Richard A. Landes
This document originally appeared on seconddraft.org
What’s the best introduction to Pallywood?
The sources themselves. Go to the pages where we have posted the raw footage from three Palestinian cameramen, working for major Western news agencies at Netzarim Junction on Sept. 30, 2000, and judge for yourself if what you see filmed represents real or staged “events.” Only then should you investigate further and read the opinion of others.
How did you acquire these tapes?
At this point the answer remains a public secret. On this issue, the viewer must decide whether she or he can trust us when we assure them that this tape represents an undoctored presentation of the condition of the evidence when it came into our possession, and that this represents real footage shot by a Palestinian cameraman working for a major Western news media outlet on Sept. 30 and possibly October 1, 2000.
What do you consider the import of the material you have presented here?
We consider this footage the equivalent of looking behind the curtain at the “Wizard.” The media production of Pallywood has been absorbed without any evident protest or criticism by the Western press. The brief insight these rushes provide onto the quotidian of Palestinian protests, on a day which, retrospectively, grew to a virtual massacre of “more than thirty Palestinians and hundreds of wounded”, offers a sharp contrast between the behavior of the “street” on film, and its behavior as our media present it to us. The implications of this gap between raw footage and edited, suggests a massive failure of western media, with truly catastrophic consequences for the Israelis, the Palestinians and, indeed, peaceful globalization. Uncorrected, such an error can be suicidal.
Where does the expression Pallywood come from?
It plays off of Bollywood, the designation of India’s film industry, based in Bombay. It identifies a practice among Palestinian journalists to turn drama into news. This fictional news industry then feeds Western news reporting, who do not seem to suspect they are being duped.
It acknowledges that the active, if still young film industry of Palestinian culture, especially since the advent of cultural autonomy with the Oslo Accords in 1993, has already made a distinctive contribution to global culture.
Isn’t “Pallywood” disrespectful and mocking?
On one level, not at all. Most national film industries would love to have the success in the larger world media that Pallywood has achieved. Pallywood is a distinctive and powerful national product. But on the other hand, because it identifies Pallywood as part of a campaign of disinformation and propaganda, why should we respect that, rather than criticize it? As for mocking, at a basic level Pallywood is a joke played on the Palestinians and the West, and one can see it in the smiles on the faces of by-standers as they walk away from these stages scenes.
Is Pallywood not a legitimate expression of the Palestinian narrative? Who are we to judge?
Pallywood may be taken as a Palestinian narrative, although one might more accurately call it a narrative of the Palestinian elite, worked out in the matrix of Palestinian political culture and the Arab street. It is overwhelmingly male, and focused on a discourse of violent honor. As a national narrative of Palestinian innocence and Israeli aggression, it has historically served to justify policies by Arab, and later with Arafat, Palestinian elites to victimize the Palestinian people. Whether the Palestinians have a right to lie to us and to their people in the service of the [elite’s definition of the] honor of Islam and of Arab Culture, is a judgment call for each individual to make. But that surely does not impose upon us the necessity of accepting those fabrications as real.
Why do you say that the Palestinian victim narrative victimizes the Palestinian people?
The victim narrative of the Palestinians has now been used for over a half-century by Arab and Palestinian political and religious elites as an instrument aimed at restoring their honor as they define it – the elimination of the state of Israel and the humiliation that an independent (worse, democratic) Jewish state represents for Islam and Arab identity. In this pursuit, the Palestinian people’s welfare not only does not concern them, but the more they suffer, the better it is for “Palestinian” politics. In a larger context, the ability of Arab elites to keep their populations in ignorance, poverty and resignation (a pattern that predates Zionism by more than a millennium, depends significantly on their ability to blame Zionism and the Palestinian “unresolved.” In their rage and frustration at not destroying Israel, and their relentless willingness to sacrifice their own people, their anti-Zionism has now morphed into paranoid anti-semitism. It represents a drug with which they cut the pain (or redirect that anger) that they inflict. When they can turn to the West and get confirmation for this victim narrative, it reinforces their ability to use this drug.
Why do you think that these scenes are so obviously fake?
Each case can, to someone who wants to give the benefit of the doubt, be seen as possibly real. But when one notices the behavior of bystanders, it becomes readily apparent that this is a movie set with the Israelis as a prop.
– People smiling when others have supposedly been killed or injured,
– civilians giving orders to military, which would not happen in time of war, but does happen on movie sets,
– crowds standing around in front of the Israeli guns showing no fear, while people are supposedly being shot by Israelis,
– the astonishing roughness and haste with which the wounded are evacuated
– the eagerness of people to participate in these rough evacuations – unlikely if the haste is from fear of Israeli guns, likely if it is a way to get on camera
Don’t the Israelis also do fictional news?
Every country’s media spins the news in its defense, and plays with a margin of judgment in what it may present to the public. But the differences here are so large as to demand particular attention to this issue,
– The Israelis do not fake images of injury, on the contrary, deep taboos prevent the Israeli press from showing pictures of dead bodies.
– Moreover, the Israeli press constitutes one of the more self-critical presses in the world. Intentional lies rarely pass undetected, and Israeli journalists even denounce Israeli army’s errors, like the stretcher/kassam rocket in the ambulance, as lies. Indeed some Israeli journalists are far more eager to seize on their own side’s lies than to denounce lies on the other side. There is no equivalent in the Palestinian – or Arab – press of Gideon Levy, journalist for Ha-Aretz.
– Even organizations denounced by the other side as “propaganda” sites, like Palestinian Media Watch and MEMRI, are scrupulously honest in the material they post from the Arab world, in their translations, even careful not only to post the negative comments in the Arab press, but also the positive ones.
– To make the facile, “even-handed” comparison misses a major distinction between the rough and tumble criticisms of a free press in Israel and the intimidation and high propaganda content of the press in Arab authoritarian societies. If one cannot understand these differences, one cannot understand the value and importance of self-critical free press sustaining civil society. Tolerance for criticism and for variant viewpoints marks the commitment to civil society.
What makes you think that this footage you post is representative of a larger phenomenon, which you are calling Pallywood.
This is a judgment call, since we do not have any other raw footage. On the other hand what we see looks like longstanding behavior, a public secret, a widespread practice. No one has to explain to the crowds that gather around the injured what the name of the game is. The only prompts come from “directors” specifying roles. Given the smashing success of Pallywood at the beginning of the Intifada in 2000, it would be astounding if Palestinian cameramen had ceased to engage in such profitable activity. We certainly have evidence for this. But the question could be resolved relatively rapidly if any media outlet employing Palestinian cameramen were to have the honesty and courage to make their raw footage for any week or month available to the public.
Is Pallywood a local initiative, or a PA policy?
It seems to be both. The activity of the “street” seems to be “spontaneous”, and the motivation can easily be explained in terms of the desire to a) fool the Western press, and b) get on TV either as injured or as an evacuator. But there seems little doubt that the Palestinian Authority finds the products of Pallywood extremely useful in their propaganda war against Israel, and it seems unlikely that they do not occasionally conscript a director to produce a useful forgery. Certainly the extensive use of falsification at Jenin in April of 2002 and thereafter, suggests PA involvement.