With the Iraq war concluded, world attention now turns toward Israel. The Palestinians have a new prime minister, and the Quartet is pushing its Road Map. Israel's future is clearly at a critical juncture. That's why I want to tell you how I came to make the new documentary, ""Relentless: The Struggle for Peace in Israel." First, some background:
When I teach American university students visiting Israel a class on Israeli Politics, I joke that if they have a headache by the time the class is over, I'll know that they understand the material.
In meeting with these groups, I began to notice three trends: 1) subjected to CNN and other media outlets on a daily basis, people have a very superficial understanding of current events in Israel; 2) their understanding is typically biased against Israel; and 3) with some background, facts and context, their sense of proper perspective is easily restored.
Every day the numbers of Israeli's killed and injured in terrorist attacks were rising. At every turn, we were confronted by a biased media who equated terrorist with victim, giving legitimacy to "the endless cycle of violence," framing it as the Palestinian "David" in its noble battle against the Zionist "Goliath."
In 2002, I developed a PowerPoint presentation called "The Middle East Unplugged." The presentation was embedded with many rare video clips about life and culture in the Palestinian areas. It also had maps and clearly organized facts so that people became well educated on the real issues in a very short time. That summer of 2002, I gave the presentation to over 1,500 people in South Africa, Los Angeles, New York and Toronto.
Why doesn't the media tell us this? Does the President of the United States know this?!"
The most common feedback I got was, "Why doesn't the media tell us this? Why doesn't the whole world get to see this? Does the President of the United States know this?!"
After one session in Johannesburg, a group of young Jewish professionals cornered me and challenged: "Get this presentation on film, and we will make 15,000 copies distributed around South Africa."
It was clear that Israel and the Jewish people needed our help.
So I put together a team, and after six months of very hard work, we had a hard-hitting 60-minute documentary, "Relentless: The Struggle for Peace in Israel."
"Relentless" uses film from Palestinian TV, religious sermons and political rallies to reveal a behind-the-scenes look at Palestinian politics and culture, uncovering the hidden agenda behind the violent collapse of the peace process and the continued struggle between two peoples.
The starting point of "Relentless" is the Oslo Accords. It was in 1993 that Israel and the PLO embarked on a new initiative to hopefully bring about a more secure and safe Israel, and a long-awaited Palestinian State. Each side agreed to certain obligations that would pave the way to a successful co-existence. As Bill Clinton said then: "Israel will have peace in her house, and the Palestinian people will write their own destiny." Never before had the hopes of both sides so high.
But the ideal was often far from reality. The Palestinian people were being groomed for more war, not for peace. School textbooks, the media, and mosque sermons all promoted jihad against the Jews.
"Relentless," juxtaposes the contradictory calls for peace in English and the calls for violence in Arabic.
All this is well documented in "Relentless," where we juxtapose the contradictory calls for peace in English and the calls for violence in Arabic, creating a powerful effect. One example:
"Relentless" shows Yasser Arafat on CBS's "60 Minutes" telling Mike Wallace of his desire to "live together beside the Israelis, in peaceful coexistence." On Palestinian TV, the same Arafat calls for Palestinians to continue jihad and martyrdom, and -- if weary -- to send him the new generals of the struggle, the children.
In just a few months from release, "Relentless" has sold out to audiences in Loews Theater in New York's Times Square, and has been shown at 50 screenings in the U.S., Canada, Israel, England, South Africa and Chile to over 10,000 people. "Relentless" has been translated into Spanish (a Hebrew version is in progress), and "Relentless" is being put onto 35 mm film for screenings in major cinema theaters.
The response has been overwhelming.
Cyril Harris, the Chief Rabbi of South Africa, called "Relentless" "compulsory viewing" that "goes a long way towards displaying the other side of the picture."
And Dahlia Aronson, AIPAC Los Angeles Area Director, said:
The "Relentless" screening for our AIPAC Ambassador Club was amazing. I am glad we had a chance to work together, and look forward to many ventures in the future. Thank you again for creating a powerful movie and offering us the opportunity to be the West Coast premiere for 220 people.
When I see the crowds at our screenings, what excites me most is the activism that the film is igniting. Follow-up surveys show that 80 percent of attendees express a desire to get more involved in pro-Israel activism. In response, we developed a Crash Course on Israel Leadership to follow soon after each screening, and our goal is to have thousands of people trained and motivated to create their own home screening and events for their friends, family and community. This is already starting to happen.
Indeed, the moment for Israel is critical. And for diplomatic initiatives to succeed, it is crucial that the general public understand the issues involved.
I'll never forget the time I was interviewed on South Africa's number one talk radio station for an hour. The last caller said to me, "Listen, Raphael, I hear you have some important points, but let's get to the bottom line. Let's just admit that the State of Israel should never have been created. It was a mistake, especially in the middle of the Arab world."
He volunteered a solution: Why don't all the Jews of Israel go live in Germany, and all the problems will be solved?
He then volunteered his solution: "I am a South African but I come form Germany. Germany has a very liberal immigration policy for Jews, and many thousands of Russians and Israelis are now living there happily. Why don't all the Jews of Israel go there now, and all the problems will be solved?"
I was momentarily stunned. Was this a gag? A set up? After realizing that he was sincere, I saw it as a perfect set-up -- for me. I thanked him for his creative problem solving and said flatly, "You as a German should be well aware of the flaw in your argument. Six million personal testimonials tell us this 'solution' will not work. After the Holocaust, the whole world understood that 2,000 years of Jews being hosted unsuccessfully in nearly every country on earth proved that the Jews must have their own home. And what better place than their home, the one they yearned and prayed for, and had never left, despite two millennia of hardships?"
Silence is all I heard on the other end of the line. I thanked the host, and the show ended. But I could not shake that question for a long time. I still haven't. And I hope I never do. The Jewish people must know that we have every moral and legal right to be in Israel. It is my hope that "Relentless" will help us all understand that a little more clearly.
Want to get more involved in pro-Israel activism? Here's 10 ideas:
- Recruit people to "Relentless." Get the film into your synagogue or organization, and show the film to friends and family. To get started, order the Relentless Leadership Kit at www.HonestReporting.com/relentless
- Join HonestReporting.com and protest bias in the media. Choose one newspaper to monitor on a daily basis. You can also organize a group of local activists.
- Stay current on the truth. Get clear on what is really happening in the Israel. Read the Jerusalem Post, and background books like "From Time Immemorial" (by Joan Peters), and "Myths and Facts" (by Mitchell G. Bard) -- online at www.us-israel.org/jsource/myths/mftoc.html.
- See how the Arab media presents Mideast events. Palestinian Media Watch (www.pmw.org.il), and Memri (www.memri.org) provide important translations of the Arabic media. It's a real eye-opener!
- Speak out. The next time you hear someone put down Israel, don't wonder to yourself, "What is anyone going to do about it." Be a roving ambassador for Israel by explaining the facts to everyone you meet. You can get great materials, flyers, posters, and cards at www.israelactivism.com and www.standwithus.com
- Send letters and show “Relentless” to politicians. Your views as a citizen are important to your elected representatives. Write a short, personal email with a subject line like: "Thank you for standing with Israel."
- Become a stronger Jew. Jewish response to adversary has always been enhancing our Jewish pride. Jewish pride is a direct result of knowledge; the more we know and understand our heritage, the stronger and prouder we will be. This awareness comes from learning Torah and becoming more involved in Jewish life.
- Help victims of terror and their families. Support organizations like www.all4israel.org and www.kobymandell.org.
- Travel to Israel. Jerusalem Fellowships (www.goisrael.org) offers free (first time) 10-day trips to Israel for Jewish young adults ages 18-26 through the Birthright program. And the Hasbara Fellowships trains top university students from across North America to be pro-Israel activists on campus - ?www.israelactivism.com). If you won’t be visiting Israel anytime soon, then find someone who is, and give them your tourist dollars to spend for you.
- Fly the Israeli flag. Put an Israeli flag in front of your home, church, etc. Let everyone know that you are proud of Israel. Put an "I Support Israel" bumper sticker on your car. Wear a combined American/Israeli flag pin on your lapel.
"Relentless" is directed by Wayne Kopping and Brian K. Spector, produced by Raphael Shore, Shalom Schwartz, and HonestReporting.com, and distributed by Discovery Production of New York City.
For more info, to view the trailer and order the film, see the website www.honestreporting.com/relentless/.
To see how you can bring an event to your home or community, email events@HonestReporting.com, or call Scott at 212-921-9090.
Read USA Today online discussion about the film: