the consequence of Nazism. Without indigenous roots. And without historical legitimacy.

They build their sense of victimhood on the argument that they are "paying the price" for European fascism. Far from challenging this mindset, Kosminsky's so-called 'balanced' narrative has reinforced it. Kosminsky makes no mention of the steady return to Palestine of Jews which had been carrying on since the 1880s. Kosminsky does not hint at the Balfour Declaration or other international commitments to support a Jewish national home.
Kosminsky does not recognise that Jewish national life had existed thousands of years ago in the land of Israel, and that the connection is a national connection.

Kosminsky does not pay any attention to the Jews' state-building efforts in the period before the Second World War. And Kosminsky perpetuates a complete falsehood that the Jews and Arabs had been living in "relative harmony". Kosminsky reportedly researched The Promise for over a decade. But has he heard of the Arab riots against the Jews of the Yishuv in the 1920s or 1930s?

Has he heard of the incessant violent assaults upon Jews building up Palestine? Has he heard of the Hebron massacre of 1929?

The idea that there was "relative harmony" in Palestine till World War Two is a fiction. It's a fiction which Hamas and other rejectionists and ideologues readily embrace.

Meanwhile, the claim that the Arabs had been living there for a thousand years is also a massive over-simplification. Even the most partisan historians have to admit that Palestine under the Ottomans and then the British was not exactly a hub of Arab nationalism, or a focal point of Arab pride and economic endeavour.

While 'The Promise' is brilliant drama - and we will be highlighting its strengths as well its weaknesses in the future - there are plenty of other major flaws in its so called 'balanced' narrative and in its framing of the conflict. In subsequent weeks we will be explaining them. For now, here is a link to the programme website. We have quoted just one short extract from episode one. See for yourself:
http://www.channel4.com/programmes/the-promise/4od (Not available outside the UK)

And by the way, here are two other examples of the damage which is caused when the narrative of Israel is artificially started at World War II:

Barack Obama made this error in his major speech to the Arab world in June 2009: click here:
'How President Obama got it wrong on Israel's history... and why it matters for future peace' (Beyond Images Briefing 242)

And The Economist made this error in an obituary of Yasser Arafat published in 2004: see
The Economist Magazine's obituaries: misleading accounts of Israel's history' (Beyond Images Briefing 124)

Key messages:

Delegitimisation of Israel is not just a matter of outrageous, flagrant denial of Jewish national rights.

It is happening in drip-drip style, as ideas which call the history of Israel into question are steadily absorbed into liberal discourse, into respectable mainstream thinking. Click here for
The Beyond Images Report on Delegitimisation which provides many examples of this.

Elements of Channel 4's 'The Promise' are a classic instance of this phenomenon. The Promise is doubtless being viewed by almost everyone in the UK who passionately believes in the Palestinian cause.

In building its drama on the basis of an explicit historical fiction, it is not contributing to peace and understanding. It is fuelling the falsehoods on which the delegitimisation of Israel thrives. There are many many other falsehoods: we will be highlighting some in future emails.

No amount of great acting and brilliant direction can obscure that fact.

By the way, we have not seen a single syllable uttered about The Promise in public by any of the central Jewish organisations which claim to be fighting delegitimisation in the UK, in the two weeks since its broadcasts began..... Are we on Beyond Images missing something.... or - just possibly - are they?

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