New TV Series on Arab-Israeli Conflict Echoes Old Ideas of ‘Balance’

The Honourable Woman: Andrew Buchan and Katherine Parkinson in 'The Honorable Woman' (BBC)

Broadcasting  “The Honorable Woman” is not an attempt to respond to current events, according to Hugo Blick, the British producer who wrote and directed eight episodes of the 4-hour mini-series.

The “Honorable Woman,” a TV drama shot in London and Morocco and produced by Sundance TV and the BBC, follows the life of Nessa, a British industrialist played by Maggie Gyllenhaal. Nessa’s father is an arms dealer whose business with Israel leads to his murder at the hands of a Palestinian. After the death of her father, Nessa finds herself enriched by her family business and attempts to promote peace between Gaza and Israel by establishing a communication business between the warring sides.

Would this TV drama have gained the wide attention that it has were it not for the current war between Israel and Hamas? This question aside, there are many objections to broadcasting the series at a time when the real conflict rages in front of us, and its news and horrific images dominate the networks and social media.  “Civil dialogues, conflict causes and solutions are hard to come by” under these circumstances, wrote Dave Itzkoff in an article published  on July 28, 2014 in the  New York Times.

The overlap between the timing of “The Honorable Woman” broadcast and the severity of Israeli and Palestinian anger and rage might pose a serious predicament for the producers of the show. If the creators aim to inform and change attitudes rather than rekindle ancient hostilities, their production will face insurmountable obstacles at a time in which attitudes are “particularly polarized.” Such conclusions are derived from past “television thrillers” which did not benefit from developing their plot lines in close accordance with news developments, some series of this nature were cancelled or postponed.

The term “balance” or “balanced presentation” in drama, or in any artistic form, has become the object of cynic and partisan mockery; but there are those who are not convinced by the criticism. “If you offer a balanced portrayal of the conflict, somehow you’re anti-Israeli or pro-Palestinian, and that’s not the case. Facts are facts, and history is history,” arguesIbrahim Hooper, the national communications director for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, in the New York Timesarticle. He adds, “any kind of programming that brings this issue to the American public, that gives a balanced perspective on the conflict, is of value.” Yet the issue of “balance” is more complex than articulated by Hooper; this complexity belongs to a different discussion.

A similar argument from a different angle is that of Ramy Yaacoub, the deputy director of the Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy, who was also interviewed by the New York Times. Yaacoub welcomes drama shows as long as they explain more about Mideast conflicts with the caveat that their creators pay special attention to “nuance,” and are open-minded,  “welcoming criticism” and willing “to make changes.”

The reader cannot overlook the significance of the title of the New York Times review, “Adding Fiction to the Fray.”  An immediate question might be what role can “fiction” play in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict?  Again, the cynics argue against fiction with child-like naiveté, forgetting that arts and literature have been part of the arsenal used by both sides in supporting their causes. “There is no way that a fiction should try to contribute or analyze what’s happening right now, because it isn’t the place of fiction to reflect that,” emphasized Mr. Blick in a telephone interview with the New York Times. “On the other hand,” he added, “even when these conflicts flare up, as they have right now, the possibility of reconciliation should never be withdrawn from the table.”

--Al Jadid 

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