Peace, Propaganda and the Promised Land
January 26th, 2005
Some may agree it is always interesting to see an opposing point of view, even if only to solidify your own perspective. So while Bathsheba Ratzkoff and Sut Jhally’s documentary “Peace, Propaganda and the Promised Land: U.S. Media and the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict” reaffirmed my opinion that American news coverage of the Middle East conflict is unfairly one-sided in favor of the Israelis, it also confirmed my beliefs that, like Robert Greenwald’s recent “Outfoxed,” more and more documentary filmmakers today have zero qualms engaging in the very same polemic attitudes they and their films are supposedly denouncing.
“Peace, Propaganda and the Promised Land” does an admirable job in setting up its arguments. That Israel’s actions in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip are an illegal occupation of Palestinian land, condemned for more than thirty-five years by the United Nations. That Israel set up the Hasbara Project to ensure good press in the United States, and that all major American news organizations are in leagues with the Hasbara Project to present “news” from the Middle East conflict which always shows Israel in a positive light. And that since September 11th, efforts have been made to always show any and all Palestinian actions in the region, regardless of the levels of violence, as a terrorist act. Now, how much you believe these bullet points will depend on your own personal feelings of Israel, Palestine and war, and “Peace, Propaganda and the Promised Land” does its best to show the levels of difference in coverage, showing US network news covering an incident, followed by a BBC reporter covering the same situation. The disparity in reporting is often startling.
Yet, this film’s greatest strengths is also its biggest weakness. Outside of its small group of talking heads, including MIT linguist professor Noam Chomsky (the seemingly obligatory go-to guy for all discussions highly critical of the American media), “Peace, Propaganda and the Promised Land” uses almost exclusively BBC footage to make its case. Surely there must be one other non-Arab news organization in the world besides the BBC who is, in the filmmaker’s minds, properly covering the Middle East conflict. Could they not find a single clip from Australia’s Nine Network, Hong Kong’s TVB or Japan’s TV Asahi which would favorably add to their argument?
“Peace, Propaganda and the Promised Land” remains engaging as it provokes viewers to consider not only a civilization half a world away but our own premonitions and prejudices. But by employing the very practice it seeks to condemn, the film will ultimately leave viewers just as angry and frustrated about the conflict at the end as they were at the start.
My rating: C