A Palestinian family reacts after Israeli bulldozers demolished their home in the Arab East Jerusalem neighborhood of Beit Hanina, Feb. 5, 2013. (AHMAD GHARABLI/AFP/GETTY IMAGES)
Newly elected Israeli Knesset member Yair Lapid (l), leader of the Yesh Atid party, speaks to Naftali Bennett, head of the hard-line national religious party the Jewish Home, during a Feb. 5 reception in Jerusalem marking the opening of the 19th Knesset. (URIEL SINAI/GETTY IMAGES)
Richard Curtiss at work in his Washington Report office. (STAFF PHOTO D. HANLEY)
Then-Vice President Dick Cheney (l) and Likud chairman Benyamin Netanyahu, out of office at the time and serving as the official Israeli opposition leader, at a March 23, 2008 breakfast meeting at the King David Hotel in Jerusalem. (PAUL J. RICHARDS/AFP/GETTY IMAGES)
Philippine President Benigno Aquino III (r) shares candies with Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) chief Murad Ebrahim during a Feb. 11 visit to the rebels’ stronghold in Sultan Kudarat on the island of Mindanao. (KARLOS MANLUPIG/AFP/GETTY IMAGES)
Emad Burnat views his five broken cameras in his documentary of the same name. (PHOTO COURTESY KINO LORBER)
April/May 1993, Page 45
"Journey to the Occupied Lands" A Hard Look at Jewish Settlements
By Eugene Bird
To Americans who saw his 90-minute film "Journey to the Occupied Lands" when it first was aired on public television stations last Jan. 26, Michael Ambrosino is one of the rare but growing breed of American journalists who has understood and dared to explain the root causes of the Israeli-Palestinian dispute, still unsolved after a century of confrontation. Only five years ago, however, Ambrosino, a prizewinning television producer and director, was first beginning to write about the conflicting versions of what was happening under Israeli occupation as he sat with a Jewish peace group, New Jewish Agenda, meeting in Boston.
His "journey" started right then as he spoke with both Israeli and American Jews, and began talking with Palestinian Arabs. He began to read about the occupation, then he hired a researcher, and then another. Finally he spoke with PBS "Frontline" producers about the possibility of making a documentary on the subject.
The Subject of Land
After six separate trips to Israel and the occupied lands over a three-year period, and after collecting five file drawers of original documents, he emerged with 33 hours of film. He had edited it down to five hours when he was persuaded to take an entirely new tack. Ambrosino and his team decided to limit the final film to one subject: How, under Israeli occupation, the small amounts of land still owned by the Palestinian Arabs end up as the property of Jewish "settlers."
"Israel is at least an open society," Arnbrosino explains. "They let us film, and while we had two confrontations with the authorities, there was no serious problem with taking film and getting it out. Still, one of the Israel Defense Force officers assigned to help us told me that he would cooperate, but certainly not give his blessing to our project."
There were occasions, Ambrosino reports, when appointments were delayed so long that they had to be cancelled. If the delays were intended to discourage or derail the filming, however, they did not succeed. "We did not broadcast the extent of the research we were doing, which involved talks with 350 to 400 people, and collection of court as well as other original documents. "
Violence, Ambrosino concluded, is the smallest part of the story of the occupation. The greater issue is the forced transfer of land from Palestinians to Israeli government control for "security" purposes. Later, the government concludes that the land no longer is needed for that purpose, and ownership is conveyed to the developers who build settlements. These entrepreneurs are protected against financial loss by Israeli government guarantees to buy any housing units that cannot be sold at pre-agreed prices.
When it was shown, "Journey to the Occupied Lands" received six positive letters of response by viewers to every negative one at WGBH in Boston, the sponsoring Public Broadcasting Service station. No overall count has been made across the country, although a hard-line Jewish Zionist group, CAMERA, mounted a campaign against the film, charging Ambrosino with anti-Israel bias.
Ambrosino takes special pleasure in describing calls from Jewish viewers who told him, or the station, that for the first time they now saw what the settlement issue was all about. One Jewish woman, who said that Israel had always been central among her concerns, told the producer his film "was painful to watch, but impossible to deny."
Ambrosino said he had been driven by curiosity, not commitment, throughout the project. The Jewish and Israeli settlers and the Palestinians spoke for themselves. Even though he and his researchers took no one's word for anything, and checked out every assertion before it became a part of the final product, the result was a catalogue of the injustices of the occupation that simply could not be refuted.
Documenting an Eviction
The greatest surprise to the Ambrosino team, and to many in the film's audience, was how massive the suburban-style settlements have become. The most stunning incident captured on film was the eviction of Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem's Silwan district. Families were pulled out of their apartments and their furniture and possessions were tossed into the street by the new Israeli occupants during a driving rainstorm, with the help of police. The courts were ignored throughout the action, and the Jewish settlers remain in most of the apartments they took over. That scene, Ambrosino said, was the one most mentioned by callers.
Although thousands of Americans visit Israel and the Holy Land, few see much of the Palestinians or hear much about their problems with the constantly encroaching hard-line settlers, many of them recent immigrants to Israel from America. "Journey to the Occupied Lands" fills in the gaps for such visitors and the format lets Israeli Jews and Palestinian Muslims and Christians speak eloquently for themselves, leaving little doubt in any viewer's mind as to the realities behind the land grab taking place, thanks to American funding. The film is available on VHS format from PBS at 1 (X00) 32X-7271.
Those viewing this painfully thorough and objective documentary will emerge with a precise understanding of why the Palestinians are insisting on a Land for Peace settlement now, rather than a vague "autonomy" under continued Israeli occupation that would enable the forced transfers of land from Arab to Israeli ownership to continue indefinitely.
Eugene Bird is the executive director of the Council for the National Interest.