The recent film, Foragers, is a partisan, political statement on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Palestinian artist and filmmaker Jumana Manna presents a story about agriculture as a metaphor for Israel’s “occupation” of what she suggests is indigenous Palestinian land.
It is the story of the foraging by Palestinians of the wild-growing “akkoub” (Gundelia tournefortii) plant, an endangered species that Israel’s Nature and Parks Authority has tried to manage agriculturally. To conserve its growth in the area, the Nature and Parks Authority declared the akkoub a protected plant and banned its gathering in the wild, promoting instead agricultural cultivation of the plant under more controlled conditions, to satisfy the demand. The ban was lifted two years ago, allowing foragers to gather the plant for personal use, while sparing the roots.
Isn’t such conservation a good thing?
Not according to Manna, who explains the message of her film:
Foragers is about the top-down violence of colonial laws around preservation practices.
As the filmmaker explained to interviewer Sophia Hoffinger, what she conveys in the film is that foraging by Palestinians is “an act of resistance” against an Israeli law that “represent[s] the occupation at large, the management of the land and its sovereignty.”
Is it any wonder then that the film has become a New York Times “Critic’s Pick”? Reviewer Will Heinrich not only accepts the filmmaker’s messaging as unvarnished truth, but bolsters and amplifies it in his own words. For example, Heinrich begins his review with:
We hear a lot about violence in Israel and the occupied territories. We don’t hear quite as much about the softer edges of living in what has been called an “apartheid state” — the absurdity, the insanity, the ever-present anxiety.
Perhaps the reviewer believes that appending “what has been called” to the epithet “apartheid state” absolves him of practicing inappropriate journalistic bias. But without noting that the false “apartheid” charge is a slur specifically designed by Israel’s enemies to delegitimize the Jewish state, Heinrich is following the pattern of other unethical journalists who present their own biased opinions and partisan positions under the guise of being widely accepted truths.
In fact, Israel’s apartheid designation is belied by the reviewer himself, who notes later in the review that, “the prohibition [i.e. the earlier ban on unchecked, random picking of the endangered species] applied to all Israelis, Jewish or Arab.” Still, he appears unwilling to directly acknowledge that the “apartheid” smear is an entirely bogus charge, and so he immediately issues a qualification in the same sentence:
— but Jewish Israelis don’t really eat akkoub or, if they do, they’ll buy it from a kibbutz where it grows in orderly rows.
In other words, he doesn’t really know whether or not Jews eat akkoub, but who cares? Tossing it out there bolsters the suggestion that the law singled out Palestinians for criminalization just as an apartheid state would do. And just in case he is wrong about Jews not eating the plant, he tosses out another qualification to lend weight to his apartheid argument: Jewish Israelis don’t really pick the plant in the wild, as do Palestinians, with the implication that the ban targeted Palestinians alone. That’s like saying issuing speeding tickets to those who drive over a certain speed limit while sparing those who stick to the speed limit is somehow an example of apartheid law. Yes, scofflaws were targeted while law abiders were not: how does that support the message that this was an apartheid law? Nor does Heinrich note that the Israel Nature and Parks Authority have similarly protected other over-harvested plants – for example, sage and hyssop that are popular among Jewish Israelis – because conservation of nature, ecosystems, plant and animal diversity is their job.
Similarly, while the reviewer acknowledges that the ban on gathering of the plant for personal use was lifted in 2020, he immediately qualifies it:
But if you’re watching “Foragers” as an art piece rather than as a straight documentary, this development hardly changes its impact: Harassment of people gathering a wild green said to taste like artichoke, whether or not this particular harassment is still happening, is a perfectly intelligible stand-in for all the other tools a modern state can use to tell people they’re unwanted.
The New York Times reviewer thus lauds and promotes the filmmaker’s partisan, skewed narrative of a land belonging to indigenous Palestinians suffering under the yoke of colonial, occupying Jews. It is yet example of anti-Zionist messaging that is becoming increasingly normalized in the New York Times.