Channel 4’s “The Promise” debunked

I received this article from the email list of British-Israel Group, a Jewish British media monitoring group who do sterling work in my favourite field.

The article is currently not up on their website so I will post it verbatim as I received it in the email in its entirety here.

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Channel 4 TV in the UK is currently broadcasting a 4 part documentary series “The Promise”, a dramatisation of the founding of Israel, and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict today, which is attracting 1.5 million viewers. The organization Beyond Images has issued a briefing to counter many of the statements and claims made in this inaccurate and misinformed documentary.

We, at BIG, feel that this information should be circulated as widely as possible.

Channel 4’s landmark TV series ‘The Promise’ is built on a serious historical falsehood about Israel

British TV channel Channel 4 has been broadcasting ‘The Promise’.  And it is a landmark piece of television. ‘The Promise’ is a four-part, six-hour dramatisation of the founding of Israel, and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict today.

We have been watching it.  And it is gripping. We are not surprised that it has been receiving very good reviews, and is a likely candidate for future broadcasting awards.  Over 1.5 million viewers in the UK have been watching its two episodes to date, including – we assume – most people with an active interest in the conflict: politicians, academics, students, members of human rights groups, writers and intellectuals, diplomats and civil servants.

The production is superb.  The acting is excellent.  It is meticulously observed and staged..And it is also built on a major historical falsehood.  A falsehood so severe that it undermines the credibility of its messages.  Its director Peter Kosminsky claims that he “told both sides of the story”. But episode 1 reveals that he does not even know what the Israeli side of the story is……

‘The Promise’ describes the events of 1945-8 through the eyes of Len, a British sergeant who had witnessed the liberation of the Jews at Bergen-Belsen, and is later posted with British forces to Palestine.  At a crucial moment in that first episode Len, together with other British army officers, receives a briefing from their British army commander on the purpose of their mission in Palestine, and the history behind it.  This takes place shortly after the second world war.

The commander’s words are not intended as a partisan speech.  It is the moment at which the British soldiers (and by extension 1.5 million viewers) are provided with the background to the conflict, and indeed the subsequent episodes of ‘The Promise’.  Indeed it is the only piece of the script which endeavours to tell the story of how the Jews, the Arabs and the British found themselves in three-way conflict.

Here is what the British commanding officer in The Promise says:

“The Jews and Arabs have been living here in relative harmony for thousands of years.  But our victory over the Germans has turned the trickle of Jews coming to this land into a flood.  You must understand, the Jews see it as their holy land.  But the Arabs, who have been here for over a thousand years, see them as stealing their land.  Our job is to keep the two sides apart…..”

There you have it.  The historical narrative of Israel.  And it is a narrative which does not operate to resolve the conflict, but to perpetuate it. Ever since World War Two, the Arabs have seen the Jewish national enterprise as the consequence of Nazism. Without indigenous roots.  And without historical legitimacy.

They build their sense of victimhood on the argument that they are “paying the price” for European fascism. Far from challenging this mindset, Kosminsky’s so-called ‘balanced’ narrative has reinforced it. Kosminsky makes no mention of the steady return to Palestine of Jews which had been carrying on since the 1880s. Kosminsky does not hint at the Balfour Declaration or other international commitments to support a Jewish national home.

Kosminsky does not recognise that Jewish national life had existed thousands of years ago in the land of Israel, and that the connection is a national connection.

Kosminsky does not pay any attention to the Jews’ state-building efforts in the period before the Second World War. And Kosminsky perpetuates a complete falsehood that the Jews and Arabs had been living in “relative harmony”.  Kosminsky reportedly researched The Promise for over a decade.  But has he heard of the Arab riots against the Jews of the Yishuv in the 1920s or 1930s?

Has he heard of the incessant violent assaults upon Jews building up Palestine? Has he heard of the Hebron massacre of 1929?

The idea that there was “relative harmony” in Palestine till World War Two is a fiction. It’s a fiction which Hamas and other rejectionists and ideologues readily embrace.

Meanwhile, the claim that the Arabs had been living there for a thousand years is also a massive over-simplification.  Even the most partisan historians have to admit that Palestine under the Ottomans and then the British was not exactly a hub of Arab nationalism, or a focal point of Arab pride and economic endeavour.

While ‘The Promise’ is brilliant drama – and we will be highlighting its strengths as well its weaknesses in the future – there are plenty of other major flaws in its so called ‘balanced’ narrative and in its framing of the conflict. In subsequent weeks we will be explaining them.  For now, here is a link to the programme website.  We have quoted just one short extract from episode one. See for yourself:   http://www.channel4.com/programmes/the-promise/4od (Not available outside the UK)

And by the way, here are two other examples of the damage which is caused when the narrative of Israel is artificially started at World War II:

Barack Obama made this error in his major speech to the Arab world in June 2009: click here:

‘How President Obama got it wrong on Israel’s history… and why it matters for future peace’ (Beyond Images Briefing 242)

And The Economist made this error in an obituary of Yasser Arafat published in 2004: see

The Economist Magazine’s obituaries: misleading accounts of Israel’s history’ (Beyond Images Briefing 124)

Key messages:

Delegitimisation of Israel is not just a matter of outrageous, flagrant denial of Jewish national rights.

It is happening in drip-drip style, as ideas which call the history of Israel into question are steadily absorbed into liberal discourse, into respectable mainstream thinking.  Click here for The Beyond Images Report on Delegitimisation which provides many examples of this.

Elements of Channel 4’s ‘The Promise’ are a classic instance of this phenomenon. The Promise is doubtless being viewed by almost everyone in the UK who passionately believes in the Palestinian cause.

In building its drama on the basis of an explicit historical fiction, it is not contributing to peace and understanding.  It is fuelling the falsehoods on which the delegitimisation of Israel thrives.  There are many many other falsehoods: we will be highlighting some in future emails.

No amount of great acting and brilliant direction can obscure that fact.

By the way, we have not seen a single syllable uttered about The Promise in public by any of the central Jewish organisations which claim to be fighting delegitimisation in the UK, in the two weeks since its broadcasts began…..  Are we on Beyond Images missing something…. or – just possibly – are they?

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End of email message.

I think it is worth making a note of the Beyond Images website, mentioned in the email, as a worthwhile source of valuable information regarding Israel and the Middle East.

This entry was posted in Culture, Arts & Sports, Israel news, Mideast news and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

19 Responses to Channel 4’s “The Promise” debunked

  1. anneinpt says:

    This article by the vile Christina Patterson at the Independent shows exactly why the above article is so true. She has latched onto every antisemitic nuance in the show, and then some.

    She is a disgrace to her profession. Then again, she writes for the Independent, which just proves my point.

  2. Tom Hill says:

    I thought Christina Patterson’s article was very good and extremely well balanced. She addresses one of the central problems of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and that is the continued expansion and establishment of Israeli settlements in the West Bank, settlements that are deemed illegal internationally. She also highlights the cowardice of the Obama administration in vetoing the recent UN resolution on this matter in giving way to the AIPAC lobby in the US. Even the British and French governments who normally abstain on resolutions criticising Israel had the guts to support this one.

    • R Thompson says:

      Interesting. You seem to condemn “continued expansion” of Israeli settlements in the West Bank … aka Judea and Samaria. Can I assume you also disapprove of British settlements in Scotland and Ulster? Yank “settlements” west of Appalachia are equally distressing? Perchance I am violating Ojibwa rights by my dwelling in Michigan. Oh, wait … are they some how different, since they were not part of an international plan, such as a “Jewish National Home” … several times reduced between 1920 and 1922 as the British Mandate handed over about 75% of said mandate to the “Palestinians” … then they plopped a Saudi Hashemite ruler over them.

      Do today’s Israelis get to protest the 1922 occupation of their 1920 internationally assigned Jewish homelands in Jordan? Israel did remove Israelis from Gaza, IIRC, and how is that little experiment in self rule working out?

      My perspective is much easier: I figure the final settlement of Judea and Samaria was established per se around 10 June 1967. The rest is nonsense. 1948, 1967, 1973, etc … enough already. The hypocritical gall of European and Yank politicians to “dictate” Israeli internal affairs is astounding. l

    • anneinpt says:

      @Tom Hill: Patterson’s article was anything but balanced. She practically quoted verbatim from Kosminsky’s review of his own opus from the Guardian. I wonder if she even saw the program or just relied on his review.

      In any event, Patterson and Kosminsky, and by extension you yourself are wrong and biased. The central problem of Israel-Palestine is not the settlements, as proved by Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza and northern Samaria, and yet mysteriously, the rockets only increased after the withdrawal. (and as R. Thompson pointed out in his comment). The settlements are not deemed illegal internationally either. You may think so, the UN’s persistent hollow declarations may think so, world leaders declare so, but according to the UN’s own Resolution 242 after the 6 day war, all that was required was that Israel withdraw “from territories”, not “the territories” captured in that war.

      I would suggest you read up a lot more about the legality of the settlements from the “horse’s mouth” – the man who drew up UN Res. 242, Eugene Rostow. The legality of the settlements. Once you’re educated you might discover a fact or two.

      Moreover, the whole issue of the settlements is a nonsense. Israel is being required by its opponents to withdraw from territory captured in a defensive war. And yet those very territories were Israeli territory only 19 years earlier. Why do those 19 years of Arab possession make them “historic Palestinian territory” which must be given back, and yet Israel’s 40+ years of possession makes them occupied? You’ve got to be consistent, and these ridiculous claims are not.

      • Zaf says:

        [The settlements are not deemed illegal internationally either. ]

        ??

        Afaik the settlements are illegal because they involve displacing Arabsfrom the West Bank and replacing them with Israeli Jews – ie forcibly changing the demographics of a conquered territory.

        [The central problem of Israel-Palestine is not the settlements]

        No, it’s settlement and the refusal to take responsibility for its consequences. Israel is not going to go anywhere – but neither are the Palestinians – or the fact that they were there first. In the end, everybody has to deal with that.

        • anneinpt says:

          Thank you for your comment Zaf. I would refer you to the article in my sidebar on the legality of the settlements where you can learn that they are indeed not illegal. There is no law that says one may not change the demographics of a country. For goodness’ sake, look how immigration, legal and illegal, has changed the demographics of huge swathes of France, parts of England etc. over the years. As for being a conquered country, “Palestine” never existed as a country. The territory was RE-captured from Jordan, Egypt and Syria.

          The central problem of the Middle East is simply the Arabs (not just the Palestinians) refusal to accept Israel’s existence (not its right to exist but it’s actual existence) in their midst. This has been going on since Jews first started returning to Israel back in the 1800s when the territory then known as Palestine was largely empty.

          In other words it is antisemitism that is the problem. Again, I would refer you to an article, this time to one I posted, How antisemitism prevents peace.

          • Zaf says:

            Hi Annie – thanks for your very civil response. As you say, the demographics of many countries do change. That’s normal, if the country is being run by the people who live there. It’s not the same when the country is occupied and the change takes place without the tacit approval of its people but rather at the behest of the occupying power – hence the Geneva Conventions re the rights of civilians under military occupation and the legal obligations of the occupying power. In this case imho Reagan was wrong (or at least you haven’t explained why he was right) and Carter and many countries (so most of the world) is right. Of course there have been invasions, occupations and forcible demographic changes in the past – but the whole point of the Geneva Conventions was to change how warfare took place in order to protect the rights of civilians. Citing atrocities that took place before the conventions were signed is not really a good argument for countries breaking the conventions NOW. And finally – I agree that the Arab discomfort with Israel does not stem from the settlements in the West Bank, but rather from the fact that Israel was created by forcibly displacing an Arab population. (Something that Israeli historians have increasingly been documenting and exploring about the birth of their country.) So it stems from the creation of Israel rather than from the settlements in the West Bank. I do however think that trying to paint this discomfort as a function of anti-semitism is a cop out – I don’t think any foreign population displacing locals would have been received well – occupied and evicted by foreigners is occupied and evicted by foreigners. Instead of calling the reaction anti-semitism (and therefore irrational and impossible to understand or deal with), it might be better to acknowledge that it was completely understandable – how would you feel if your were invaded and evicted, for example? – and proceed from there. Harder cause to sell, but at least a world view based on reality. Warm Regards, Zaf

            • anneinpt says:

              Thank you too Zaf for keeping this discussion civil. I happen to strongly disagree with you and I’ll try to explain.

              It’s not the same when the country is occupied and the change takes place without the tacit approval of its people but rather at the behest of the occupying power – hence the Geneva Conventions re the rights of civilians under military occupation and the legal obligations of the occupying power.

              The country is no more occupied under Israeli sovereignty than it was for the preceding 19 years. And it was ONLY 19 years that the territory was not under Israeli sovereignty. Before that, the West Bank was part of Jordan and Gaza was part of Egypt. After the 6 Day War Israel offered Gaza back to Egypt, who refused. Can’t say I blame them, but that’s another story. Jordan waived its sovereignty in 1988. in any event, Jordan’s occupation of the West Bank was never recognized by anyone other than Pakistan. It was territory that was intended to be part of the Jewish homeland according to the San Remo Convention of 1922. Further, the Geneva Conventions require that a state not transfer its own population to the occupied territory (assuming it is occupied, which in this case I strongly refute), but it does not forbid citizens of the occupying country voluntarily moving to that territory. If it did, half the globe would be occupiers. Oh wait – they are. Has anyone confronted and concentrated so minutely on the Russians in the Kiril Islands, the Chinese in Tibet, the British in the Malvinas, the Americans all over the place, the Germans, the Dutch, the Belgians… But it is only tiny little Israel that the world concentrates on. I wonder why.

              And yes – inconsistent application of the law – even if it does apply – makes it irrelevant and certainly unjust.

              the fact that Israel was created by forcibly displacing an Arab population.

              The truth is the exact opposite of this. Which Arab population was forcibly displaced to make room for the Jews? The first Jewish pioneers bought their land from the local Arabs, often at inflated prices, and began to work it and make it flourish. This brought about an economic boom, bringing with it economic migrants from the surrounding Arab countries. Rather than displacing Arabs, Israel’s existence – and its pre-existence – encouraged Arab transfer INTO Israel rather than out of it. In 1948, many of the local Arabs became refugees when they left following exhortations from their leaders to get out of the way while they killed the Jews and then they could return. Those Arabs who stayed are now full citizens of Israel. I am not denying the odd expulsion or atrocity, but to claim that Israel was created by forcibly displacing an entire population is false, wrong, untrue and a blatant lie.

              <a href="I do however think that trying to paint this discomfort as a function of anti-semitism is a cop out – I don’t think any foreign population displacing locals would have been received well "
              Of course it’s anti-Semitism. Do you ever listen to what the Arabs say in Arabic to their own people? Do you read the incitement they are teaching to their children in schools? Here is just one small example. If they are not antisemitic, why do they attack Jews outside of Israel? Why the attacks on synagogues in France, on Jewish schools in the UK, and why was a Jewish community center in Argentina blown up? The Arabs themselves claim it is in response to Israel’s actions. If they are not antisemitic why take it out on foreign Jews?

              I have a feeling we are going to continue to agree to disagree, but it’s been enjoyable discussing the issue.

              • Zaf says:

                Oh Annie, I guess we will continue to disagree – but the world would be boring if we all thought the same things.
                [The country is no more occupied under Israeli sovereignty than it was for the preceding 19 years. ]
                Arguably, but the Jordanians and the Egyptians and the British didn’t displace the local people and ship in their own. The issue is the displacement of existing indigenous people, not the occupation of an existing state.
                You say that the Palestinians fled the country because of the warning of war. Civilian populations tend to do that under threat of violence – and it is a war crime (again those Geneva Convenions) to prevent them from returning home. So EVEN if you argue that the Palestinians were not driven out forcibly by the Irgun and the Stern Gang and massacres like Deir Yassin (and there is a lot of evidence that they were actually driven out in this way), then it’s still not right ot use that flight a an excuse to steal their land and villages. The argument is a red herring. You mention a declaration opening the whole British mandate (Jordan, Palestine, ??) to Jewish settlement, but what about the people who were already living their? What MORAL right did the British have to promise other people’s homes to the victims of the Holocaust? How would you feel if we promised your home to refugees from Rwanda? Would that be fair to you, regardless of how needy the Rwandans were?
                Wrt anti-semitism – I am not from the Arab world, I won’t pretend to speak for any part of their views. in the interest of full disclosure, I’m from a Muslim family from India – a country with a (small) Jewish community from the time of the Second Temple, and also a country that (despite all our other flaws) has never had any anti-Jewish feeling. (Truly. The attacks on Chabad house by Pakistani Jihadis was first time EVER that it was unsafe to be a Jew in India. This is something that I think we can be proud of.) And given that, if people arrived from across the ocean, and displaced us (whenever you argue we had gotten there) because some other people (the British) had told them that they cold have our land, I don’t think that we would be too improessed, or see our own claim to be secondary. Whatever the religion of the people displacing us, and whateve suffering they had endured.
                I know that there is a lot of argument about this but Susan Nathan’s ‘The Other Side Of Israel is quite illuminating about the things that happened. I don’t think that we can turn the clock back, but I also don’t think that denying what happened is going to do anything but make the dispossesed feel as if their suffering and their human rights are being not just denied by dnied. That doesn’t seem like a realistic base for peace.
                And on that note – peace.

        • cba says:

          “the settlements are illegal because they involve displacing Arabs from the West Bank”
          Huh??! What settlements would those be?

  3. Tom Hill says:

    By the way, show me a single sentence in Christina Patterson’s article that is in any way remotely “antisemitic”. Criticising the activities of Israelis or the Israeli government is not antisemitic any more than criticising the activities of the Russian government, for example, could be called anti-Slavic. You might just get away with claiming that her article is anti-Israeli though personally I didn’t find it so but antisemitic? No way.

    • R Thompson says:

      No stereotypical imagery here, eh: “ … a present-day Israel where rich Jews lie by swimming pools and poor Arabs struggle to buy bread.

  4. R Thompson says:

    Here’s some more Christina Patterson hyperbole … ( Article about her own neighborhood )

    … for people who hadn’t been chosen by God. And while none of this is a source of anything much more than irritation, when I see an eight-year-old boy recoiling from a normal-looking woman (because, presumably, he has been taught that she is dirty or dangerous, or, heaven forbid, dripping with menstrual blood) it makes me sad.

    The weasel word is “presumably.” Er, maybe she just smelled bad?

    … I’m sure, nothing in the Koran to indicate that hacking off a girl’s labia is an all-round great idea, just as there’s nothing in the Torah to say that Volvos should always be driven with a mobile phone in hand,

    Got it, sawing off adolescents’ labia is most certainly equivalent to inconsiderate cell phone use.

    I give her dubious credit for living there 12 years and not adapting a whit to Arab or Jewish neighbors, nor trying to make a difference beyond complaining. I’d suggest that part of Britain’s problem, as well as France’s and other European nations, is that they do NOT encourage assimilation, all the while complaining of the lack of it. I mean, it seems “these people” of whatever alien ilk, are there only for their labors, for the services they can provide. Reminds me of Yank Californians and their nannies and gardeners.

    I’d suggest Mz Patterson find a nice 100% WASP neighborhood and move to it.

  5. floranista says:

    I’m still waiting for Tom Hill to address the points in comments #3, #4, #6 & #7…

  6. floranista says:

    Ooooh, that’s a beauty!

    Well, he didn’t address what y’all were saying, just “where’s the anitsemitism!”…then Aridog provided ample evidence of that…

    • R Thompson says:

      I figured the Cornflower would get your attention 🙂 … it is one of the few “blues” without a lot of green hue within it … and, IMO, the color of perfect blue sapphires, my favorite among gemstones.

  7. Pingback: American embassies attacked in Cairo, Benghazi, one American killed, because of a film about Islam | Anne's Opinions

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