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March 20, 2002
Promises: Will Israeli Propaganda Win An Oscar?

By Yousef Al-Yousef


(WASHINGTON, DC - 3/19/2002) -- Many documentaries have been produced over the years on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Some were objective and truthful, others fell short. Typically, we prefer to leave the critique of films to the specialists. But when a documentary titled Promises produced by an Israeli-American won an Oscar nomination it caught our attention.

Promises is advertised as a humane documentary which purports to advance dialogue and understanding.

Much to our dismay, the documentary is a second-generation Zionist propaganda promoted by those who don't know the intricacies of the conflict, and others who understand how such a distortion of reality is of immense value to a Zionist movement constantly under attack for its moral ambivalence (as evident by the almost unanimous condemnation of Israel at the U.N. World Conference against Racism in Durban, South Africa, in August, 2001.)

Promises is a dubious quest to establish moral parity between Palestinians-the colonized-and Israelis-the colonialists. It adheres to the pro-Israeli intelligentsia's formula for acceptable discourse that calls for portraying Palestinians and Israelis as either equally victimized or equally villainous.

This is the same intelligentsia which views the Palestinian quest for the repatriation of their refugees as a conspiracy to destroy Israel, and brands the truth as recrimination and incitement against Israel. It's the same intelligentsia which believes there is no such a thing as Palestinian self-defense, no Israeli terrorism, and Sharon is just a hard-liner (despite Qibya and Sabra & Shatila massacres).

Small wonder Promises won such a high acclaim from the same intelligentsia. It simply delivers, for the Israelis.

The director's reductionist approach explains Palestinian resentment as a product of humiliating checkpoints, difficult living conditions, and poverty.

The filmmaker plays up the violent rhetoric of Palestinian children without offering an honest historical and present context. He detaches Palestinian rage from the half-a-century of subjugation they had to endure at the hands of Israeli Jews.

In a nutshell, Promises exploits the unspeakable misery suffered by the Palestinians to fish for anti-Jewish hate words.

We find this morally reprehensible.

Had a documentary been produced in South Africa to gauge the intensity of feelings between Blacks and Whites during Apartheid rule, few people would have described the angry words of Blacks against Whites as a sign of Black racism. Black anger would have been understood in the context of White subjugation and humiliation of non-Whites.

There was no moral equivalence between Blacks and Whites in Apartheid South Africa; there is no moral equivalence between Israelis and Palestinians today. Promises seeks to establish the opposite.

Arabs and Muslims have always protested the inherent pro-Israeli bias of the U.S.-media. An Oscar nomination for Israeli propaganda is a new low, given the plethora of compelling documentaries on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict that have been produced over the years by filmmakers such as Mai Masri, Tom Hayes, Marty Rosenbluth, and others, who did not keep the formula in mind.

No persecuted people have had to accept the distortion of their history and existence as a price to end their misery and open a new page. Blacks in the U.S. or South Africa do not have to pretend their history was anything but a battle between right and wrong, neither do Bosnian Muslims, and others.

When Nelson Mandela tells us the struggle of his people to be included was equivalent to the struggle of the White Afrikaners to exclude non-Whites, we will buy a copy of Promises.

Nowhere in history did the Arabs of the Holy Land ever set sail to Europe to destroy Jewish communities. Jews from Europe set sail to Palestine and have systematically uprooted and destroyed Palestinian communities. The destruction is still ongoing.

There are 3.9 million Palestinian refugees, according to the United Nations, who stand as a testimony to the absence of moral parity. Half a century later, they are still refused basic justice by those who expelled them. Millions more continue to live and die under the iron fist of Israel, in the occupied territories.

Palestinians and their friends, while hoping to end this dreadful conflict, should not have to accept a false version of reality such as the one proposed by Promises, with or without an Oscar.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Yousef Al-Yousef is the Chairman of the American Muslims for Global Peace and Justice - a Washington DC-based American Muslim human rights advocacy group. (www.global-peace.org)

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