Friday 24 July 2015

Train wreck

Let’s just get that Panorama out of our system, and hope that’s it, once and for all.

When I critiqued “The Train that Divides Jerusalem” on the morning following transmission I hadn’t read any other reviews. There weren’t any. I was the first, and at the time the only one. Even Adam Wishart’s Twitter timeline had relatively few Tweets on the topic, and many seemed positive and congratulatory. He responded to his critics positively, “I’m all ears” was one reply. But that didn’t last. Soon everything went pear shaped. He got rattled, and so did his critics. 
My response to the film was genuine, if my quest for topicality made it somewhat reflexive. 
Next day I spotted the NPR item. 

Now, it is conceivable that these two pieces were completely coincidental. It could be that Adam hadn’t seen the March 16th feature entitled “A Rail Line That Crosses Jerusalem’s Divide, But Can’t Unite It” even though the ideas within both titles seem remarkably similar.

It doesn’t really matter whether it was a coincidence or whether Adam used the earlier piece as a framework for his own film. If so, it might have been helpful to his critics if he’d mentioned it as certain parallels throw Adam’s spin into sharp focus.

Steve Inskeep was not at all uncritical of Israel. He was not writing pro-Israel propaganda.
 This is not the image Jerusalem transit officials would have liked to promote. A transit spokesman told us the train brings people together. He called light rail passengers a "mosaic" of Jews and Arabs, men and women, tourists and more.But the rail line was also divisive from the start of construction. Israel was building a train into occupied territory, serving Jewish settlements that the United Nations had called illegal.”
Both filmmakers used individuals to illustrate their points. NPR’s Steve Inskeep used David Felber to represent ‘an Israeli’. 
“The 53-year-old was on his way to work at the Ministry of Education in West Jerusalem”
They took a ride on the train, as did the Israelis Adam chose to illustrate his film. 
Inskeep’s token Israeli said he had originally opposed the train, but now uses it regularly. He said he would have preferred it if the route had avoided Palestinian areas because of the violence. 
However, David Felber was a third-generation Israeli whose “grandparents came here before there was an Israel.”  Inskeep’s ‘Israeli’ was patriotic, but not an extremist or a political activist. 

In contrast, the individuals Wishart chose to represent Israel were -  a prominent activist for a fringe nationalist organisation the ‘Women’s Forum for the Temple’, and an avaricious, nationalistic property developer who was fired by the mayor after opposing plans to build housing for Palestinian residents of eastern Jerusalem. 

Inskeep did not downplay or attempt to justify the violent attacks on the train or judge the morality of the station being attacked (and all but destroyed) after the murder of Mohammed Abu Khadir; nor did he attempt to minimise the criminality of Mohammed’s murder itself.  He simply put the incidents in chronological order, like this:
“ Three Israeli teenagers were kidnapped and killed by Palestinians, and in apparent retaliation, a Palestinian teenager sitting very near this stop was kidnapped by Jewish extremists and burned alive.” 
In response to accusations that he was misleading viewers by not explaining that the gruesome murder of  the Palestinian was retaliatory, or clarifying that it was wholeheartedly condemned by the Israeli public, Adam Wishart later Tweeted that he had put the two incidents ‘at the same time’.  
That is no defence. Rather, it further belies the claim of objectivity.

Both films included the testimony of Walid Khadir.  Unlike Steve Inskeep, Adam didn’t mention that Walid Khadir was poor Mohammed Abu Khadir’s cousin. This man is most likely a go-to guy when films are being made about the plight of the Palestinians, but featuring him in both these particular films seems decidedly unimaginative even if it was purely coincidental. 

Some of Adam’s Twitter critics suggested he should have paid a visit to an Israeli hospital where he could have shown many Palestinians being treated. Indeed, Inskeep did feature something like that. On the train that is allegedly so divisive, he met a Palestinian couple who run a store near the grand Al-Aqsa Mosque.
“Emad and Nahla Abu Khadije told us they ride the train from East to West Jerusalem twice a week. They go to an Israeli hospital for Emad's cancer treatment and told us they feel safe riding the train. But they find Jerusalem rather tense. As the couple reached their stop, Emad and Nahla told us they feel they're often looked upon as terrorists."We born here, we hope to die here. It's our land," Emad said. Before 1948, before the creation of Israel, Jews and Arabs lived together he tells us.”
Of course the NPR piece didn’t go to the Palestinian refugee camp, interview the mayor of Jerusalem or take us to witness the pantomime at the Al-Aqsa Temple Mount area as Adam did. 
Those are relevant and interesting subjects, worthy of exploring in depth. 
Travelling through the old city, he comes face to face with the battle over one of the world’s holiest sites and asks, could it be the flashpoint for the start of another war?” says in the Panorama programme’s publicity 
Sensitive topics need background, context and impartiality to do them justice. Adam’s comparatively trite treatment, complete with innuendo-laden voice-overs indicate that he  was out of his depth. Panorama, in its present incarnation is not the most appropriate vehicle for such an exploration, because it’s too short, too superficial, too lightweight, too BBC.

The Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs sets out the present situation on the ‘holy sites’ in full. 
‘Dipping in’ and adopting in toto the Palestinians’ stance on Al-Aqsa was a questionable choice, and perpetuating the inaccurate theory that ‘the world’s holiest site’ is under threat from Jews when, as Honest Reporting puts it ”the real issue that has been discussed in recent times is not the rebuilding of the Temple but Jewish access and prayer rights on the Temple Mount” was clearly misleading and biased.
In addition to the cinematographic points I made in my original piece and the facts and inaccuracies set out by Honest Reporting and BBC Watch, this amounts to a pretty comprehensive case of  you know what.

The medium of Twitter seems to turn everyone into an inarticulate bunch of angry souls frustrated by only being allowed to express complicated concepts in pidgin english.

Unfortunately, Twitter seems to be the only mode of engaging with the film’s creator.

Critics of my review of that programme, or anything else, at least have the opportunity to express themselves in normal language in the comments section of this blog. Even better, you don’t even have to go to the trouble of creating a moniker. You can just choose to remain anonymous, as many of you do. Craig and I would prefer it if you signed off with some kind of distinguishing mark, such as ‘anonymous 5’ but we haven’t withdrawn the simple anon option.

This is a niche blog, for niche people; a Royston Vasey backwater of a blog. An acquired taste type of blog if you will.  We don’t boast about the viewing stats, but they’re not bad for  a blog that hasn’t advertised, promoted itself or link-dumped. Many readers lurk quietly. 

Now, here’s the thing. Media-monitoring websites like Honest Reporting, BBC Watch, UK Media Watch, News-Watch and Biased-BBC reach a lot of people - perhaps mainly the already converted. The commentariat inevitably includes some opposition, and it’s annoying that this rarely produces constructive debate. It nearly always degenerates into abusive language, ad hominem attacks and ‘drive-by’ one-liners which insinuate without setting out an argument.
Any fule kno that when you blog, you set yourself up as a target. People wish cancer upon you, sometimes specifying which particular kind of cancer they’d prefer you to get. 

I’d say the evidence above amounts to clear case of bias, or if you like, incompetence. You choose. Please feel free to disagree nicely or remain silent.

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