In the latest episode of Showtime’s program “Homeland,” veteran senior CIA operative Saul Berenson visits his religious sister in a West Bank settlement. The two clash over his opposition to her living there, with Saul fuming, “Haven’t you driven enough people from their homes already? Bulldoze their villages, seized their property under laws they had no part in making?”
Saul’s sister responds as a stereotypical religious zealot would, offering no substantive response to his charges.
Like Mandy Patinkin – the actor who plays him who has expressed support for actors and artists who refused to perform in the settlement of Ariel – the character of Saul Berenson can certainly express his criticism of settlements. But as the late Daniel Patrick Moynihan quipped, “Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts.”
The oft repeated charge Saul repeats – that settlements in Judea and Samaria are built on the ruins of bulldozed villages from which Arabs were driven from their homes – is completely false. Yet “Homeland” presented it to tens of millions of viewers as an uncontroverted fact.
Alas, this Big Lie has been repeated so many times that most people in the world have come to believe it – baselessly equating West Bank settlements with forced, violent dispossession of civilians from their homes, thereby maligning the more than 400,000 Israeli residents in Judea and Samaria.
The program’s showrunners – themselves longtime friends of Israel who have filmed portions of several episodes there – might even be among those who think this lie represents the truth, which only highlights how insidious this false narrative is.
In fact, in the still mostly empty West Bank, settlements were built alongside or across from Palestinian towns and villages. (Hebron is the only place inhabited by both Israelis and Arabs.) Palestinians were not expelled from their homes as a result of the construction of settlements, nor has any Arab village ever been bulldozed or otherwise evacuated in any way to make way for a settlement in Judea or Samaria.
Indeed, the last West Bank villages to be destroyed (aside from the four Jewish communities evacuated by Prime Minister Sharon in 2005), with people not merely driven from their homes but murdered, occurred in 1948 when Arabs looted and then completely destroyed all of the Jewish settlements in Gush Etzion, massacring 240 women and men.
As “Homeland” is a work of fiction, some might contend that no offense should be taken if its characters deviate from the truth in furtherance of dramatization. But that’s not the position the program itself has taken. Showrunners Howard Gordon and Alex Gansa have expressed their strong efforts to emphasize that the vast majority of Muslims – both in America and throughout the world – are peaceful. In seasons 3 and 4, the “Homeland” cast included a devout hijab-wearing woman who served America heroically and courageously as a CIA analyst.
Most recently in previewing the current season, Gansa and Gordon expressed their surprise and concern about allegations that “Homeland” has been offensive to Muslims, and discussed how that contributed to the current season’s storyline in which the show’s lead character has left the CIA to devote her efforts to assisting Muslim-Americans targeted by U.S. prosecutors.
The show’s lead producers are right to recognize that in today’s incendiary world, the entertainment industry should be thoughtful in the way it tells its stories and portrays characters. Sensitivity and nuance are vital and laudable.
This must not stop only when it comes to Israel, which is continuously defamed by its wide array of enemies and deserves much better than that from its friends. Disagreement with Israel’s policies – including its settlement policies – is absolutely legitimate. Subjecting Israel to slander that is broadcast to Showtime’s wide audience is not.