David Bedein of the “Israel Resource News Agency,” the “Center for Near East Policy Research,” and Behind the News in Israel has recently released the trailer for a new video (embedded later in this blog post) that purports to show various nefarious activities underway at a UNRWA summer camp in the West Bank. Given that the trailer is now doing the rounds in the blogosphere, and the full video itself is apparently being screened in a number of places (including Ottawa, Chicago, and Washington DC), it seemed appropriate to take a look.
It also seemed important to have a look given Bedein’s rather dodgy track record. He has a long history of poorly researched attacks against UNRWA, including drawing analogies between the UN humanitarian agency and the mass slaughter of Jews at Auschwitz. Controversy also arose following the release of an earlier video by Bedein, For the Sake of Nakba, when it was revealed that he had written the script with Samuel (Shmuel) Sokol. Sokol is an apparent supporter of the violent racist group Kahane Chai (Kach), a designated foreign terrorist organization in the US, Canada, and most other Western countries. The top screen capture on the right shows Sokol’s role in writing the script of For the Sake of Nakba (click to enlarge), while the picture below it shows him posing with a weapon in front of flag emblazoned with the slogan “Kahane tzadek” (“Kahane was right”).
While I haven’t yet seen the full video, the trailer appears to show several things:
- Pictures of UNRWA facilities and background scenes at Aida and Dheisheh refugee camps near Bethlehem. camp. In interviews Bedein seems upset that refugees would erect a giant commemorative gateway to Aida featuring a key that symbolizes former homes within Israel. However, it doesn’t seem particularly surprising to me that refugees would do this (they are refugees, after all), and it has nothing to do with UNRWA which is not responsible for non-Agency installations.
- Palestinian kids excited at participating in UNRWA’s summer camps (0:25). Nothing controversial there—indeed, none of them mentions anything political at all.
- A street ceremony for a freed Palestinian prisoner (0:37). Although the film clearly tries to imply this is linked to the UNRWA summer camp, it clearly isn’t: even a cursory look at the video shows that the greeting has been organized by the local Fateh organization (hence all the yellow Fateh flags), and not by UNRWA (hence the complete absence of any UN insignia or officials whatsoever). It has nothing to do with UNRWA’s summer camps.
- Children playing at a school, and staff face-painting the children with Palestinian flags. While the video claims ():55) that they are being painted with the “names of the villages they want to go back to,” the two children shown actually have “Palestine” and “Jerusalem” (al-Quds) painted on their faces—neither of which should be particularly controversial, given that for more than a decade the US-sponsored peace process has been all about establishing a Palestinian state with a capital in East Jerusalem. In any case, given the attachment to villages of origin among refugees, I wouldn’t find some face painting of village names objectionable—after all, everyone acknowledges that refugees were displaced from these locations in 1948. In any case, this does not appear to be an UNRWA school.
- Reference to UN General Assembly Resolution 194 (1:01). It is hardly surprising that refugees make reference to UN resolutions, however—and analysts of the peace process will know that even the Clinton Parameters of December 2000 and the Israeli refugee nonpaper at Taba in January 2001 made references to UNGAR 194 as well. Some of the children here appear to be painting the names of their family’s original villages. However, sources in the area confirm that this is not an UNRWA facility, and these events are not part of UNRWA’s summer camp.
- Outdoor activities on the theme of original villages (1:32). This part of the film provides no evidence that this is an UNRWA activity—you will note that none of the children or staff are wearing UNRWA summer camp garb.
- A cultural festival with a “right of return” theme (2:03), apparently at Bethlehem University. This is clearly nothing to do with UNRWA at all, although the video tries to imply otherwise.
- Interviews with young refugee activists (2:29) at the non-UNRWA event at a non-UNRWA facility. This clearly has nothing at all to do with the Agency, although the video attempts to mislead its audience once again by implying that this is somehow related to an UNRWA summer camp.
- A closing picture of an UNRWA building (2:51) in a obvious attempt to once again link UNRWA to the various non-UNRWA activities shown in the video. There’s nothing actually happening at the building, however—indeed, it is clear that unlike the rest of the camp, the Agency’s facilities are free from any sort of political murals, graffiti, or statements.
In short, the video, far from showing the evidence of highly politicized UNRWA summer camps that it claims to show, actually provides evidence of the reverse: unable to find anything amiss in UNRWA’s activities, Bedein has spliced in unrelated events organized by other entities, and tried to imply through editing and narration that they are taking place under United Nations auspices.
In fairness, of course, it should be noted that the analysis above is based solely on the trailer. Perhaps the full video shows something substantive —although if it does, it seems odd indeed that it wasn’t included in the shorter promotional version. If we get hold of a full version, we’ll take a critical but open-minded look.
In the meantime, UNRWA itself has issued a statement noting that had offered to review Bedein’s material for factual accuracy, but the offer was apparently declined:
UNRWA rejects latest accusations by Israeli filmmaker
Statement by UNRWA spokesman Chris Gunness
19 September 2011
UNRWA has reviewed the “trailer” of the latest film by the Israeli filmmaker David Bedein and rejects its allegations. It shows political activities which it claims are taking place in UNRWA facilities but which are not.
For example, it alleges that UNRWA staged an event to celebrate the freeing from Israeli detention of a Palestinian. We reject this.
UNRWA invited Mr Bedein to a meeting on 8 August at which he committed to allowing the Agency to review and comment on his material. Mr Bedein has not honoured this agreement.
UNRWA stands by its robust efforts to promote the highest standards of neutrality. For more details see our neutrality factsheet (PDF).
Indeed, a look at the video trailer suggests why he might not want his material fact-checked….