Great works of art can persuade people to believe that a lie is true, that good is evil, and that evil is good.
For example, the film Paradise Now, which I reviewed in these pages more than five years ago, is a brilliant piece of propaganda whose aim was—and still is—to support a (false) Palestinian “narrative” over and above its true Israeli counterpart. It is a powerful film, but one which does not serve the cause of truth so much as that of propaganda.
Director Hany Abu-Assad’s Israelis are all soldiers: ominous, hard-eyed, helmeted, armed, and in tanks. They are depersonalized and demonized. There are no exceptions.
On the other hand, Abu-Assad portrays even Palestinian suicide killers as soulful and compassionate. They are made to seem western, or “just like us.” Abu-Assad’s only female character is completely fictional, but that is why we “like” her. She dresses in a modern, sexy way, lives alone (this is not possible), and is a European-style “pacifist.”
The Big Lies never stop coming—packaged pleasantly, believably. Abu-Assad’s two sympathetic suicide killers tell outright lies: that Israel has consistently rejected a two-state solution when, in fact, it is the Palestinians who have; and that Jewish Israelis, not Muslim Arabs, have carried out “programs of ethnic cleansing.”
Omissions are as important as what is said. There are no bloody Israeli civilian body parts strewn about, no screams, no life-long pain. The film completely omits the fact that Muslim Arabs, including Palestinians, are continuously indoctrinated to hate both Jews and Israelis who, they have been told, poison the water, kill Muslim babies to use their blood for Jewish ritual purposes, harvest Palestinian organs, etc.
In Carmen bin Ladin’s book Inside the Kingdom: My Life in Saudi Arabia, she describes the indoctrination of her 7-year old daughter in Saudi Arabia:
When Wafah was seven or eight, I remember, I looked through her exercise book one evening and I found she’d written down, “I hate Jews. I love Palestine,” in her childish Arabic script. What was happening to my daughter. If she was going to hate somebody, I wanted her to have a good reason. The Arab-Israeli dispute was something she knew nothing about.
In Paradise Now, on camera, a taxi driver tells his passenger that Israelis have polluted the drinking water with anti-spermicides—not so different from what Mrs. Suha Arafat said when she accused Israelis of causing cancer and fertility problems among Palestinian women.
This same Palestinian “narrative” drives the film Amreeka, which premiered at the Sundance film festival in 2009. The Israelis are all bad; we only see them as soldiers and always at checkpoints where they harass, mistreat, and terrorize innocent, sympathetic Palestinian civilians. Again, there are no exceptions. There are absolutely no good Israelis, no innocent Israeli children–nor are there any Palestinians, including the suicide killers and their handlers who are less than soulful, charming, and sympathetic.
When director Cherian Dabis’ heroine, Muna, a Christian Arab from Bethlehem, flees to America, she and her son find that all Americans are anti-Arab and anti-Muslim. Their arrival at the airport in Illinois is fraught with snapping German shepherd dogs and suspicious officials and results in the loss of all their cash. There is hardly a frame that goes by in which Muna does not recite her bitterness about being “occupied” by Israelis, about the “Wall” they are building, nor a frame in which she and her sister, brother-in-law, and eldest neice do not rail against the Americans for having invaded Iraq.
However, unlike Paradise Now, this film actually has three—but no more than three—American exceptions. One is a dope-smoking African-American teenager who can identify with Arabs in terms of “racist Americans,” one is a “freaky” high school dropout who understands that traditional Americans are the real moral “freaks,” the third is the adult son of Polish Jews who really understands what racism is about and who comes to Muna’s rescue. Otherwise, all the Americans shown are cruel, hateful, and dangerous. Post 9/11, they do not hire very qualified Arabs and they stop patronizing a physician because he is an Arab.
On March 27, 2011, CNN broadcast a so-called documentary Not Wanted: The Muslim Next Door, which repeated many of these specific stereotypes. On camera, the Muslim men, including the imam, were all soft-spoken, soulful, compassionate, tearful, enormously likeable. There were absolutely no exceptions. No imam raged, yelled himself hoarse as so many do on satellite television. No southern Christian was presented as anything other than a relentless and violent bigot.
And now, we have Miral, a film which has garnered a huge amount of attention within a three-four day period in the New York area media. In interviews, the director, Julian Schnabel, defends his right to tell the Palestinian “narrative” for the first time. He seems not to know that many others before him have specialized in this particular line of work. But, people who do not know this may happily believe Schnabel. They may also believe that the same Israelis who are capable of alleged brutality towards Palestinians have, until Schnabel came alone, made sure that their version of the “narrative” is the only one out there.
What is the film about?
Miral is based on the the lives of four Palestinian women. The film begins with the period just before Israel’s declaration of independence in 1948 and ends just before the signing of the Oslo accords in 1993. The women are Miral’s mother, Nadia, who was battered and raped either by her uncle, husband, or boyfriend and then jailed by the Israelis for hitting an Israeli woman. Thereafter, Nadia commits suicide by walking into the sea. Miral’s father or stepfather puts her in an orphanage. These facts are purposely vague, and therefore, presumably unimportant, certainly far less important in terms of trauma than the “Israeli occupation” or the all-powerful misery at the checkpoints.
The second woman is Hind al-Husseini, (whose story is presented first). She is the founder of the Dar Al-Tifel home for Palestinian orphans; the third woman is Miral, a young woman who is raised in the orphanage and who comes of age during the first Palestinian intifada ( 1987-1993); the fourth woman, Fatima, is a female Palestinian terrorist who is serving three life sentences. Fatima blew up a movie theatre somewhere in Israel; she is Nadia’s prison friend. Fatima is presented as a sympathetic figure and as someone who once worked as a nurse in a hospital for injured Arab soldiers in 1967 when four Arab nations attacked Israel.