PBS Classroom Lessons on Arab-Israeli Conflict

PBS considers education to be its central mission.  “At PBS, education is in our DNA,” proclaims a PBS report on the company’s impact on learning, which also refers to PBS as  “America’s largest classroom.” 

Accordingly, PBS has entered America’s classrooms by offering lesson plans based on some of its news shows and documentaries. These lessons are geared toward and marketed to U.S. public schoolteachers. 

In order to assess what and how the American public broadcaster teaches about the Arab-Israeli conflict, CAMERA examined PBS lesson plans purporting to teach about the topic, based on documentaries it has aired.  Disturbingly, the classroom materials offered by PBS present a one-sided view of the conflict by ignoring its underlying fundamentals and adopting a Palestinian narrative that blames the Jewish state.

SUMMARY

*We identified eight documentaries – five “POV (Point of View)” films, two “Wide Angle” films and one “Independent Lens” film – that were used for PBS lesson plans relating to the conflict.

*The films selected by PBS, and the accompanying lesson plans, either completely ignore or give short shrift to the incontrovertible fundamentals underlying the conflict, namely:

  1. that Palestinian/Arab leaders have consistently refused to accept a Jewish state within any contours in the region
  2. that the region’s Arabs invaded the nascent State of Israel, a UN-member state, in violation of UN partition 181 and the UN charter and  again waged war against Israel in 1956, 1967 and 1973 declaring their goal to eradicate the Jewish state from the region
  3. that it was Jordan who annexed Jerusalem and the West Bank to its territory in 1950, in a move considered illegal by most of the international community, and who again waged war against Israel in 1967, resulting in Israel’s capture of these territories
  4. that since then, the Palestinians have rejected multiple offers of statehood in a negotiated peace plan that would end the conflict
  5. that the Palestinian leadership (PLO and PA) has actively thwarted attempts to resettle Palestinian refugees (original refugees and their descendents) from refugee camps to areas outside the homes they left during the 1948 war in present-day Israel (See here.)
  6. that Palestinian leaders have promoted and continue to encourage and foment the use of violence against Israelis and Jews
  7. that it is this violence, terrorism, and suicide bombings perpetrated by Palestinians and encouraged and sanctioned by their leaders
    that have resulted in Israeli restrictions on Palestinians and that have had the most detrimental impact on the fate of the Palestinians
  8. that the Palestinian leadership, both Fatah and Hamas, continues its efforts to erase Jewish historical ties and legacy to Israel, Jerusalem and its holy sites – both by indoctrinating the Palestinian public and by appealing to supporters on international forums who comply with the Palestinians to deny Jewish legacy

*The films are explored from an Arab/Palestinian point of view of the conflict, whether by the protagonists themselves or by the background and context in which their situation is presented.  Israeli Jews are portrayed primarily in the roles of aggressors and/or bigots. 

Of the five POV films with accompanying lesson plans:

  1. Four are unidimensional films that reduce the conflict to an exploration of Palestinian grievances. Those Israelis who are shown are depicted in military or law enforcement roles, as aggressors who are given no voice to explain their perspective. The greater context of the situation and the fundamentals addressed above are completely missing from these narrowly focused, one-sided films. 
  2. The fifth film, while appearing superficially to be balanced with both Israeli and Palestinian protagonists, is filled with inaccurate, misleading historical background, politicized scene editing, and omission of the fundamental context mentioned above. This creates a superficial, inaccurate and partisan image of the conflict, with Arab aggression essentially erased while Israel is blamed as the source of ongoing conflict.

Of the two Wide Angle documentaries that form the basis for lesson plans:

  1. One film ostensibly illuminates the mind-set of Palestinian aggressors in the form of suicide bombers, but again focuses on their grievances rather than on the impact their actions have on their Israeli victims and the conflict as a whole.

    *Note: The accompanying lesson plan widely critiqued by media organizations, including by CAMERA whose staff and members contacted PBS about the problematic, one-sided  lesson plan. It was subsequently  revised to include a news report about Palestinian terrorism inside Israel.

  2. The other Wide Angle documentary focuses on a Palestinian hero who donates his dead son’s organs. He is contrasted with a prejudiced Israeli, who is one of the recipients. The film depicts Palestinians, overall, as victims of Israeli aggression.

The remaining Independent Lens documentary does not directly address the Arab-Israeli conflict, yet purports to teach about the conflict by suggesting that Israeli Jews are racists and bigoted against Arabs – despite the lack of any evidence of it in the film.

*Beyond the documentaries themselves, the lessons encourage students to identify with the Palestinian/Arab protagonists, and accept their stated positions as the starting point for the included exercises.   None of the films selected by PBS present the conflict from a primarily Israeli point of view, nor do any of the lesson plans provide the students with the information or tools to examine the conflict from Israel’s perspective.

*In the single case where the film is not focused on the Palestinian-conflict itself, the lesson plan nonetheless accuses Israel of institutional bigotry against its Arab minority, and uses this unsubstantiated allegation as a launching point for exercises.

*The supplemental resources that are recommended are at least as, if not more, biased than the films and lesson plans.

The sum effect is to mislead students and present them with a controversial, partisan narrative that ignores the fundamentals of the conflict and reduces it one that is ultimately blamed on Israel.

DETAILED ANALYSIS

POV – POINT OF VIEW

POV offers free resources for educators, including 200+ online film clips connected to 100+ standards-aligned lesson plans, discussion guides and reading lists.

Below are the POV films that are connected to PBS lesson plans relating to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict (arranged alphabetical by film title, year of general release and year it was aired on POV):

Film: 5 Broken Cameras (2011/2013)

For CAMERA film review, click here.

1) Film Overview:

A New York Times film review notes that the film is  “hardly neutral”. A Guardian  review  acknowledges, “It is of course a one-sided film…” The Observer calls the film “a polemical work and in no sense analytical…” 

While it is true that documentaries tend to be polemical, subtly or otherwise, a conflict cannot be accurately portrayed without exploring the perspectives of both sides, especially when used to teach students who may be unfamiliar with the history and background of the conflict.

“5 Broken Cameras” is Palestinian film-maker Emad Burnat’s diary of his fellow villagers’ protests against Israel’s security fence and Jewish settlements on land that he considers his. Told completely from Burnat’s point of view through his camera lens, the film alternates between scenes of non-violent protest activity and Burnat’s family life viewed through five successive video cameras. 

Hailed as an artistic success, the film won an award at the prestigious Sundance Festival. But in March 2013, Israel’s Channel 10 interviewed the soldiers who had been depicted in the film as aggressors and who had not been granted the opportunity to present their own viewpoints. They contended that scenes were fabricated, with the film editors splicing together video frames from unrelated events to create the false appearance that without any provocation, they had employed fierce tactics against peaceful demonstrators.  They insisted that this depiction of themselves was inaccurate, and that in reality they had exercised considerable restraint,  resorting to force only when the protesters pelted them with rocks or attempted to physically tear down the security fence – events that were pointedly not shown in the film.

The soldiers’ point of view, however, was neither aired on film nor alluded to in the accompanying lesson plan.  It is the filmmaker’s version of events that is used as the sole and definitive context for classroom study.

2) Lesson Plan: “How Storytellers Shape the Story”

For the complete lesson plan, click here.

The worst bias is the sort that explicitly sells itself as impartial. And this is exactly what the lesson plan does: It makes a pretense of being evenhanded by asking students to examine the film as a point of view rather than straightforward journalism. The problem is that the associated “activity” neither provides students with any additional information or materials that counter the viewpoint shown, nor educates them about how films can mislead and skew perceptions of a political conflict by showing only one side.

Instead, the Palestinian filmmaker’s perspective is accepted as the defining one, and it is the single perspective used to provide  “context.” The lesson plan instructs:

This clip introduces and gives context to the lives and non-violent resistance of Emad Burnat, his family and community in their West Bank village of Bil’in.

and:

To provide context for the clip they are going to write about, show Clip 1 (the first 15 minutes of the film).

It then calls on students to describe their reaction to a 2-minute  clip, a “writing prompt,” which shows Israeli soldiers violently confronting seemingly peaceful Palestinian protesters. 

As a homework assignment, students are then asked to write about the same clip as if they were objective journalists. This exercise is supposedly meant to allow students to experience both the Palestinian and the neutral point of view.

But it is impossible to address the event as an objective journalist when the accompanying material is produced, selected and edited by a subjective, partisan source and information about the opposing side’s viewpoint is concealed. Students have no way of learning that the soldiers depicted have countered this version of events or that they have indicated places where the film was edited in a misleading manner to depict them in the worst possible light. They are never shown or provided with the Israeli soldiers’ perspective of events. They are never told about the film’s controversy or asked to discuss how film editing  might result in an inaccurate portrayal of events. 

Instead, they are taught as an inarguable fact that the Palestinians are non-violent protesters who are confronted with unprovoked Israeli violence.

Teachers and students, therefore, are left with a single perspective of a bilateral conflict without even being informed that it is under dispute.

Film: 9 Star Hotel (2006/2008)

1) Film Overview:

Israeli filmmaker Ido Haar embeds himself with a group of young Palestinian construction workers who infiltrate Israel’s borders to try to find illegal employment there. With a handheld camera, Haar films them as they camp out in the hills near the Israeli town of Modiin, struggling to find work, to survive in the wilderness, and to evade Israeli security officers. The filmmaker creates a sense of intimacy with the protagonists and sympathy for their  perilous and hardscrabble existence.  The film is prefaced with text that implicitly blames Israel for their situation and encourages viewers to see the Palestinians as heroes rather than as law-breakers:        

In recent years, since Israel began imposing severe restrictions on the entry of Palestinians to Israel, employment of most of these [Palestinian] workers has become illegal.  With no sources of livelihood in the Palestinian territories, they endanger themselves by infiltrating Israel and live in hiding in the hills overlooking the city, subject to the constant pursuit of security forces.

There is no examination of the anti-Israel terrorism and suicide bombings that have led to the restrictions placed on Palestinian workers in Israel, nor of the continuing dangers that continue to face Israelis by  Palestinian infiltrators who  have attempted or succeeded in carrying out murderous attacks on innocent civilians.

Mohammed, one of the protagonists, at one point, expands blame for his plight on his society  – “We think backward, we never think forward” – and its leadership who promised Palestinian liberation – “Liberation, my foot” – but, for the most part, the blame is directed at Israel’s security policies – its barrier and restrictions on outside Palestinian workers – devoid of any context.

The Hollywood Reporter explains that “The film is more valuable for its intimate perspective on its subjects than as a serious analysis of the political and social conditions underlying their plight.” Slant Magazine summarizes that “9 Star Hotel is an empathetic portrait of a particular human circumstance, but without greater context, it ultimately feels like only half the story.” The New York Times film review notes that, “by ignoring Israeli voices and focusing only on the immigrants, Mr. Haar has produced a documentary filled with immediacy but free of analysis, a fascinating but ultimately unenlightening record of their plight.”

In selecting this film as the basis for a lesson plan on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, PBS again presents only one side of the story.

2) Lesson Plan: “Borders Around the World”

For the complete lesson plan, click here.         

The lesson plan, and the accompanying viewing guide, encourages students to identify with the Palestinian protagonists and, in the absence of any other perspective, to view their suffering as the departure point for discussing borders around the world.  Although the lesson plan focuses largely on Israel’s security barrier and the enforcement of Israel’s border with the Palestinians, there is no examination of the Palestinian-perpetrated suicide bombings and violent attacks on Israelis that motivated Israel’s security measures.

There is only a single, fleeting mention of  terrorism in the accompanying “background” information, and even that is presented as a debatable Israeli justification of its policies rather than as clear fact:

Israel’s security forces argue that tenacious border patrols are necessary to prevent terrorist attacks. [emphasis added]

Beyond this, there is no exploration of the situation that led to the construction of a security barrier,  and no statistics or information about the drastic reduction in Palestinian-perpetrated terrorist attacks following the implementation of restrictions and the barrier, in other words, there is nothing about the success of Israel’s security measures in preventing the deaths of innocent Israeli civilians. (Since the erection of the security barrier, the number Palestinian violent attacks has decreased by more than 90% and the number of Israelis murdered decreased by over 70%.)  In the absence of this background, students would reasonably surmise that the barrier and restrictions were put into place by Israel primarily to wield control over and oppress the Palestinians.

The classroom exercises refer to an oblique remark by one of the protagonists that can be construed as referring to Palestinian attacks. But rather than discussing Palestinian terrorism and the impact it has had on Israeli security measures, this vague and unclear reference is presented as a justification of Palestinian actions and used as a focal point in the lesson plan. Students are questioned:

In referring to the wall being built between Israel and the Palestinian territories, one man says, “We got used to working in Israel, now Israel wants to shut us out in one stroke. We won’t be able to cope with it. If you shut a cat in a room, won’t it jump at you?” What do you think he meant?

3) Recommended supplementary materials:  

The lesson plan’s recommended supplements for teaching about issues relating to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict are problematic, as well. They include:

 A) a 2003 FRONTLINE/World story, Tracing Israel’s Borders


 A) FRONTLINE: Tracing Israel’s Borders

Beyond the datedness of the online document that renders it largely irrelevant  – it was written 14 years ago, before the majority of Israel’s security barrier was erected, before modifications were made, before Israel withdrew its forces and civilians from Gaza, before Hamas took control of the territory evacuated by Israel, turning into a launching for escalating attacks into Israel – it suffers from a partisan slant and dearth of context.

By establishing that  Israel is building the barrier “to separate itself from the Palestinians” and “to find a formula that will save lives and land,” the author misleadingly implies that the barrier is as much about amassing land as about protecting its citizens from Palestinian violence.  While there are scattered references to “suicide bombings,” “bombs,” and “infiltrators,” there is no clear discussion of the Palestinian-perpetrated terrorism that preceded and prompted Israel’s security measures.

The piece is focused primarily on the barrier’s drawbacks, the inconveniences and disruptions the security barrier creates or might create for people.  The only direct reference to “Palestinian terror” is to present it, almost justify it, as a response to an “unpaid land debt” to Palestinians who became refugees when Israel became a state.  This is a very subjective view of Zionism and Palestinian terrorism, but it is the one that informs the entire discussion about Israel’s borders and security barrier. The author writes:

The task of Zionism is to make the border zones powerful so that Jews are safe and the state grows strong. The task of Palestinian terror is to make all of the center a border zone, where no Israeli Jew can ever forget the unpaid land debt to refugee Palestinian Arabs.

By presenting the conflict  as one between  powerful Zionists and weak Palestinians fighting for land that was taken from them, the FRONTLINE feature ignores the same fundamentals that are missing from the PBS lesson plan.  For example:

1) While the feature mentions Israel’s “declaration of statehood” in 1948 and the subsequent 1949 “ceasefire lines,” it  avoids mentioning what came in between and led to the latter – namely, the 1948 war of aggression launched by Arab states.

2) Similarly, although the article mentions that “Israel occupied” the West Bank and Gaza “in 1967,” it does not mention Jordan’s aggressive actions that resulted in Israel’s capture of those territories.

B) BBC Country Profile

This is a timeline that purports to provide a chronology of key events relating to Israel and what they label “Palestinian” territories.  But like the rest of the materials provided or recommended, there are crucial omissions.

1) While the timeline includes the 1947 UN-recommended partition plan with international control over Jerusalem and its environs, it omits the categorical rejection of the plan by the Arabs.

2) While it notes that Israel declared its independence in 1948 and that armistice agreements following an Israeli-Arab war left it with “more territory than was envisaged under the partition plan,” it omits that five nearby Arab states were the aggressors who invaded the newly declared State of Israel,  in an attempt to eradicate it and in violation of the UN Partition Resolution (181) and the UN Charter.

3) While it mentions that Jordan annexed east Jerusalem and the West Bank, it omits that this annexation was deemed illegal by most of the international community.

4) It omits that Jordan expelled the Jews from their homes in eastern Jerusalem, and violated the ceasefire agreements by preventing Jews from visiting their holy sites, destroying and desecrating their synagogues and cemetery.

5) While it mentions that Jordan and Syria “joined” Egypt in the 1967 Arab-Israeli  war that left  Israel “in control of east Jerusalem, all of West Bank, Gaza, Golan Heights and Sinai,” it omits that Israel appealed to Jordan not to enter the war, promising not to attack Jordan if it did not attack Israel, and that  it launched a counterattack only after Jordan attacked and  crossed the armistice lines to threaten Israeli positions in southern Jerusalem.

6) While the timeline notes that after gaining control of east Jerusalem,  West Bank, Gaza, Golan Heights and Sinai in the 1967 war, Jewish settlements were established in these areas in the years afterwards,  it omits that the Arab nations convened immediately after the war to issue their three “no’s”  – refusal to recognize Israel, refusal to negotiate with Israel and refusal to make peace with Israel.

7) While it refers multiple times to the PLO, it omits that this was a terrorist organization that carried out violent attacks against civilian targets, even before the 1967 war.

8) While it refers multiple times to PLO leader Yasir Arafat, he is characterized only as a leader and peacemaker.  The timeline omits Arafat’s involvement in promoting, planning, directing, and financing terror attacks against Israel.

9) While the timeline includes Arafat’s signing of the Oslo Accords, it omits the fact that Arafat violated the signed agreements by not dismantling the Palestinian terrorist infrastructure and continuing to finance and promote terrorism.

10) The timeline similarly omits that both Fatah and Hamas leaders (including Mahmoud Abbas) have continued in Arafat’s footsteps, inciting, encouraging and financing violence against Israelis over the years on various false pretexts, including that Israel is planning to take over the Al Aqsa mosque, that they glorify terrorists as martyrs and reward their families financially.         

11) While the timeline devotes an entry to U.S. military and financial aid to Israel, it omits any mention of U.S. economic and security  assistance to the Palestinians. Since the establishment of limited Palestinian self-rule in the West Bank and Gaza Strip in the mid-1990s, the U.S. government has granted over $5 billion in economic and security assistance to the Palestinians, who are among the world’s largest per capita recipients of international foreign aid, with the U.S. giving more aid to the Palestinians than any other country.     

12) While 11 of the entries on the timeline discuss Israeli settlement building, there is no reference to Palestinian “terrorism” or incitement to violence by Palestinian leaders.

13) There is no mention in the timeline of Palestinian/Arab rejection on at least three occasions of statehood offers: In 1947, they rejected the Partition plan that would have given them an independent state and chose instead to wage war on the Jewish state.  In  2000, Palestinian leader Yasir Arafat refused President Clinton’s peace proposals at the Camp David talks, despite vast concessions by  Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak. Abandoning the negotiations, he chose instead to launch  a terror campaign against Israeli civilians (Second Intifada). In 2008, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas rejected Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s offer of a comprehensive peace that would include dividing Jerusalem, evacuating tens of thousands of settlers, abandoning settlements, and annexing major settlement blocs while giving the Palestinians equivalent land within Israel’s  pre-1967 boundaries.

14) The timeline omits Arab rejection of the Partition plan and Olmert’s extensive offer to Mahmoud Abbas while whitewashing Arafat’s rejection of statehood and peace by casting it as a bilateral “breakdown” of  talks over the “timing and extent of proposed further Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank.” 

Film: A World Not Ours (2012/2014)

1)Film Overview:

Mahdi Fleifel’s film, “A World Not Ours,” takes its title from a book of short stories by Ghassan Kanafi, the radical author of a genre of  so-called “Palestinian resistance” literature, and the Beirut leader of the terrorist group Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP). Like the book, the film is about  alienation and struggle from a Palestinian perspective. 

Filmmaker Mahdi Fleifel was born in Dubai to parents who came from Ain el-Hilweh, a Palestinian refugee camp in Lebanon. The family moved to Denmark when Mahdi was nine, but continued to spend summers in  Ain el-Helweh. After graduating from film school in London, Fleifel created his first feature film from old home footage he and his father filmed  during summers in Ain el-Hilweh, and more recent interviews with family and friends who continue to live in the refugee camp. What emerges is a portrait of a refugee community with no prospects and many grievances against the Lebanese authorities who control their lives, against the Palestinian leadership who they feel has let them down, and most of all against Israel, who they believe has dispossessed them of their patrimony and land.   

Fleifel distances himself from the notion that his film, like its namesake,  is “resistance” art or political in any way. In various interviews, including one  with POV (included as an additional resource in the PBS lesson plan), the filmmaker says his intention was simply to present the  human side of exile and shed light on the plight of Palestinian refugees.  He insists his documentary is about family, friendship, and childhood memories.  The film’s chatty and homey narration by Fleifel, set against a soundtrack of jazz classics, disarms as it creates a sense of intimacy with the viewers who are welcomed into the lives of those filmed.  In that sense, the film provides an interesting and entertaining view of the different personalities that make up the Palestinian refugee community in Beirut.

But the same conversational and intimate tone is used by Fleifel to present a  revisionist history of  Palestinian refugees that erases the war launched by Arab leaders and presents a false version of events. In a voiceover against archived footage, Fleifel  declares  that “more than half a million Palestinians were expelled from their homes to make way for Jewish immigrants,” ignoring the war  initiated by Arab and Palestinian leaders in a quest to annihilate the Jewish state. 

This is false. Had the Palestinians and Arab states not attacked and tried to destroy Israel, Palestinians would have continued to live in their homes alongside the Jews and would not have become refugees.  By distorting the facts and concealing the seminal event that created the Palestinian refugee problem, Fleifel belies the suggestion that this is an  apolitical film.

Elsewhere, Fleifel falsely suggests a moral equivalence between the Holocaust and Israeli forces’ treatment of Palestinians by superimposing footage of Israeli soldiers clashing with Palestinians on images of his high school trip to Yad Vashem, the Holocaust museum in Israel.  Fleifel justifies this sequence as a personal reflection of how he personally reacted to the Holocaust memorial during his visit there at age 17.

With this documentary, PBS turns a personal film diary, filled with subjective perceptions and distorted history,  into a teaching tool about a bilateral conflict.

2) Lesson Plan: “The ‘Right of Return’: Interpreting International Law”

For the complete lesson plan, click here.

Exacerbating the partisan nature of the film, the lesson plan purports to teach about the controversial  Palestinian “Right of Return” based on a film clip that includes the falsehood about “expulsion [of Palestinians] to make way for Jewish immigrants.” The lesson plan thus encourages affinity with a Palestinian “right of return” by basing it on the biased perspective of the filmmaker who espouses it.

While the lesson plan  pretends to encourage independent thinking and a neutral point of view  by suggesting that students “interpret” the UNGA Universal Declaration of Rights “for themselves,”  the students are not provided with any tools to do this. They are only presented with subjective, misleading and partisan information.  As the lesson overview explains:

“In this lesson, students will interpret the text of the declaration [Article 13 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights] for themselves, and they’ll do so having looked at the story from the perspective of a real family whose members were displaced.”

They are asked whether  Article 13 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights “support(s) the Palestinian claim to the right of return, and what in this clip provides evidence for your answer to that question?” Thus, they are instructed to base their answers on the partisan and misleading history provided in the film  as “evidence” that supports the Palestinian interpretation of a “right of return.” This is further  reinforced with a question about “how [students’] initial interpretations of Article 13 were affirmed or challenged when they had to apply the article to real people in a real situation” – the “real people” and “real situation” representing the factional perspective of Palestinian refugees represented in the film.

Either PBS educators themselves realized the inherent problem with such a lesson plan, or were recipients of  complaints about it,  because the lesson currently includes the following “Note to Teachers”:

The film clips in this lesson plan show life in a Palestinian refugee camp. Some clips contain profanity. Other clips describe contested history. Before you begin, you may want to send home a note to parents/guardians explaining what students will be doing and that the purpose of the assignment is to focus on the fact that laws and policies govern real people, and that A World Not Ours recounts one family’s story; it depicts that family’s personal experiences and beliefs. Make it clear that you will not be asking students to take a position on the issue. Invite families to connect school and home by asking students what they learned and sharing their own views on the issue with their children.

In addition to the above disclaimer suggesting the lesson’s supposed neutrality on the subject, students are “challenged to think about why Israel would not want to interpret Article 13.2 as giving Palestinians a right of return and what the practical consequences would be for both Israelis and Palestinians” and to “consider whether return to one’s “country” means returning to the exact place where one used to live, or simply requires the current government to allow residence anywhere within that nation’s borders.”  Students are also assigned a persuasive essay either supporting or opposing the statement that “According to Article 13.2 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Palestinians have the right to return to land now controlled by the government of Israel.”

But the disclaimer and “challenge” to understand Israel’s point of view notwithstanding,  the  lesson plan lacks any information that might help students interpret the cited Declaration or understand how a Palestinian “Right of Return” would result in the elimination of the Jewish state of Israel. 

For example, students are not told that those encouraging a right of return also oppose the existence of a Jewish state while advocating a return of refugees and their descendents into present-day Israel. Nor are students informed that most legal scholars of international law do not consider the cited Article 13 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights to be applicable to the Palestinians. See, for example: “The Palestinian Claim to a Right of Return” by Dr. Alex Safian, summarized below.

Fact: The cited Article 13 was intended to prevent governments from barring certain citizens, based on  religion, politics, race, among other factors, from leaving the country (for example, Jews from the Soviet Union) and the clause assuring the “right to return” to one’s country was meant only to reinforce their “right to leave.” This would not apply to Palestinians displaced during a war.

Fact: The Palestinians who became refugees as a result of the war were neither citizens nor legal residents of Israel.

Fact: A Palestinian “right of return” would violate clauses of the same Universal Declaration of Human Rights that would prevent Palestinian refugees from returning to their previous homes.  For example:

*Article 29(2)  limits the right of return to those who would afford “due recognition and respect for the rights” of the other citizens (in this case, Jewish) of the land. But not a single Palestinian leader who demands the entrance of Palestinian refugees into the pre-1967 boundaries of Israel has ever recognized or respected the rights of Jews to self-determination in a Jewish state. Nor is it likely that the majority of the 4-5 million Palestinians who now claim refugee status would acknowledge allegiance to a Jewish state.

*Article 29(3) prevents the rights in the said Declaration to be exercised “contrary to the purposes and principles of the United Nations.” Eliminating Israeli sovereignty over the land through the right of return would contravene the UN Charter’s “principle of the sovereign equality of all its members.”  

*Article 30 states that “Nothing in this declaration may be interpreted as implying for any State, group or person any right to engage in any activity or to perform any act aimed at the destruction of any of the rights and freedoms set forth herein.”  And those calling for a mass right of return into Israel have explicitly stated that the goal would be to eliminate the Jewish state of Israel.

Film: Promises (2001)

For CAMERA film review, click here.

1) Film Overview:

The 2001 documentary “Promises” ostensibly examines the Arab-Israeli conflict through the eyes of seven children living in the Jerusalem vicinity, from both sides of the conflict.  Because it appears superficially to be balanced, its political bias and misleading message is even more insidious. Below is a sampling of the problems:

1) It is outdated. In  the 16+ years that have elapsed since the filming of the documentary, the conflict has evolved, with a second, more deadly campaign of Palestinian terrorism targeting Israeli civilians, an attempt to bypass direct negotiations with a Palestinian bid for statehood in the UN, a third wave of Palestinian violence, and the persistent refusal by   the Palestinian Authority to accept a Jewish state in a two-state solution of the conflict.

2) It is geared to students who are largely unfamiliar with the basic issues of the conflict and therefore vulnerable to the numerous politicized messages, erroneous statements and false implications that are put forth in the film without challenge.

3) The context provided is misleading, especially when followed by unchallenged false allegations made by the interviewees. For example, the filmmaker narrates the following background:

In 1948, Israelis fought what they call the “War of Independence.” Palestinians call it “The Catastrophe.” As a result of the war, 750,000 Palestinians fled or were forced off their land and became refugees. Refugee camps were set up in neighboring Arab states. In 1967, Israel conquered the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. Many of the camps came under Israeli military occupation. 

This narration is immediately followed by the unchallenged assertion by a Palestinian girl from a refugee camp that “the Jews kicked us off our land and put us in these camps…” The false implication is that Israelis were the aggressors who expelled the Arabs from their land and rounded them into camps from which they were never allowed to leave.

Missing entirely from this film is the basic context of the Arab war of aggression waged against the fledgling State of Israel; the Jordanian and Egyptian acts of aggression against Israel in 1967 that resulted in the capture of the Gaza Strip and West Bank; and the opposition by Palestinian leaders to integrate or resettle Palestinians living in  refugee camps in any place other than the homes within present-day Israel abandoned by Arabs during the 1948 war launched by their leaders.

4) The film downplays the issue of Palestinian terrorism. For example, “Promises” describes the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), in which the imprisoned father of one of the protagonists holds a leadership position,  as a “political faction” rather than an entity that is on the list of foreign terrorist organizations by the U.S., Canada, EU and other Western countries. Viewers are not told that the PFLP is considered the pioneer of the commercial airline hijackings of the 1960s and 70s, including the 1972 murder of two dozen passengers at Israel’s international Lod airport, and the infamous 1976 hijacking of an Air France flight  to Entebbe, or that the terrorist group was  responsible for numerous murders and bombings of civilian targets over the years, including the assassination of Member of Parliament Rehavam Ze’evi in 2001 and  the 2014 massacre of worshippers in a synagogue in the Western Jerusalem suburb of Har Nof.  And while one of the Israeli protagonists in the film poignantly describes his friend’s and friend’s mother’s murders, the Palestinian identity of the perpetrators is never mentioned in the film, much less their affiliation with the PFLP terrorist group.  With so much information hidden from viewers, they have no way of making the connections between a Palestinian protagonist’s father sitting in an Israeli prison and his affiliation with the terrorist organization responsible for the murders of Israelis.

5) The film’s  partisan editing plays up the theme of Israeli provocation and Palestinian victimhood and ignores the connection between indoctrination of children and their hatred of Israelis. For example, when a Palestinian protagonist voices his support for Hamas and Hezbollah and for the killing of Israeli Jews, that scene does not directly follow the one where his teacher encourages the class to see themselves as the victims of evil Israelis. Instead, it is inserted into a scene of an Israeli parade through the Old City celebrating the reunification of Jerusalem as the Palestinian watches in the foreground. The scene is prefaced by narration that falsely faults “the settler movement” for holding “a Jerusalem Day parade that marches through the Muslim quarter on their way to the Western Wall” and is immediately followed by a scene that shows the Palestinian justifying violence as a patriotic action against Israeli Jews who have allegedly taken over Muslim territory.

While it is easy to see why a teacher might be attracted to a film whose protagonists are his students’ age peers, the documentary’s drawbacks – the misleading background, omission of basic context, politicized scene editing and datedness – create an inaccurate and biased picture of the Arab-Israeli conflict that can leave a lasting but erroneous impression on vulnerable children.

2) Lesson Plan: “Understanding History, Religion, and Politics in Jerusalem and Beyond

For the complete lesson plan, click here

One of the primary listed objectives of the lesson plan is to “understand the reasons for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.” But it is impossible to reach this objective when basic information about the conflict is concealed and the background information that is provided is either misleading or outrightly false (as mentioned above and detailed in CAMERA’s film review).  

Teachers are informed that at issue are the following questions:

Both Jews and Arabs claim the land as their heritage. Do the Palestinians have a right to land they once called home? Has Israel a historic justification for claiming the West Bank?

Students are encouraged to discuss and explore the issues faced by the children in the film, and thus learn about the conflict. But neither the film nor the accompanying timeline and maps provide an accurate or balanced picture of the history of and factors contributing to the conflict.

3) Accompanying materials purporting to provide background information:

Beyond the film itself, which is the basis of the lesson plan’s discussion of the conflict, the lesson plan provides two even more biased resources to teach about the Arab-Israeli conflict.

A) Promises Timeline: “A History of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

B) Series of Maps: “Losing Ground” 

A) Promises Timeline: “A History of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

The first is an erroneous and skewed timeline of the conflict.  Ironically, teachers are informed that the timeline is meant to cut through biased narrative and present the history of the conflict objectively:

“The history of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is elastic; it changes dramatically depending on who is telling it and where they start the story. Therefore, it is important to note that a historic timeline of events concerning this conflict is always difficult to present in an objective manner. For this reason, as you read through the timeline sections, certain events include both a Palestinian (in green) and an Israeli (in blue) perspective.”

However, the eight-page timeline is itself a distorted chronology that conceals much of the terrorism directed against Israel since its founding and includes numerous errors while omitting fundamental information about the conflict.  For a more detailed critique of the timeline, see Indoctrinating Our Youth: How a U.S. Public School Curriculum Skews the Arab-Israeli Conflict and Islam, CAMERA Monograph Series, page 29-31.

B) Series of Maps: “Losing Ground”

The second distorted resource accompanying the film is a series of maps, of the sort popular among anti-Israel activists, that purport to show Palestinian land loss to Jewish takeover. This particular  version, by Seth Ackerman, entitled “Losing Ground,” is as deceptive as  similar  maps that have long been debunked.  (See, for example, “The Mendacious Maps of Palestinian ‘Loss’,” by Shani Mor, The Tower, January 2015; and “MSNBC Corrects Mistaken Use of a False Historical Map of Palestine,” CAMERA, Nov. 25, 2015).  Ackerman’s feature might even be worse, because it is not only the  maps that are skewed and distorted, but the introductory text that  is also filled with false implications and fallacious statements. The author’s partisan tilt, reflecting a Palestinian narrative, is evident from the start as he carefully avoids noting the continuous Jewish presence in the land since biblical times and makes no mention of historic Jewish sovereignty and independence in the region. Instead, he implies that historically, a Palestinian legacy in the land supersedes the Jewish one, as he writes:

The area between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River—called Palestine since the days of Herodotus—has hosted a mix of peoples for much of its history. The Jews of the Torah had largely dispersed by the time of the Arab conquest in the seventh century; by 1887 all but 5 percent of the population was Arab. 

Fact: In reality, the descendants of the  “Jews of the Torah” continued to live in what was known as Eretz Yisrael (The Land of Israel), or “Judea” – the root of the word “Jewish,”  denoting the Kingdom of Judah – and were the sovereigns of the land long after their ancestors had passed on. Even after Jewish sovereignty was ended by colonizing conquerers, long after the so-called “Jews of the Torah” were gone, after the Roman-perpetrated destruction of the second Jewish Temple and the supreme Jewish religious authority of the land known as the Great Sanhedrin, and after the Roman exile of many Jewish inhabitants, Jews continued to live in the land, established a Sanhedrin to take over the judicial functions of the Great Sanhedrin, and compiled the Mishnah (Oral Torah) and the Jerusalem Talmud there. The reality was that Jews continued to cling to their homeland and lived there both prior and following its invasion and colonization by the Muslims. To suggest that the period of Jewish presence in the land ended with the “Jews of the Torah” is simply mendacious.

He similarly misleads by suggesting that the land was known as “Palestine” from the 5th century BCE. 

Fact: Although there may have been earlier references to “Syria Palestina” to denote the coastal plain once inhabited by the Phillistines, the land was actually known as Judaea in both common and official usage, to designate the area of the former Jewish kingdom. This was the case until after the suppression of the Jewish uprising in 135 CE, when the Roman Emperor Hadrian sought to erase the land’s Jewish identity by renaming Judaea “Palestine” and Jerusalem “Aelia Capitolina.” It is part and parcel of the author’s erasure of the Jewish identity of the land.

The author deceives when he states that

By 1949 more than 700,000 Arabs had been driven from their  homes, their holdings declared ‘absentee property’ and confiscated by Israel, which refused to readmit them.

Fact: In terms of statistics,  estimates vary regarding the number of Arabs who lost their homes as a result of the war launched by their leaders. Many estimates fall within the 500-650,000 range, with 700,000, being on the higher end. But more importantly, the vast majority of Arab refugees were not “driven from their homes.”  Most  heeded their leaders’ counsel to leave their homes for the duration of the fighting or fled to escape the battles around them.  Jewish leaders urged the Arabs not to flee, for example, the Israeli Declaration of the Establishment of the State of Israel  encouraged “the Arab inhabitants of the State of Israel to preserve peace and participate in the upbuilding of the State on the basis of full and equal citizenship and due representation in all its provisional and permanent institutions.” Those Arabs who chose to remain in their homes were welcomed into Israel as Israeli citizens. In some cases, Arabs were forced out of their homes by the Jewish military for operational reasons (for example, securing vital roads, preventing sniping, preventing the use of villages as a base for Arab armies), but they represented the minority of cases.   (See “Backgrounder: Palestinian Arab and Jewish Refugees”)

Nor were the holdings of Arabs who left their homes “confiscated by Israel.”  And it is similarly untrue that Israel categorically “refused to readmit them.”

Fact: Israel established a Custodian of Abandoned Property “to prevent unlawful occupation of empty houses and business premises” and “to administer ownerless property…” And  Israeli leaders expressed their readiness to reach a solution regarding former Arab residents in Israeli territory within the confines a peace treaty that would also address the destruction of Jewish life and property, the fate of Jewish refugees from Arab countries, and the responsibilities of those Arab governments who had waged an aggressive war against Israel. As a goodwill gesture, Israel offered to repatriate 100,000 Palestinian refugees and pay compensation for abandoned land even before discussions about wholesale repatriation, but Arab leaders turned down the offer, refusing to recognize Israel, much less engage in any face-to-face negotiations with leaders of the Jewish state. 

By asserting that “The remaining lands—the West Bank and Gaza Strip—eluded Israeli control until they came under occupation during the 1967 Arab-Israeli war,” the author again sends a false message – namely, that a rapacious Israel was continuously trying to gain control over all these lands even before the 1967 war. 

Fact: Had the Arabs not unleased yet another war of aggression upon Israel, these territories would not have come under Israel’s authority. Egypt, which controlled the Gaza Strip at the time, gathered its troops on Israel’s  borders, expelled the UN Emergency forces from the area,  issued calls for the destruction of Israel and illegally shut down the Straits of Tiran to Israeli shipping, which in itself was a casus belli. And Israel  pleaded with Jordan’s King Hussein not to join the war, promising that Israel would not attack Jordan if Jordan did not attack Israel.  It was only after Jordan launched an aerial attack on Israel and threatened Israel’s positions by crossing the armistice line that Israel responded, as King Hussein himself acknowledged in his memoir,  My War With Israel.  Israel ultimately not only survived the aggressive attacks by neighboring Arab states but gained control of additional territory in a self-defensive war that was intended to wipe Israel off the map. 

The feature continues to alter the facts in its claim that the UN called for “Israeli withdrawal from the territories in exchange for Arab recognition of Israel’s right to exist.” 

Fact: The UN resolution in question, 242, specifically avoided using the term “the” in connection to the territories, but used the term “territories” instead, to connote that Israel should give up some, but not all, the land it had acquired in the 1967 war. The drafters of this resolution have noted that this was deliberate language because the intention was for Israel not withdraw to its indefensible pre-1967 boundaries, but to retain some of the land. (See: “Security Council Resolution 242 According to its Drafters.”) This particular point has been corrected in all the major media outlets that have erred.  But virtually every sentence in the feature is fraught with the deception that   Israel is a criminal aggressor that is stealing the Palestinian birthright.

The maps themselves, as mentioned above, are the sort that have been thoroughly exposed  and disproven.  For example, a map purportedly indicating Israel’s final plan for a Palestinian state inaccurately shows Israeli zones carving the territory into three separated cantons, with a “network Jewish settlement roads dividing the West Bank into 29 pieces, its eastern edge under Israeli control without formal annexation.” This was debunked by Dennis Ross, the U.S. envoy to the Middle East who presided over peace negotiations in 2000, who later wrote a book about the “inside story” of negotiations (See The Missing Peace: The Inside Story of the Fight for Middle East Peace by Dennis Ross, Farrar, Strauss and Giroux (2004), side by side maps at the beginning of the book comparing “Palestinian Characterization of the Final Proposal at Camp David” with “Map Reflecting Actual Proposal at Camp David” which shows a proposed Palestinian state that is uninterrupted.

Film: This Way Up (original title: Le Jardin de Jad) (2009)

1) Film Overview:

In the description of his 60 minute documentary (POV Web site), filmmaker Georgi Lazarevski calls it “an intimate, almost nonpolitical film on the Arab-Israeli conflict.”  And indeed, it may superficially appear so, as his camera follows elderly Palestinian  residents of a Catholic nursing home in Abu Dis, as they grapple with aging and living apart from their families. But the main message of the film is to fault Israel for constructing its security barrier, a concrete section of which runs near the nursing home.

It is rather disingenuous for the filmmaker to characterize his film as “almost nonpolitical” when it is so obvious that he designed his project with a clear pro-Palestinian bias to promote a clear political narrative. As he explained in an interview (also on the POV web site):

I address serious problems, often tragic and desperate, but I seek to approach them from a brighter, more hopeful angle…The real Palestinian resistance happens on a daily level; it happens when people say, “We are not going anywhere. This is our home and we will continue to lead a normal life.”

By seeking out a filming location right near a section of the security  barrier that is composed of a high concrete wall (less than 3% of the barrier is actually comprised of concrete wall) rather than the less dramatic fence that comprises most of the barrier, and by focusing on Palestinians who are inconvenienced or otherwise impacted by the barrier, the filmmaker sends a message by portraying them as victims of Israel’s supposedly ruthless restrictions on Palestinians. Omitted entirely from the film  is any context explaining why Israel erected a security barrier.  Like the above-mentioned POV film, “9-Star Hotel,” viewers are not told of the relentless Palestinian terrorism that led to the construction of a security barrier, nor of its success in preventing the deaths of innocent Israeli civilians. (Since the erection of the security barrier, the number Palestinian violent attacks has decreased by more than 90% and the number of Israelis murdered decreased by over 70%.) 

Instead, the camera focuses on Palestinians using ladders to get to their jobs as they presumably make their way through gaps in the yet unfinished wall,  elderly home residents who worry about their children lacking legal authorization to cross the barrier to visit, staff members who complain about  feeling imprisoned  and talk about leaving the country. It is yet another film focusing on Palestinian grievances, with no opportunity for Israelis to tell their side of the story.

2) Lesson Plan: “Both Sides of the Fence: The West Bank Security Wall”

For the complete lesson plan, click here.

The Lesson Plan, using the film as a basis, focuses on the negative effects of Israel’s security barrier on Palestinian society, while failing to explore or discuss the reasons for the wall.

Misleading Background Information

Rather than providing details or resource about the “violence” perpetrated by Palestinian suicide bombers and terrorists that prompted construction of the barrier or statistics that demonstrate its efficacy in preventing deaths of innocent civilians, the lesson plan dismisses the security aspect as an Israeli claim:

The Israeli government began building a barrier in and around the West Bank in 2002, citing rising violence and security concerns.

Elsewhere it refers to “the stated purpose of this barrier..to keep out Palestinian suicide bombers and other attackers who threaten Israeli safety in the ongoing conflict between these two groups,” but, does not mention the Palestinian intifada’s campaign of terror or any other details to support Israel’s “stated purpose.”

The background paragraph further misleads students by asserting that high “concrete slabs, with watchtowers” are “located in populated areas” while  fencing is located “in more isolated areas” without indicating  just how little of the barrier is actually made up of concrete (under 3%) or explaining the reason for the concrete sections of the barrier, namely, that they are located in sections where frequent Palestinian sniping presented a problem to cars passing by.

Instead it not only highlights the inconveniences to Palestinians shown in the film, but expands upon them, alleging that “access issues have also made the delivery of supplies and transportation to medical care more complicated” although no evidence or specifics are provided.

Based on this and the film’s depiction of the barrier as objectionable, students are asked whether they think “the wall will lead to greater peace between Israelis and Palestinians…or provoke further conflict.” Another question asks them to respond to the statement “Good fences make good neighbors,” and to explain  whether they “agree or disagree.” In an extension of the lesson, students are asked to analyze Robert Frost’s poem “Mending Fences”  against the concept (of good fences making good neighbors).   These activities represent another false pretense of objectivity by PBS educational lesson plans as they pretend to encourage students to weigh both sides of a disputed or controversial topic, while in reality showing and promoting only one side’s arguments.

In another exercise, students are asked to “review key events in the history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict using one or more of the recommended interactive timelines,” Among them is the previously-mentioned, distorted  POV Promises Timeline: “A History of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict,” which is singled out as a separate project for students who are asked “ to work together in groups to complete the POV timeline which stops in the summer of 2001.”

3) Additional featured resources:

Additional features include:

a) an interview with Raja Shehadeh, a Palestinian author, lawyer and anti-Israel activist who co-founded  Al Haq, an anti-Israel organization involved in lawfare against the Jewish state and who continues to promote the anti-Semitic and anti-Israel BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) campaign.

b) an excerpt from one of Shehadeh’s books, Palestine Walks, expressing his grievances against Israel for encroaching on alleged Palestinian lands

Despite his soft-spoken, moderate-sounding demeanor, Shehadeh uses false propaganda to delegitimize Israel. (For example, CAMERA has criticized media appearances or article by Shehadeh where he falsely accused Israel of ethnically cleansing native Palestinians and taking over their lands, or distorted the facts about peace negotiations and Jerusalem to blame Israel.) In his featured interview accompanying the lesson plan, Shehadeh similarly turns truth on its head to suggest that it is Israel, rather than the Palestinians, who have rejected repeated peace overtures.  He says:

As far as I can tell, over the past 42 years of military occupation, Israel has never devised a strategy for peace with its Palestinian neighbors… Had Israel pursued a strategy of peace, the Palestinians could have been the bridgehead for Israel’s acceptance and integration in the region.

Palestinian rejection of peace and acceptance of the Jewish state, as well as Israel’s repeated offers of peace and compromise are yet again concealed, as are Palestinian violence and terrorism.

Shehadeh presents Israel’s checkpoints and barrier, not as security measures meant to protect Israeli citizens from Palestinian terror attacks, but as an oppressive policy by Israel intended “to stifle Palestinian development and make life as difficult as possible through a restrictive system of permits so that the Palestinians would tire and leave.”   In Shehadeh’s telling, there are no Palestinian terrorists, murderers or violence against blameless Israeli civilians. There are only virtuous, peaceful Palestinians like himself and his “friends” who “continue to take walks, risking arrest”  demonstrating their “small rebellion against the occupation.”

 In the interview, Shehadeh falsely claims that “the settlements Israel has built in the territories it occupied in 1967 are illegal under international law.” There is no international law that forbids Israeli settlements and in fact, many prominent jurists have argued that any attempt to suggest that Israeli settlement  is illegal is misguided. (See “The Debate About Israeli Settlements”)The excerpt from Shehadeh’s book similarly paints Israelis as the culprits in preventing peace and destroying what he claims as Palestinian land. The excerpt from the book, not only accuses them of dispossessing Palestinians of their patrimony, but of being sadistically cruel. He quotes two Palestinian boys:

“The settlers,” they said. “If you’re walking and they drive by they swerve and hit you. They ran over Mazen. And if an army jeep comes they shoot. No one uses the road.”

While Raja Shehadeh’s words are featured prominently alongside the lesson plan, nowhere is it hinted that Shehadeh is an anti-Israel activist and propagandist.  Instead these one-sided depictions of Israel chosen to accompany the one-sided film are the partisan resources that students are encouraged to inform students as they are asked to judge Israeli policy.

WIDE ANGLE SERIES

PBS’ Wide Angle Television Documentary series, which aired for eight seasons, from 2002-2009.  They are no longer producing or showing documentaries and its original Web site, with its lesson plans, is no longer actively maintained.  However, PBS still maintains a separate website for educators to teach Global History in high schools, entitled “Wide Angle: Window into Global History,” with lesson plans based on a variety of  previously aired documentaries.

Two lesson plans purport to teach about the Palestinian-Israeli conflict:

1) “Dying to Be a Martyr,” based on Wide Angle’s 2004 documentary Suicide Bombers

2) “Making a Difference in the Midst of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict,” based on Wide Angle’s 2009 documentary, Heart of Jenin

Lesson Plan and Film: “Dying to be a Martyr” based on Suicide Bombers (2004)

For lesson plan, click here.

Overview of film and lesson plan:

In the documentary, Suicide Bombers,  Palestinian would-be suicide bombers, who either had a change of heart or were caught and arrested before managing to detonate their bombs, as well as terrorist recruiters and bomb-makers who are incarcerated in Israeli prisons are interviewed.  The would-be bombers and terrorists describe their despair and hatred for Israelis whom they view as persecutors. They believe Israelis enjoy a much better life than them and that attacking Israelis is God’s will.

There is certainly merit in trying to explore the roots of evil: What motivates someone to  deliberately end his or her own life in order to murder, maim, and wreak devastation upon others? But in order to understand and confront such depraved behavior, it is necessary to explore the terrorists’ actions, as well as their motivations. What, for example, is the effect of such attacks? Without including both parts of the equation, what’s left is simply a self-justification for terrorism. 

Initially, neither the film, nor the lesson plan explored the effect of terrorism on its victims and on its perpetrators.  Radical claims by the terrorists shown were not denounced and many viewers saw the film and lesson plan as promoting sympathy for the Palestinian perpetrators while omitting the impact and immorality of their attacks on innocent civilians. The lesson plan was, therefore, widely criticized, including by CAMERA staff and letter writers, and the PBS Ombudsman, who posted two critiques , the second of which included many of  CAMERA members’ comments. As a result, the lesson plan was expanded to include an additional video clip: a three-minute clip from a PBS NewsHour report about the 2014 massacre of Jewish worshippers in a western Jerusalem synagogue perpetrated by Palestinian terrorists. And a statement to teachers was appended, encouraging students to “strongly condemn terror and any assertion that it is ever appropriate.”

While this represents a significant improvement, some problems still remain with the lesson plan. For example:

1) The NewsHour report and an accompanying handout blame “Jewish assailants” as being responsible for the hanging death of a Palestinian bus driver shortly before the synagogue attack despite no credible evidence for the claim and forensic examiners ruling the death a suicide.

2) The clip and lesson plan treat PA leader Mahmoud Abbas’ condemnation of Israel’s alleged  “aggression on the holy sites, like burning mosques and churches,” as a credible claim, rather than the false accusation to incite violence that it was.  (For more details, see “The Battle Over Jerusalem and the Temple Mount: Calls for Jihad.”)

3) The lesson plan continues to ignore the incentives and salaries paid to Palestinian attackers and their families.

4) It ignores the multiple rejection by Palestinian leaders of statehood offers in a negotiated peace plan that would end the conflict.

For more details about this lesson plan, see:

CAMERA Analysis 1: “Dying to be a Martyr” (Before the changes)

CAMERA Analysis 2: “Dying to be a Martyr” (After the changes)

Lesson Plan and Film: “Making a Difference in the Midst of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict” based on Heart of Jenin (2009)

For CAMERA film review, click here.

For lesson plan, click here.

Overview of film and lesson plan:

Heart of Jenin  revolves around a Palestinian father’s selfless decision to donate the organs of his son, who was shot by Israeli soldiers who mistook him for a gunman during clashes in Jenin.  The documentary is largely focused on the Palestinian hero’s interaction with the families of the recipients, one of whom is Jewish, and, as such, is an inspiring story.  But as a vehicle to inform about the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, this documentary, like the others featured by PBS, is one-sided, omitting important context  and depicting Israelis in the role of bigots or aggressors.

For example, there is no focus on the Israeli doctors and medical staff who compassionately cared for Ahmed Khatib and who treat Israelis and Palestinians alike, on both sides of the conflict, despite real risks. Instead, the film contrasts the Palestinian hero with a Jewish recipient’s family, who appear bigoted and selfish. The film thus reinforces antagonistic views toward Israelis rather than offering new insight into the conflict.

The lesson plan purports to “explore the history and complexity of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and examine the roles individuals and organizations can play in promoting understanding and peace,” based on three clips from the film.

The first  clip, “The Gifts of Life,” presents the background to the story,  the death of Ahmed Khatib.  The narrator does not directly blame Israel for Khatib’s death – the circumstances of his death are not mentioned, only that he was killed during violent clashes.  But neither does the narrator provide the context, noting only that the boy’s death “gave rise to cries for vengeance in the streets of Jenin.”  Without the context of the boy’s death, the implication is that the boy’s killing was deliberate.

In fact, the shooting occurred during an altercation between Palestinian gunmen who fired at soldiers as they attempted to arrest the local leader of a terrorist group responsible for a recent spate of attacks. Soldiers mistook him for an armed terrorist, before discovering that the gun he was holding was not real. According to a friend of Ahmed’s who was eyewitness to the events,  Ahmed was holding “a toy gun shaped like an Uzi” and standing “among five Palestinian fighters [who were] exchanging gunfire with Israeli soldiers in Jeeps.”  Nonetheless, the Israeli military expressed regret for the shooting.

In the second clip, “In Search of Peace,” Ahmed’s father insists that “children have nothing to do with the battles between us and the Israelis” as footage is shown of children going to school, riding a bicycle and swinging in a playground.  Here, too, much of the story is erased: not only Ahmed’s own story, but that of the many Palestinian children who are encouraged to enter the fray by attacking Israeli soldiers with rocks, molotov cocktails or slingshots or worse, encouraged to become so-called “martyrs” by stabbing Israeli civilians, including children, like themselves. There is no mention of the indoctrination of children to hate Israelis and of the glorification of Palestinian “martyrs” who kill Israelis as heroes.  And there is no mention of Ahmed’s own fascination with martyrs, toy guns and dangerous stone-throwing activity.  According to the Washington Post:

To the youths of Ahmed’s neighborhood, the gunmen staring from the posters or swaggering around the streets were heroes. Ahmed collected the martyrs’ posters, bringing them home only to have his mother tear them up. He threw rocks at army Jeeps.

Other aspects of the story are similarly hidden. While there are a range of attitudes on both sides of the conflict, students are only shown Palestinian generosity vs. Jewish intolerance. The first clip contrasts the magnanimity of the Palestinian organ donor with the bigotry of the family of a Jewish Orthodox recipient. It shows the Jewish father stating that he would have preferred the organ to have come from a Jew.  Not shown or mentioned is the appreciative attitude of another recipient of Ahmed’s organs, also an Orthodox Jew. According to a Washington Post  report, he was “an 8-year-old boy whose ultra-Orthodox parents say they intend to visit the Khatibs here as soon as possible.” On the other side, students do not hear of the less magnanimous statements by Palestinian friends and family of Ahmed. For example,  Ahmed Khatib’s mother was quoted in the Washington Post report, saying, “In  our nature, we do not like the Jewish people because they are the occupiers.”  And one of Ahmed’s friends was quoted  to say that “it is forbidden to donate your organs to Jews. Tomorrow they will kill us. If it were Arabs, it would be easier.”  Yet, it is only the sharp contrast of the charitable Palestinian with the unsympathetic Jew that students learn of. 

In one activity, students are asked to discuss “the Orthodox Jewish man’s response to the question about whether it mattered whether the donor was Jewish or Arab,” and whether it would matter to them who the donor was if they needed an organ transplant.  Students are subsequently informed that when Ahmed’s father met the Orthodox Jewish man in the latter’s home “about two years after Ahmed’s death,” the organ recipient’s father “apologized for saying that he preferred that the donor be Jewish” and “expressed his gratitude to Ismael and his family for donating their son’s organ” to his daughter. This added information, while mitigating the contrast between the two protagonists a bit, does not go far enough in providing the context that is missing in the film and lesson plan.

The clip focuses primarily on the protagonist, Ismael Khatib, who describes peaceful and reasonable Palestinian goals:

“We are not asking for much. Only for our rights and for peace..”

Palestinian violence is depicted, through the words of the Palestinian hero, as “operations” of “resistance,” or explained as part of an “uprising” against Israeli “occupation.”  While there is a brief mention by the narrator of Palestinian suicide bombings, violence is personalized only through the eyes the Palestinian hero, who explains that “without peace the killing will continue, the killing of children – Palestinian and Israelis – will continue.

The third clip, “The Israeli-Palestinian Conflict,” features a discussion of the conflict by Wide Angle host Aaron Brown and journalist Gordon Lichfield, the deputy editor of the Economist.  Unfortunately, this clip provides none of the missing information that might make the lesson plan more balanced or help students understand what perpetuates the conflict.  

While both Palestinian and Israeli leaders are blamed for “working on very short term considerations – what’s going to keep me in power for the next ten minutes,” the Economist editor emphasizes that “this is particularly true on the Israeli side” because Israeli governments are so unstable.  According to Lichfield’s telling, successful negotiations are incumbent on Israeli leaders  being able to make “big, bold, far-reaching moves. ” What about compromises by the Palestinian leadership?

Entirely missing from the discussion are the repeated rejections by the Palestinian leadership of such “big, bold, far-reaching moves” by Israeli leaders.   Palestinian leaders have been unwilling to make similarly bold compromises, rejecting even the notion of a Jewish state in the region, much less any territorial compromise. Multiple offers of  an independent Palestinian state were rejected for this reason. But the discussion does not include such inconvenient facts that might suggest Palestinian responsibility for perpetuating the conflict. Instead, the interlocutors project an artificial suggestion of objectivity by appearing to blame both sides, while in actuality, blaming Israel more.

The only “kernel of hope” in ending the conflict, Lichfield claims, lies in “people at the grassroots who are thinking about trying to make something work.” As an example he points to the “Bereaved Families Forum,” otherwise known as “Parents Circle Family Forum.”  In reality, this is a fringe organization which, according to NGO-Monitor,  “promote(s) a highly biased view of the conflict based on the Palestinian narrative and draw(s) an immoral equivalence between terror victims and terrorists” – much like PBS lesson plans on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict do.  NGO-Monitor notes that it “exploits the grief of families and the language of peace to promote a highly divisive, contentious, and narrow personal agenda.” While endorsing this partisan organization as creating a small sliver of hope for future peace, Lichfield ends by blaming Israel’s security barrier and checkpoints for creating “less interaction between the two sides.”

INDEPENDENT LENS

Independent Lens is PBS’s weekly primetime program that showcases original  documentaries by independent filmmakers. One of these films, Shadya, has an accompanying lesson plan that purports to teach about “the Israeli-Arab experience.”

Film: Shadya (2005)

1) Film Overview:

The film follows Shadya Zoabi, a 17-year-old, Arab-Israeli world champion in karate who hails from a traditional Muslim village in northern Israel. With her father’s encouragement, Shadya tries to reconcile her ambitions as a female competitive athlete with the pressures that are placed on her to conform to the norms of the conservative society in which she lives, which would mean abandoning competitive sports for the more traditional path of early marriage and motherhood.  As she struggles to define own identity, Shadya must confront the conflicts about her role as a woman living in a traditional Muslim society,  her identity as an Arab Muslim competing on an Israeli team against fellow Arab Muslims on a Palestinian team, and about her place in Israeli society. The film is primarily focused on the first: her role as a female  athlete in a traditional patriarchal society.

1) Lesson Plan: “An Israeli Arab’s Experience”

For lesson plan, click here.

While the film provides a fascinating look at a society not often seen and the conflicts between tradition and modernity, it is not focused on the Israeli-Arab conflict. The lesson plan, on the other hand, turns this interesting film into a carefully contrived effort to turn it into an exposure of Israel as a discriminatory and bigoted society, even though nothing in the film demonstrates this.

To that end, the discussion guide that accompanies the lesson plan declares that even though Israeli Arabs vote and have their own elected representatives in Israel’s parliament, they experience “institutional” discrimination that is “a result of the fact that Israel is legally defined as a Jewish state.”

This is not a fact, but an arguable opinion reflecting an anti-Israel narrative that opposes the existence of a Jewish state in any contours in the region. According to their argument, a state that defines itself as “Jewish” is by definition discriminatory against non-Jews.  Israel, however, was established and defines itself as a Jewish democracy, and its supporters recognize these as the two complementary characteristics that define the state. According to Israel’s founding declaration:

“…it will foster the development of the country for the benefit of all its inhabitants; it will be based on freedom, justice and peace as envisaged by the prophets of Israel; it will ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex; it will guarantee freedom of religion, conscience, language, education and culture; it will safeguard the Holy Places of all religions; and it will be faithful to the principles of the Charter of the United Nations.”

It included a specific appeal “to the Arab inhabitants of the State of Israel to preserve peace and participate in the upbuilding of the State on the basis of full and equal citizenship and due representation in all its provisional and permanent institutions.”

Ruth Gavison, one of Israel’s leading expert on human rights and constitutional law, points out that democracy is not inconsistent with ethnic identity:

Democracy means the right of the particular demos of the state to decide the basic arrangements of the state, within the constraints of universal human rights. States may opt for a neutral, secular state, but they do not have to. Many states enshrine ethnic and religious characteristics in their constitutions, while being fully committed to democracy, minority rights and civic equality. Moreover, in most societies, political morality is nourished not only by one’s civic allegiance. Patriotism and civic virtue are often based on religious and social communities. Synagogues, churches and mosques are often venues of acts of charity and solidarity as well as strengthening of ones commitment to ones country.  

According to Gavison, Israel must strive to maintain both its democratic and Jewish values. (See Ruth Gavison, “Can Israel be Both Jewish and Democratic?”)

A balanced discussion about ethnic democracies, is apparently not what the PBS lesson plan wants to teach. Portraying Israel as undemocratic and bigoted is.  And so the discussion guide instructs students to see examples of Israeli bigotry even when there is no obvious evidence for it. For example, students are directed to interpret a certain scene as Israeli anti-Arab bigotry.

The scene shows Mazen (Shadya’s father) –  indistinguishable in dress from  other Israelis – walking toward a small shop with empty outdoor tables.  Mazen calls out to a man who is seating himself with his back to the table, without any coffee or food,   “You serve coffee, right?” The man seems confused.“What?” he asks. Mazen enters the shop, saying out loud, “I’ll  ask the owner.” In the shop, there is a shelf with bottles of liquor and a fridge with bottles of beer, but there are no pots of coffee visible. The shop appears to  be closed or closing as it is nearly empty with only one middle-aged woman seated at a small table with some food and a bottle of beer in front of her.  It is unclear if she is a customer or an employee, eating after hours before going home. There is no one at the counter, so Mazen turns to the woman to ask, “Is there any coffee here, espresso or something?” The woman nods her head, and says, “Ask the owner,” although she does not appear to have any coffee in front of her,  nor is any visible in the shop. The owner is still drying his hands on a towel as he comes in from the back. Mazen asks him if there is any coffee available. The shopkeeper shakes his hand and puts up one finger, as if to say, “not now.” He then looks at something or someone behind Mazen (perhaps at the cameraman) and shoos them out of the shop with his hand.  Mazen then leaves the shop.

The point of the scene is unclear. Does the shopkeeper refuse to serve Mazen because the latter is an Arab?  

Does he refuse to serve coffee because the shop is closed for business, because there is no coffee, or because he is busy in the back and has no time to make a pot of coffee?  Does he shoo Mazen and whoever is behind him out of the store because it is closed or closing or because he does not want to be filmed and wants the film crew out?  

All of these are possibilities, with the first one – refusing to serve Mazen and shooing him out because of anti-Arab bigotry – the least plausible, because  Mazen’s identity is certainly not evident. He looks just like any other Israeli, dressed in a polo shirt, slacks and sneakers. Moreover, when the shopkeeper makes a shooing motion with his hand, he appears to be looking beyond Mazen at something or someone behind him, most likely the film crew.  Yet it is this first, least plausible scenario of Israeli bigotry that is the one promoted by the discussion guide, which instructs students: 

We see Israeli shopkeepers refusing to serve Mazen [Shadya’s father]. What do you think they see and feel when they look at Mazen? If you had been a customer in the shop and witnessed this exchange, what would you have done?

This is not teaching the facts.  It is indoctrinating students by skewing the Arab-Israeli conflict.