Unlike American journalists who subscribe in principle, if not always practice, to a high-minded code of ethics calling for accuracy, balance and accountability in news coverage, documentary filmmakers of various nationalities often freely blend fact, distortion, ideology and even fiction and defamation without pretense of adherence to any such standards.
Evidence of the indifference to fairness and fact has been a lineup of startlingly one-sided and sometimes blatantly propagandistic anti-Israel documentaries airing in the summer and fall on the Sundance Channel, a popular premium cable channel said to be "under the creative direction of Robert Redford." The works are often broadcast multiple times in multiple cycles reaching viewers at all hours of the day.
Checkpoint, for instance, as described by Sundance on its own Web site, looks at "the petty humiliations, absurdist interrogations and abusive uses of power Palestinians encounter daily ... " The brief historical background given by the director never bothers to mention that checkpoints were erected in recent years to halt a surge of West Bank Palestinian terrorists from crossing into Israel and killing innocents - and they have worked, helping to save lives.
Ford Transit by Hany Abu-Assad similarly presents Palestinians as victims of Israeli roadblocks and checkpoints. Unmentioned by Sundance in its Web site blurb on the work is the director's controversial use of actors and staged events to cast Israel and its military as abusive. One scripted scene had an actor dressed as an Israeli soldier punch a Palestinian driver - also an actor. According to Daily Variety, a Dutch public broadcaster that co-produced the film withdrew it from the nation's most prestigious film competition on learning of the fabrications.
The Inner Tour follows a busload of Palestinians who have "either lost a family member in the conflict or know someone imprisoned by the Israelis." The theme is one of alleged dispossession.
Numerous other productions cast Israel, its leaders, its military or its society as either grossly unjust and brutal or reprehensible and tainted. Detained, My Terrorist, Aftershock, and Raging Dove are among these.
But few equal in sheer malevolence the propaganda film entitled Writers on the Borders, an account of the visit of eight international writers to Ramallah and Gaza in March 2002.The documentary by Samir Abdallah and Jose Reynes was part of a full-blown campaign in which the authors, including two Nobel prize winners, joined in condemning Israel at the height of the terrorist bombings against the Jewish state. The participants, after shooting the documentary, then published articles in which they elaborated on their abhorrence of Israel.
Under the aegis of the International Parliament of Writers, a group founded in 1993 "as a human rights organization that would create awareness of writers living in oppressed circumstances," the writers participated ostensibly in response to a plea from Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish.
Each offers his own on-camera denunciation of Israel as the party addresses local audiences or passes scenes of bulldozers, tanks, and rubble. The denunciations never once hint at the Palestinian terrorist onslaught that had spawned Israeli reaction. The American head of the IPW, Russell Banks, declares: "I've seen a lot of forms of violence but I've never seen such a grotesque - and I don't know what else to call it but - diabolical form of violence as what's been imposed here."
The French writer, Christian Salmon, announces: "The Israeli colonization of the occupied territories is not only unjust and illegal, it is also impossible." South African Breyten Breytenbach reads from an open letter to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon subsequently published: "General Sharon, past injustices suffered cannot justify or excuse your present fascist actions. A viable state cannot be built on the expulsion of another people who have as much claim to that territory as you have. Might is not right. In the long run, your immoral and shortsighted (and finally stupid) policies will furthermore weaken Israel's legitimacy as a state."
It is Portuguese bestseller Jose Saramago who creates headlines for the delegation, observing on March 25, 2002, that "What is happening in Palestine is a crime on the same plane as Auschwitz." Unfazed by the outrage from Israelis of every political stripe, he explains months later that they had not been sufficiently pained by the condemnations of the other writers. "It was the fact that I put my finger in the Auschwitz wound that made them jump."
The same sadism evident in Mr. Saramago's tormenting of Israel is implicit in the often stunningly ignorant and baseless verbal assaults of all the strutting writers who came to embrace the Palestinians and excoriate Israel at a moment when the Jewish state was under the worst terrorist assault in its history.
While the unbridled ill will of many European elites has become all too apparent, it is worrisome, indeed, that Mr. Redford and Sundance - with their reputation for innovation and independence - would be a party to amplifying the poison and airing as well other shoddy and distorted productions.
This article originally appeared in the New York Sun on October 14, 2005.