Thursday, November 19, 2009

"Up Against the Wall": Poor Journalism on the Security Barrier

Tonight, the CBC ran a documentary called "Up Against The Wall." Presented in the context of the anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, the documentary examines three walls that are the subjects of controversy. The first is the wall along the US-Mexico border which featured a segment where an interviewee was quoted as saying this wall's goal is to kill Mexicans. The second wall was one being built by Spain in its Moroccan Enclaves and the third, and this is no surprise, is the security barrier in Israel.

If the other segments of this documentary were as accurate as the portion on the wall in Israel, then this whole documentary will need to be written off as heavily slanted, inaccurate journalism.

The segment in questions begins by showing footage and background on the wave of suicide bombings in Israel at the start of the current decade. It mercifully spares the viewer from much of the carnage but makes the point that these attacks were horrific and drives home the point with a short interview of a man whose daughter was killed by a suicide bomber at the Sbarro Pizzeria in Jerusalem.

Then the viewer is presented with footage of Israeli soldiers monitoring the fence and explaining how they respond to incidents. There is also an interview with a former Israeli Military official who contends that the fence is nothing more than a land grab. A map of the settlements and the route of the fence within the "green line" demonstrates his point. A very short, inarticulate statement by an Israeli official contradicts that the fence is a land grab. This is the only opportunity given to an Israeli official to speak in support of the fence.

The segment then turns to shots of the wall, the ugly, imposing concrete section of the wall which actually only comprises 3% of the entire barrier. The many shots of the fence focus in on the graffiti it bears, notably some that compares the wall to the Warsaw Ghetto, a fallacious comparison if there ever was one, and a reflection of naivete on the part of the filmmaker. The viewer is also presented with shots of the many checkpoints set up in the West Bank and a woman living in a house that the wall passes directly in front of is interviewed. The viewer is also presented with interviews with Hanan Ashrawi a Palestinian legislator who rails against the wall as well as a Palestinian doctor/politician who critiques the checkpoints and notes the hardship they cause to ordinary people, notably pregnant women. There are also mentions made of Palestinians being cut off from their olive groves and images of Israeli civilians coming to help with the harvest. Strikingly, the viewer also is given a glimpse of the weekly, often violent clashes that take place between those opposed to the wall and the IDF on a regular basis.

The documentary makes the case at the outset that Israel has security concerns and that this was the impetus for the wall. The remainder of the 15 or so minutes for which it was discussed, however, focused almost exclusively on Palestinians explaining how it has caused them hardship. This hardship is impossible to deny and it would be callous to do so.

Nonetheless, the documentary fails to provide any continued justification for the wall. For example, no mention is made of the wall's effectiveness, that Israel began constructing the security fence in early 2003. In the year prior to that, there had been 55 suicide attacks against Israeli civilians. In 2003, after the wall there were 25, 14 in 2004, 2005 saw 7, in 2006, there were 4 and only one in 2007. These statistics are not in "Up Against The Wall." Neither is there any statement of fact about how much of the wall is merely a chain link fence with sensors, or a rebuttal of the allegation that the fence is a land grab or that its route has been subjected to the scrutiny of Israel's Supreme Court.

"Up Against The Wall", if it were a documentary about how the fence was impacting ordinary Palestinians, could probably be considered to have done a good job. The viewer is left with no doubt about the wall's impacts on Palestinians. Unfortunately, however, this was a documentary whose goal was to ask "Do walls, in fact, work?" In the case of the security barrier, though it does not provide a clear oral verdict, its imagery and editing alone lead to the false conclusion that no, this barrier does not work. In the documentary's last mention of the wall, it is suggested that terrorists continue to strike Israel with rockets, and footage of a rocket launch is shown. The viewer is then led to believe that despite all this hardship the wall has caused innocent Palestinians, it has been for naught.

The rockets, however, are launched from Gaza and the wall in question is constructed around the West Bank. These rockets exist independently of the wall which even terrorists acknowledge has made it difficult for them to carry our their murderous violence. Terrorism from the West Bank, where the wall exists has been dramatically curtailed by the presence of this security barrier and has saved lives. Not only Israeli lives, but the lives of Palestinians who could have been hurt if Israel retaliated for suicide bombings. "Up Against The Wall" does not lead the viewer to this clear and simple solution. Combine this with its fallacious comparison between the security barriers and all the others it discusses to the Berlin wall, and the naivete and lack of true historical understanding involved in the film-making becomes obvious.


Batya said...

I'm against the wall. It divides Israel and even divides Jerusalem. It doesn't bring peace and safety, but it has sure made some contractors very rich.

Anonymous said...

I support our fence with Mexico and Israel's fence as well. The CBC and Canadians are to the left of Obama. But if Canada wants these illegal aliens into the United States, we would be happy to ship them up there.