Dear Mart Green:
I write to you on behalf of the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America (CAMERA). CAMERA is a media-monitoring group that promotes complete, fair and accurate coverage of the Middle East with an emphasis on the Arab-Israeli conflict.
We are a grassroots organization with 65,000 members and offices in Boston, Florida, Los Angeles, New York, Washington, D.C. and Jerusalem. CAMERA is a member of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations. We also work to promote fair and accurate coverage of the Middle East in Spanish-speaking media outlets through Revista de Medio Oriente. We monitor media outlets in Great Britain through UK Media Watch and BBC Watch, and Israeli outlets through Presspectiva.
CAMERA also promotes full and accurate discussion of the Middle East on college and university campuses with our CAMERA on Campus Program. CAMERA staff assist students on 70 campuses in the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom and Israel as they work to counter misinformation about Israel purveyed by agitators who have become increasingly vocal and hostile on the American college scene in recent years.
While the foundational goal of CAMERA’s work has been to protect American (and other) audiences from misinformation about the Middle East, our work has taken on increased importance in recent years.
One factor that has contributed to this state of affairs is anti-Zionist propaganda depicting the Jewish state as an evil and monstrous nation singularly responsible for the Arab-Israeli conflict. Jews who support Israel are subjected to mistreatment because of their association with this maligned and beleaguered nation.
This is why I write to you about Little Town of Bethlehem, a movie which you produced under the auspices of EGM Media. The 2010 movie, directed by Jim Hanon, was shown in more than 400 venues, including colleges and university campuses, libraries and community centers, despite including errors of fact, material omissions and historical distortions, all of which serve to put Israel and those for whom Israel is their homeland in a defamatory light.
CAMERA cannot draw a direct causal link between the production and wide distribution of Little Town of Bethlehem, but we believe that the movie contributes to disdain toward Israel and its Jewish supporters in the minds of its viewers.
Most of the colleges where it was shown were Christian colleges and universities where anti-Jewish violence is unlikely, but on November 13, 2013, it was shown by the California State University Fullerton chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP).
This is very troubling. SJP is an extreme anti-Israel group that has a well-deserved reputation for promoting hostility toward Jews on college campuses, and CSUF has a well-documented problem with hostility toward Jews on campus as well.
AMCHA Initiative, an organization devoted to countering hostility toward Jews on campus led by Tammi Benjamin, wrote a letter about the hostile educational environment at CSUF in 2012. In the letter, dated February 13, 2012, Professor Benjamin asks the university’s trustees to enforce a resolution that stated “outside speakers brought to the campus will contribute to educational values, that is the pursuit of truth and citizenship values, and not be brought in for propagandizing purposes.”
While Professor Benjamin’s letter does not mention the showing of LTOB at CSUF, we believe that it could very well have been included in her correspondence for the movie is emblematic of the anti-Israel propaganda that has engendered hostility toward Jews on college campuses throughout the U.S. It is very possible that other SJP groups on other campuses also showed the film.
We understand that the movie has received a number of awards from local film festivals and praise from numerous Evangelical intellectuals and even Christianity Today, the flagship publication for Evangelical Protestantism in the United States.
These awards and positive reviews do not detract from the concerns we raised in an article published on our website on Nov. 18, 2015. This article, which addressed only some of the problems with Little Town of Bethlehem, appears to have been a factor in the Green family’s decision to stop selling the movie on Amazon and on Mardel’s website.
CAMERA is gratified that new copies of the movie are no longer available for sale, but our message is the same as it was in November 2015: Given the rising tide of antisemitism — which was a problem well before the release of this movie — your decision to produce and distribute this movie was a fundamentally irresponsible act that needs to be corrected.
The decision of the Green family to produce a movie that depicts the Israel-Palestinian conflict (and Israel) in such a distorted manner, raises questions about the worldview the family uses to manage institutions over which it exerts substantial influence, most notably Oral Roberts University, Empowered21 movement and the Museum of the Bible. It is CAMERA’s gre
at concern that if left unchallenged, the distorted view of Israel and of its Jewish supporters will manifest themselves in these institutions just as it did in LTOB.
In light of the defamatory and incendiary distortions in LTOB (detailed in the attached analysis), CAMERA urges you to embark on a campaign to unwind the damage done to the reputation of the Jewish state and the dignity of Jews who claim it as their homeland.
We urge the publication and distribution of a fact sheet that would be sent to all consumers who purchased the movie through online venues. The sheet would include a list of the problems with the movie and the reality as it should have been presented in the film. In addition to sending the sheet to purchasers of the film, it should also be posted on the Internet, specifically on Mardel and EGM’s websites, and if possible, Amazon.com’s website.
The campaign would include the preparation and distribution of a press release drawing attention to your efforts to correct the record and unwind the damage done by Little Town of Bethlehem. This release should be sent to relevant media outlets, including Christianity Today.
We also call on you to prepare and distribute an open letter to all the institutions where the film was shown informing them of the problems with the movie and of your desire to correct the record.
We understand these measures are exacting, but believe they are justified and necessary in light of the damaging false messages of the film and the emotional effects it had on thousands of viewers. The movie’s propagandistic treatment of the Arab-Israeli conflict incited hostility and unwarranted contempt toward Israel and its Jewish supporters in the minds of thousands of viewers.
If you undertake a campaign to unwind the damage caused by Little Town of Bethlehem, it will be an act of great courage and integrity and will also serve as an example of the biblical principle of repentance that is required of leaders.
There is one last issue. Little Town of Bethlehem is not the only film that CAMERA is concerned about. Another film, With God on Our Side produced by Porter Speakman, Jr. offers a similarly distorted understanding of the Arab-Israeli conflict. Given the thematic similarities between the two films, which were released at about the same time, we feel compelled to ask if the Green family was involved with the production of With God on Our Side as well. If the Green family financed the production of WGOS, we ask that you embark on a process of unwinding the damage caused by this film as well.
Thank you for your attention to these very serious concerns.
In its opening frames, Little Town of Bethlehem (LTOB) declares that it is dedicated to the emerging non-violence movement in the Holy Land. A close analysis of the film however, indicates that it is not a study or promotion of principled non-violence. Instead it is a deceptive and propagandistic film that serves to excuse and downplay Palestinian violence and hinder Israeli efforts to defend its citizens from attack.
To this end, the movie portrays Israel as an all-powerful, lawless aggressor that is oppressing weak and innocent Palestinians who are merely attempting to achieve their civil rights — just like American blacks in the American south in the 1960s.
LTOB promotes this false and distorted view with the use of misinformation, material omissions and the juxtaposition of images that encourage viewers to see similarities where none exist. The movie also presents distorted reenactments and in one instance, presents footage in a deceptive manner, to lend an unwarranted air of credibility to the narrative it proffers.
To lend further unwarranted credence to the film’s narrative, director Jim Hanon combines the testimony of two Palestinians, one a Christian the other a Muslim, (both of whom make false statements about Israel), with that of an Israeli Jew from the left fringe of the political spectrum and totally non-representative of mainstream sentiment, who, instead of defending his country from these falsehoods, affirms them. This combination of sources gives the film an aura of balance that it does not deserve.
Instead of producing a film that promotes peace, director Jim Hanon, has produced a film that promotes what analyst Nidra Poller has termed a “Lethal Narrative” — a story that obscures Arab and Muslim hostility toward Israel and the Jewish people. Such narratives are lethal because they de-legitimize the Jewish state and legitimize violence against it. That such a narrative was produced under the guise of Christian peacemaking is simply inexcusable.
Below is a summary of the problems with the movie.
1. The movie offers a false equivalence between the Palestinian cause and the civil rights movement in the United States. It also portrays the First Intifada as a non-violent uprising.
Little Town of Bethlehem posits equivalence between Palestinian violence and the civil rights movement in the United States in a number of ways, most notably by juxtaposing footage of the protesters being attacked by Bull Connor’s police with images of Palestinians fighting with Israeli soldiers, presumably in the West Bank. To drive the point home, the movie quotes Sami Awad, who asserts “The First Intifada was a lot like the civil rights movement in the U.S.”
Elsewhere in the movie, Awad states that Palestinian violence is an attempt by the Palestinians to be treated as equals by the Israelis.
There is simply no equivalence between the civil rights movement in the U.S. and the Palestinian national cause. African Americans were peacefully seeking to achieve their rights under the U.S. Constitution, while Palestinian terrorists in groups like the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), Hamas, and Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) seek to deny the Jewish people their right to self-determination and promote the use of violence to ach
ieve this goal. These groups call both directly and indirectly for the destruction of Israel. Martin Luther King did not pursue the destruction of the American republic, but was calling on its people and government to live and govern by its principles.
The Fatah-dominated Palestinian Authority is basically the same in its constant glorification of terrorism. The PA, which was recognized under the Oslo Accords signed in the early 1990s, has failed to negotiate in good faith with Israeli leaders and has also encouraged violence against Israel.
Moreover, the Palestinian national constitution approved by Palestinian leaders in 2003 declares that Islam is the religion of the state and that Shariah shall be the primary source of legislation.
Shariah enshrines Muslim dominance over non-Muslims, most notably Jews and Christians. Martin Luther King was of course, pursuing equality for American blacks. The Palestinian constitution enshrines Muslim supremacy as a matter of law.
On the more specific issue of Awad’s assertion that the First Intifada was “a lot like” the non-violent civil rights movement in the U.S., this assertion ignores one obvious fact: Despite the of-repeated assertion that the First Intifada was a “non-violent” uprising, it was no such thing. Between 1987 and 1992, thousands of firebombs were thrown at Israelis by Palestinian terrorists. Dozens of Israelis were killed by these and other acts of violence during this time.
Moreover, hundreds of Palestinians suspected of collaborating were killed by their fellow Palestinians. The effort to root out suspected collaborators provided a cover for widespread score-settling murders in Palestinian society. This internecine violence is one of the reasons why Palestinian leaders worked to bring the First Intifada to an end.
There were no comparable acts of violence perpetrated by the civil rights movement led by MLK.
To compare the self-disciplined, moral and non-violent civil rights movement in the United States with the First Intifada is an insult to the memory of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and to the African American community in the United States.
- The film posits a false equivalence between Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Palestinian leaders and agitators who instead of promoting the rights of their followers, have used their power to delegitimize the Jewish state and undermine the Jewish right to self-determination.
To further the insult against Martin Luther King, LTOB posits a false equivalence between him and Mubarak Awad who is well-known for using the language of non-violence as a cover for anti-Israelism.
It does this by juxtaposing testimony about Mubarak Awad with imagery of and speeches delivered by Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King. Viewers are left to draw the inference that Mubarak Awad and MLK are cut from the same ideological and theological cloth, when in fact there is no similarity whatsoever between the two. Awad does not in any sense compare to this great American leader.
In an article published in the Journal of Palestine Studies in 1984, Awad wrote that non-violence “does not rule out the possibility of armed struggle at a later stage.” He also wrote that “Non-violence can be successfully utilized, at least in part, by individuals who are not necessarily committed to non-violence and who may choose, at a different stage, to engage in armed struggle.”
In this same article, Awad writes that “There is the instinctive need of demonstrators to draw the Israeli army into a confrontation with them. The methods most commonly used presently are to burn tires, throw stones or set up roadblocks.” Throwing stones, it must be said, is a potentially lethal activity and simply cannot be considered a tactic of non-violence.
And in 1991 Mubarak Awad said, “I’m willing to go to the soldiers and talk to the fellow with the gun about non-violence. And if it works, I tell him, you won’t have to use the gun. And if it doesn’t, you can always go back to using the gun. My brother says, ‘No, no, no. You can’t tell them you can use a gun.’”
Martin Luther King, Jr. would never talk in such cynical terms about nonviolence as Mubarak Awad did in 1991. For MLK, non-violence was not an instrument or a strategy to be used and abandoned as circumstances warranted. In his book Martin & Malcolm & America: A Dream or a Nightmare (2007, Maryknoll), author Rev. James Cone provides the following quote from MLK to highlight his commitment to nonviolence:
“If he beats you, you develop the power to accept it without retaliating. If he doesn’t beat you, fine. If he throws you in jail in the process, you go on in there and transform the jail from a dungeon of shame to a haven of freedom and human dignity. Even if he tries to kill you, you develop the quiet courage of dying if necessary without killing.”
There’s more. In 2002 Mubarak Awad spoke at Princeton University and declared: “I am telling you loud and clear there cannot be a Jewish state in the Middle East. It is impossible.”
This is in direct contradiction to what MLK stated multiple times during his career. Martin Luther King, Jr. was an avowed Zionist.
Alex Lubin, author of Geographies of Liberation: The Making of an Afro-Arab Imaginary (2014, University of North Carolina Press), reports that in June, 1967, MLK was a signatory to a paid advertisement in the New York Times that “called on President Lyndon Johnson to honor American commitments to ensure Israel’s security.” Lubin adds that Dr. King wrote a letter to the same paper in which he stated “Israel’s right to exist as a state in security is incontestable.”
In 1968, Dr. King said the following at the national convention of the Rabbinical Assembly:
Peace for Israel means security, and we must stand with all our might to protect her right to exist, its territorial integrity and the right to use whatever sea lanes it needs. Israel is one of the great outposts of democracy in the world, and a marvelous example of what can be done, how desert land can be transformed into an oasis of brotherhood and democracy. Peace for Israel means security, and that security must be a reality.
And in 2002, one of MLK’s close associates, Representative John Lewis, reported the following:
During an appearance at HarvardUniversityshortly before his death, a student stood up and asked King to address himself to the issue of Zionism. The question was clearly hostile. King responded, “When people criticize Zionists they mean Jews, you are talking anti-Semitism.”
There is simply no way to portray Mubarak Awad as following in the path set by Martin Luther King without insulting Dr. King’s memory and violating the trust of the audience. But that is what Little Town of Bethlehem does, deceiving and distorting.
- In addition to falsely comparing Mubarak Awad to MLK, the movie mischaracterizes Awad’s conflict with the state of Is
During the film, Sami Awad states the following about his uncle Mubarak:
It reached the point where my uncle was seen as a threat to the security of Israel. It led him to being arrested and put on trial and deported.
Mubarak Awad was not deported merely because he was seen as a security threat to Israel, but because he no longer qualified for residency in Jerusalem, which under Israeli law, is contingent on the city being the geographical center of one’s life.
Israeli stripped Awad of his residency permit after he applied for — and obtained — permanent U.S. residency and then U.S. Citizenship. Application for U.S. citizenship requires that the future citizen intends to reside permanently in the United States. By applying for U.S, citizenship, Awad abandoned his Jerusalem residency.
After returning to Israel as a U.S. Citizen under a tourist visa, he was arrested and deported. Awad challenged his deportation before the Israeli Supreme Court. Awad was not deported from Israel because he was a “security threat” but because he became a U.S. citizen and therefore forfeited his rights to Jerusalem residency.
- The movie omits crucial facts of history that highlight the challenges would-be peacemakers should confront head-on if they are interested in bringing an end to the Arab-Israeli conflict. The distorted historical narrative offered by LTOB obscures Palestinian and Arab violence.
The omissions are numerous and egregious.
- The movie makes no mention of the antisemitism broadcast into Palestinian society (and the greater Middle East) by Haj Amin al Hussein, the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, one of the leading figures of the Palestinian nationalist cause in the 20th century. The Grand Mufti helped recruit Muslims to serve in the Nazi SS in Bosnia, where nearly all of that country’s Jews were killed during the Holocaust. This is a relevant omission because of the manner in which Sami Awad invokes the Holocaust later in the film (discussed below).
- The movie makes no mention of the violence perpetrated against Jews of Palestine by Arabs under the leadership of the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, Haj Amin Al-Husseini, the leading figure of Palestinian nationalism. Hundreds of Jews were killed in Palestinian riots incited by Husseini in the 1920s and 30s.
- The movie also fails to mention the role the Grand Mufti’s alliance with Adolph Hitler and the Nazis during the Holocaust and his singular role in broadcasting Nazi antisemitism into the Middle East through Arabic radio broadcasts.
- LTOB makes no mention of the UN’s 1947 resolution to establish both a Jewish and an Arab state on the land administered under the British Mandate and that the Jews accepted this resolution and the Arab countries in the Middle East rejected it. With this omission, the movie obscures the fact that the Palestinians could have had a sovereign state of their own decades ago and as a result, could have avoided the suffering that the movie highlights, and blames on Israel.
- The movie makes no mention of the fact that it was the Arabs who attacked first when Israel declared its independence in 1948. The movie allows Sami Awad to describe the beginning of this war with the phrase “war broke out.” This obscures the role Arab leaders played in setting the stage for Palestinian and Israeli suffering in the ensuing decades.
- The movie does not inform viewers that when fending off the five Arab armies that attacked the Jewish state in 1948, Israel lost one percent of its population.
- In dealing with the Six Day War in 1967, the movie again allows Sami Awad to describe the war as having “broken out” omitting threats and aggressive acts toward Israel perpetrated by Arab leaders in the months and weeks prior to Israel’s attack on Egypt on June 4, 1967.
- In particular, the movie omits Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser’s numerous threats to destroy Israel, his decision to kick UN peace keepers out of the Sinai Peninsula and the closure of the Straits of Tiran (an explicit act of war), and the massing of tanks and troops in the Sinai in the weeks prior to the war.
- The film also omits the fact that Israel begged Jordan to stay out of the Six Day War and that Jordan ignored these pleas by launching artillery rounds into Jerusalem, prompting an attack from Israel to stop the artillery fire. As a result of this attack, Israel took control of the West Bank, which Jordan had been occupying since the end of the War for Independence.
- The film makes no mention of the “Three Nos” of Khartoum issued by the Arab League after the Six Day War, in which Arab leaders stated their refusal to negotiate with Israel, make peace with Israel or even recognize the Jewish state.
- The film also makes no mention whatsoever of numerous peace offers made to Palestinian leaders over the years. It makes no reference to the offer made by Ehud Barak at Camp David during the summer of 2000, nor does it mention the Clinton Parameters, which Israel accepted (and the Palestinians rejected) a few months later at Taba. Nor does it mention the offer made by Ehud Olmert to Mahmoud Abbas in 2008, which Abbas ignored. All of these offers represented real opportunities to bring the conflict to an end and to provide the Palestinians with statehood, and every one of them was refused by Palestinian leaders.
- The movie makes no reference whatsoever to the ongoing incitement broadcast on official Palestinian TV stations controlled by Hamas and the Palestinian Authority.
- The movie does not highlight the role Palestinian leader Yassir Arafat played in promoting hate and hostility toward Israel and Jews throughout the world during his time as head of the PLO, nor does it show how Arafat planned the Second Intifada even as he was negotiating with the Israelis at Camp David in 2000 while serving as head of the Palestinian Authority. The movie’s failure to address Arafat’s role in the ongoing conflict is particularly egregious in light of the manner in which it assails Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (discussed below). The impression viewers are given is that Palestinian leaders are innocent and that Israeli leaders are solely to blame for the conflict.
- LTOB also omits any description of the corrupt and oppressive actions perpetrated by both the Palestinian Authority and Hamas against their own people. The movie was produced a few years after Hamas and Fatah engaged in a brief, but exceedingly violent civil war over the control of the Gaza Strip, but there was no mention of this in the film. Why was this omitted?
- Moreover, the film makes no mention of the manner in which Hamas attacked Israel from the Gaza Strip in 2006 and 2008/2009 and created a humanitarian crisis in both Israel and Gaza. Why was this omitted? Is Hamas not worthy of the peacemaking activism lauded in this movie? Is the PA’s corruption not worthy of full-throated condemnation?
- In its portrayal of Israel as a creation of European Jews, LTOB omits any reference to the approximately 1 million Jews who fled to Israel from Arab and Muslim countries in the years after Israel’s creation, fleeing violence and oppression at the hands of their neighbors. Much of this violence was rooted in the hostility promoted by the previously mentioned Palestinian leader Haj Amin al Husseini.
These omissions are particularly egregious in light of comments made by Sami Awad toward the end of the film. He says that he and his fellow peacemakers must ask themselves “What can we do to allow [Israelis] to break the barriers of fear” that prevent them from making peace with the Palestinians.
If Awad and his colleague Ahmed Al Azzeh were serious about reducing the fear of the Israelis, they would present honestly and fairly the threats to Israel, the incitement to hatred and violence against the Jewish state. They would also address the failings of Palestinian leaders in the movie. But these failings are obscured altogether in the film. This is simply outrageous.
Taken together, these omissions, coupled with the manner in which the film demonizes the actions of Israeli leaders, indicates that the movie is not using the rhetoric and language of nonviolence to promote peace, but to de-legitimize Israel. The film is, in short, a salvo in a propaganda war against Israel, not a peacemaking document.
- The movie mischaracterizes the history of pre-state Palestine by stating that racism and discrimination were not a problem prior to Israel’s creation.
In the movie, Ahmad Al Azzeh reports that his grandparents “used to perceive Jewish (sic) just as neighbors and friends. There weren’t any kind of racism or discrimination.”
Azzeh’s report that there was never any kind of racism or discrimination directed at Jews in Palestine prior to the 1948 War is false. There were some local officials and elites in Palestinian society who were willing to live in relative peace with Jews in Palestine even if they opposed the creation of a Jewish state.
But Haj Amin Al Husseini, the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem who controlled the Arab Higher Committee, intimidated or killed these moderates (who were always few in number) outright in the late 1930s.
Contrary to what Al Azzeh tells the camera, racism and hostility toward Jews was a major factor in Palestinian society. It manifested itself a number of times in Palestinian Arab acts of violence, most especially during the 1929 and 1936 riots.
Sometimes Palestinian Arabs protected their Jewish neighbors during these riots, but not always. Writing in 1961, Howard Morley Sachar recounted the murder of Rabbi Meier Castel, the chairman of the Sephardic community in Hebron. On page 22 of his book, Aliyah: The Peoples of Israel, Sachar writes that Castel was “a famous orator in Arabic” and was an “honored guest at Arab banquets and ceremonial affairs. And yet his rapport was not quite enough to save his life” during the 1929 riots:
As the howling band descended upon the venerable rabbi’s home, one of his oldest friends, a Moslem who had been raised in the same courtyard with him, persuaded Meier Castel to give him his key.“I will guard your home for you,” he promised.Whereupon the Arab unlocked the Castel home to the invaders, and the rabbi was promptly disemboweled.
Al Azzeh’s assertion that there was not a problem with racism or discrimination in Palestine prior to Israel’s creation is false. The area was aflame with genocidal antisemitism.
- LTOB distorts the events leading up to the 1996 election of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in a manner that whitewashes Palestinian hostility toward Israel and defames the Israeli electorate.
During the film, Al Azeeh speaks about how the Palestinian people responded to the assassination of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzak Rabin who was killed in November, 1995:
When Rabin was assassinated, a lot of Palestinian people was sad, sad, very sad. He did all he could when he started to think about peace and they killed him. Read the election. When people elected the most fanatical group to be leaders that means the majority of the population do not want peace. [As Al Azzeh utters this previous sentence, the film shows footage of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who won the 1996 election in Israel.]
In fact, some Palestinians were saddened by Rabin’s assassination. But enough of them cheered his death that Yassir Arafat put out a ban on reporting about Palestinians rejoicing in Gaza at Rabin’s death, just the same way he instructed reporters to not report about Palestinians rejoicing at the attacks against the United States on September 11, 2001. The day after Rabin was killed the New York Times reported:
In Lebanon today, a Muslim militant rally in Beirut to mourn the death of a Palestinian guerilla leader turned into a celebration of Mr. Rabin’s slaying. Thousands of Lebanese and Palestinian militants chanted, “Death to Israel.”…Palestinian guerillas and refugees opposed to the P.L.O. took to the streets of the Ain Hilwe camp in southern Lebanon minutes after hearing news of Mr. Rabin’s death, chanting, Rabin is gone! Rabin is gone!” and dancing into this morning. The guerillas fired machine guns and anti-tank rockets skyward.Palestinian and Muslim Lebanese guerrillas also fired into the night sky in celebration in the Beirut suburbs and other Party of God [Hezbollah] strongholds in Eastern Lebanon.
And two days after Rab
in’s assassination, Alan Makovsky reported the following about the response to the murder at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy:
If the official Arab reaction contained some positive elements, some disappointing ones, and some predictably negative ones, there were several unofficial statements and images that reminded Israelis of just how deeply popular hatred runs in some quarters. Terrorist groups were happy, of course, although Ahmad Jibril [the leader for the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine] lamented (perhaps not sarcastically) that Rabin was killed by a Jew, not a Palestinian. Hamas said it “congratulates” Palestinians for “the death of one of their worst enemies, a criminal.” Perhaps the most ghoulish image was the photograph of Amman-based Hamas spokesman Ibrahim Ghosheh displaying a copy of The Jordan Times headlined “Rabin Assassinated” while grinning broadly.
Al Azzeh’s characterization of Benjamin Netanyahu’s 1996 electoral victory omits crucial information. He stated that Netanyahu’s victory meant “the majority of the population do not want peace.” Actually, it’s not that they didn’t want peace, it’s just that they wanted security. On the eve of the election CNN reported the following:
As Israeli voters cast their ballots for prime minister Wednesday, the fear of more terrorist attacks may strongly influence their choice.In February and March, militant Islamic suicide bombers killed 59 people in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. The carnage not only shocked the nation, but it inflicted a severe blow to the re-election hopes of Prime Minister Shimon Peres.Early in the year, Peres enjoyed a 20 percent lead in opinion polls. On the eve of the election, he holds only a 3 percent lead over Likud Party leader Benjamin Netanyahu.
Al Azzeh portrays Israelis as monsters for electing Benjamin Netanyahu as their Prime Minister in the 1996 election, but makes no mention of the deaths of dozens of people at the hands of Palestinian suicide bombers in the months prior to the election. It was the carnage and wish for safety that helped Netanyahu win the election.
Whether Hanon intended to or not, he allowed Al Azzeh to defame the Israeli electorate in an ugly way. This same movie by the way, excuses and condones the decision of Palestinian voters to elect Hamas, a genocidal power.
- LTOB misinforms its viewers about the relationship between Palestinian violence and unemployment in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.
In the movie, Sami Awad reports that support for Hamas (a terrorist organization that seeks Israel’s destruction) “was at its lowest” when the peace process began. He then asserts that Hamas gained support as a result of a rise of unemployment that took place as the peace process progressed.
Awad states “We became more unemployed during the years of the peace process than at anytime prior to that.” He continued, “when unemployment grows, the economic situation becomes more difficult, groups like Hamas are able to fill this gap. They come in with their social programs, their healthcare, their education. They are now providing for the community and that creates popularity.”
In sum, the story that Awad tells is that the peace process, which began in 1993, contributed to unemployment in Palestinian society, which in turn gave Hamas an opening and fueled the Second Intifada.
In fact, Palestinian violence led to increased unemployment in the West Bank, not the other way around, as LTOB states. Statistics compiled by the World Bank reveal that unemployment declined in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip after the beginning of the peace process and shot up again with the beginning of the Second Intifada.
Here are unemployment numbers from the World Bank for both the Gaza Strip and the West Bank.
Year Unemployment (Percent)
1993 (Beginning of Oslo)
1996 (Temporary Closures)
2000 (Beginning of Second Intifada)
These numbers reveal that from 1993 until 1996, unemployment in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip declined. It shot up again in 1996 and then started to decline again until the onset of the Second Intifada at the end of 2000.
Unemployment increased in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip in 1996 as a result of Israeli security measures that prevented Palestinian workers from entering into Israel. The measures were imposed after a series of Hamas-perpetrated suicide attacks (mentioned above) that resulted in the deaths of scores of Israeli civilians. Once the attacks decreased, these measures were eased allowing for an improvement in economic conditions.
This is the story told by Saleh Al Kafri, a researcher from the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics, in an undated paper. He reports that after the signing of Oslo I in 1993 “the Palestinian economy became better off” and started to recover from the economic crisis that resulted from the First Intifada. Then, during the 1996 closures, Palestinians were unable to get to work in Israel, but fortunately, this “did not last long, and the political situation became calm and settled which led to the improvement in the economic situations in 1997 up to 2000.”
Looking at the numbers and the chronology, offered by an official from the Palestinian Bureau of Statistics no less, the reality becomes impossible to deny. Palestinian unemployment increased after periods of Palestinian violence, not the other way around. LTOB misinforms its viewers in a significant and egregious way.
- Little Town of Bethlehem misleads its viewers about the refugee problem, encouraging them to believe this problem is all Israel’s fault.
Little Town of Bethlehem tells a generalized story about Palestinian dislocation through testimony from Ahmad Al Azzeh, a Palestinian Muslim who reports that during Israel’s war for Independence in 1948, his grandparents fled from the village of Jibrin and moved to what is now Azzah Refugee Camp near Bethtlehem. “They lived in caves for a year, until 1949,” he says.
Later, Azzeh reports that the United Nations housed his grandparents in tents with the expectation that they would be able to go back to their village after 10 days. “Those ten days extended [into] 60 years,” he says. “And I still live in Azzah Camp,” he says as the opening bars of a rap song titled “Bethlehem Ghetto” plays in the background.
The implication is that the Palestinians living in Bethlehem are suffering from a problem similar to that of African-Americans in American cities.
Azzeh also describes the conditions in stark terms. “I live in a place where violence could be on a daily basis,” he says. His testimony continues as follows:
I live in a very small area. It is 200 meters by 150 [meters]. We are 2,026 people in this area. Forty-eight percent are children between zero to 18 years old. You are allowed to move in and out, but you still have to come back at night and sleep in this prison. When we started we were allowed 900 people in 1949 so we cannot expand widely. So the family that was composed of six or five members is now 20 or 30. The same area, the same house so they have to build second floor, third floor, fourth flour even we have in the camp. No privacy of course.
After Azzeh reports these conditions, testimony from Sami Awad places the blame on Israel for these conditions. He states, “Life was on a continuous basis controlled by the Israeli military.”
But as demonstrated below, Palestinian leaders played a huge role in preventing a humane resolution to the refugee problem. It was they – not the Israelis – who blocked the construction of bigger homes for the refugees. And it was Arab leaders who started the war that created the crisis in the first place.
Here’s the background that LTOB failed to give its viewers:
The Palestinian refugee crisis is the result of the 1948 War, which was started by Israel’s Arab neighbors who sought its destruction. Arab leaders called on Palestinian Arabs to flee their homes to make room for Israel’s destruction. Many of these people and their descendents live in refugee camps in Arab countries such as Lebanon and Syria that deny them the rights of citizenship. (Jordan is the only country that has granted refugees citizenship.)
Palestinian refugees also live in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip where they are under the control of the Palestinian Authority and Hamas respectively. Israeli officials attempted to build permanent housing for Palestinian refugees after taking possession of these territories during the Six Day War. In 1992, The Christian Science Monitor reported the following:
Numerous efforts have been made to resettle these refugees, but all have failed. In 1950, long before the territories came under Israeli control, UNRWA suggested moving 150,000 of them to Libya, but Egypt objected. In 1951, UNRWA vetoed a plan to move 50,000 Palestinian refugees from the Gaza Strip to Northern Sinai when Egypt refused permission to use the Nile waters to irrigate proposed agricultural settlements. In 1952, Syria rejected UNRWA’s initiative to resettle 85,000 refugees in camps in that country. In 1959, UNRWA reported that of the $250 million fund for rehabilitation created in 1950 to provide homes and jobs for the refugees outside of the camps, only $7 million had been spent.In the early 1970s, Israel initiated what it called the “build your own home” program. A half a dunam of land outside the camps (equal to about an eighth of an acre) was given to Palestinians who then financed the purchase of building materials and, usually with friends, erected a home. Israel provided the infrastructure: sewers, schools, etc. More than 11,000 camp dwellers were resettled into 10 different neighborhoods before the PLO, using intimidation tactics, ended the program. (Emphasis added.)Israeli authorities say that if people were able to stand up to the PLO and if it had the funds to invest in the infrastructure, within eight years every camp resident could own a single-dwelling home in a clean and uncongested neighborhood.
That’s not all. In the face of Israeli efforts to provide the Palestinians with permanent homes, the United Nations, under pressure from Arab and Muslim nations passed two resolutions (one in 1976 and the other in 1979) calling on Israel to stop its efforts to relocate the refugees. One of the resolutions even called on Israel to return Palestinians to their homes in the refugee camps. The goal was to use suffering the refugees as a symbol with which to de-legitimize Israel.
LTOB assists in the pursuit of this goal. Why?
Significantly, today the PA has controlled Area A in the
West Bank for 15 years, and yet Palestinians still live in refugee camps. Why are any of these people still living in such camps?
- The movie cynically uses the Holocaust to portray the Israelis as unable to make peace with the Palestinians.
During the movie, Sami Awad describes a trip he made to Auschwitz and Birkenau, two death camps in Poland. Awad states that he witnessed busloads of Israeli children touring the camps with Israeli guides, and heard them singing the Israeli national anthem. He says
The shocking part was to see the language that this guide was using. Not to explain this violent act as an act that happened against the Jewish community in particular, but humanity in general and should not happen to anybody in the world. But presenting this act as “What the Arabs and the Palestinians want to do to us now … [Here, Awad’s voice trails off in shock.]The children are experiencing one of the most traumatic episodes of their life. So many of them probably have their grandparents or great uncles or aunts killed in this places.
For Awad, the scene was emblematic of “How fear is now planted in our hearts,” he said, adding that the message offered to the students on these tours is “Fear the Arabs, fear the Palestinians. Do not trust them. Do not make peace with them.”
In his testimony, Awad attempts to acknowledge the Holocaust’s impact on the Jewish people while trying to universalize or de-Judaize the horror. When he says that the Holocaust didn’t just happen against the Jewish community in particular, but to “humanity in general” he downplays or elides one of the primary causes of World War II and the Holocaust that accompanied it – Nazi Jew-hatred. Hitler’s overriding goal was to destroy the Jewish people, whom he regarded as an obstacle and threat to the survival of the German race. Yes, Awad is right, a lot of other people were killed during the Holocaust, but the Jews remained the primary target of the Nazis.
Awad also suggests that Israeli leaders imbue their children with an irrational and unreasonable fear of Palestinians. This suggestion can only pass muster if one ignores well-established facts about Palestinian leaders and society (which, conveniently enough, were omitted from the film).
Hamas continually pledges to destroy Israel and for most of its history, the PLO had embraced this goal as well. And while the Palestinian Authority voted in the 1990s under pressure from the Clinton Administration in the 1990s to remove from its charter a call to destroy Israel, PA have stated in the years since that this vote is no longer in force. There is no current officially available charter of the Palestinian Authority that lacks this passage.
And as stated previously, one of the worse purveyors of Nazi antisemitism into the Arab world was Haj Amin Al-Husseini, the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem and one of the leading figures of the Palestinian cause in the 20th Century. Mahmoud Abbas has, in recent years, described Husseini as a “hero.”
If Awad were truly committed to non-violence, he would have confronted this bit of history and called on his fellow Palestinians to repudiate the Grand Mutfi. But he has not. Instead he uses rhetoric to point the finger of blame solely at Israel.
- LTOB invokes misleading testimony of Yonatan Shapira, an Israeli soldier who is currently part of “Breaking the Silence,” a group of conscientious objectors who have very little credibility or support in Israeli society.
Speaking to the camera, Shapira tells a story of being a young idealistic supporter of the Jewish state and proud of his service as a helicopter pilot in Israel’s military. Everything was fine until he experienced a crisis of conscience in 2002 after the death of Asalzh Shehadah at the hands of the Israeli airforce.
It was after they dropped this one-ton bomb on the house of Aseleh Shehada, killed 15 innocents including nine children and left me with the feeling that I am one of the kids that were killed there, because this naïve Yonatan that really identified with his country, he was killed in a way.
The death of 15 civilians, nine of them children, as the result of an Israeli airstrike, is a tragedy, but it is important to know who Aseleh Shehada was. He was a high-ranking Hamas member who founded the Al Qassam Brigades in the 1980s. By virtue of his position, Shehada was responsible for planning many of the suicide bomb attacks that killed dozens of Israelis in the decade prior to his death. He also advocated the instruction of children in terror attacks. All this gives badly needed context to the attack on Shehadah’s home. The man was responsible for the deaths of many Israelis and was a legitimate military target. In light of the circumstances, it seems reasonable, if not necessary, to ask, was Shehadeh using his family as human shields to deter Israeli strikes against him?
It’s a reasonable question to ask given that Hamas leaders have boasted of using civilians as human shields.
Shapira also reports that “Israeli society is very, very militaristic.” Why do we not see the same level of self-criticism from the Palestinian sources in this film? It’s not that Palestinian society is without its problems, but that Palestinians are not free to speak the truth about their leaders, their culture, their laws or their religion.
- LTOB Uses Reenactments to Lend Legitimacy to Promote Distorted View of History
Another troubling aspect of LTOB is the director’s use of reenactments to lend unwarranted credibility and drama to its intense focus on alleged Israeli power and wrongdoing and innocent Palestinian suffering. Here is a list of the reenacted scenes:
- The scene of a Jewish family from Eastern Europe lighting a shabbos candle and tilling the ground after arriving in Palestine.
- The death of Sami Awad’s grandfather during the 1948. (This is the most gruesome.)
- Ahmad Al Azzeh’s grandparents fleeing their home.
- Jews taking possession of this home, handling the valuables left behind by Al Azzeh’s grandparents.
- Ahmad Al Azzeh retrieving his television while under fire from Israeli soldiers during the Second Intifada.
Taken together, these images tell a story of Israeli Jews establishing a life for themselves at the expense of innocent Palestinians whose lives are disrupted by Israel’s establishment. Interestingly enough, there are no reenactments highlighting the impact of Palestinian violence against Israelis. There are brief references to Palestinian violence, such as footage of a blown up bus shown on the screen, but it is not given the prominence warranted
During reenactments three and four, Ahmad Al Azzeh speaks about how his grandparents fled their home during an attack by the Haganah and about being forced to take up residence in a refugee camp where Al Azzeh lives today.
As he speaks, the video displays an Arab family picking up its belongings, including rolls of fabric, fleeing their home and locking the door behind them. Subsequent images show Jews moving into the home and taking possession of the belongings that were left behind. Similar events happened to hundreds of thousands of Jews from the Arab world who were driven out and lost all their possessions during and after the 1948 war, but this reality is not even mentioned in the movie.
Not only do the reenactments encourage viewers to view the conflict in a distorted, one-sided manner, one of the reenactments is based on a misleading narrative of what actually happened.
During his opening monologue in which he describes his family history, Sami Awad speaks about the death of his grandfather during Israel’s War for Independence in 1948. As Sami tells the story in the movie, his family lived in an area between East and West Jerusalem where the fiercest fighting and shelling took place.
In an effort to protect his family, Awad said, his grandfather (Elias), decided to raise a white flag. “But in his attempt to protect the family, he was shot and killed by a sniper bullet.”
Awad continues: “After that, Jewish forces came and kicked my father’s family out and my grandmother was left with … seven grandchildren.”
To lend drama to Awad’s story, director Jim Hanon shows what happened with footage of a man’s body being dragged across a stone floor leaving a trail of blood. After that, a woman and a young child are shown digging a grave with their bare hands and a piece of wood.
A man’s lifeless body lays on the ground in a white shroud nearby. It’s a gruesome and horrifying spectacle.
The story used as the script for this reenactment is contradicted by other family members who tell a different story.
For example, in his book Palestinian Memories: The Story of a Palestinian Mother and Her People, first published in 2008 and reprinted in 2012, Rev. Alex Awad, Sami’s uncle, reports that Elias went outside with others in his family because there was a break in the fighting.
Elias, Alex writes, “decided to step outside the shelter to see if it was safe and if the war was over.”
He then reports that Elias was shot by an unknown gunman because “he had forgotten to put on his Red Cross armband which identified him as a hospital worker and a non-combatant.”
These are two different stories. Alex Awad reports that Elias was killed while checking if the fighting had ended. Sami’s states Elias was killed while the fighting was going on.
And while Sami says Elias was killed while trying to display a white flag, his uncle says he was shot because he forgot to wear a Red Cross armband.
Sami’s version has much more propaganda value than the one told by his uncle because it presents his grandfather as risking his life for the welfare of his family.
This is not the first time Sami has told a story that differs from the one told by the rest of his family. In 2009, he told a group of Christians at a gathering in Texas that the shot that killed his grandfather came from the Israeli side of the fighting, leading listeners to conclude that it was a Jew who killed Elias. But the family, it turns out, has no definitive proof of who killed Elias.
At the 2014 Christ at the Checkpoint Conference, this writer confronted Sami Awad about the discrepancies in the story he tells about his grandfather’s death. His response was revealing: “I’ve stopped telling that story,” Awad said.
The use of reenactments to pass off false stories as real is a grave violation of the audience’s trust. Brian Winston, author of Lies, Damn Lies and Documentaries (2000, British Film Institute) declares that “those who deliberately create events for the camera out of their imaginations and then pass these off as real, or even as authenticated reconstructions of the real … are simply common liars. They are to media production what paedophiles are to childcare.”
- In one instance, LTOB misleads is viewers outright by passing off footage of an Australian jet as an Israeli fighter plane.
At various points throughout the film, LTOB shows footage of a jet fighter while Yonatan Shapira speaks about serving in Israel’s air force. The inference that viewers are encouraged to draw is that the plane in question is an Israeli fighter jet. In fact it is not. A close examination of the footage in question reveals that the plane in question has the name of an Australian fighter pilot whose name and rank and back story can be readily found on the Internet.
This information can only be obtained by looking at the film on a frame-by-frame basis, as CAMERA has done. Viewers who see the film in a public setting simply will not be able to do this.
- LTOB the presents the massacre of 11 Israeli Athletes at the Olympics in Munich in 1972 in a confusing and disjointed manner and frames it with misleading testimony that downplays the role of Palestinians in violent acts against Israelis.
Hanon’s reenactment of the death and burial of Elias Awad is particularly offensive when it is compared to how he portrays the attack on Israeli athletes at the 1972 Olympics in Munich, Germany.
The 38-second segment about the Munich attack provides some information about this horrendous attack, albeit in a very disjointed and confused manner. During these 38 seconds, numerous images are flashed across the screen, for one or two seconds at a time – an insufficient amount of time for people to comprehend what is happening. While these images flash ever-so-briefly across the screen, the headline “They’re all gone” (referring to the deaths of the athletes in question) is also shown very briefly on the screen. Then after this, there is hard-to-understand footage and audio of Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir condemning the attack.
The intent of this section is not to give college-age viewers (who were born several years after the Munich Massacre and therefore lack any real sense of what is being shown) context and information about this horrible event, but instead to inoculate the movie against the charge of ignoring Palestinian terrorism altogether.
After this confusing segment is displayed, LTOB allows Sami Awad to provide misleading testimony. He states:
As a Palestinian, I would say that it is not correct to justify and excuse such acts of violence. But it’s also not right to label an entire Palestinian community as terrorist.
Awad then goes on to say the PLO is made up of different factio
ns that each have their own military wings which are sponsored by “some countries.” He then states, “The Palestinian community that lives in the West Bank and Gaza was not involved in these acts of violence.”
This is very misleading. While many international attacks were perpetrated by PLO terrorists living in Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria during the 1960s and 70s, many terror attacks were perpetrated by Palestinians from the West Bank and the Gaza Strip during this time.
For example, on November 22, 1968, Palestinian terrorists killed 12 people and injured another 55 in a bombing of Jerusalem’s Mahanah Yehuda Market. In February of the following year, another bomb injured 29 Israelis at Hebrew University.
Then there is the Zion Square Bombing attack that took place in the center of Jerusalem on July 4, 1975. This bombing, perpetrated by two members from the PLO who lived in the West Bank, killed 13 people, including two children and injured 72. The bomb was left in a refrigerator in a neighborhood filled with people doing their shopping for the upcoming sabbath. For LTOB to allow Awad to mislead his audience in such a manner is irresponsible.
- LTOB omits important information about how the First Intifada began.
Ahmad Al Azzeh reports that the First Intifada began when “in one incident a few Palestinians were killed by a settler in Gaza. Then it was kind of a revolution.”
No details about the “incident” are provided to the viewers, leaving them to conclude that the incident that started the uprising was an act of political violence perpetrated by an Israeli. In fact, the “incident” that resulted in the deaths of the Palestinians was not an act of intentional violence but a horrible traffic accident in the Gaza Strip.
The accident took place the day after an Israeli businessman, Shlomo Takal, 45 was murdered at a supermarket in Gaza on Dec. 6, 1987. According to a report issued on that day by the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, Takal “was talking to a shopkeeper when he was stabbed from behind in the back of his neck.”
Then on Dec. 7, 1987, an Israeli truck driver crashed into two Palestinian taxis, killing four residents of a refugee camp in the Gaza Strip. Falsely believing that the accident was an attack in revenge for Takal’s murder, Palestinian youths engaged in rioting with firebombs and stones.
Instead of telling viewers that the First Intifada was precipitated by a tragic accident, LTOB encourages viewers to think it was caused by an intentional act of violence perpetrated by an Israeli settler. This is irresponsible.
- LTOB uses Nativity imagery as propaganda device to blacken Israel’s reputation.
Toward the end of the film, director Jim Hanon presents the story of the birth of Sami Awad’s first child in 2002 during a battle in Bethlehem during which Palestinian gunmen took refuge in the Church of the Nativity, where Christians throughout the world memorialize Jesus’ birth.
LTOB juxtaposes the story of Mary and Joseph finding shelter with the baby Jesus in a manger, against a dramatic account of Awad and his wife seeking a place for her to give birth. Israeli security measures in response to Palestinian violence almost prevented the couple from reaching an Israeli hospital. In Hanon’s framing of the story, the fear and uncertainty surrounding the couple’s ultimately successful effort to get into Israel was blamed on Israel instead of Palestinian terrorists who caused the increased security measures.
To encourage viewers to see Israelis as being at fault for the Awads’ difficulties in reaching an Israeli hospital, the film displays a computer animation of Mary and Joseph moving across a concrete section of the security barrier. Viewers simply cannot miss the connection. This image is followed by another animation of the Three Magi offering their gifts to baby Jesus. The message is that Israel hindered the birth of Sami’s son just as the Romans hindered the birth of baby Jesus in Bethlehem 2,000 years ago.
The conflict between Israel and the Palestinians is tragic enough. The use of the Nativity story, replete with computer graphics, to blacken Israel’s reputation is defamatory and indefensible.
The problems with Little Town of Bethlehem are numerous and egregious. Every effort must be made to inform its viewers that it is an unreliable film that offers a distorted and inaccurate view of the Israel-Palestinian conflict.