Does anyone still make a point of tuning in to Panorama as we used to in the past? I don’t think so. Last night, for want of anything better to do I switched on the telly just in time to catch someone, in their most doleful Will Self accent, regretfully decrying their sadness that their grandparents’ dream of a utopian Israel was now kaput.
As the closing credits rolled up the screen, with heavy heart I turned to iPlayer to see what I’d just missed. While I waited for it to be uploaded (or whatever was causing the delay) I turned to Twitter, as one does these days, to check out the craic.
Adam Wishart “I am a proud Jew” was magnanimously engaging with his critics. Seriously, he appeared genuinely willing to listen to their criticisms. Listen, but not hear, if you know what I mean.
The criticisms fell into several camps - if that’s not too emotive a word. There were, of course one or two of the usual Israel-hating trolls who can’t bear to come across anything marginally less antisemitic than Electronic Intifada, but the messages that had substance cited some specific examples of Wishart’s ‘default BBC’ agenda.
One particular issue that kept cropping up was the portrayal of Mohammed Abu Khedir, the Palestinian youth who was brutally murdered by Israelis. The Palestinian Khedir family was portrayed sympathetically and at length, whereas there was but a fleeting reference to the three Israeli boys who were kidnapped and murdered, and seemingly no attempt to include their distressed families in the film, or to emphasise that the latter atrocity took place before the former.
Other issues came up too. Selective use of Israeli voices - all those featured expressed stereotypical right-wing views of the kind that fuel a specific type of Israel-bashing that’s rife these days.
Lack of context, insufficient emphasis on the security reasons for the barrier - a mistranslation of ‘Yahud’ to ‘soldier’ - misleading allusions to a racist element that allegedly surrounds the the train’s existence.
Anyhow, by this time the iPlayer was fully functioning so with girded loins and gritted teeth I pressed play.
The first thing I saw, (I would, wouldn’t I?) was Adam polishing his as-a-Jew credentials. That’s a bad sign.
Actually, it wasn’t the very first thing. What struck me in the first instant was the way the narrator’s voice stretched the vowels. “and the train itself has become a ta-a-a-rget for vi-i-i-i-lence”
“I’m Adam Wishart, a British Jew” he announced, just in case we thought the voice we were hearing belonged to Will Self. “And I’m going to ri-i-i-ide Jerusalem’s new train to the heart of a city which feels more divi-i-i-ded than ever.”
Accompanying - or immediately after - the Mayor’s assurance that the light railway was ‘open to all,’ there was a brief shot of passengers disembarking, and nary an Arab to be seen.
It’s the kind of thing that’s done in the editing suite; done to convey a quasi-subliminal message, while the filmmakers indignantly protest the opposite with their Sally Bercow-style innocent faces.
The Temple Mount issue was clumsily handled. It was over-simplified to the extent that it was made to appear to be yet another dastardly Jewish plot to trample all over Arab holy places.
When Yahuda Glick was shot I looked into the situation a little bit, and I’d say that Adam’s portrayal of the situation was very unfair. Obviously “it’s complicated”.
“Rivka Shimon is part of the new Temple movement” droned ‘Will’. That is why we’ve decided to feature her in this unbiased documentary. Look at all those Jews stampeding into Arab holy places as if they hadn’t a care in the world!
“Rivka says they’ve a ‘right’ to be here!”
At least Rivka has a sense of humour. She looked suitably amused at the ludicrous appearance of a heavily veiled Arab ‘Muslima’ violently using a plastic garden chair as a drum in protest at the impudent Jewish invasion. “What are they like? her half smile quite rightly implied.
“Within minutes of Rivka’s group arriving” narrated Mr. ‘Self’, "there are protests'. There certainly are. Great burly veiled figures in long black burkas (men, surely?) striding along shreiking “AllahuAckbar” and banging chairs on the ground.
“They do pray, in silence, which they shouldn’t be doin’ in there” asserts a devout Muslim woman indignantly. “Gosh. How awful” I’m thinkin’, Islamophobically.
One of the problems with Rivka, apart from the fact that she probably represents a minority, albeit a vocal minority, of religious Israeli activists, is that her use of the English language lacks nuance. When she says:
”And when we are sure what we are doing is right, no-one can be against us, and God will ‘elp us, and it will come, and it will be good for the Muslim world not to be against us - because if they will be against us - they will suffer”
it sounds a bit sinister, but it is open to interpretation in so many ways. It could sound like a threat. It could indicate exactly the opposite, but because of her lack of vocabulary and her demeanour, it had an unfortunate effect. Just what doctor BBC ordered.
‘’...........then in 1967 Israel occupied the eastern areas” Adam was suddenly saying, as if that had happened by supernatural means. Well, Rivka did say Israel winning that war was a miracle.
“Every day the train passes, they are butchering me” worded the subtitles, to the spoken Arabic from an aggrieved Palestinian man. “every day they are killing me” repeated Adam “this is what the train means to us” he continued.
“Waled Abu Khedir is showing me what used to be his land until it was taken to build this train station”
Where have I heard that name before - hmm.
“He refused compensation because the seizure of land fits into a wider picture”. Hmm. A good reason to refuse compensation? Or not.
Arieh King is an evil Jewish property developer, buying up Palestinian land for Jews. He’ll go down well in my documentary, thinks Adam. Arieh King is a one-man, Arab-hating Israeli expansionist explosion.
The Palestinian refugee camp is grim. It’s a slum. “In my teenage Zionist education course” intones Adam “They didn’t introduce us to any Palestinians”. Oh dear. That’s Jewish brainwashing for you.
“Israel says the barrier that surrounds this part of the city was built to protect Israelis from attack” he says. “But it seems to me that it serves another purpose as well. To cordon off the squalor and deprivation.”
Nir Barkat, Mayor of Jerusalem has a lot to answer for. Adam confronts him: “In the Shuafat refugee camp, it’s part of the municipality, there’s rubbish all over the street, sporadic water.”
Barkat attempts to make a profound point.:
“There are no Jewish refugees. Not one. We take them home and help them. It’s very unfortunate that there are Arab refugees. That with all the wealth of the Arab world, they haven’t found the time and the capital to help the refugees out.”
The point is lost on Adam as well as the film’s editors, who have superimposed footage of the aforementioned deprivation over the Mayor’s voice.
“They may be refugees” says Adam, “but they’re residents of Jerusalem, aren’t they?”
He puts that to the Mayor.
“I agree, and I do everything I can, however its a problem that the municipality cannot solve on its own”
Adam voices the rest of the interview with Nir Barkat on the his behalf:
“The municipality spends a lot, but would like to provide more services, he says, but its staff are subjected to physical and verbal abuse.”
he recounts, adding:
” I can’t help feeling that the state of this place and the lawlessness and the barrier make this part of Jerusalem a tinderbox waiting to ignite.”
Back to the tubby Palestinian man who says:
“it’s difficult to be a child born into an environment of occupation and racism. Nobody’s born a violent person, but the segregation and disparities lead to war and violence.”
He spoke in Arabic, so this was a translation. There are so many holes in that statement that I feel would have been countered if Adam had been treating both sides equally. He might have started “I can’t help feeling...” and continued to point out that the racism is far more prevalent on the Arab side, that children are born into a culture of antisemitism and anti-Zionism, and that these are the prime factors that ‘lead to’ occupation, segregation, disparities and violence.
But Adam didn’t say that, or probably even think that.
Then the little boy whose words were mistranslated. Yahud to ‘soldiers’. “God bless them” he said of the stone-throwers.
“Most of the firing was from fireworks” says Adam “The ammunition of the powerless.”
A brief shot - ‘that shot’ - of a Palestinian car driving along the platform, ploughing into waiting passengers.
“Palestinians have targeted the rail line, driving ca-a-a-ars into waiting passengers, killing three adults and a baby”
narrated Adam. A statement that took as long to state as it took to read that sentence.
This was the content that Adam was Tweeting in answer to Tweeted accusations that he didn’t focus on Palestinian-on-Israeli violence. Three nameless adults and a nameless baby.
Immediately the subject is changed:
“16 year old Mohammed Abu Khedir was also waiting by the train line a year ago when he was kidnapped by a group of Israelis”
A close up photo of a pensive looking Mohammad filled the screen.
“As tension grew in the run-up to last summer’s Ga-a-aza war” continued Adam, sounding particularly Selfish “three Israeli teenagers had also been abducted and murdered.” That’s all. Nameless boys, abducted and murdered by persons unnamed.
“Hussain is Mohammed’s father.”
“They tied him to a tree, they poured petrol on him and burned him alive.” says Hussain. Hmm. Is that exactly what happened? I’m not so sure, but in any case it was bad enough without embellishing it. Embellishing it makes it worse in its own special way. “it was the ugliest crime in history” he said then.
Mohammed’s tearful mother is shown. “Even now I think he will be back” that close-up again, and footage of an open coffin being carried aloft, paraded in the street, by a crowd of men. Was that Mohammed?
The Palestinians destroyed the station. “This was a racist train to keep Jerusalem for the Jews only” attests Hussain.
Cut to ‘the other side of the story’. A terrorist attack on a synagogue. A brutal knife attack on Chaim Rothman, who has been in a coma ever since. His American-sounding wife reads a prayer to his comatose form. As she is filmed on the train home, a fleeting image of what looked like Hussain Khedir standing in front of his son’s headstone flashed onto the screen. Sad music. Lest we forget.
Cut to some joyful Israelis celebrating Jerusalem day. A protest. Violence.
“When I was here 30 years ago even my most fervent Zionist friends weren’t rushing to build a temple on this site”
“now this idea is gathering support from within the mainstream. Even a new member of the cabinet supports the idea. I can’t help but think, if some Jews push much further, this would surely be the last stand for the Palestinians.”
Too many “I can’t help but thinks” in this film, is what I can’t help but think.
“I’m left wondering, what is the purpose of the train. Does its destination hold a clue?” said Adam.
And I’m left wondering, what is the purpose of this film? Does its destination (the BBC ) hold a clue? Says me.
“It travels north, through the Palestinian neighbourhoods and snakes round the refugee camp. What’s so controversial is that the ultimate destination is an Israeli settlement. 1000 acres, taken by Israel to build a beautiful suburb. Like all settlements in the occupied territories most of the international community considers them to be illegal.”
The mayor of Jerusalem again.
“In all those places there was never a Palestinian state”, he says.
“put a shovel in the ground, and you’ll find Jewish roots; so when people talk about occupied land - occupied from whom? It’s all Jewish!”
Back to Adam.
“This train makes permanent the expansion of Israel. This settlement is like a fortress, perhaps not surprising when so many Israelis feel a constant threat from their Arab neighbours and it’s Rivka Shimon’s home.”
says Adam. Rivka likes the view.
“What’s surprising” says Adam “is that you can see the deprivation including the Shuafat refugee camp the other side of the barrier.”
"Have you ever been over there?” he asks Rivka, meaningfully. “No, of course not” she answers “even the police don’t go there”
“The Israelis and the Palestinians should be neighbours but they’re separated by an ever-widening gulf of distrust.”
Back to the tubby Palestinian man:
“There will never be peace between us and the Israelis, the Jews of the municipality. How could they be human, they live opposite us and can see with their own eyes the conditions of the camp. It is in no way humane or normal.”
Back to the beginning. I think this is where I came in. Adam alone on a deserted train. “My journey has been heartbreaking” says Will Self.
“When my grandparents campaigned for the state of Israel they hoped for a place of refuge, tolerance and equal rights for all.”
(Obviously they didn’t take into account the religion of Islam and its antisemitism, intolerance, inequality and the Arab world’s determination to make permanent refugees out of the Palestinian Arabs they encouraged to move out of the way whilst they made their failed attempt to destroy the newly formed Jewish state)
“I can’t believe that this could be the place that they dreamed of, all those years ago” he finishes.
Little did they know that their grandson would be working for Panorama, making a selectively edited documentary in the years to come.
Incidentally, I can’t help but wonder what has happened to all the footage that was rejected? The footage that remains on today’s equivalent of the cutting room floor? Were the only Jews that Adam encountered ruthless, entitled, ‘chosen’ and religious? Were the only Palestinians he spoke to sad, bereft of land, full of hopelessness, despair and anger and decidedly economical with the actualité?
I don’t think Twitter is the ideal way of communicating on complex matters like this, but someone did raise another question. Is this the time to put out another documentary that’s bound to inflame yet more antisemitic sentiment than is already rife in the hostile, anti-Israel atmosphere that exists in present day Britain?
Update: More here
Update: More here