Media Microscope: Unpromising

Jamie Hyams


SBS TV
showed a four-part drama, “The Promise”, from Britain’s Channel 4 and France’s Canal+ and Arte France, which was characterised by rampant and crudely propagandistic political messages directed against Israel and Jews, selective, distorted portrayals of historical events, and the sanitising of Arab behaviour throughout the past seven decades.

The first episode (Nov. 27) introduced Erin, an 18-year-old English girl who stays with a rich Israeli family. She has the diary of her grandfather Len who served with the British troops in Palestine immediately after World War II, so the story switches between the British battling the treacherous Jews and contemporary Israelis oppressing the Palestinians. The family includes left-wing Paul, who “wins” an argument that Israel is a military dictatorship by stating that most political leaders are former generals, and says liberal Israelis who protest are part of the problem because they make Israel appear to be a normal democracy. After they witness the mistreatment of Palestinians at a checkpoint, Erin suggests the checkpoints are to stop terrorists, but Paul angrily replies, “The checkpoints are there for one reason: To make their lives impossible so they’ll give up and move away. It’s about control, humiliation and forcing them off their land. It’s got nothing to do with terrorism. Nothing!” The episode concludes with a café exploding with Paul inside.

Episode two (Dec. 4) commences with the bombing of the King David Hotel in 1946. No mention is made of the ignored warnings the Jewish bombers gave to the British. Instead, the action switches between the aftermath of that bombing and the café bombing, to suggest parallels between the two. Paul, who was badly injured, says both are the same. Len visits some very sympathetically portrayed hospitable Arabs, who tell him, “The problems only started when the Jews arrived from Europe. They want it all. All the land. And they aren’t interested in being good neighbours.”

An elderly Arab from a village near Haifa tells Erin, “When the Jews came in ’48…they rounded us up and took us to a prison camp,” and when they came back after “many years” their houses had been taken and they had to live in their fields. In fact, it is well documented that the Jewish authorities in Haifa in 1948 had urged the Arabs to stay, but most left anyway at the urging of Arab leaders. The episode ends with Len and two colleagues being shot at close range on a busy street, and as they lie in their car dead or dying, Jews callously continue drinking their coffees at cafes and no one helps.

In episode three (Dec. 11) Erin takes a Palestinian to the house, where he very pointedly asks her hosts where they are from “originally” and the mother begrudgingly tells him Hungary. Erin visits Hebron where she hears an Israeli tell a group, “You’ll notice most of the streets around here are deserted. It’s known as the sterile zone. Why? To make room for 500 Jewish settlers who have no right to be here under international law, almost the entire Palestinian population of Hebron has been moved out.” This is a gross exaggeration (Hebron has around 165,000 Palestinian inhabitants) and ignores the ancient history of Hebron’s Jewish community, as well as its religious significance. She joins a group of sweet Palestinian schoolgirls who have rocks thrown at them by settler children while soldiers do little to stop them. She tries to find an Arab family Len befriended, but she finds the house full of Jewish settlers, and is then taken away by soldiers.

In episode four (Dec. 18) Paul tells Erin that in Hebron, soldiers are there solely to protect the settlers, not keep the peace, and “You can do literally anything you want to the Palestinians” including stealing from them and beating them to death. He also says that Israel “annexed the whole area” around Hebron after 1967, which is completely untrue.

The story moves to Deir Yassin. In reality, Deir Yassin was a village in a crucial strategic position from which Arab fighters were able to attack any Jewish convoy to besieged Jerusalem. After a ferocious battle between Jewish and Arab fighters on April 9, 1948, in which the Jewish attackers suffered 41 casualties including 4 dead, the Jews took the village and, to protect the route to Jerusalem, began evacuating it. However after some Arab fighters reportedly pretended to surrender and then opened fire, some Jewish fighters began to attack both fighters and civilians indiscriminately. According to a study by Bir Zeit University, a total of 120 Arabs died in the events of that day, of whom at least 13 were “fighters”. Subsequently, Arab leaders created a propaganda myth that it was simply a massacre of unarmed civilians, and vastly exaggerated the scale of the war crimes that occurred.

The series took up this myth with gusto, first of all moving Deir Yassin to the Haifa area so Len could be there, thereby robbing it of strategic significance. The Jews are shown lining up and massacring unarmed civilians, going from house to house throwing grenades, shooting the inhabitants and looting goods, all the while encountering no resistance from the Arabs. In the present day, Erin goes to Gaza, where she encounters more examples of Israeli brutality, such as using a child as a human shield, and blowing up civilian houses.

The series ends with Len writing in his diary, “But what about the Jews and their bloody state for which they fought so hard? Three years ago I’d have said give them whatever they want… Now I’m not so sure. This precious state of theirs has been born in violence and in cruelty to its neighbours. I’m not sure how they can hope to thrive.” And that is the warped message of the whole propaganda exercise, while the parallels to the present day are meant to indicate that Israel is still a country characterised by “violence” and “cruelty.” Highlighting this message, the series shows dozens of Arab civilians and British soldiers killed by Jews. No Jew was shown killed by Arabs during the mandate period. Meanwhile, the 1917 Balfour declaration, the Arab rejection of the UN partition plan as well as Israel’s many efforts to make peace with its neighbours didn’t warrant a mention in the more than six-hour running time.

In contrast to the broadcasts in Britain and France, SBS did preface the second, third and fourth episodes of “The Promise” with notices informing viewers it is a work of fiction. The second episode was prefaced with the partially inaccurate claim “This program is a work of fiction inspired by a true story.” Recognising the inaccuracy of the claim that it was “inspired by a true story”, subsequent episodes were prefaced by the notice: “This is a drama inspired by the accounts of British soldiers who served in Palestine.”