(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,
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)