NGO Monitor Analysis (Vol. 2 No. 3) 23 October 2003
Christian Aid's Political Campaign Continues: "Peace Under Siege"
The NGO and funding agency Christian Aid (UK) recently released a fundraising film entitled 'Peace Under Siege' claiming to depict the "roots of Palestinian poverty." In practice, the 20-minute documentary consisted of a vehement and highly inaccurate attack on Israel. Although Christian Aid has undertaken important projects in the West Bank, it is clear from the footage in the film that Christian Aid also, and perhaps primarily, maintains the political objective of delegitimizing the State of Israel. Despite the NGO's declared commitment to non-partisanship, this is the latest in a series of highly ideological public statements against Israel.
This analysis highlights the film's factual errors and political bias in four dimensions.
1) The survey of the Oslo peace process is very slanted, as is the recent history of the Arab-Israeli conflict. The documentary talked of "continuous displacement for the Palestinian people since 1948" yet there was no mention of the nature of the Arab-Israeli wars, the continuous existential threats to the State of Israel and the Jewish people, and the fact that hundreds of thousands of Jews also became refugees as a result of these wars.
2) The bulk of the film covered the recent economic history of the Palestinian people and their suffering. One of the most common themes was "since the intifada there are no jobs." Christian Aid failed to mention that the fall in the standard of living of the Palestinian population has been steady since the first intifada in 1987 and accelerated when the Palestinian Authority took control of the Palestinian population areas in 1994. Thousands of workers from the West Bank and Gaza Strip used to earn respectable salaries in Israel but Israel was gradually forced to tighten entry restrictions. Complete closures of the West Bank and Gaza were implemented after the first waves of suicide bombings after it became clear that terrorists were exploiting the easy access from the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Yet none of this essential background is mentioned in this biased presentation by Christian Aid. Nor does this film acknowledge the prominent Palestinian officials, such as Mohammad Dahlan and Mahmud 'Abbas, who have admitted that the campaign of violence and suicide attacks against Israel have ruined the Palestinians economy.
The producers also failed to mention the rampant corruption and waste in the Palestinian authority. Hundreds of millions of dollars of foreign aid has either been siphoned off to the bank accounts of ministers and bureaucrats or to weapons purchases. This has been carefully documented by the International Monetary Fund, and is not even mentioned by Christian Aid. This money, donated by the European Union, Japan, the USA and Israel itself could have been used for job creation and infrastructure building.
3) The nature of the film's interviews is highly slanted to create a very negative image of Israel. For example, the Rev. Lucy Winket presents a highly distorted image of Israel as a gun-totting, anarchic military society, "soldiers who shoot at children…firing live ammunition at stone throwers" without giving any background or context. She ignores firstly, the strict regulations for Israeli soldiers concerning the use of live ammunition, and the legal proceedings brought against those who violate these regulations. Secondly, she failed to mention that the stone throwers in the present "intifada", in contrast to the intifada of the late 1980s, are organized by armed militants who shoot at soldiers over the heads of the children throwing stones. This deliberate exploitation of children has led to many unnecessary and tragic deaths. Thirdly, she omits entirely the reason for universal conscription in Israel and the many humanitarian measures that the Israeli army has undertaken to relieve Palestinian suffering.
4) The film's bias is nowhere more obvious than its description of Operation Defensive Shield of April 2002. The half-hearted attempt at balance was totally undermined by the sarcastic voice of the narrator and the disbelieving tone when mentioning Israel's justification for the Campaign, "eradication of the infrastructure of terror." The narrator surmised the operation as an attempt to ruin the Palestinian economy and general infrastructure. The four-second very general mention of suicide bombings was dwarfed by the several minutes of coverage dedicated to the damage caused by the IDF response. No mention was made of the daily killing of Israelis preceding the operation, climaxing in a bomb in a hotel in Netanya on one of the most important nights in the Jewish calendar. Whole families were wiped out among the 29 killed. In addition, the producers did not mention the many bomb factories located deliberately in densely populated areas, or official Palestinian documents that revealed exactly how the terror campaign was being managed by Yassir Arafat and funded by Saudi Arabia and Iran.
The film was professionally and carefully produced. Scenes of tanks pushing ambulances (with no mention of how ambulances were used to smuggle terrorists and weapons) were emphasized while scenes of Israeli suffering were practically non-existent. It is clear that the film was not at all an attempt to portray "the roots of Palestinian poverty" because the film concentrated almost entirely on demonizing Israel. Phrases such as at "every corner a Palestinian boy is shot" are not only unbalanced but also do not do justice for the Palestinian cause.
Christian Aid deserves praise for its humanitarian projects because the organization has provided employment, training and assistance to many, as described in the film. However, this good work is entirely undermined by a highly distorted and politicized anti-Israeli tone and context. The leaders and officials of wealthy and powerful NGOs such as Christian Aid must learn to distinguish between genuine humanitarian efforts that relieve suffering, and political propaganda that actually adds to the conflict.