Sunday, August 09, 2009

The Jews never were much for farming

Here in Germany, I'm mostly too busy reading 500-page PDFs of French novels or stuffing my face with new and exciting combinations of coffee and ice cream (and these are, alas, infinite) to get worked up about politics. But.

CNN International's Middle East special segment should win a prize for shamelessly one-sided portrayal of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, if not for general nausea-inducing qualities. In a bit I watched, promising to be about how The Olive, that symbol of peace, was a site of tensions in the West Bank, a very white CNN journalist visited a Palestinian family picking olives 'the old way', 'the way it's always been done,' (not sure if these are direct quotes, because I watched this a couple days ago, but this was the gist), going on and on about how the techniques these particular Palestinians use to pluck olives aren't as efficient as the modern newfangled ones, but gosh darn it this is how it's always been done, since time immemorial, and what a coincidence, this produces the best olive oil. He also went on at length about certain olive trees that have been in the region 'since Roman times' - the way this was juxtaposed with shots of very elderly olive pickers, and with discussions of how 'generations' of Palestinians have picked olives on this very spot suggested that a point was being made about the Palestinians - even this particular family - having been on this particular spot forever.

The fusion of the Palestinian cause with the newly-trendy fondness for 'traditional' (read: inefficient in such a way that is aesthetically pleasing to Westerners with no first-hand knowledge of farming, industrial or otherwise) and locality-specific agriculture was really what brought the segment over the top. All the combo needs is a tote bag made out of keffiyeh print to take with you to the market - fortunately just such bags are found in trendy shops in Germany, so we're halfway there.

Anyway. The conflict had to be introduced for there to be a story, so between the plucking and the oil extraction we met up with the "Jewish settlers", an angry bunch of men in yarmulkes, who, CNN's representative explained to us, are protesting the traditional harvesting activities of these sweet innocent wouldn't-hurt-a-fly agriculturalists who've been working The Land since long before those evil cosmopolitan Jews showed up. There are also IDF soldiers who, meany-meanies that they are, are filmed 'stopping' CNN from filming, although it's clear enough that CNN got its story and then some.

It wasn't, apparently, worth it to CNN to explain what reason Israel or the settlers gave for wanting to stop the olive-picking. The guy presented it as though the only possibilities were a) that the Jews are simply bad people, or b) that Jews are anti-agriculture, both of which are views that have, historically and to this day, had their share of adherents.

Rather than just presenting the process and commenting, in whatever biased a way he might have done, the man from CNN actually helps the Palestinian farmers in the plucking and the oil-production, as in, by plucking, etc., himself, learning both processes so as to show the viewer just how rustic and inefficient and charming the whole endeavor is, the work of people whose land is rightfully theirs, because no new arrival would have come up with something so involved. Here's where the shamelessness comes into play. Imagine if he had donned IDF fatigues - or better yet, the shorts-and-sandals garb of the settlers - and participated in that side of the discussion. Because the point of the conflict was ostensibly to portray a conflict. Even if he had come to the conclusion that the Palestinians were in the right on the issue of the olive-plucking (or, if he's so inclined, on all issues, always), and even for god's sake if the Palestinians were in the right on this issue of this particular tree (which I'm willing to admit is a possibility, although from the segment, this much is unclear), this might have come across through at least the pretense of a neutral introduction to the story as both sides present it, without having the journalist himself filmed helping one side and protesting the other.

2 comments:

PG said...

The CNN video is available here.

The CNN reporter, Ben Wedeman, has previously garnered complaints from Zionist bloggers for pro-Palestinian bias due to his reporting of a "Gaza, West Bank misery tour" in January 2008. He has an incredibly annoying voice.

Phoebe said...

PG,

Thanks for the link.

I'd like to think even bloggers (and viewers generally) who didn't identify as Zionist would see where this segment went wrong, how deceptive it was. But yeah, probably not.