Rick Steves discovers Palestine and the Israeli occupation

Rick Steves is the Mr Rogers of travel shows. I picture him as someone who probably smiles even when he’s asleep. So if this guy gets upset about something, it has to be serious.

Here’s Steves’ commentary from one of his shows several years ago while visiting Israel:

Tourists become pilgrims at Israel’s Holocaust Memorial. All visiting heads of state are brought here to Yad Vashem. The Memorial Museum chronicles the slaughter of 6 million Jews by Nazi Germany. Artist David Olere left an excruciating record in these drawings of his 26 months in Nazi concentration camps. He was a prisoner at Drancy, Auschwitz, Mauthausen, Melk and finally liberated from Ebensee in 1945.

The boxcar monument is a chilling reminder of Hitler’s master plan to eliminate Jews, gypsies, homosexuals, the mentally ill and political dissenters. Train loads were carted away.

And here along the “Avenue of Righteous Gentiles”, trees are planted to honor non-Jews who risked their lives to help the persecuted. Yad Vashem imprints on visitors a searing impression of the horror. One must recognize the cause and the enormity of the Holocaust to understand the history of modern Israel.

The sky-scrapers of Tel Aviv are exclamation points which seem to declare that freedom is worth fighting for. The fruits of all the struggle may best be enjoyed here in the cosmopolitan heart of Israel. My best tip for enjoying Tel Aviv: see it as a fun-loving resort, just the opposite of Jerusalem.

Tel Aviv’s waterfront promenade is the place to rock to the rhythm of contemporary Israel — foamy cafes, sugar-sand beaches and the Mediterranean. With a “use it or lose it” approach to the good life, young Israelis embrace the present.

But then something happened… Yesterday, at Huffington Post, Steves wrote:

I’ve been duped.

Do you know the frustration you feel when you believed in something strongly and then you realize that the information that made you believe was from a source with an agenda to deceive?

I just watched a powerful and courageous documentary called Peace, Propaganda, and the Promised Land. It certainly has its own agenda and doesn’t present balanced coverage. Still, it showed me how my understanding of the struggles in the Middle East has been skewed by most of our mainstream media. I saw how coverage of the Israeli/Palestinian problem is brilliantly controlled and shaped. I pride myself in understanding how the media works… and I find I’ve been bamboozled.

Invest 75 minutes in watching this, because most of the time we only hear one viewpoint when it comes to the interminable struggle in the Holy Land. While this documentary would never be shown on commercial TV in the USA, it can be viewed online (Peace, Propaganda, and the Promised Land). In my view, many Palestinians live under inhumane conditions, and U.S. taxpayers help to make it happen. Please, watch this and then share your impressions.

Criticism of Israel’s policies is not automatically anti-Semitic (see J-Street for an example of a pro-Israel, pro-peace group). In fact, the irony is that for Israel’s hard-liners, their clever PR strategy could be their own worst enemy. While Israel certainly deserves security on its land, the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territory (in Gaza and the West Bank) degrades Israel and drives Palestinians to desperation. The question of whether Israel is conducting a brutal military occupation or a reasonable defense against terrorism gets no real airtime. If we care about the long-term security of Israel, we have a responsibility to understand what our government is funding and supporting.

I believe that watching this documentary is a painful first step to finding a just and lasting peace in the Middle East. If you are a friend of Israel, you must watch Peace, Propaganda, and the Promised Land.

Peace, Propaganda, and the Promised Land was made in 2003 during the Second Intifada. Very little of its content will come as news to regular readers of this site. What is striking about Rick Steves’ reaction to the documentary is that it reveals the degree to which Americans who are cosmopolitan and reasonably well-informed about the world still by and large have a deeply distorted view of Israel. When the veil falls away they are shocked by what they discover.

Ignorance provides the bedrock of the United States’ close relations with Israel and as that ignorance erodes, more and more Americans will become angry and ashamed about the role they unwittingly played in the support of a state whose brutality has for so long and so effectively been hidden from American eyes.

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7 thoughts on “Rick Steves discovers Palestine and the Israeli occupation

  1. delia ruhe

    “I just watched a powerful and courageous documentary called Peace, Propaganda, and the Promised Land. It certainly has its own agenda and doesn’t present balanced coverage.”

    It’s interesting how quick people are to accuse this film as without balance, when the entire film is dedicated to adding some balance to a radically out-of-balance mainstream media. That’s “its own agenda.” I show this film to students in my I-P course, and they get it immediately: this is a film ABOUT media–a film that is deeply critical of the way in which only Israel’s perspective is worthy of reporting.

    Because what newspaper, what network wants to get an irate call from their local version of AIPAC? That’s what happened to the BBC, which used to be the only source in English of balanced coverage of the I-P conflict. That all changed when they were faced with threats, promises of lawsuits and smear campaigns.

  2. Clif Brown

    My frustration with Americans ignorant about Israel led me to create a video I call Two Tragedies: Manifest Destiny and Zionism I attempt to show that what the U.S. did to native-Americans and what Zionism is doing to Palestinians are parallel injustices. All Americans who (rightfully) are ashamed of what was done to the Indians, should be even more ashamed that we support the ethnic cleansing going on right now…it’s the same outrageous theft of land.

  3. Christopher Hoare

    I am so glad to see these scales removed from eyes in a way that empathises with rather than condemns the Israelis. They may be living in a world they themselves created, but they are in a terrible situation.

    However, there is one dangerous scale we must all prepare for…that one day history will dig deeper into their distorted minds where the Nazis had what they truly believed was evidence that they were performing a service to their fellows. We must not come to agree, but we have to understand—and that involves a dispassionate investigation of their belief system. Calling them all mad does not cut it. To be truly safe, Israelis must come to understand the Nazis on their terms, not just rely on apologias for a terrible past.

  4. BillVZ

    “No one seems ever to have given much thought to the ethical side of the conquest of Canaan. God promised the Children of Israel a land which was the home of other peoples. He told them to kill these peoples, expressly commanding them to commit genocide.”
    It is so easy to justify the last 60 years of the conflict and occupation of Palestine with it is ‘our’ God promised land,to kill defend that land from the oppressor. The primary purpose for which “the IDF troops” and settler occupation are utilized is assumed by Israel as defensive in nature.
    From the US the ‘City Shining on a Hill Perspective, our wars are always noble, fought for the purest of motives. Our warriors are similarly noble, engaged in a high-minded crusade.
    “The objects of both reverences must be severely restricted. That reverence must be reserved for innocent lives, and especially for those innocent lives ended, maimed and altered forever by needless, futile, endlessly destructive war, past, present and future.”Arthur Silber

  5. M. Sheila Harris

    How sad that I now can no longer trust any travel book by Rick Steves since he clearly is unable to see how and when he is being manipulated. That film is absolute propaganda, and so many commentators have pointed out the distortion of facts,the absolute lack of a dissenting opinion and the use of anti-Zionist voices, such as Noam Chomsky. One minor example of bias at work of the film clip embedded in this site: The text says that Israel has not complied with the U.N. demand that it move back to original borders. Yes, but then Hamas has not revised its charter that states a goal of destroying Israel. There is no mention of the ongoing violence toward Israel, the world-wide effort to delegitimize Israel, or explain how the wall protects Israelis from terror attacks, etc., etc. Care to read a dissenting voice about “Peace, Propaganda,and the Promised Land”: http://tinyurl.com/brbsfo6. Poor gullible Mr. Steves. What would he make of the fact that when Israeli forces strike back after attacks, the army makes calls to the people to clear the area they live in because terrorists are hiding out in the midst of human shields. And Israeli hospitals take in wounded Palestinians afterwards. Palestinian television shows for children routinely picture Israelis as devils, evil beings to be killed off. Propaganda is dangerous just because it can so easy sway unquestioning minds by presenting only its side of the argument. Valid arguments allow multiple perspectives.

  6. Paul Woodward

    I hope you’re an undergraduate Sheila and that by the time you’ve completely your university education you will have learned how to reason. When you said you can no longer trust any travel book by Steves I thought you were joking, but seriously: do you think that someone’s ability to pick out a good bistro or recommend a vacation destination depends on their assessment of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict?

    If for your own benefit you want to learn more about the issue, you will need to look further than hasbara sources like CAMERA. Everything you say makes it clear that you have only been exposed to pro-Israel propaganda. The idea that valid arguments require multiple perspectives is exactly the same fallacious reasoning that Christian fundamentalists use when they argue that “intelligent design” should be taught alongside evolutionary theory. What sound reasoning depends on is objectivity and the willingness to looks at facts that may challenge beliefs we are deeply attached to.

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