These days there are a number of documentaries and academic books that address the Israel Palestine conflict; many of them, like Occupation 101, reveal how Israeli policy in the region is tearing families apart, killing people and destroying homes. Yet the occupation is still raging in the Middle East; how many of these films reach the right people and why is little changing when they expose a system which has such a blatant disregard for other people’s lives?
Award-winning documentary Occupation 101 offers a few answers to this question. Narrated by Alison Weir, founder of ‘If Americans Knew’, and directed by brothers Abdallah and Sufyan Omeish, it was released in 2006. It analyses both the repercussions of the occupation – settlements, house demolitions, and access to jobs – and explores the relationship between Israel and The United States, examining the implications of such a cosy alliance. America’s manipulation of the media on Israel, for example, means people see a very limited view of what is really happening.
There are a number of scenes in which Occupation 101 demonstrates American political complicity in the conflict. It explains that between 1978 and 2006 pro-Israeli political committees donated $43,724,035 to candidates who voted in Congress according to their agenda; Israel scoops up a third of all annual American international aid at between two and three billion dollars a year; The States has exercised their veto in the U.N. over 40 times so Israel can continue to contravene international law.
In one scene an Orthodox Jewish citizens appears to tell us “I am from Al-Quds. I am a witness. I know the Arabs, the Arabs are very good. [There was] no problem until the Zionist movement started. My grandmother told me before the Zionist movement started they were babysitting each other’s kids. They borrowed from each other like brothers… it is not Arabs that are the problem, it’s not Jews that are the problem, not Judaism or Muslims. Only Zionism.”
His words contradict the widespread myth this is an irreversible conflict with its roots in an ancient disagreement between Jewish and Arab citizens that has been raging for thousands of years and will continue to rage for thousands of years. Footage of Ireland, Algeria, South Africa and India are mixed with images of Israel and Palestine to place the conflict in the wider context; it illustrates that many societies fight for their rights against oppression, form resistance movements and struggle against military occupation all over the world.
This documentary mixes largely Palestinian, Israeli and American voices of journalists, academics, scholars, religious authorities, activists, human rights lawyers, NGO representatives and humanitarian workers -amongst them Noam Chomsky, Jeff Halper and Amira Hass – to represent the span of voices that challenge the occupation. In the right hands, Occupation 101 would offer a newcomer to the conflict a comprehensive, clear, overview of history in the region and reveal numerous, disturbing facts and figures that have fanned the flames of hostility.
Occupation 101 (2007)
Written, Directed, and Produced by Sufyan Omeish and Abdallah Omeish
"Any violence by a large population is not because the people is more violent than any other. It's an alarm, it's a sign, it's a signal that something is wrong in the treatment of this population."
This blanket excusal of violence introduces Occupation 101, a film designed to evoke sympathy for Palestinians and contempt for Israel, which is currently being promoted to schools, churches and activist groups. What follows is ninety minutes of indoctrination. Scenes of squalid refugee camps, Israeli soldiers confronting protesters, despairing Palestinian mothers and teary-eyed children serve as a backdrop to well-rehearsed indictments of the Jewish state by a whos who of anti-Israel activists. Narrator Alison Weir and the producer/director team of Sufyan and Abdallah Omeish present a litany of anti-Zionist canards. The message throughout is that Palestinians are blameless victims while Israelis are entirely responsible for Palestinian violence.
False Linkage to Civil Rights Struggles
Occupation 101's worst offense is its twisting of the history and facts of the conflict in order to equate the Palestinian cause with celebrated civil rights struggles around the world. Viewers are led to see the situation of the Palestinians as parallel to black South Africans under apartheid or southern blacks during the civil rights era. To pull this off, a decade of unprecedented terrorism directed at Israelis in their homes, cafes, vehicles and religious festivals is made nearly invisible, severing the connection between Israeli measures like house demolitions and sweeps through Palestinian villages and the Palestinian attacks that precipitated them. This is essential to the film's portrayal of Israeli actions as colonialist aggression rather than as a response to terrorism. The hate indoctrination that permeates Arab society and produces cadres of young Palestinian suicide bombers groomed in hatred, intolerance and rejection of peaceful coexistence is swept under the carpet.
A succession of film clips depict oppression in Northern Ireland, in Algeria, against black civil rights marchers in America and South Africa. Images of Martin Luther King and words of righteous indignation by Nelson Mandela are juxtaposed with these scenes of violence. This culminates in footage of Israeli forces assaulting without a hint of context stone-throwing Palestinian protesters. The viewer is led to see the Palestinian cause as connected to a worldwide struggle for civil rights. But the viewer is being fed a lie, because the concept of equality and coexistence championed by civil rights leaders in South Africa and America is inconsistent with the Palestinian leaders' exhortations to violence.
The actual voices of many Palestinian leaders, as revealed by translations from Palestinian Media Watch and MEMRI (Middle East Media Research Institute), incite hatred and violence. For example:
"Because there are none who love the Jews on the face of the earth: not man, not rock, and not tree everything hates them...Everything wants vengeance on the Jews, on these pigs on the face of the earth," (Imam Sheik Ibrahim Madiras on Palestinian TV, Sept. 10, 2004, courtesy of Palestinian Media Watch.)
"We are waging a cruel war with the brothers of monkey and pigs." (Imam Mohammad Maadi on Palestinian TV, Sept. 12, 2004)
"The Jews are Jews...the Jews are a cancer that spreads inside the body of the Arabic and Islamic nation..." (Imam Sheik Ibrahim Madiras on Palestinian TV, Jan. 7, 2005)
Occupation 101 offers no images of the 1600 Gazan kindergartners at their graduation in which the gruesome murder and mutilation of two Israelis was re-enacted on stage with a child raising her hands dipped in red paint to simulate blood and celebrate the killing (Ma'ariv, June 23, 2002). There are no scenes of Palestinian school children proudly advertising their ambition to become suicide bombers as teachers smile approvingly.
Nor is there a single film clip of the aftermath of the gruesome work of those bombers on Israeli streets and buses. Here, Palestinians are depicted only as victims.
Misrepresenting the Facts on Contentious Issues
A segment on Israel's security barrier refers to it variously as "the hate wall," "the apartheid wall" and "the separation wall," and denies that it was constructed to stop waves of Palestinian suicide bombers from infiltrating into Israel. While the barrier may cause hardship to some Palestinians, it is dishonest to obscure the fact that since the barrier's construction, suicide bombings have dropped by more than ninety percent. The film makes the preposterous charge, that through the location of the "wall," Israel has grabbed 42 percent of the West Bank. Like many "facts" presented in the film, it is easily disproved. Any map of the barrier's location would confirm the real figure at approximately six to eight percent.
Complicated issues like water and land use are discussed with similar disregard for accuracy. For example, the film condemns Israel for using more water than the Palestinians or Jordanians per capita. But in fact, Israel uses far less water per capita than neighboring states like Syria, Lebanon, and Egypt. And despite its own shortages, Israel supplies over 40 million cubic meters of fresh water per year to the Palestinians. About 83% of the drinking water used in the Palestinian city of Ramallah and its suburbs is piped in from Israel. And Israel continues to supply 4 million cubic meters of water annually to Gaza even as Palestinians in Gaza fire missiles and mortars into Israel. In reality, Palestinians benefit substantially from Israeli supplied water, technology and methods.
Several speakers lament the decline in Palestinian living and health standards since the Oslo process, obscuring the fact that this decline began after responsibility for the welfare and economic development of the West Bank and Gaza was transferred to the Palestinian Authority under Yasir Arafat. The World Bank, UNICEF and even the Palestinian government itself acknowledge the dramatic improvement in living standards, including life expectancy, child mortality, literacy and access to clean water that occurred during the years of Israeli administration from 1967 to 1993.
As the film piles up ostensibly damning allegations against Israel one after the other, uninformed viewers are likely to be sharply misled about the fundamental realities of the conflict, such as the intolerance of most Middle Eastern states which refuse to recognize a non-Muslim, non-Arab nation in the region and reject the legal sovereign rights of the Jewish state. (This pattern of bigotry was again visibly apparent at Annapolis in November 2007 when a Saudi prince refused to shake the hand of the Israeli representative.) Recall that in 1947 and 2000, the Palestinians rejected proposals for a state and instead resorted to war and violence.
Dredging up Anti-Jewish Canards
Most disturbing was the segment featuring pro-Palestinian Christian activists which contained classic anti-Jewish undertones and crucifixion imagery. These activists blame Israel for the disappearing Christian presence in the Holy land, notwithstanding the ongoing attacks by Palestinian Muslims against Palestinian Christians. William Baker, head of Christians and Muslims for Peace, asserts the "first converts to the teachings of Jesus were Palestinians." The first converts to Christianity were, of course, Jews, just as Jesus himself was Jewish, along with most of his close associates and early followers.
Bakers appearance in the film is noteworthy. He was expelled from the congregation of Dr. Robert Schuller, founder and head of Crystal Cathedral in Gardengrove, CA after his association with groups espousing anti-Semitic views was revealed. An exposée by Stan Brin in the Orange County Weekly (Feb. 13, 2002) details Bakers connections with anti-Semitic and neo-Nazi organizations for example, he chaired the neo-Nazi Populist Party in 1984 and also alleges that Bakers academic pedigree is fake.
The filmmakers decision to feature Bakers revival of a variation on a Nazi campaign to de-Judaize the roots of Christianity is telling. Viewers of this film may not know the Arab invasion and conquest of Palestine occurred some 600 years after Jesus lived and died. Similarly, Baker glosses over a millennium of Christian-Muslim conflict in the holy land and throughout much of the Middle East.
Episcopal Bishop Allen Bartlett is heard estimating that only two percent of the Palestinian population is now Christian, and asserting: "They've been robbed of their heritage, they've been robbed of their ancestral lands. They've been robbed of their culture." Israel is cast as the cause of this alleged theft even though the dwindling of the Christian portion of the Palestinian population in the West Bank and Gaza preceded Israeli control and has accelerated in the face of spreading Islamist influence. Most indicative, though, of the treatment of Christians by Israel is their status and condition within that country, where they constitute the only growing Christian population in the Middle East.
One can only conclude that for these Christian critics, scapegoating the Jews takes precedence over rational and accurate discussion of the treatment of Christian minorities.
Peddling the Claim of Excessive Jewish Influence
Ex-congressman Paul Findley, who has long blamed Jewish influence in America for his re-election defeat, is featured in a segment alleging that Jews exercise excessive power over American foreign policy.
Richard Falk, who makes appearances throughout the film, is an emeritus professor at Princeton University with a long record of backing the wrong causes. In February,1979, he published a piece in the New York Times titled "Trusting Khomeini," extolling Ayatollah Khomeini, and ridiculing the notion that the Ayatollah was a religious reactionary. The factually-challenged professor bizarrely contends that Israel "receives as much foreign economic assistance as all the countries combined in the world" from the US.
Falk is silent on the huge amounts of military aid that the United States gives to countries other than Israel. For example, stationing troops in South Korea to defend that country costs U.S. taxpayers $3 billion per year. Similarly, our NATO committment to Western Europe has accounted for one third of our ordinary defense budget every year since 1946, in present dollars amounting to at least $80 Billion dollars annually. And, as with South Korea, since we have subsidized and underwritten the cost of defending France, Britain, West Germany. And the same is true of defending Japan and the rest of east Asia, which costs the U.S. another $40 Billion per year.
With many of these other countries, the lives of U.S. soldiers are directly on the line. For example, there are tens of thousands of U.S. soldiers stationed near the DMZ between North and South Korea. In contrast, only a handful of U.S. soldiers have ever had to defend Israel (when Israel was supplied with new Patriot missile batteries which Israelis had not yet been trained on).
The Jewish Lineup
A cast of veteran anti-Zionist Jews, including Phyllis Bennis, Jeff Halper, Allegra Pacheco, Ilan Pappe, Amira Hass and Noam Chomsky, utter familiar calumny against Israel, their nominal Jewish identities providing a false veneer of authenticity to their portrayals of alleged Israeli expansionism and inhumanity towards Palestinians.
Rabbi Michael Lerner, along with several other rabbis who frequently associate with groups critical of Israel, gives rabbinic cover to delegitimizing Israeli security needs. Even a spokesman for the cult known as Naturei Karta, repudiated by the entire spectrum of Jewish organizations and denominations after currying favor with Holocaust deniers in Iran, is given time to assert that "only Zionism is the problem" in the Middle East.
The prominence given to these fringe anti-Israel Jews contrasts with the total whitewashing of widespread Arab abuses of non-Muslims, ethnic minorities, women and gays of the Middle East. (Freedom House, a non-partisan group monitoring freedom and democracy, characterizes Israel alone as "free" among nations of the Middle East.)
Similarly, a former US ambassador to Saudi Arabia, James Akins, offers a sanitized version of Jewish-Arab relations in the broader Middle East prior to Zionism, skipping over the periodic pogroms against Jews (occurring as recently as 1941 in Iraq) and the occasional blood libel (like the one that occurred in Damascus in 1840). Douglas Dicks of the Catholic Relief Services insists, "there is no congenital, historical enmity between the Arabs and the Jews." Reverend Dicks might educate himself on the Hamas Charter to find the following verse attributed to Mohammed:
The prophet, prayer and peace be upon him, said: "The time [Judgment Day] will not come until Muslims will fight the Jews (and kill them); until the Jews hide behind rocks and trees, which will cry: O Muslim! there is a Jew hiding behind me, come on and kill him!"
The Ethnic Cleansing Lie
Bishop Bartlett implies that Israel flattens Palestinian towns to establish settlements on top of them, claiming that settlements are built on "Palestinian land that are selected whatever is there, whether it's roads, whether it's villages or homes they're bulldozed and new town is built...." This is complete invention; Israeli settlements have never been built on top of Palestinian homes and villages.
Alleged facts are used opportunistically and in some cases in a contradictory manner. When trying to paint Israel as a colonialist occupier, Israeli demolition of Palestinian houses is presented as part of "colonial" expansion. But a later segment of the film lets slip that the demolition of homes was mainly a punitive measure, because the speaker was trying to make a different point, showing the alleged brutality of Israelis.
Jeff Halper, a fringe detractor of Israel, contends that Israeli policy is meant to ensure "most of the land is free for Israeli settlement" and "to make the Palestinians leave the territories... it's a kind of ethnic cleansing." In reality, Israeli communities comprise only a small percentage of West Bank land and the supposedly "ethnically cleansed" Palestinian population has increased from 947,000 in June, 1967 to over four million today.
Fabrication of history and false portrayals of Israeli measures are central to the film. Palestinian historian Rashid Khalidi misrepresents the Arab assault on the newly independent Jewish state as a rescue: "300,000 Palestinians had already been expelled before the first Arab soldier entered Palestine. ... Some of the neighboring Arab armies finally intervened ... when Israel officially announced its statehood." Yet, as numerous Arab officials have admitted, the population fled mostly due to the urging and scare-mongering of their own leadership. Moreover, Khalidi gives new meaning to the word "intervention" in applying that word to describe the assault by Arab armies whose stated intent was driving the Jews into the sea.
He is correct in indicating many Arab residents were no longer in Palestine when the invasion began but he hesitates to explain fully. Historians have noted that as many as 100,000 Arabs fled before May 1948, largely out of disillusionment with their leadership or under the belief that others would do the fighting for them. This flight included much of the elite and educated class, leaving behind the largely leaderless masses. (See Efraim Karsh's discussion of this issue in the July-August 2000 edition of Commentary.)
The barrage of unsupportable claims and misrepresentations suggests that the film-makers regard their target audience, college-age Americans, as easily manipulated and so uninformed about the relevant history that they cannot recognize the film for what it is unalloyed propaganda. But the film-makers, perhaps unwittingly, tipped their hand, revealing something even more fundamentally wrong with their arguments than the falsehoods about land, water and demography. The initial premise of the film, as described by Amira Hass, that seeks to present Palestinian violence as a legitimate response to alleged Israeli mistreatment is in reality diametrically opposed to the message of Martin Luther King. His was one of non-violence, whatever the difficulties.
Occupation 101's distorted justification of Palestinian violence as an understandable response to alleged wrongs done to them adopts the standard line of argument used by demagogues from the Nazis to the perpetrators of genocide in Rwanda to incite their audience to violence.
Occupation 101 would have been better titled Propaganda 101. And it is through that prism this film should be viewed.