Monday, March 5, 2012

Review: Hijacking the Holy Land

Over the weekend I watched Hijacking the Holy Land on Netflix.

It's a documentary about Palestinian media and the incitement it spreads about Israel, Jews, and the West.

Let me get this out of the way early: It is not a great movie. As a pro-Israel person, I am glad it got made and viewed by people and I clearly agree with its message, but as a movie lover, I was not impressed by the movie itself. The message is unfocused, it is only about a half hour to forty five minutes in that the film starts talking about its focus: Palestinian media. The discussion topic jumps from one concept to another (like "apartheid," "occupied territory," and "origins of Palestine") with no clear transition. The structure of the film is equivalent to a bunch of pro-Israel talking points illustrated one after another. While I agree with all of those talking points, that structure does not make for a particularly interesting narrative. Say what you will about Michael Moore, his documentaries are focused and you know where they are going.

Let's talk about the film in more detail:

So Hijacking the Holy Land begins with a recap of the Arab-Israeli conflict, and by recap I meant 30 minutes plus on the origins of Zionism, the '48 war, the '67 war, and the Second Intifada. I can see spending that much time on the origins if the filmmakers planned to present both narratives and then debunk the Palestinian narrative, but they didn't. It was detailed about things like the declaration of the State of Israel, the peace treaty between Egypt and Israel, and the occupation of the Golan Heights, aka things that don't directly relate to the point of the movie, Palestinian incitement. I guess that was important background for people who don't know that much about the conflict, so there was no real way to avoid it, but for educated viewers like myself, it was boring.

Something I liked about the movie, even though it contributed to its chaotic structure, is how in the next section it confronted Palestinian talking points. For example, it directly addresses the accusation of the Israeli security fence as an "apartheid wall," and pointed out that the fence was built as a direct result of the suicide bombing attacks of the Second Intifada, something that in my opinion cannot be said enough. I would have made my response stronger, but that's just me.

The section after that is the best one, because it's the point of the movie: the film showed numerous clips of Palestinians preaching hate from mosques and government pulpits towards Israel and Jews. This section was very convincing and informative, especially the parts where it shows Palestinian children professing their desire to be martyrs. If you're not familiar with the work of Palestinian Media Watch, see the movie just for this section, as it lays about the Palestinian "commitment" to peace or lack thereof in stark relief. 

An issue I had with the movie is that it only interviewed pro-Israel people, like a captain in the IDF and Itamar Marcus, head of Palestinian Media Watch. It did show anti-Israel voices, but only through clips from Palestinian Media Watch and Democracy Now! (in the case of Norman Finkelstein and President Carter). No in person interviews with anti-Israel people. I think interviews with people like that would have gone a long way towards the film's credibility (not that it's not credible) or at least a statement of "we tried to get an interview with Norman Finkelstein but were denied."

Hijacking the Holy Land is undoubtedly a pro-Israel movie with a clear message to send: that Palestinians use television and education to teach their people not to seek peace but Israel's destruction. I have no problem with a documentary being, in the words of anti-Zionists, "hasbara" or "Israeli propaganda." The other side has made dozens of these documentaries unapologetically, there is no reason Zionists cannot do the same thing. Documentaries are an easy and efficient way of having the pro-Israel message reach a lot of people it otherwise wouldn't.

So, while Hijacking the Holy Land isn't great art, it's a good thing that it was made and should be watched by anyone interested in the I/P conflict. Its message is something that cannot be ignored.

During this upcoming week I plan on watching Palestine Blues, a film from the other side about how much the security fence sucks. I have a bet with myself that the words "suicide bomber" or "terrorist" will never be mentioned.

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