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The Occupation of the American Mind: a Film That Palestinians Deserve

Media Education Foundation’s new documentary THE OCCUPATION OF THE AMERICAN MIND: ISRAEL’S PUBLIC RELATIONS WAR IN THE UNITED STATES, now available for sale, is quite simply the best primer yet produced for American audiences so to understand the conflict. It is a valuable tool that we all need to get into our local libraries and hold screenings of.

Several months ago, in a matter that has little to do with these proceedings, I was asked a pretty easy question by a Professor Emeritus of Anthropology from my alma mater, a woman who once was fired from another university for merely saying the words “occupied territory”, “How did you become interested in the Palestinians?” I replied that it was the now-infamous scene where Dr. Norman Finkelstein righteously bellows at a crowd of know-nothing college students at Waterloo University in Canada, excerpted from the magnificent AMERICAN RADICAL.

I guess everyone who knows this cause and its meaning has their own story like that. After so many years of hasbara and lies, one finally stumbles upon a piece of media that makes everything click. For some it was the 1982 invasion of Lebanon. For others, it was the First Intifada. Still more were converted in the aftermath of the Oslo debacle. Regardless of what it is, there is a moment that occurs to every American when they just become overwhelmed by this revolting state of affairs and begin to study all they can about this conflict.

In my case, I decided to dedicate what skills I have from my film studies training to analyze the cinematic side of the propaganda war, something that has proven to be enlightening in unexpected ways. To that extent, I have watched almost every film Media Education Foundation has produced related to this topic, from the adaptations of Edward Said’s ORIENTALISM and Jack Shaheen’s REEL BAD ARABS to PEACE, PROPAGANDA, AND THE PROMISED LAND. This is the culmination of all that work and demonstrative of Sut Jhally’s MEF coming into its own as a major media player.

At a brisk 90 minutes, narrated by Roger Waters, the audience is given a quick tour of fifty years of American policies and the way that we are now entering a new moment that could finally end this travesty of basic human decency. I say could for a very specific reason, the fact that the Palestinians need a genuine solidarity movement here in the West that can serve as a big tent of what seems to me now to be a variety of disconnected and sometimes internecine organizations.

The best example to my mind of this phenomenon came last year with the childish behavior of Jewish Voice for Peace towards Alison Weir and If Americans Knew over her alleged “anti-Semitism”. Does Alison Weir, as a single-policy advocate, go on the radio shows of a few folks who might be white nationalists? Sure, but that’s how single-policy advocacy works, you need to talk to both sides of the aisle. Why JVP is pulling a page out of the hasbara playbook is beyond me, but that is another matter for another time.

This is symptomatic of what Prof. Joel Quirk of the University of the Witwatersrand in South Africa describes as the fictive coherence of global struggle. Several months ago I heard Quirk lecture on how the anti-sex worker “rescue industry” has created the illusion of a movement that spans the globe and works to abolish prostitution, which it equates with slavery. But according to Quirk, what instead is at play is a collection of NGOs that are all friends with each other on Twitter and FaceBook that have a variety of agendas and ideologies at play but who would be utterly useless in creating a march on Washington to advocate for their cause.

I would not want to say something as disparaging as this about advocates for Palestinians because this is not an astro-turfed movement, it is a genuine grassroots effort. But right now the coherence is fictive, everyone is fighting with each other so much it would be impossible for a huge March on Washington to come together. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X both understood this at the end of their lives, that is why they both tried to build a united front against war and poverty while bringing together their constituencies, which were known for similar internecine moments.

This film is the tool to heal those schisms and needs to be seen by many of our neighbors. It is our duty to support it and perpetuate its availability.

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Andrew Stewart is a documentary film maker and reporter who lives outside Providence.  His film, AARON BRIGGS AND THE HMS GASPEE, about the historical role of Brown University in the slave trade, is available for purchase on Amazon Instant Video or on DVD.

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