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Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Participant Media`s documentary State 194 - propaganda for hope?

The Palestinian Authority's bid this year to have the United Nations recognize statehood for an independent Palestine has been derailed for the time being. The United States and its allies in the Security Council have prevented the matter from coming to a vote. Part of the story of that so-far unsuccessful effort is told by Participant Media's new documentary State 194.

The movie follows Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad`s efforts to create the institutions necessary to have the stability for Palestine to be able to function as an independent country. Fayyad,who was appointed to his position by PA President Abbas, is a former International Monetary Fund economist who by all accounts is an honest proponent of peace and a highly competent leader. But he is one person and his views are not generally reflective of the whole of Palestinian society, and that is the part of the story that State 194 completely avoids.

In fact, if  you were to rely on the image of Palestine conveyed by State 194, you would think that Palestinian society in the West Bank is a secular, progressive one where in fact the opposite is true. In some ways, it`s as if someone filming a community of Inuit living in igloos north of Tuktoyaktuk were to present it as reflective of Canadian society. Sure, it`s there, but it sure isn`t a full and accurate representation of our society.

The film tries to make the case, as did its Israeli director Dan Setton and producer Elise Pearlstein in an interview I conducted with them yesterday, that Palestine is ready for statehood today. The facts on the ground belie that.

State 194 is its director`s expression of hope for peace. But the movie is also blatant propaganda. Subtly anti-Israel and overtly pro-Palestinian, it places all the blame for the Israeli-Palestinian problem on `the occupation`without in any way addressing what the reasons for that occupation are. The neighbouring Arab states tried to wipe out Israel before `the occupation`and no one was interested in creating an independent Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza when they were ruled, respectively, by Jordan and Egypt from 1948 to 1967. Then the Arab solution to the need for a Palestinian homeland was  to eliminate Israel, a view still held by many in the West Bank and the government in Gaza. These are impediments to peace  that are ignored in State 194.

The disaster in Gaza demonstrates that if the conditions for statehood don`t exists, anarchy and terrorism will readily take over. Fayyad`s efforts are honorable and important, but he is far from achieving his goals. Palestine is not a democratic society and indications are that if free elections were to be held there, he would be defeated and removed from office.

Ironically, as if to demonstrate the discrepancy between the image the film tries to create and reality, Salam Fayyed was scheduled to be at the Toronto Film Festival gala premier of State 194 on Monday night, but had to cancel because of riots in Ramallah over the economy.

The first movie ever distributed by Participant Media, which produced State 194 (and other notable documentaries like An Inconvenient Truth and Waiting for Superman), was another pro-Palestinian movie called Arna`s Children. That movie followed a theatre group in Jenin where Juliano Mer Khamis, who was the son of a Jewish Israeli mother and Palestinian Arab father, provided peaceful means for expressions of Palestinian self-determination and opposition to Israel. In yet another tragic irony, he was murdered last year by Palestinian radicals who objected to his providing a non-violent outlet that could divert their youth from the path of jihad.

That is part of the reality of Palestine that State 194 doesn't want to talk about, but until it is resolved, remains an overwhelming obstacle to peace.

Setton's movie presents a good, detailed look at a tiny piece of a larger puzzle. If you keep that in mind, while realizing that you're not seeing anything close to the larger picture, for all its flaws, State 194 is worth sitting through.

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