Vox, the organization that invented a bridge between Gaza and the West Bank, has created a series of videos, or “Vox Docs,” purporting to explain why Jews live in eastern Jerusalem and the West Bank. While these videos appear very slick and polished on the surface, they are filled with half-truths as well as actual falsehoods, and legitimize bigotry of the same sort that the US fought in the civil rights era.
Throughout the three-part series, filmmaker and narrator Johnny Harris omits important historical facts, leading to a thoroughly inaccurate portrayal of Israel’s War of Independence as well as of the Six-Day War. He also unquestioningly accepts the premise that Jews living in the West Bank are an obstacle to Palestinian statehood, as well as that Jews should be barred from certain neighborhoods in eastern Jerusalem.
Part I: Distorting History
In Part I, titled “The Maps,” Harris purports to provide the history of the region. His version of history, however, starts with 1948. Harris ignores three millennia of Jewish history in the region that informs the way that Jews view the conflict today, including the ancient Jewish Kingdoms of Israel, centuries of Jewish presence in the land that is today Israel and the West Bank, including Judea and Samaria, and centuries in which Jews in the Middle East lived in second-class status under Muslim rule, often subjected to violence. This one-sided account of history leaves viewers with an extremely distorted perspective on the region.
Therefore, when Harris reports that neighboring Arabs states viewed the UN Partition Plan as “European colonialism,” there is no balance to show that for Jews, this was not a colonization but a return to their indigenous land. While later in the “doc” he does refer in the most vague terms to Judea and Samaria as the “place where a huge amount of Jewish history happened,” he still omits the religious significance of places like Hebron. While Harris purports to explain the ideology of the settlers, these omissions demonstrate that he never really understood it at all.
Then in 1967, Harris continues, “Israel fought another war with its neighbors.” There is no mention of the defensive nature of this war, the Egyptian troop build-up in the Sinai, the closure of Straights of Tiran, of the Jordanian attack on Israel emanating from the West Bank despite Israeli pleas to the King of Jordan not to engage. There is also no mention of the Allon plan, under which, shortly after the war, Israel would have returned more than half of the West Bank to Jordan, but which Jordan did not accept, or of UN resolution 242, which was intended to allow Israel to keep some areas of the West Bank territories for security reasons. (For more information on the Six-Day War, click here.) Harris simply ignores the history of Arab aggression that led up to the capture of the West Bank, thus obscuring the reasons that Israel can’t return to the 1948 ceasefire lines.
As Harris moves on to the current economic conditions in the West Bank, he does point out that the 1993 Oslo Accords gave Palestinians self-rule for the first time. Yet, he places blame for Palestinians’ economic difficulties on Israeli restrictions on water and mineral rights. In doing so, he ignores the facts. The truth is Israel has modernized the water system within the Palestinian territories making water more accessible and plentiful, allowed for the drilling of new wells and pipes water into the region. Unfortunately, there is an “anti-normalization” ideology that cripples any Palestinian economic development that involves Israeli cooperation.
Aside from the many factual errors and omissions, in this segment, as in the next two, Harris’s subtext embraces without question the idea that Jews simply should not be permitted to live beyond the Green Line. As Harris begins recounting events after 1967, we can hear the bewilderment in his voice as he tells us that “they [Jews] just started setting up homes” in the West Bank. He bemoans these homes for Jews, calling them “encroachment.” Towards the end of this segment Harris concludes in a sorrowful tone, “if you look at this map [of Jewish settlements in the West Bank], you can start to see that it’s getting harder and harder” to reach a two state solution. This conclusion, however, rests on the unstated, bigoted premise that Jews will not be allowed to live in a future state of Palestine.
Part II: Envisioning a Jew-Free Palestine
Part II of the series, “Why Israeli Settlements Don’t Feel Like a Conflict Zone,” provides a rare glimpse into Jewish life in the West Bank. In some respects it is to be commended for humanizing the Jewish West Bank residents. It still envisions, however, a future Palestinian state that is Jew-free and that has borders that are coextensive with the 1948 ceasefire lines. Harris laments, for example, that “no one seriously considers it possible to remove all 400,000 thousand residents.” The question he never asks is, why must they be removed? Why can’t they stay, either through a land swap, or in the future state of Palestine?
Harris’s claim to have insight into the workings of the Israeli government is largely based on speculation. He recounts one member of an illegal outpost telling him that the government shows up once a year “to knock down a settler’s house.” Harris assumes that this is done for the purpose of misrepresenting the government’s attitude towards illegal outposts to the international community. He doesn’t entertain the possibility that this might be done to send a message, not to the international community, but to unauthorized settlers. And he doesn’t substantiate either the claim or the rationale for such an action.
His claim in this segment that “in reality they [the government] really do” tolerate unauthorized West Bank outposts also displays ignorance of a complicated situation. The removal of unauthorized outposts — whether Jewish or Palestinian — must be done subject to due process and co
urt procedures, which can take years. It’s also an extremely sensitive matter for the Israeli government to use force to expel its own citizens from their homes. Nevertheless, it is being done, for example, in Amona, where there is a current Supreme Court order for the entire outpost to be dismantled by December 25th of this year.
Part III: Ignoring Facts, Endorsing Bigotry
Part III of the series, titled “The Fight for Jerusalem,” and captioned, “Settlers are taking over East Jerusalem one house at a time,” is by far the worst. Harris continues to promote the bigoted idea that there are places that ought to be off limits for Jews, in this case, in Jerusalem. Harris acknowledges that the “hardline religious Jews,” as he calls them, purchase homes in eastern Jerusalem legally. Yet, he tells us that Jews who wish to buy property in predominantly Arab neighborhoods must pay far above market values for their purchase, and that the simple act of Jews buying homes is considered so provocative that they need extensive military protection, without ever questioning why that is so.
A look back at one of the more shameful chapters of US history might have been enlightening here. Integrationists in the 1960’s endured similar hostility to that which the Jews of eastern Jerusalem endure. When six-year old Ruby Bridges became one of the first six African American children to integrate New Orleans schools, she was accompanied by federal marshals and greeted by hostile, protesting crowds.
From our vantage point today, we recognize Bridges’s actions as heroic and condemn those who, due to racism, tried to stop a little girl from the simple act of attending school. Harris, however, actually affirms the bigotry that is directed to Jews who move in to eastern Jerusalem — “Needless to say, Palestinian neighbors are not thrilled,” about Jews moving in (emphasis added). Towards the end he claims that “to them [eastern Jerusalem Jews], going out and buying Palestinian homes isn’t a politically dubious land grab” — the clear implication is that to Harris, Jews legally purchasing homes in Jerusalem is a “politically dubious land grab.”
About a minute and a half into Part III, Harris is recapping history again. This time, there is almost nothing in this brief “history lesson” that is presented fairly and accurately. (For more information on the history of Jerusalem, click here.)
In 1948, he says, Israel “was fighting a war with its Arab neighbors.” An uninformed viewer would think this happened completely spontaneously, and not as a result of the invasion of five Arab armies. “Then in 1967,” he continues, “Israel seized control of the entire West Bank.” As in Part I, there is no mention of any of the Arab aggression against Israel that led up to the Six-Day War. He ignores, too, Jordan’s expulsion of Jews from eastern Jerusalem in the aftermath of 1948 war, and the destruction of the kibbutzim of Gush Etzion in the West Bank during that war. There is no indication whatsoever that the Six-Day War was, for Israel, a war of self-defense, and that the capture of the West Bank was a necessary part of that defense.
Harris then says that Israel “pulled a highly controversial move” by annexing eastern Jerusalem. It’s true that Israel’s annexation of the historic Jewish capital was controversial, but the disparaging use of the phrase “pulled a move” reveals that Harris has taken a side in that controversy. He also refers to the Western Wall as “the holiest site in Judaism,” something that CAMERA has debunked many times over. The holiest site in Judaism is the Temple Mount, where today, in deference to the sensibilities of Muslim visitors, Jews are not allowed to pray.
Elsewhere in the video there are other erroneous statements as well, such as, that there is a law that says that only Jews can buy property in the Jewish quarter. Harris doesn’t cite any specific law, but, according to a 1995 census, about 20% of the residents of Jerusalem’s Jewish Quarter are Muslim. Even Adalah’s phony database of “discriminatory laws” does not list such a thing.
Harris tries to imply that non-Jews can’t vote in Israel, something that is obviously false. He doesn’t inform his viewers that most Arabs of eastern Jerusalem — whom he calls Palestinian — can become Israeli citizens if they want to, and instead he falsely says that Israel “doesn’t recognize their full rights.” Moreover, the video includes the Jewish Quarter of the Old City in a map of new settlements.
Equally troubling is the way that Harris imputes malevolent, expansionist motives to whole groups of people. Jews buying homes in the Jewish holy city is described as committing “aggressive settlement.” Harris asserts that, “big neighborhoods serve as a way to establish a large Jewish presence in east Jerusalem. It’s part of a political strategy to claim large sections of land preventing any future divisions of the city.” Even after all of the time that Harris claims to have spent with Jewish residents of eastern Jerusalem and the West Bank, he still can’t conceive either that they want to live there because the areas are historic and holy to them, or that they have every right to do so. Nor does he even consider that there could be merit to the position that Jerusalem should not be divided.
This series of Vox videos, while attractive and easy to watch, only serves to misinform viewers and to legitimize bigotry.