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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”.

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32 replies »

  1. “The Zion Mule Corps flanked The Australian Light Horse to take Damascus.” Really? Well not according to the Guardian they didn’t. Outrageous. Here is what they had to say on the 1st October 1918 (must be worth an e-mail to the editor!):

    “Arab horsemen from distant Hejaz today galloped in triumph through the streets of Damascus. As the sun was rising over the mosques and spires, Major TE Lawrence, the young British officer whose tactical guidance has ensured the success of the Arab revolt, drove through the lines in an armoured car. One Arab rider waved his head-dress and shouted, “Damascus salutes you”.

    Led by Emir Feisal, son of Sherif Hussein, now to be King of Syria, and his British friend Lawrence, who had fought the Turks all the way from Arabia, the Arabs were first into the capital.

    At about the same time that they arrived, the first patrols of the Australian Mounted Division of General Allenby’s army also converged on the great city, having fought their way from Egypt to Gaza, captured Jerusalem, and freed Palestine from Ottoman rule before finally entering Damascus.

    The capture of the most famous city in the Arab world was an event filled with high emotion for Major Lawrence and for Feisal, the Arab prince who had led tribesmen on their long fighting, camel march from the barren wastes of Arabia. Multitudes of Syrians thronged the streets to celebrate liberation from the Ottoman Empire. The only Turkish soldiers remaining in Damascus today are the wounded, crammed in hospitals and abandoned by their doctors.

    There is a serious danger that law and order may break down in a place packed an excitable mixture of desert and city Arabs. Notables who until the last minute worked with the Turks now proclaim their loyalty to the Allies. Already there are reports that some have been shot. General Allenby’s first task will be to install a military government to keep order and restore the city’s public services.

    Conforming to arrangements agreed with Britain, the French will take control of Syria. General Allenby’s army is preparing to move east to link up with French forces whose task is now to take the port of Beirut in Lebanon.”

  2. Outraged

    I did draw the comparison between Kosminsky’s reversal of fact with the staging of the “Arab victory” over Damascus.

    There is no point in dumping The Guardian‘s misprepresentions here.

    People who prefer to see the truth may consult

    http://www.rfd.org.au/site/light_horse.asp

    Just under half-way down the page there is a photograph with a caption:

    The advance guard of the 3rd A.L.H. Brigade swept into Damascus on the morning of the 1st of October 1918. Majors Olden and Timberly of the 10th A.L.H. Regt demanded to see the Civil Governor and formally accepted the surrender of the city. they[sic] then continued their gallop straight through in pursuit of the fleeing Turks and Germans. Lawrence with Sherifian troops arrived some hours later – by that time the 3rd A.L.H. had come and gone.

  3. That the Guardian in 1918 chose to prioritise the Arabs over the Australians does not surprise me in the least, but the complete omission of the Mule Corps, how are we to take that? In the long running subsequent dispute about who first reached Damascus, Lawrence or the Light Horse, there has been nary a mention of the muleteers. I believe we can now see why. The Guardian deliberately or ‘accidentally’ omitted them from this account and their great flanking manoeuvre, which you reveal here for the first time, has been overlooked. Let’s rewrite the history and where better to start than an e-mail to the editor in question. Do you have CP Scott’s e-mail address?

  4. I followed your link but there must be an error in the text as it states – “The Zion Mule Corps was deactivated in May 1916” – but we know from your writing above that this could not be so as they outflanked the Australian forces to take Damascus in late 1918, in advance of both the Light Horse and Lawrence with his Arabs. I notice the author of the linked blog is a person of contradictions – can we trust the account? One can never be sure about the internet, there is so much disinformation and wishful historiography out there. Nevertheless, if you think ‘Iceviking’ is a reliable historical source, it would appear that this might support the Guardian editorial. What to do?

  5. No to iceVikings – a rather nice blog and an Irish link.

    After the Zion Mule Corps there was the Jewish Legion. Same war.

    It is falsely stated in several histories that the Jewish Legion never saw service in Palestine. It is true that British commanders were often anti-Semitic and tried to keep the Jewish Legion out of the fighting. Patterson and the 38th Battalion were kept out of the fighting in Palestine until June of 1918, when they arrived from Egypt and were stationed in Sarafend camp. They were then sent to relieve the Grenadier Guards in Jaljulya, and then attached to the 60th division and sent to the Jordan valley, where they formed a key pivot of the British line along the Melhallah rift. On September 19, 1918, the battalion crossed the river at Umm Es Shert. They advanced and held Es Salt in what later became Transjordan.

    http://www.zionism-israel.com/dic/Jewish_Legion.htm

    Chaytor’s Force (Major General Edward Chaytor) — eastern flank

    Anzac Mounted Division
    (Indian) Imperial Service Infantry brigade[9]
    West Indian Brigade (two battalions)
    Jewish Legion (38th & 39th Battalions Royal Fusiliers)

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Megiddo_(1918)

    http://www.ancientworlds.net/aw/Article/1120670

  6. We seem to have reached an impasse with regard to the muleteers liberation of Damascus and I think the Guardian will be able to just brush that one off. A disgrace, I know, but given the distance in time and the lack of any evidence whatsoever I fear that a challenge to their staggering omission on that day back in 1918 would be counter-productive.

    However, moving on, I wonder if we could instead challenge them in any way about the 15,000 Arab fatalities you mention during the 1936-1939 uprising? I’ll wager that the Guardian has never reported this figure. Can it be backed up? Is the source Iceviking?

  7. The Guardian would brush off anything advantageous to Israel or Jews. I suggest you read the information in the articles linked for Jews who tried to fight and succeeded in fighting with the allies in WWI.

    Not icevikings. I don’t remember where I got the figure but somewhere in the last 24 hours I read 5000. If I ever see the 15,000 figure again I will track its source.

    I see you have no interest in Kosminsky. Or are you Kosminsky?

  8. Cillian, it is appalling how many people are taken in. I looked at comments in a Digital Spy forum and some people there actually seemed to be thinking. Then someone spoiled it by linking to Harriet Sherwood’s ludicrous and deceitful article on al Arikib. After that there was clucking about horrible Israel. Pavlov’s dogs.

    Why is it that Arabs can do no wrong despite about the worst history in the world. Someone in the Amazon link recommends Efraim Karsh. I’m only a few chapters in and the duplicity of Arabs is absolutely exhausting. They all spend all their time trying to do another Arab out of something and they unite only when faced with Jews.

    The people just have to be better than their leaders. It would be very difficult to imagine how they could be worse.

  9. And they all seem to be like that because if they are different like the Nashashibis they just get murdered.

    Poor, poor Israel.

  10. let us look at the program in this fashion

    if one was to remove all the historical inaccuracies and the blatant bias…is it a well done drama

    i say no

    the use of coincidence and making one’s protagonist a blank slate, is lazy story telling

    every character is two dimensional

    every event is telegraphed

    and part four is just too absurd

    and no…had the show not been biased, i would not be saying anything different

    exodus is very pro israel…and it is cheesy and unrealistic….but damn, paul neuman and sal mineo are good looking

  11. It’s far too clunky. What Israel needs is a Jacobean dramatist like Webster and someone as powerful but positive to write the play. I’ll have to think of the second someone.

    I liked your points very much that the Hebron scenes and the boy with the gun came from the ISM (or clones) and Pallywood.

  12. Or, I should say, the fakey horror of the Jewish children throwing stones and the bland acceptance of Hassan with the gun.

  13. i just found out that one of my best friend’s fathers (i grew up with this girl) was a hero in 48

    im getting the whole story now…shocked that she never talked about it and neither did he

    he was from canada…in the canadian military…made it over to palestine and became the commander for the 79th armored battalion…and led the attack on nazzareth…and took it without having to fire a shot

    the man was a hero

    and because of his war efforts for israel…the canadian military stripped him of his rank , his pension and gave him a dishonorable discharge

    yet, unlike len, who spent his remaining years, a miserable old bastard, my friends dad was the one of the most giving people i have ever known

  14. Ariadne

    the scenes in hebron were not faked

    they were all taken from the b’tselem video project

    in 2007, b’tselem handed out video cams to arab residents of hebron, to have them document daily life

    they are all posted on youtube

    thing is….videos without context are worthless

    yes…some of the hareidi settlers behaved badly….but b’tselem failed to prove that these events happend daily or even weekly…they are isolated

    shock…jews and jewish kids without good supervision can be obnoxious

    im almost sure that many of the events happened during a few day period

    the vids all ceased after 2007….

    as the arabs still have the cams, and there are still jews in hebron, one would think that the harassment continues…it doesnt

    what goes on now is internationals harass the jews

    on occasion, there are pallywood vids released

    hey, if it aint happening make it up

    2 of the really good ones are where an international uses a really bad israeli accent to scream at people that this is her land

    only prob…they made two vids of her…in two different places…morons

  15. walt, I read your earlier comment on Hebron. I meant that Kosmisnky made a meal of the unusual scene of Jewish children throwing stones while Hassan having a gun is nothing remarkable.

    I remember some unsavoury videos but they are like Jewsih terrorists. They are very few and they are over. But antisemites will never let them go. And a further contrast: Arab children throwing stones with a pack of photographers in place for the show.

  16. I duly Googled “Eden cafe” and “bomb” and found only the present Cifwatch piece and a load of Eden Cafe references unrelated to Israel or Palestine. What? Are we supposed to be shocked that a cafe in a work of fiction was, er, fictional?

  17. Ariadne:

    “I remember some unsavoury videos but they are like Jewsih terrorists. They are very few and they are over.”

    They’ve been glossed over you mean.

    Thankfully there are honest people around like Kominsky who challenge the accepted narrative.

    All countries go through this: God knows the UK has and does. Israel has to get used to it too. The past is not as glorious as your national myths would have it.

  18. Ariadne

    as i noted in previous posts, kosminsky carefully chose the time frame for his drama

    showing the mandate post ww2 allowed him to not show the arab uprising of the 30s, nor most of the atrocities committed by the brits towards both arab and jew

    presenting only 2005 israel, allowed him to skip the intifada and allowed him to show hebron only after idf troops were there

    the audience never gets to see what happened to jews when they first tried to return to hebron during the 80s….jews were killed….not stoned…not harassed…not humiliated….murdered

    and the btselem vids are disingenuous at best

  19. No. diss. I don’t mean.

    Kosminsky may be honest as an individual but there’s little truth in The Promise.

    I can’t think offhand of any other country that’s gone through what Israel’s gone through.

    What exactly is the UK going through that’s comparable to the British betrayal of Jews in the Mandate?

    There’s no jewel in the Palestine crown. In fact there’s no crown.

  20. As to the setting, walt, I thought Gaza after the ethnic cleansing of Jews but didn’t think to look at Hebron.

    Maybe he spent a lot of those preparatory years on exclusions.
    But they defeat the purpose of a developing plot or plots but I suppose they don’t matter in clunky propaganda.

  21. ariadne

    i havent watched the bbc series…are you sure its still on youtube

    amazing how that got deleted, but the faux doc, jenin jenin is still there…spreading the hate

  22. ok…found it

    although in the first few seconds the doc posits that the brits faced a new sort of guerilla warfare with the irgun and stern gang…not really true

    many in both learned their tactics from what they witnessed from the japanese during ww2

    the brits fought guerilla tactics in the jungles of south east asia…so did the americans

  23. btw…do i really need to watch the british view of the mandate again?

    the arabs never killed brits…only stole from them?

    the jewish resistance only started after the war?

    the brits were only there to keep arab and jew from killing each other?

    again…a very simplistic view of the conflict..written from the point of view of the new historians who only had their hands on part of the archives and still made errors

  24. “The past is not as glorious as your national myths would have it.”

    Agree 100%. The “glorious” British occupation of Palestine was anything but romantic as dubiously portrayed in “The Promise.”

    This isn’t about being anti or pro Israel. This is history. And The Promise trivializes the brutality of the British and their conniving Arab/Nazi allies.

    All for oil of course.

    Israel has gone through plenty of self hatred and has produced loads of movies aimed at criticizing its own existence. A whole genre of academics have been born dedicated to unraveling Israel’s purity of arms.

    But does Britain have the same?

    Does it? Has it? Will it?

  25. walt, did you watch it? It would be a surprise to anyone who took The Promise as truth.

    Israelis have a voice in it.