Elusive Peace: Israel and the Arabs (2005)

As with so many previous BBC documentaries on the Middle East, the latest effort, The Elusive Peace, is yet another wasted opportunity. As in its tendentious predecessors, Palestinian officials like Saeb Erekat are trotted out over and over again as disappointed peacemakers, and their late boss, Yasir Arafat, is sympathetically portrayed as the oppressed embodiment of his people, one of the leaders who, according to the documentary’s page on the BBC website, “strove to create peace.” The Israelis are presented as cold and hard, laughing when they think they have Arafat cornered, and plotting to kill, and killing, the Hamas “spiritual leader.” One of the key experts interviewed, former US National Security Council official Robert Malley, spares no effort to exonerate and defend the Palestinian side, especially Arafat. Viewers were left in the dark about Malley’s conflict of interest – namely the close ties between his family, especially his father Simon Malley, and Mr. Arafat. The documentary, which was shown in the U.S. in slightly shortened form by the Public Broadcasting Service, also manages to interview not a single victim of a Palestinian suicide bombing.

Virtually every scene, every camera angle, every interview, is arranged to promote as much as possible the Palestinian point of view, and to humanize the Palestinian side at the expense of the Israeli side. For example, any Palestinian who speaks any English at all is interviewed in English, while every Israeli but one is interviewed in Hebrew with English subtitles. (A few brief news clips are shown in which some Israeli leaders are shown speaking English.)

Saeb Erekat, Nabil Shaath, Arafat himself are all interviewed in English, presumably to help viewers identify with the Palestinian side. But the Israelis – including those who speak English quite well, such as Ariel Sharon, Shimon Peres, Gilead Sher, Ambassador to the US Danny Ayalon – are interviewed in Hebrew, evidently to make them seem as foreign as possible. Even Ehud Barak, who got his Masters degree at Stanford, is interviewed in Hebrew. Only Benjamin Netanyahu, who lived as a youngster in the United States and therefore speaks perfect American English, is allowed to present himself in English.

This manipulative choice is testament to the documentary’s crude anti-Israel bias.

Unfortunately, the content is just as skewed. For example, when exploring the failure of President Clinton’s peace efforts at Camp David – which is, after all, the key issue in The Elusive Peace – the producers are careful to protect the Palestinian side from any blame by omitting absolutely crucial statements from key players explaining just what went wrong and made peace so elusive.

Thus, in a 2004 PBS interview with Jim Lehrer, former president Bill Clinton stated:

So a couple of days before I leave office, Arafat says, calls to tell me what a great man I am. And I just said, “No, I’m not. On this I’m a failure, and you made me a failure.” But I said, “You are the greatest campaign manager in history,” I said, “because you’ve just elected Sharon by a majority that’s huge, and you think it doesn’t matter, and you’ll see.” (NewsHour, July 7, 2004)

For some reason the filmmakers chose to keep this from their viewers. Similarly, at the conclusion of the Camp David negotiations, President Clinton went out of his way to stress that Barak rather than Arafat had gone the extra mile to try to reach what would have been an historic agreement. He repeated this at least five times, so that nobody – except perhaps these BBC filmmakers – could have missed it:

• Prime Minister Barak showed particular courage, vision, and an understanding of the historical importance of this moment. Chairman Arafat made it clear that he too remains committed to the path of peace.

• Prime Minister Barak took some very bold decisions…

• I will say again, we made progress on all the core issues; we made really significant progress on many of them. The Palestinian teams worked hard on a lot of these areas. But I think it is fair to say that at this moment in time, maybe because they had been preparing for it longer, maybe because they had thought through it more, that the prime minister moved forward more from his initial position than Chairman Arafat on — particularly surrounding the questions of Jerusalem…

• … not so much as a criticism of Chairman Arafat, because this is really hard and had never been done before, but in praise of Barak. He came in knowing that he was going to have to take bold steps and he did it, and I think you should look at it more as a positive toward him than as a condemnation of the Palestinian side…

• I would be making a mistake not to praise Barak, because I think he took a big risk, and I think it’s sparked already in Israel a real debate, which is moving Israeli public opinion toward the conditions that will make peace. And so I thought that was important, and I think it deserves to be acknowledged. (Clinton press conference, July 25, 2000)

Again, for some reason, the filmmakers kept any hint of this from viewers.

Also hidden from viewers was the statement by Clinton’s senior Middle East aide, Ambassador Dennis Ross, that the Oslo process failed because Arafat simply didn’t want to make peace:

• …fundamentally I do not believe he can end the conflict. We had one critical clause in this agreement, and that clause was, this is the end of the conflict. Arafat’s whole life has been governed by struggle and a cause… for him to end the conflict is to end himself.

• …Barak was able to reposition Israel internationally. Israel was seen as having demonstrated unmistakably it wanted peace, and the reason it wasn’t … achievable was because Arafat wouldn’t accept it. Arafat needed to re-establish the Palestinians as victims, and unfortunately they are a victim, and we see it now in a terrible way. (FoxNews, April 21, 2002)

But instead of interviewing Clinton on this, or interviewing Dennis Ross at all, the filmmakers turned t
o the aforementioned Robert Malley, a quite junior administration official who has become well-known for his advocacy of the Palestinian cause. Malley, for example, co-wrote with Palestinian official Hussein Agha a blatantly inaccurate account of the Camp David negotiations (Camp David: The Tragedy of Errors, New York Review of Books, Aug. 9, 2001)

Following the failure of the Camp David negotiations the Palestinians restarted the violent campaign against Israel, sometimes referred to as the “Al Aqsa Intifada.” Once again manipulating facts and incidents to exonerate the Palestinians and blame Israel, the filmmakers charged that the renewed intifada was triggered by the visit of Israeli opposition leader Ariel Sharon to the Temple Mount.

Here’s what viewers were told:

NARRATOR: To make his point that Temple Mount belonged to the Jews, Ariel Sharon said he would take a public walk on Haram al Sharif, around two of Islam’s holiest mosques…

EREKAT: [Arafat said to Barak] “Please, please, please, your excellency, don’t allow Sharon to come to Haram.”

NARRATOR: Hanging over the whole room was the threat of Ariel Sharon’s visit to the mosques on Haram, Temple Mount, scheduled to occur in three days.

EREKAT: I remember President Arafat telling Mr. Barak, “He wants to destroy everything. Your excellency, if he goes to Haram he’ll be the only person laughing in the next months to come.

NARRATOR: Barak took no action. Just after dawn Sharon entered the mosque enclave above Temple Mount …The next day, after Friday prayers, Israeli police fired on Palestinian protesters, killing seven. With these casualties began the most violent phase yet of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the al Aqsa intifada.

Omitted once again by the filmmakers were material facts that would have completely changed the documentary’s picture of events. First of all, the narrators never made clear that the Temple Mount is the holiest site in Judaism – that it is to Jews what Mecca and Medina are to Muslims. (There are fragmentary statements about the holiness of the Temple Mount in news clips used in the documentary, but no clear explanations of the history of the Temple Mount and its overwhelming historical and religious importance to Jews.)

Ignored as well was that Sharon’s visit had been cleared with Palestinian officials including Arafat, who had promised that nothing would happen. As Ambassador Ross recounted:

After the summit, [Arafat] immediately came back to us and he said, “We need to have another summit,” to which we said, “We just shot our wad. We got a no from you. You’re got to be prepared to actually do a deal before we go back to something like that.”

He agreed to set up a private channel between his people and the Israelis, which I joined at the end of August. And there were serious discussions that went on, and we were poised to present our ideas the end of September, which is when the intifada erupted. He knew we were poised to present the ideas. His own people were telling him they looked good. And we asked him to intervene to ensure there wouldn’t be violence after the Sharon visit, the day after. He said he would. He didn’t lift a finger. (FoxNews, April 21, 2002; emphasis added)

A number of Palestinian officials have admitted that the violence had been planned from the start, with Sharon’s visit just a pretext. PA Communications Minister Imad Faluji, for example, addressing a rally at the Ein Hilwe refugee camp in South Lebanon, stated that the new intifada had been in the planning for months:

Whoever thinks that the intifada broke out because of the despised Sharon’s visit to the Al-Aqsa Mosque, is wrong, even if this visit was the straw that broke the back of the Palestinian people. This intifada was planned in advance, ever since President Arafat’s return from the Camp David negotiations, where he turned the table upside down on President Clinton… [Arafat] rejected the American terms and he did it in the heart of the US. (MEMRI, Special Dispatch No. 194 – PA, March 9, 2001; emphasis added)

This was underscored by senior Palestinian leader Marwan Barghouti, who told an interviewer that:

The explosion would have happened anyway. It was necessary in order to protect Palestinian rights. But Sharon provided a good excuse. He is a hated man. (New Yorker, January 29, 2001)

Barghouti reinforced this point half a year later:

The intifada did not start because of Sharon’s visit to Al-Aqsa, although that was the last straw. The intifada began because of the desire to put an end to the occupation and because the Palestinians did not approve of the peace process in its previous form. (Jerusalem Times, June 8, 2001)

Also ignored by the filmmakers were statements by Palestinian leaders explaining that even before the Camp David summit failed they had chosen a strategy of violence. Speaking on July 23, 2000, for example, Palestinian Authority official Abu Ali Mustafa said:

The issues of Jerusalem, the refugees, and sovereignty will be decided on the ground and not in negotiations. At this point it is important to prepare Palestinian society for the next step because we will undoubtedly find ourselves in confrontation with Israel in order to create new facts on the ground. … I believe that the situation in the future will be more violent than the [first] intifada. (MEMRI, Special Dispatch #132, Oct. 6, 2000; emphasis added)

That Arafat planned to turn to violence after Camp David was also confirmed by Brigadier Mazen Izz Al Din, Chief of Political Indoctrination of the Palestine National Security Forces, who told a rally in Gaza:

We have to be truthful and honest and spell it out. One day history will expose the fact that the whole intifada and its instructions came from Brother Commander Yasir Arafat. (As quoted in IMRA, May 28, 2002)

Including even one of these statements when discussing the start of the new intifada would have changed the course of the documentary. Perhaps that’s why the filmmakers omitted all of them.

The bias of the filmmakers made itself known in many other ways as well. A case in point is their coverage of Israel’s response to an unprecedented wave of Palestinian terror attacks in the early months of 2002. In March of that year at least 106 Israelis were killed in such attacks, the most horrific of which was a suicide bombing of a Passover seder at the Park Hotel in Netanya on March 22 in which 30 people were killed and more than 140 were wounded. This particular attack was covered, if only briefly, in the documentary.

In response to these extremely brutal attacks Israel launched Operation Defensive Shield, to root out and eliminate the terrorist bases from which the attacks originated, particularly in the Jenin refugee camp.

In order to spare the lives of Palestinian civilians, Israel put its own troops at risk, sending them into the heavily armed and booby-trapped camps rather than employing aerial bombardment or artillery. The filmmakers never noted this humane Israeli choice, instead giving a platform to Palestinian spokesman Saeb Erekat, who claimed that Israel massacred 500 civilians in Jenin.

In fact, no more than 25 civilians were killed in the difficult house-to-house fighting in Jenin, during which Israel succeeded in killing or capturing the terrorists hiding there. This is the deceptive manner in which the filmmakers described the aftermath:

NARRATOR: The Israeli army pulled back but they threw up a blockade around Jenin, and refused to allow in humanitarian aid. The United Nations announced an investigation to find out whether Israel had massacred civilians in Jenin. The Israeli government were convinced that the allegations would be proved false, so they welcomed the investigation. But the Israeli army had not been consulted.

Is it true that Israel “refused to allow in humanitarian aid?” Not according to Israeli officers who were in Jenin, and whom the filmmakers could have easily interviewed, had they truly been interested in presenting a balanced, honest documentary.

They could have sought out Col. Didi Yedidya, for example, a reserve IDF officer who commanded the Fifth Battalion, which fought in Jenin. He explained on Israel Radio that:

… during the entire period, the IDF permitted rescue and evacuation teams in subject to the condition that they pass through an Israeli inspection point so that Israel could make certain that wanted terrorists were not smuggled out. Yedidya noted that few teams accepted those conditions and that the IDF inspections discovered wanted terrorists hiding in evacuation vehicles.(As quoted in IMRA, Apr. 19, 2002; emphasis added)

Or they could have sought out another reservist, Dr. David Zangen, who was the medical officer for the brigade that fought in Jenin. Dr. Zangen, a senior pediatrician at Hadassah Hospital, told an Israeli newspaper:

I am infuriated by the claims of a massacre in Jenin, for another reason. The paramedics and I risked our lives to treat the wounded Palestinians. As well as the wounded, we also treated the sick. The Palestinian doctors did not come to their aid, and we could not leave them without medical treatment. The Palestinian doctors were unable to reach a girl who had an attack of appendicitis. The soldiers brought the girl over to us and we treated her. In another case, a youngster came to us with a neck wound. We saved his life, in spite of his Islamic Jihad tattoo. We tried to provide full treatment for every Palestinian, and I am proud of it. I am in no doubt: the Americans would not have taken such risks, and would have acted differently. We acted in this way, simply to avoid civilian casualties. (Ma’ariv, Apr. 22, 2002, as translated on the MFA website)

In a later article Dr. Zangen stated:

… IDF soldiers were careful not to enter the [Jenin] hospital grounds, even though we knew that they were being used to shelter wanted persons. We maintained the supply of water, electricity and oxygen to the hospital throughout the course of the fighting, and helped set up an emergency generator after the electricity grid in the city was damaged….

[An] elderly man was brought to me for treatment after a clean-up operation in one of the houses used by a Hamas cell in the refuge camp. He had … sustained a slight injury to the hand and suffered from light abrasions on his leg … IDF soldiers brought him to the station for treating the wounded, and there he was treated, including by me.

One of the army doctors diagnosed heart failure, and we immediately offered to transfer him for treatment to the “Emek” Hospital in Afula. He requested to be treated at the hospital in Jenin since he was not fluent in Hebrew. After the Jenin hospital refused to admit him, we transferred him to Afula. He was in the internal medicine ward for three days and received treatment for heart problems and anemia, from which he suffered as a result of an existing chronic disease…

I am proud that we were there and fought, and proud also of our combat ethics. The camp was not bombed from the air, in order to prevent hurting innocent civilians; neither did we use artillery, although we knew of specific areas in the camp where terrorists were hiding out. The soldiers fought the terrorists, and only the terrorists. Before destroying a house from which heavy gunfire was being directed at our soldiers, several warnings were issued and every possibility was given for civilians to get out safely.

Our medical teams treated every wounded person, even if he had Hamas tattoos on his arms. At no stage was medical care withheld from anyone.

This heroic and at the same time moral fighting cost us dearly in the lives of the best of our fighters. We who were there, the soldiers who fell there, their families, and the IDF don’t deserve to be used [by propagandists] to incite the world to murder and hatred. (Ma’ariv, Nov. 8, 2002, as translated on the MFA website.)

Or the filmmakers could have interviewed an official IDF spokesperson on this question, who no doubt would have recounted the information available in a detailed IDF report on the fighting in Jenin. That report stated, for example, that:

With regards to the giving of medical attention during the fighting in Jenin, 257 injured and ill people were evacuated to the hospital in Jenin. 60 patients were sent for treatment to hospitals in Israel and others were dispatched to hospitals in Judea, Samaria and Jordan…

Moreover, throughout the fighting, the IDF coordinated the transfer of medicines, medical equipment, blood rations and oxygen to the hospital in Jenin. No reports of shortages of medical supplies in the Jenin hospital exist.

An outstanding example of the humanitarian aid provided by the IDF is the generator supplied to the hospital in Jenin on April 4, 2002. On discovering that the hospital was suffering from a deficiency in the supply of electricity, the IDF, together with the Israeli Electric Company, provided the hospital with a generator, which enabled the uninterrupted supply of electricity.

Furthermore, during the fighting in Jenin, the IDF permitted 200 trucks loaded with food to enter the town and the IDF itself provided food to civilians from the refugee camp camped in the mosques in Jenin … It should be noted that due to the large amount of food and provisions delivered to Jenin, the storage space in the warehouses of the municipality was fully utilized and it was necessary to locate additional storage space, outside of town, in order to store all of the food products. An IDF diesel oil truck supplied fuel for the water pump in the Jenin water supply and helped to solve the water problem. There is not one documented case of death in Jenin as a result of food or water shortage. Likewise, during the operation, approximately 600,000 litres of fuel and about 100 tons of gas were supplied to the Jenin region.

It should be noted that throughout the operation, the IDF maintained contact with Palestinian officials and with health authorities at the municipal level, such as Hider Arshid, the mayor of Jenin, and the administrator of the hospital in Jenin, Abu R’ali, and others. The IDF also maintained contact with international organizations operating in the area…

[There was a] dilemma faced by the IDF with regard to allowing the free movement of ambulances during the fighting, in light of the practice adopted by Palestinian terrorist activists of using ambulances to smuggle wanted people and arms and the specific warnings that the IDF had in this connection. A prime example of this practice took place on March 27, 2002, when an explosive vest was discovered in a Red Crescent ambulance under a child being evacuated for medical treatment.

Even in the Jenin Refugee Camp there is documentation regarding at least two cases in which ambulances were used in order to smuggle Palestinian terrorist activists.

On the afternoon of April 4, 2002, an ambulance belonging to the Palestinian Red Crescent was permitted to pass through an IDF checkpoint in order to evacuate casualties from the camp. After a short while, the ambulance returned to the checkpoint, explaining that they had returned quickly since they could not evacuate the injured because “they had been fired at”. During a routine inspection of the ambulance, a man dressed in a Palestinian Red Crescent uniform, who had not been previously present in the ambulance, was apprehended. It turned out that he was a wanted terrorist activist.

On the same day (April 4, 2002), during the early hours of the evening, an ambulance belonging to the Palestinian Red Crescent entered the camp and subsequently left with a Palestinian “patient” on board, lying under a sheet and with a blood infusion in his arm. The medical staff in the ambulance urged the soldiers to conduct their routine check quickly, since the patient was said to be mortally injured and was on the brink of death. After checking the identification of the “mortally injured” Palestinian, it was discovered that he was a wanted terrorist activist. An IDF doctor who checked him found him to be uninjured.

It goes without saying that the two aforementioned cases … [contradict claims ] that during this period, no medical evacuations from the camp took place.

Due to such events, which occurred also prior to the IDF operation in Jenin, and because of the many warnings regarding the use of ambulances and aid vehicles, it was necessary to check all medical vehicles entering the camp to evacuate injured Palestinians. Moreover, in order to prevent cases where ambulances would be accidentally shot at, it was necessary to meticulously coordinate their entrance into areas in which the fighting was still going on. (The Battle in Jenin – The Israel Defense Force’s Response to the Report by Amnesty International)

While the filmmakers were careful to avoid interviewing anyone like Col. Yedidya or Dr. Zangen, or an IDF spokesperson regarding the fighting in Jenin, they did interview a seemingly ordinary Israeli soldier, one Noam Chayut. He told viewers that his officers had told troops about to assault terrorists holed up in Jenin and elsewhere, “Let’s f__k” the Palestinians.

But, as seems to be their habit, the filmmakers once again kept relevant information from viewers – Noam Chayut is no ordinary Israeli soldier. He’s a founder of a fringe group known as Breaking the Silence, a tiny group of former Israeli soldiers who claim that they personally violated ethical norms during their service in the territories. According to the group’s website:

Since our discharge from the army, we all feel that we have become different. We feel that service in the occupied territories and the incidents we faced have distorted and harmed the moral values on which we grew up…

We all realized that the daily struggle against terror and the daily interaction with the civilian population has left us helpless. Our sense of justice was distorted, and so were our morality and emotions.

Noam Chayut, in particular, underscored this theme of alleged Israeli culpability and immorality in an interview with CBS:

During his service in the West Bank, Noam Chayut obeyed orders to keep Palestinians off certain roads – even though they linked Arab villages. Now, he is deeply ashamed.

“Controlling a road that is for Jews only – as the third generation descendent of Holocaust survivors! That is an atrocity.”

Of course, contrary to what Chayut told CBS, there are no roads for Jews only. But in response to waves of Palestinian terror attacks against Israeli civilians, there have been roads in the West Bank that were temporarily restricted to cars bearing Israeli license plates. This is a key distinction, since many of the Israelis who travel in the West Bank are Israeli Arabs.

That Chayut would compare a temporary, non-racial (since it applied to nationality rather than race or religion) anti-terror measure to the Holocaust speaks volumes about his own defective moral compass. Making him, of course, the perfect Israeli soldier for these BBC filmmakers to interview.

Another example of the filmmakers’ extreme bias was their coverage of an attempt in the summer of 2002 to secretly broker a cease-fire between all Palestinian forces and Israel. The filmmakers’ description of European Union emissary Alastair Crooke’s mission is remarkably deceptive. Despite mentioning Palestinian terror attacks that year, and briefly showing footage of a bus bombing, Israel is portrayed as the villain for supposedly ruining Crooke’s efforts by killing a Hamas leader just as the cease-fire was about to be announced. Here’s the filmmakers’ surreal rewriting of history:

NARRATOR: The British intelligence officer was given the news that Hamas were preparing to join the other groups in a cease-fire declaration.

CROOKE: I had ensured that the authorities in Israel were aware that I believed we were close to a final agreement on a cease-fire.

NARRATOR: That same day Israeli intelligence were tracking the military leader of Hamas, Saleh Shehadeh. Israel held him responsible for more than a hundred deaths…

NARRATOR: The one ton bomb that the Israeli Air Force dropped on an apartment block in Gaza City succeeded in killing Saleh Shehadeh, but it also killed 13 other Palestinians, including nine children. …

NARRATOR: The British agent’s cease-fire mission had come to a dead end.

Israel attacked Saleh Shehadeh on July 23, 2002, and this, we are supposed to believe, ruined the nascent cease-fire agreement. But once again the filmmakers ignore crucial facts, in this case regarding Palestinian attacks on Israel during exactly the same period.

Thus, just one week before the attack on Shehadeh, there was a brutal Palestinian attack on an Israeli civilian bus in which nine people were killed and 20 were injured. The next day, July 17, there was a double-suicide bombing in Tel Aviv in which 5 people were killed and 40 were wounded. The Palestinians carried out these attacks exactly during the period that Alastair Crooke was working on his cease-fire, yet the attacks and the resulting carnage are completely ignored in the film.

Also ignored by the filmmakers were other Palestinian attacks during this period that failed only due to bad luck or Israeli defensive measures:

July 16
• Israeli troops discover and safely detonate a huge 80-kilogram (176 pound) bomb near Rafah.
• A female member of the Tanzim, associated with Fatah, is arrested in Jenin before she can be sent on a suicide bombing mission.
• Palestinian gunmen attack an IDF position near Neveh Dekalim.

July 18
• Palestinians fire mortar shells at the Israeli community of Gush Katif.
• Israeli soldiers discover and safely detonate a large bomb in Hebron.

July 19
• Israeli soldiers discover and safely detonate a large bomb near the Karni crossing.
• Israeli soldiers discover and safely detonate mortar shells that Palestinians had fired on Neveh Dekalim and Gadid.
• Palestinian gunmen fire shots at the Israeli community of Kadim, and at an Israeli vehicle on the Trans-Samarian Highway.

July 21
• Palestinians detonate two separate bombs near Israeli patrols in Nablus and one near an Israeli patrol on Qalqilya.
• Palestinians attack an Israeli patrol near Rafah, and fire a mortar at soldiers guarding the Erez crossing.

July 22
• Palestinians detonate a 10 pound bomb under an Israeli double-decker civilian train traveling between Binyamina and Ashdod.

That these attacks failed to kill anyone is no thanks to the Palestinian side, which was doing its best to kill as many Israelis as possible.Why, then, were all these attacks ignored by the filmmakers? Apparently because from their point-of-view its all right when Palestinian terrorists attack and murder Israelis, but when Israel responds by attacking those same terrorists, that ruins negotiations.

Besides ignoring these successful and unsuccessful Palestinian attacks in the week before Israel attacked Shehadeh, the filmmakers also ignored a July 17 Palestinian Authority ceremony passing along checks from Saddam Hussein to the families of suicide bombers and others who were killed while attacking Israelis. Families of suicide bombers received $25,000, while families of other “martyrs” received $15,000.

Why, if the filmmakers had no partisan agenda, did they ignore this shocking ceremony in which the PA colluded with Saddam Hussein to directly support suicide bombers? When they referred to Mr. Arafat as one of the leaders who “strove to create peace,” is this what they meant?

Yet another testament to the filmmakers’ extreme bias were the words they used to describe the Aqaba Summit in June 2003. Showing behind-the-scenes footage of Palestinian and Israeli negotiators, the filmmakers informed viewers that:

… something remarkable happened – the Palestinian security chief, Mohammed Dahlan, took to one side the man who had masterminded Israel’s war against the Palestinians, Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz.

Of course, there was no “Israeli war against the Palestinians” – there was a Palestinian terror war against Israelis, most of them civilians. And Dahlan had himself taken part in this Palestinian terror war, having masterminded a number of attacks including the November 2000 bombing of an Israeli school bus in Gaza in which two Israeli teachers were killed and five children were maimed.

The “remarkable” event therefore, was not that Dahlan spoke to Mofaz, but that Mofaz was willing to speak to Dahlan.

This was not the only time that the filmmakers blatantly distorted history in describing meetings between Palestinians and Israelis. For example, recounting at the start of the film a meeting in Barcelona between Israel’s then Foreign Minister, Ehud Barak, and Yasir Arafat, the narrator informed viewers:

Yasir Arafat, leader of the Palestinian people, was coming to meet a man who had tried to assassinate him.

In fact, Barak, who had been a legendary commando leader in the Israeli Army, never tried to kill Arafat, nor had Israel ever tried to kill Arafat, despite numerous opportunities to do so. Contrary to the filmmakers, therefore, it would have been more accurate to tell viewers that Barak, who had dedicated his life to defending his people, was coming to meet the man who was responsible for murdering more Jews than anyone since Adolph Hitler.

Even more ridiculous and skewed was the filmmakers’ portrayal of the 2003 Road Map, an effort by the U.S. and other parties to broker a new pathway to peace. Viewers were informed that:

NARRATOR: Although the [Israeli] cabinet voted to reject the Road Map, Israel announced they accepted it. In fact, the Israelis unilaterally rewrote it, so that their copy said the Palestinians had to act first.

So, according to the filmmakers, the cabinet of the democratic country of Israel voted to reject the Road Map, then lied to the world about this, claiming it had accepted the document. Why it would do this is unclear, since if you tell the world you have accepted an agreement, you will be expected to fulfill its requirements. If the filmmakers’ charge were true, Israel would be both stupid and perfidious. But, of course, the charge is totally untrue.

Here is the actual history which, once again, the filmmakers kept from viewers. When on March 14, 2003 the President announced the Road Map, he stated:

Once this road map is delivered, we will expect and welcome contributions from Israel and the Palestinians to this document that will advance true peace.

Thus, far from being “unilateral” as the filmmakers charge, the Israeli concerns about the Road Map were actually invited by the President. After receiving a reply from Israel that indeed outlined concerns about the original plan, the White House on May 23, 2003 issued the following statement reiterating the President’s invitation and pledging to address the Israeli concerns “fully and seriously”:

Statement by Secretary of State Colin L. Powell and National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice

The roadmap was presented to the Government of Israel with a request from the President that it respond with contributions to this document to advance true peace. The United States Government received a response from the Government of Israel, explaining its significant concerns about the roadmap.

The United States shares the view of the Government of Israel that these are real concerns, and will address them fully and seriously in the implementation of the roadmap to fulfill the President’s vision of June 24, 2002.

Again, contrary to the filmmakers, there was nothing surreptitious about the Israeli reservations at all.

Responding to the US statement, Prime Minister Sharon accepted the Road Map, and announced his intention to submit the agreement to his cabinet for approval.

Two days later, under the headline “Sharon, Abbas to meet as cabinet approves road map,” the Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz reported,

… the Israeli cabinet formally approved the U.S.-backed road map for an Israeli-Palestinian settlement yesterday. The cabinet approved the map – a three-phase plan that calls for a settlement freeze and an end to terror attacks in the first stage, a Palestinian state with temporary borders in the second and a final-status agreement by 2005 – by a vote of 12-7, with four abstentions, at the end of a stormy six-hour debate…

So, contrary to the filmmakers, Israel did indeed accept the Road Map.

But what about the Palestinians? The filmmakers claimed that they accepted the Road Map “immediately,” and Mahmoud Abbas, at the time the incoming Prime Minister under Yasir Arafat, did indeed express his support for the document. But there is no evidence that the Palestinian Authority cabinet or parliament ever approved the Road Map, as would be required for such an international agreement. Indeed, there’s no evidence it was ever even discussed by these bodies. Apparently the filmmakers were so busy spinning fantasies about the allegedly perfidious Israelis, it never occurred to them the supposed Palestinian acceptance of the plan might be worth exploring.

After more than two hours of extremely deceptive misrepresentations, outright lies, and critical omissions, the film ends, appropriately enough, with some final fabrications regarding Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza:

The next summer, as agreed with the Americans, Israel withdrew all its settlers and soldiers, destroying everything but a few synagogues.

In fact, not everything was destroyed – the mainstay of the settlements’ economy, advanced and highly productive greenhouses, were left for the Palestinians to take over and use. Unfortunately, after Israel’s departure
many, if not most, of the greenhouses were looted, their crucial computerized equipment stolen. This fact, as with so many others, was deceptively left out by the filmmakers.

As well, the destruction of the settlements themselves was not some final act of Israeli vindictiveness, as implied by the filmmakers. It was the Palestinian side, in discussion with the Israelis, that decided they wanted the land to be cleared.

Considering the access granted to the filmmakers by all sides, The Elusive Peace might have been an historically significant and extremely interesting documentary. It is a terrible pity that the filmmakers’ agenda apparently trumped their judgement, and that the opportunity was thrown away.

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