The producer of the new PBS documentary Battle for the Holy Land, scheduled to air April 4th, stated in an online chat on March 29th that suicide bombings which have killed more than 40 Israelis in recent days may have been “allowed” to happen by Israel, since the bombings allegedly “served” the interests of Israel rather than the Palestinians. Stuart Tanner, the producer, also agreed with a questioner that Sharon is the “biggest obstacle to peace,” asserting “Yes. In my opinion, he’s a great obstacle to the peace process.”
Battle for the Holy Land is a reworked and updated version of two BBC documentaries that aired earlier this year, Israel Undercover, which followed Israeli commando units in action against Palestinian targets, and The Ugly War: Children of Vengeance, which presented a portrait of Palestinian “militias.”
While Battle for the Holy Land should not be prejudged, the comments of Mr. Tanner are disturbing, especially if they presage a return by PBS to its pattern of the 1980's and early 1990's, when the publicly-funded network habitually presented tendentious, anti-Israel propaganda masquerading as documentaries. In those years the network aired 26 documentaries bearing on the Arab-Israeli conflict, with all but one clearly biased against Israel. The parade of anti-Israel productions ended only after CAMERA exposed the fraudulent charges leveled by the 1993 PBS documentary Journey to the Occupied Lands.
PBS eventually broadcast a detailed on-air correction and withdrew Journey to the Occupied Lands until it could be revised. While not all the factual inaccuracies in the film which CAMERA had uncovered were corrected by PBS, since 1994 the network had put a halt to the Israel bashing which had been its norm.
At this point one can only wait and see whether Battle for the Holy Land will be an honest, accurate documentary, or whether it will be another Journey to the Occupied Lands. There is no doubt, however, that Stuart Tanner would fit in quite nicely with the ilk that PBS employed when it could be counted on to always blame Israel first.
Excerpts from Stuart Tanner’s Online Chat:
• In response to a questioner who suggested that Israel’s “attacks are meant to provoke more bombings against Israel,” Tanner agreed, saying of the recent suicide bombing of a Passover seder in which 25 Israelis were killed, “whose interest did that serve?” Tanner then completely discredits himself by stating that Israel may have allowed the bombing to occur, a charge which is both idiotic and beneath contempt:
Tanner: Of course, what's interesting about spending some time in the area is that you become aware of deeper and in some sense darker aspects of the conflict. To give you an example, the suicide bombing on Wednesday, the "Passover massacre," as the Israelis call it, whose interests did that serve? I'd say it certainly undermined the whole Arab summit and peace proposal. It strengthened Sharon's claim that Palestinians are not interested in peace. And it further damages the image of Chairman Arafat. And therefore sometimes you get darker currents of conspiracy theory, whereby people begin to think that maybe these attacks are allowed, because the timing of them would suit Israel politically so strongly. Or that there are elements within the Palestinian side that want to damage Chairman Arafat themselves, and in fact provoke the Israelis into crushing him. The most likely result of which would be the strengthening of the Islamic groups, like Hamas. And it becomes very dark waters in which it's not impossible that either of those things are true, and certainly you could say that people get involved in that kind of thinking.
• In response to another questioner, Tanner questioned Israel’s strategy in the recent fighting and asserted that Arafat did not have control of the groups carrying out attacks against Israel. Tanner thereby ignored the fact that most of the attacks have been carried out by groups directly controlled by Arafat, the so-called Tanzim and Al-Aqsa Martyr’s Brigades:
Tanner: Well, I think that is difficult to understand strategically. And it has something of a sense of desperation to it. No one expects that the containment of Chairman Arafat and the ongoing destruction of the Palestinian Authority will result in a reduction of acts of violence against Israel. In fact, it’s more likely to have the opposite effect, of reducing Chairman Arafat's ability to curtail the activities of the more extreme factions in Palestine.
• Besides exonerating Arafat in the violence, Tanner also excused Arafat’s contempt for democracy. Not surprisingly, he does this by again blaming Israel:
Stuart Tanner: No. I think what one has to realize is that there are quite separate groups within the Palestinian territories. And this is not a formed state with a trained army and well-established lines of command. They're much more informal and irregular structures. Of course, this is not the fault of the Palestinians, in the sense that they're hardly likely to be able to achieve those levels or organization while they are still in this stage of being an occupied territory.
Israel always accuses Chairman Arafat [the Palestinians] of not having a democracy. But I think it's important to realize: is there any country in the world that has had a democracy while being controlled by another nation? I don't think so.
• Ignoring that Arafat is the one constant in the eight-and-a-half failed years of the Oslo process – years which have seen five Israeli prime ministers – Tanner agreed with a questioner that Sharon is “the biggest obstacle in the peace-process”:
Stuart Tanner: Yes. In my opinion, he's a great obstacle to the peace process.
• Responding to a question about the tactics of suicide bombers, Tanner explained the attacks as a way for Palestinians to “instill the same fear and sense of terror in the Israeli people that the Palestinians experience day in and day out.” Though Tanner does later term the results of these bombings “tragic,” the fact is that his explanation is one that could just as easily have been uttered by Hamas or Osama Bin Laden:
Stuart Tanner: Soldiers are very difficult targets. And first of all, if we think of it just simply in terms of tactics, if you cannot fight in the sense of army-to-army, then suicide bombing becomes the most effective way to instill the same fear and sense of terror in the Israeli people that the Palestinians experience day in and day out. From their side, they know they cannot make an Israeli citizen feel afraid by attacking soldiers. They're very difficult to attack anyway, and it wouldn't create that sense of fear. So how can they make the Israeli people feel the same sense of fear, to suffer the same sense of terror that they experience? What is the most effective means? Of course, the tragic answer is the suicide bomber.
The full transcript of the online chat can be found at the Washington Post.