Friday, 19 April 2013

Israel: Facing the Future - with added BBC stuffing

I read somewhere that competing pizza producers in America have been trying to figure out ways of getting even more fat-filling additives into their products by packing full even the inner crusts.

The stomach-bloating image came oddly to mind while watching John Ware's film Israel: Facing the Future.

From the introductory line that "Israel's once-peaceful southern border has turned hot", almost every part of Ware's product is stuffed through with fattening fabrications and indulgent cliches about 'necessary security', the 'Arab threat', the 'jihadist/Hamas menace', the 'separation barrier' (rather than the Wall) the 'intractable conflict' and the 'two-sided problem', with each side weighed down by a heavy 'mutual distrust'. 

If the 'new pizza topping' is convivial chats with young, life-loving Israelis and the ruminations of concerned elders on the country's social strains, militarist existence and internal religious divisions, the 'crusty filler' is the message that, despite the obvious discrimination on view, Palestinian Arabs in Israel are still broadly 'accepted' and can enjoy the 'freedoms' of being part of the 'only democracy in the Middle East'. 

For all its 'enticing taste' of a complex Israeli society, the real food for thought in Ware's report is notably absent from the table. There's no actual mention of the Nakba, no discussion of the ethnic cleansing and mass displacement of 1948, of Resolution 194 and the Palestinian Right of Return. The actual word 'occupation' may have been used, once, in the film, but there's no actual reference to 'The Occupation' proper.

There's no reference either to the long and brutal siege of Gaza, merely a passing aside on the recent assaults against its desperate people, along with the familiar refrain that Israeli settlers had 'willingly' left there in 2005 and the usual lines about Gazans wasting this 'kindly-given opportunity' in letting Hamas turn the territory into a 'jihadist launch-pad'. 

The only other 'crust-end' on Gaza is young off-duty conscripts relating how many Facebook 'likes' some Israeli sites get from there.

Ware might have ventured to ask how many Gazans 'liked' IDF soldiers smearing excrement on the walls of their homes during their 'Cast Lead' invasion or whether they felt any guilt over their daily killing of Palestinians, the 'administrative detention' of Palestinian children or the spraying of raw sewage on Palestinian homes across the West Bank. But that wouldn't have been to the BBC's liking.

Out on training operations with the IDF, Ware indulges their concerns about a 'once-again, all-alone' Israel and its survivalist fears of surrounding foes: "Syria is in flames with the risk of chemical weapons falling into Hezbollah's hands", the 'Islamist threat' is on the rise in Jordan, Egypt, and, of course, in "Gaza, now run by Hamas, backed by Iran, whose president has threatened to wipe Israel off the map and may soon be nuclear-armed." It's amazing, indeed, what can be stuffed into one fearmongering sentence. 

Beyond these tired distortions, Ware can't seemingly spare a moment to note the whole new dynamic of Hamas's difficult relations and estrangement with Tehran and its new engagement of Egypt and the Gulf states. Perhaps he doesn't even know about such things. What difference, so long as the 'media-baked pizza' has all the popularly-recognised ingredients.

In considering "Bibi" Netanyahu's popularity, Ware talks of Israel's difficulties over the "conflict with its Palestinian Arab neighbours", a term which, rather than 'occupied people', infers some kind of suburban hedge dispute.

Mingling at a football match with Likud-supporting Beitar Jerusalem fans, he asks how peace might be achieved with those "Palestinian neighbours", language, again, serving to pacify the relationship and the 'problematic' process of 'getting them to agree'.

Some of the Beitar fans express misgivings on the bigotry shown by a section of their support over the signing of two Muslim players, further suggesting a certain tolerance for Arabs and the notion that intolerance is still rather marginal. Never in any of these encounters does Ware ask whether the wider treatment of Arabs constitutes an actual apartheid system.

A sit-com series from an Arab writer about Jewish-Arab domestic sensitivities is also meant to suggest awkward but encouraging cohesion. But the propaganda value of such output - implying 'free expression for all' - is never considered by Ware.

Driving into an Arab town in northern Israel, Ware narrates that "most Arabs fled or were evicted" in 1948. It's a passive enough line to impart a basic truth without having to relate the terror of that mass ethnic cleansing and the Zionist militias who enforced it.

Reflecting on the 'failed Oslo' negotiations, Ware laments that Israel and the Palestinians "barely talk any more. They can't agree the terms of two states." Again, evading the Occupation-sustaining details of that loaded Accord, it's the familiar inference that the Palestinians 'lost the chance for peace'.

In the West Bank, Ware relates how, after defeating threatening armies in 1967, Israel was reluctant to give back the territories it had gained, "fearing the Arabs might strike again". Standing on the hills, he looks out in implicit agreement: "it's easy to see why Israel has been so concerned about its security".

And "security" is repeated as the defining reason for the settlement constructions that followed.

The settlements are noted as being illegal - with that ever-handy BBC caveat, "though, Israel disputes this" - and still expanding. But there's no actual explanation of their role in maintaining the Occupation and Israel's colonialist project, nor any linkage to American and Western support for Israel, its vital part in propping-up a militarist-apartheid state never countenanced by Ware.

Up on the sleek city hill settlement of Ma'ale Adumim, Ware is taken supermarket shopping by one of its proud residents. We see the Arab workers allowed in to serve there, the practical accommodations, the apparent harmony.  But never does Ware explore the moral malevolence of such places in the strategic promotion of Zionism and a perpetual Jewish state.  

Internal opposition is voiced from notable Israelis, like writer David Landau, who tells Ware that this "messianic" project is utterly irrational.

The latter may well agree. But what's killing any two state solution for Ware is still the easy liberal line of "mutual distrust", an opinion that includes his barely-disguised agreement that Israel has a case for not ceding any more power to the Palestinian Authority for fear it might eventually lead to a Hamas takeover of the West Bank. 

Ware does question the one state idea based on Jewish constitutional priorities, as proposed by a Likud politician, where Palestinians would be compelled to take citizenship oaths which invoke Israeli sovereignty.

Palestinians are also respectfully heard by Ware, in this regard, conveying their belief that the two state solution is dead and desiring a day when they can travel freely on buses to Jerusalem or the beach at Tel Aviv as free and equal citizens.  Following that aspirational theme, Ware surveys a prestigious Palestinian building project, pondering what might unfold for those lucky enough to get a set of keys. 

But, again, there's no central discussion of the insidious apartheid system preventing those equal freedoms, the deepening political obstacles to such desires or the mass of impoverished Palestinians with no hope of any basic deliverance from their controlled, humiliated and imprisoned lives.

Ware does ultimately come to posit the looming choice for Israel: the world's singular Jewish-only state or a full democratic one for all. With the image of the present state badly "tarnished" by attacks on Gaza and now, worryingly, under pressure from international boycotts, Israel is, he concludes, at that crucial "crossroads". 

Perhaps it is, and this film may have shed a certain light on that gathering dilemma for Israel and Israelis. Ware and his defenders might also say that this film is an actual examination of Israel's future, not Palestine's.  

Yet, at every point and turn in his commentary, Ware avoids the vital issue of rightful self-determination for Palestinians, a space as hollow as the propaganda crust he has sought to pack with Israeli-favoured fillers.   

Ware's concluding remarks leave hanging the possible evolution or continuation of a state that was founded on "secular and democratic" principles by those fleeing persecution.

It's a false and selective narrative which completely ignores the formative Palestinian experience, their loss, their imposed flight and their principal rights to live in a state, polity and society of their choice.


Sabha said...

Excellent analysis (lol @suburban hedge dispute), I also liked the journalistic objectivity when interviewing Avram Berg who was claiming that Israel was entrenched in a ‘shteitel’ mentality and needed to try peace instead of asserting power and control, Ware shot him down by saying “But this region favours power not weakness and there are many groups who STILL want to destroy it” he didn’t even preface it with ‘well some would argue, or perhaps the reason for the shteitel mentality’ he didn’t really need to interview others if he himself was going to be the mouthpiece for Israeli Hasbara. I also found the wistful reminiscing about the war of independence in 48 from the affable former head of Mossad utterly absurd I remember the deaths etc, 'what the deaths that your people inflicted on the native population'? And how can a full scale invasion and theft of a whole country be termed a War of Independence?? Mind boggling.

John Hilley said...

Thanks, Sabha. Isn't it remarkable how readily reporters like Ware adopt the standard language of Israel's 'independence'? How can independence be gained from something not already owned, something actually stolen? The whole piece is riddled with these assumed and template references.

Well done with your own fine responses to Ware's film, noted here:


Anonymous said...

Congratulations to both of you for patting yourselves on the back with your rhetoric.

John Hilley said...

Not rhetoric. Just basic analysis of something purporting to show the real issues.

I was also thinking just how comfortably indulgent Ware's film was, strolling the beach front in Tel Aviv chatting with Israeli figures, cruising around safe and affluent Ma'ale Adumim, sitting in cafes with young conscripts, the cursory visit to Ramallah, the panoramic views looking down on Israel, and so on.

No venturing into the harsh West Bank refugee camps to hear about the routine murder and misery inflicted by the IDF, no visit to the prison camp that is Gaza or effort to relate Israel's relentless bombing, siege and vindictive persecution of a people.

No serious discussion either of basic Palestinian rights, the illegality of the Occupation or the international support Israel gets in maintaining it.

The whole production is typically sanitised, myopic and safe.

Every now and then, the BBC, trying to maintain the posture of a 'leading news body', sees the need to do its token 'quality insight' on Israel-Palestine. This is their latest, paltry effort.

The real back patting is more likely being done by an obliged BBC and, no doubt, a great many of Israel's supporters who will see great value in Ware's hasbara-serving film.


Anonymous said...

Basic analysis from a person living comfortably at his home somewhere in Europe.
Just wait and see how in 20 years you'll change your mind, when the SHARIAA will be the law in your country...

John Hilley said...

My 'comfort' has no bearing on the actual matter of Israel's illegal occupation and apartheid state. Excuse me for not reacting to the rest of your comment.

Anonymous said...

I like "fled across the border" describing a time when there wasn't a border.