The fertile imagination of Peter Kosminsky: Agitprop as history

Another CiF Watch reader, Ariadne, reviews Peter Kosminsky’s drama, “The Promise.”

There are two things holding this drama series, The Promise, together: the gorgeous Hollywood-style hero, Christian Cooke – a subtle and convincing actor – and the stunning scenery of Israel. For those who aren’t familiar with the history of the region the duplicity of the plots and themes may be hidden by these visual delights. The dying shell of a man, Len, at the end, could be construed as Len having had his comeuppance, a miserable life. Is there a puritanical motif in the drama and justification for such a conclusion? Or is he rewarded by a happy death now that the key has been returned [to its Palestinian owners]?

Israelis live in sumptuous modern houses. Those in older dwellings are supplanting Arabs who used to live there. And when is “used to”? Until 1948. Then another Arab flight date is mentioned: 1967. Why not 1973, one wonders. Maybe because that is the war that Israel could have lost. Frightened Israelis are not part of the fantastical polemic that riddles this whole production.

Jewish emotions allowed here are hatred of the British, contempt for Arabs, loathing of Israel and dislike of one’s own Jewish family. And anger expressed in Hebrew which is not translated. A “settler” husband in Hebron was more reasonable than his wife but there was no way of telling that for the average British viewer. The Irgun grandfather is allowed to say that the Irgun did not hate the British. But he does not contradict Erin when she voices the lie that the British fought for the Jews in World War II. Imagine Menachem Begin in that situation. That would have been drama. The whole presentation does not show much slaughter of Jews by the British. Nor does it show any British personnel standing by while Arabs slaughter Jews – glaring omissions when dramatizing events from 1945-1948.

And where on earth are the Palestine Police? Were ex-Black and Tans members too prone to show Britain in a bad light? We see a policeman punching the Dov Gruner figure, Aaron Klein, as he tries to get out of his hospital bed but Len saves him. We do not know whether Gruner was about to be shot or rescued. We see others when the bodies of the two sergeants are found. We do hear a British officer give the command to shoot to kill Jews on suspicion but we do not see such shootings carried out. Nothing is explained so what is the viewer who does not know the history to make of it? The first two parts of the drama are fairly clear. Parts three and four are mired in obscurity for the naive or unalert viewer.  Such one-sided propaganda (mired in obscurity) is extremely problematic.

And who are “the settlers”? Jews who live in Hebron in the twenty-first century. No mention of the Jews who were evacuated by the British almost eighty years earlier, except for the indirect statement by Mohamed’s cousin that her grandfather took 400 Jews into his house in “the massacre”. No date, no explanation although the very name Hebron shows whose town it is. The character Omar – surnamed for George Habash? – is allowed to mention 60 years of fighting the enemy. He doesn’t mean the Nazi-allied Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, Al Husseiniwho was a friend of Hitler in the 1940s. He does not mention Jews who fought Hitler alongside the same British in WW2 while the far fewer Arab “allies” from Transjordan deserted in droves. Those Jews are not mentioned except in the single character of the Irgun fighter who tries to recruit Len. And the good character, Mohamed, asks Len why the British army treats the Jews “with kid gloves”. Easy to say when the Hadassah Hospital convoy slaughter doesn’t feature in the storyline.

I would like to shout very loudly “The British were the ones who caused all this!”

Kosminsky describes his work as a thriller and a love story. It takes the first few minutes of part 1 only to see the “Thank you, Tony Blair” clunking fist of propaganda: a dying, bleeding child and a key. Kosminsky claims to have done his homework but his years of research produce not knowledge, not understanding, but a steep slant towards Arab myth, and antisemitism of the Islamic, European and native British kind merged into one. By the time the antisemitic Jenin furore arose there had been a deathbed admission by someone from the British Military HQ at the time that the Irgun had indeed telephoned a warning that the military ignored. It didn’t stop the Jew-haters from going on and on. The fuss about this production is rather reminiscent of 2002 and it needs as much to be answered.

The promise ostensibly presented in the series is two-fold. One promise concerns that overworked symbol, the key. The other is mentioned briefly as God’s promise to the Jews, said to be two thousand years old. Nothing in the four parts shows anything to contradict that two thousand years. It is as if Jews suddenly in 1945 chose the British Mandate for Palestine for a “purely religious” reason – or at least 22% of it since the Arabs of the region had been given Transjordan in 1922-3. The real promise omitted from Kosminsky’s politicised ambiance is thBalfour Declaration, the San Remo Agreementand the Mandate which should have been their fulfilment. Those “promises” are never mentioned although the Mandate Period (1945-1948) is the primary era highlighted.

Some Jews arriving by sea are interned but those turned back and sent to Germany are not mentioned. Nor is Arab immigration although Churchill noticed it all right. The real promise made to Mohamed was to bring his son Hassan safely to him later. Does Len feel guilt for taking him out by where the dogs were? Eventually he expresses shame. Were they Palestine Police dogs? Was Len so blind?

All good propaganda aimed at delegitimising Israel ignores the result of World War One for Jews. Apart from the Jews who fought in the war, many also risked their livespying for the Allies - contributions, many no doubt hoped, would assist in gaining a Jewish state. The Zion Mule Corps flanked The Australian Light Horse to take Damascus. There was a WWI Kosminsky-like touch in Damascus where Lawrence and his Arabs took the victory parade – after the troops who had done the work had withdrawn. It was all right for Arabs who had never had a country to receive numerous states and many millions of square miles, but Jewish interests increasingly became more expendable to the realpolitik considerations of the day.

Not a word was mentioned of the Arab Revolt of 1936-1939. Jews were shown suffering house demolition as a punishment for terrorism, but had Kosminsky been fair viewers would have been informed precisely what Jews were fighting for. At this time and distance that is safe to say. But in the Mandate the vast majority of Jews were outraged by the behaviour of the Irgun and Lehi. That outrage was not hinted at. And many Jews still wring their hands about the two sergeants. In the modern part of the story the IDF carries out house demolitions against Arab terrorists. Not a whisper that the Emergency Regulations enacted by the British to curb the Arab Revolt were the laws used. By 1945 Jews had provoked Emergency Regulations too. Kosminsky’s Arabs are rather gentle. Yet British troops apparently killed 15,000 of them 1936-1939. How much more denial could there be?

The belief centre of the drama seems to reside in the young characters; Erin, Len, Omar and Paul. It’s a very restricted and perverted world that Erin “grows” into more quickly than her grandfather did. Erin is apparently meant to parallel the audience as it “finds things out”. The clean slates won’t find out much worth knowing in this production.

Viewers of The Promise cannot find out much. The various plot devices are crude. A key, a diary, moving Deir Yassin to a location where the hero can wander into the “massacre”. A home situated in a place “like Paradise” and the suicide bomb explodes in the Eden café where the “dissident” Paul is miraculously not maimed. There is an Eden Camp that may be relevant as a British forces museum and also a place of reunion – a good place and once a camp for Prisoners of War. But the second suicide bomb is shown in after-effect only – on that trivialising medium, television. We don’t know where it was. And whose family does the bomber come from? Mohamed’s.

The music associated with the Arab areas is of the type the BBC likes to use to accompany tales from the Raj. Here it echoes the muezzin’s call to prayer and sometimes that is a piercing scream to highlight another Kosminsky iniquity. Shades of Hitchcock, perhaps and maybe that is what Kosminsky means by “a thriller”. I love thrillers but I’d never confuse them with war and genocidal terror. It is all too clear from MEMRI translations and the invectives of certain “British” Muslim “clerics” just who are intended as the objects of genocide.

Erin finds a chain and padlock when she “needs” to make herself and an Arab girl human shields. She has had a momentary shock on finding herself at the suicide bomber’s home in Gaza but she adapts very quickly indeed. I suppose after 7/7 there had to be some wave towards real terrorists. There was a huge bow to Rachel Corrie. And how that bulldozer was overplayed. What a mess!

Kosminsky says a theme is “love betrayed”. Whose love? Erin sees her grandfather having sex with her but like many writers of essays at school, wakes to find “it was only a dream”. Why is it there? It’s not a flashback. Is Erin any more than a symbol? She lies. She has epilepsy. She cannot drive. She is jealous. She is needy. To go to Hebron she takes the bus and asks Paul to come to rescue her. The drama works perhaps as an episodic plot but that can hardly be what Kosminsky intended it to be. He said it was about the British army and for the British. I really don’t see how deceit helps either.  The battle cry of the Sixth Airborne Division was “Waho Mohamed”.  I certainly heard the “Waho”.

Do the various devices Kosminsky uses arise from a raw hatred of Israel? He said he had never visited before the shooting of this serial. How far does he use symbols? The bulldozer’s yawning mouth was flagrant and ridiculous. When the modern part of the drama was said to be 2005 I didn’t understand and one way of finding out seemed to be to look for that bombing of a named bistro though I certainly didn’t remember that name. I googled “eden café” and “bomb” and got quite a shock. Try it. It seems to fit with the whole anti-Israel message.

While accepting that drama and documentary are two entirely different things I think the parts below of one BBC programme from the Empire Warriors series cover some gaping holes left by Kosminsky.

The Jewish War (Palestine 1947): Parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, & 6

So, that’s The Promise. A fertile field in which the true drama of Israel can drive out the chaff.

It won’t be any surprise to CiFWatch that Anthony Lerman called it “a sensitive television drama”.

The historical vandalism of Peter Kosminsky

This review of Peter Kosminsky’s “The Promise” was written by CiF Watch reader, D. Gold

Channel 4’s The Promise, its dramatization of the events leading up to the foundation of the State of Israel in 1948, juxtaposed with a portrayal of the current situation, was captivating viewing. In terms of a gripping story, excellent acting and directing, as a production it had the full package. There was just one thing that let it down – the film’s brazen attempt to re-write history, in what could be characterized as a daring ideological raid against facts, context, and history.

Towards the end of episode three it descends into its most flagrant abuse of history, as it depicts Israeli children throwing stones at Palestinians. Of course there is some element of truth to accusations against Israel as well as against Palestinians, but the sheer audacity of the programme to imply that children throwing stones is an Israeli phenomenon would be amusing were it not so serious. Palestinians have been known for years not to just give their children stones to throw, but guns and detonation devices.

As the final episode begins, the civil war of 1947-1948 comes into focus, naturally without perspective or facts to accompany it. The historical record shows that when the Arabs rejected, and the Jews accepted, the two state solution proposed by the UN in 1947,  violent actions were launched by Israel’s enemies.  Among the first victims of this assault were Israeli passengers of a bus massacred by a group of Arabs from Jaffa.

Yet as Erin’s grandfather tries desperately to save a Palestinian family and a child in particular, we are reminded that the Arabs are nowhere near Israel and that the Israelis are trying to take strategic sites such as ports. As it is said during the episode, “if we don’t leave there will be nothing left to defend by the time the Arab armies get here.”

This was of course a strange portrayal of a conflict in which Israel was attacked first. Who does Kosminsky think attacked Israel – the invisible Arab army of Jaffa? Once again, the show finds itself fighting against history itself. Not a surprise though when you consider that the first episode recounted the history of Arabs and Jews living side by side in the area for a thousand years without mentioning that Jews were the indigenous population of the land which later became known as Palestine.

Incredulously, during one scene, the programme dramatizes an Israeli soldiers taking a girl from her home to be used as a human shield. The irony here is obvious but requires repetition. Hamas place missiles and rocket launchers near schools, hospitals, and other highly densely populated areas, in order to maximise the impact of Israeli self-defence against their rockets. Israel’s army, portrayed in this drama as unspeakably evil, are the only army in the world who have long practised warning civilians in advance of the areas and places that will be bombed. In fact, Israel goes to incredible lengths not to cause civilian casualties; such as sending in soldiers to fight hand to hand rather than launch air strikes against targets, as in Jenin in 2002. Yet there are scenes where Israeli soldiers fire into a home unannounced and without warning. To suggest that Israel uses Palestinians as human shields is the epitome of the programme’s inversion of reality.

Perhaps most chilling of all is the sight towards the end of an innocent Palestinian child being killed trying to escape the fighting – a sight that would shock anyone, but, due to the lack of context or any supporting historical context , seems to have been created in the imagination of Peter Kosminsky, and is, perhaps, the lowest point of the film, one which evokes the historical narrative of Jews who delight in killing innocent non-Jewish children.

Indeed, the cause of the historical falsehoods are enunciated by Kosminsky himself. In a long list of groups and people consulted, Kosminsky cites Palestinians and Israelis, but only Israelis from groups such as Breaking the Silence, who have a stated agenda to expose corruption in the Israeli army. By his own admission he has only sought the views of those who will be critical of Israel, and none who will defend it.

Ultimately my post is not a defence of Israel as such.  Rather, it is a defence of history, without which justice – a resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict – is unlikely to ever be realized.

Kosminsky’s “drama” is in conflict with history itself. We are all entitled to our views, regardless of how far-fetched or implausible, but no one is entitled to rewrite the historical record. The Promise is a well produced, superbly acted and elaborate work of historical vandalism.

Channel 4 is not “Promising” for British Jews

This is cross posted at Richard Millett’s Blog

Sub-headline from Guardian interview with Kosminsky

Many British Jews woke up this morning feeling a little less welcome living in the UK. The overall feeling of watching the four episodes of The Promise is one of inciting racial hatred.

And it says a lot about the current UK environment that anti-Jewish propaganda is now so freely available on British tv and not just British university campuses.

Peter Kosminsky spent seven years writing The Promise but consulted avowedly anti-Israel groups like Breaking the Silence, Combatants for Peace and ISM and also British soldiers who had come under fire from Jewish military groups.

His facile conclusion is:

“The most striking thing I’m left with is a question: how did we get from there to here? Like most British soldiers we interviewed, arriving in Palestine from the war in Europe, Len Matthews felt only sympathy for the Jewish plight. Having seen the ovens of Bergen-Belsen, his heart tells him that Jews deserve a place of safety, almost at any price. In 1945, that view was shared by most of the world. In the era inhabited by Erin, his granddaughter, just 60 years later, Israel is isolated, loathed and feared in equal measure by its neighbours, finding little sympathy outside America for its uncompromising view of how to defend its borders and secure its future. How did Israel squander the compassion of the world within a lifetime?” (See a response to this here).

There was no attempt at balance or context. Jews and Israelis were portrayed as evil and the Arabs were portrayed as the good guys.

And these are the words that Len, the main British Mandate character in The Promise, writes in his diary as he departs British Mandate Palestine:

“We’ve left the Arabs in the shit. But what about the Jews and their bloody state for which they fought so hard? Three years ago I would have said give them whatever they want, they deserve it after all they have been through. Now I’m not so sure. This precious state of theirs has been born in violence and in cruelty to its neighbours. I’m not sure how it can thrive.”

Channel Four also recently showed War Child, a documentary on the aftermath of Operation Cast Lead in which “the Jews” were portrayed as going on a killing spree against Palestinian children.

And a few years ago it allowed mass murderer of his own people and Holocaust denier Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to broadcast a Christmas speech. Then there is the anti-Israel Jon Snow who seems to split his career between reading Channel 4′s nightly news and chairing anti-Israel events.

Last night we finally found out what “the promise” of the title was all about. In 1948 Len, the British soldier, had promised, but failed, to return the key of the house owned by an Arab family he had befriended and who he ordered to flee to avoid being massacred by the oncoming Jews. 62 years later this promise was fulfilled by his grand-daughter, Erin. When she told him in his hospital bed back in the UK that she had finally returned the key he just lightly squeezed her hand before passing away without speaking.

To arrive at that point we witnessed some six hours of unmitigated demonisation of Jews; both those in British Mandate Palestine and those living in Israel today.

We watched as Erin gradually turned into a hardcore anti-Semite due to her experiences in Israel, the West Bank and Gaza. She was an epileptic who suffered three seizures during the series. But the only time she fitted was when she was with Jews, never with Arabs.

The first time was in an Israeli nightclub when she collapsed on to the floor shaking uncontrollably and instead of anyone coming to help the Israelis just laughed at her.

The second time was when she was being reprimanded by the wealthy Jewish family she was staying with in Israel for bringing an Arab back to the house.

The third time was when she was confronted by three aggressive Israeli soldiers while she was trying to comfort a sick Palestinian woman who had been removed from her house just before it was about to be blown up because her family helped to shield a suicide bomber.

Meanwhile, Jews during the British Mandate Palestine era were all portrayed as brutal cold-blooded murderers with Kosminsky concentrating solely on the Irgun.

British soldiers and Arabs were constantly seen being shot by Jews, while we only see one Jew killed. Len shot a Jew dead while defending his beloved adopted Arab family.

No one would be able to comprehend from this series that almost 6,000 Jews died fighting the Arabs between 1947 and 1949, equivalent to 1% of the Jewish population of British Mandate Palestine at the time.

Nor was there any context to the Irgun’s actions. British government policy had become so anti-Jewish that the Jews were fighting for their lives.

In 1939 the British had reversed their own 1917 promise to the Jews to create a Jewish homeland. Instead only 75,000 Jews were now to be allowed to immigrate in to British Mandate Palestine over the next five years, after which the immigration numbers would be up to the Arab majority to decide. By 1949 British Mandate Palestine would effectively become another Arab state.

The Irgun put off any fighting until this five-year period had expired. When there was no change in this British policy they starting fighting, which consisted of attacking buildings, not people (It was the Stern Gang, a small group of extremist Jews, who had no compunction about attacking civilians, soldiers and diplomatic figures).

The Irgun attacked the King David Hotel, as shown in The Promise, but not before, according to Menachem Begin, phoning through ignored warnings to evacuate.

In The Promise we were also shown Jews massacring unarmed Arabs in the village of Deir Yassin.

Begin claims that a warning was given to the inhabitants of Deir Yassin, so throwing away the element of surprise. He claims heavy fighting ensued and the Irgun suffered casualties of four dead and forty wounded, not as portrayed inThe Promise.

Benny Morris claims that Arab radio broadcasts inflated what took place at Deir Yassin, and it was this that helped instigate the flight of the Arabs from all around the country.

But in The Promise the Arabs flee as a direct response to this “massacre” and fear of what the Jews might do to them. Again, there is no mention that up to 400,000 Palestinians did not flee.

The Promise also failed to mention La Saison when the Haganah (the main Jewish military force in British Mandate Palestine) caught members of the Irgun and handed them over to the British.

Instead, we were treated to one scene where British soldiers were shot through their heads as they sat in a military jeep outside a restaurant while rich Jewish diners just carried on eating, drinking and laughing.

Of course Kosminsky tried to promote what he thought was the Jewish/Israeli narrative.

The Promise occasionally flashed back to real scenes from The Holocaust, but there was no explanation of the Jews’ historic connection to Israel. The implication was that the Jews had stolen a country belonging to another people.

Second, Kosminsky showed two suicide bombings. The first one was just after an Israeli left-wing character had explained how the Security Wall has Arabs on both sides of it; some inside Israel proper and some inside the West Bank. The implication of the suicide bomb taking place straight after this was that the Security Wall was ineffective to stop suicide bombings and was merely a political tool used to grab more Palestinian land.

And after the second suicide bombing Erin, quite incredibly, befriends the family of the suicide bomber and even tried to stop their home being blown up by the IDF. This despite Erin not knowing the extent of the knowledge that the Palestinian family had about the intentions of their terrorist daughter.

Kosminsky also had Jewish children in the West Bank attacking Arab families with rocks while the IDF looked on and the IDF using a child as a human shield. We also saw a bulldozer almost run down Erin, recalling the death of Rachel Corrie in the same way. This is all straight out of an ISM handbook.

The Promise had everything for the Jew hater and Israel hater, but what you won’t see is a series about the Arab uprising in British Mandate Palestine between 1936-1939, which was brutally put down by the British and in which some 5,000 Arabs, 300 Jews and 260 Britons were killed and during which the Peel Commission offered the Arabs 80% of British Mandate Palestine, which the greedy Arab leadership duly rejected.

It was this that sowed the seeds for what followed and for the Arab defeat in 1948, but, as ever, why let facts get in the way of demonising Jews and Israel.

Review of Peter Kosminsky’s “The Promise”

The following commentary on Peter Kosminsky’s documentary series, The Promise, was provided by the British-Israel Group, and is being posted in its entirety.  (Also, see CW open letter to Peter Kosminsky, here.)

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)