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Trócaire film falsehoods don't help anyone

Decision-makers in government and in Trócaire should ask what humanitarian purpose is served by this film and by the organisations that it seeks to support, says Daniel Laufer

    Screengrab from 'This Is Palestine'
    Screengrab from 'This Is Palestine'

    In the summer of 2017, the development agency of the Catholic Church in Ireland, Trócaire, released a self-described documentary purporting to show the daily lives of people in the Gaza Strip and West Bank.

    However, the 50-minute film lacks factual context, foregoes balance among interviewees, and passes easily disproved fiction as truth, while generally portraying the region’s complex conflict in simplistic terms. The campaign is meant to support Trócaire’s problematic activities in the region, but does it truly serve the people it is claiming to help?

    And is it the best use of Irish government funding, more than half of Trócaire’s €31 million budget in 2016?

    Narrator John McColgan of “Riverdance” fame, who previously exhibited his photographs of Palestinians and their Israeli advocates on behalf of Trócaire, introduces the film with a claim that the world’s attention for the Palestinian story has been overtaken by concern for the mass murder in Syria and the Islamic State’s barbarism. He argues that the Palestinian situation “continues to worsen” as a result.

    While McColgan’s claim is questionable, such a refocus might make sense when a half-dozen years in Syria have seen around 475,000 killed, nearly four times more than all deaths in a century of the Arab-Israeli conflict.

    Trócaire's film goes on to present its controversial but unqualified allegations by interviewing representatives from multiple political non-governmental organisations (NGOs), as well as a partisan Israeli columnist, all representing the same viewpoint (many pictured in McColgan’s photograph exhibit). “Balance” is artificially maintained with a sprinkling of appearances from Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson.

    The film also rewrites history outright, as in the suggestion that Israel arbitrarily divided land into varying degrees of Palestinian control. In fact, Palestinian control was created in parts of the territory as agreed with Israel in the EU-witnessed 1993 Oslo Accords; these areas represent the first ever achievement of Palestinian self-rule.

    Another false claim centres on the Auja spring near Jericho, in the Jordan River Valley.

    McColgan claims that the spring flowed year-round until 1967, as if Israel’s taking of the area from Jordan in that year’s Six Day war suddenly stopped the water.

    In reality, multiple and independent studies show that the spring’s flow fluctuates based on rainfall. Furthermore, the sources were diverted by Jordan before the 1967 war to provide water for Ramallah, and Palestinian drilling today still sends water to that city.

    The spring was rehabilitated in recent years, and in February 2017, EU Representative Ralph Tarraf visited a steadily flowing al-Auja Spring, giving the lie to McColgan’s claim.

    The film is rife with exactly these types of factual inaccuracies and fabrications.

    A further issue relates to the organisations that Trócaire credits for assistance in the film, and which are funded as part of Trócaire’s “development campaign” in the region.

    As opposed to Trócaire funding for humanitarian aid in other conflicts, many of the Palestinian and Israeli organisations supported by Trócaire are first and foremost politically minded.

    One of these organisations, the Palestinian NGO BADIL, has had “prize winning” cartoons in its annual caricature competitions which have featured classic antisemitic imagery. Others, such as Al-Haq and Palestinian Center for Human Rights, have alleged ties to the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, proscribed by the EU (among others) as a terror group.

    These groups and others supported by Trócaire also engage in the promotion of BDS (boycott, divestment, and sanctions) campaigns against Israel, similar to Trócaire’s own efforts to sanction Israel and exclude it from international frameworks.

    Considering that the Irish government is Trócaire’s primary donor, this funding to politicised NGOs and biased activity works against Irish government policy.

    Decision-makers in government and in Trócaire should ask what humanitarian purpose is served by this film and by the organisations that it seeks to support.

    Perhaps instead of producing a film that uses falsehoods to justify an anti-peace political agenda, Trócaire might direct more aid towards actual humanitarian aims. Perhaps instead of funding NGOs like these, it might ensure that, as in other regions, its money goes to organisations that assist those needing help.

    Daniel Laufer is the international spokesperson at NGO Monitor, an independent research institute which provides information and analysis, promotes accountability, and supports discussion on the reports and activities of NGOs claiming to advance human rights and humanitarian agendas.