The military occupation as an open secret

The Occupation of the American Mind exposes Israeli propaganda in the U.S.

On Friday May 6, The Occupation of the American Mind premiered at Cinema du Parc. This film explores the causes for the lack of backlash from the U.S. public in regards to the inhumane occupation of Palestinian territories by Israel. It offers answers as to why the U.S. public has been slow to critique Israel, pointing to the pro-Israel lobby influencing American media coverage.

Though the documentary was screened at Cinema du Parc for a limited time, Cinema Politica Concordia has organized another screening of the film on Monday, October 3, as part of Concordia’s Decolonize Palestine week, a week-long event series.

Decolonize Palestine is put on by Solidarity for Palestinian Human Rights (SPHR) Concordia and focuses on educating students about BDS, which stands for Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions. BDS is a Palestinian-led movement for freedom, justice, and equality. The movement’s aims include the end of Israel’s occupation of Palestine, the demolishment of the Wall separating Israel and the West Bank, equality for Arab-Palestinian Israeli citizens, and recognition of the rights of displaced Palestinians to return to their homes. Eleven years since its launch, BDS is effectively challenging international support for Israel’s occupation and colonization of Palestinian land.

After many of the Cinema du Parc screenings of The Occupation of the American Mind, guest speakers were invited for follow-up discussions. Dan Freeman-Maloy, a long time organizer with the York University Palestine Solidarity Committee, spoke on May 7th. He has worked closely with the European Center for Palestine Studies and is a now a Montreal-based writer and activist.

After the discussions, The Daily spoke to a few students, who wished to remain anonymous about the film, as well as George Matta, an associate producer of the film.

The McGill Daily (MD): Why did you attend this event?
Student 1: I was generally interested in learning more about the history of the conflict and why it is such a difficult topic to talk about – especially in the U.S., which is the main focus of the film. I wanted to understand where the media bias was coming from and how certain opinions are presented to us.
Student 2: I felt like I had a rudimentary knowledge on the effect of mass media in shaping public opinion, and I wanted the insights of academics and activists.
Student 3: It is appalling to me how many governments around the world pander to Israel despite the many international laws it continues to violate, as well as the continual violence against Palestinians. It’s not as if these [acts] aren’t fully available for everyone to see, but the world continues to turn a blind eye. So it was interesting to see how exactly Israel and its allies, with the help of public relations and propaganda, work together to keep this an open secret.

MD: Why is this topic important to you?
Student 1: My parents were both refugees from Sri Lankan civil war and genocide – a conflict that was infamous for its repression of journalists and free speech. As a media maker, I not only care about civilians in this conflict whose most fundamental rights are violated but also about how information can be manipulated and presented in such a disturbing way for economic and imperial reasons.
Student 2: Biased media narratives help explain why people are led to justify human rights violations. This documentary allowed for me to witness the unspoken media tactics used by Israeli politicians to brainwash populations.
Student 3: Israel continues to expand its settler colonial project for almost 70 years now at a massive expense to an entire people who have been uprooted from their homes and from their land. The [Palestinians] are discriminated against in Israel, in the West Bank, and in Gaza in so many other ways. [They have] extremely limited mobility and democratic freedom. The film called attention to this and drew an interesting trajectory of how pro-Israeli propaganda has changed western perceptions of this issue, so we are able to see the power of media on a large scale.

MD: Do you feel the event was successful?
Student 1: For me, the film was definitely successful because it opened my eyes to how even a lot of ‘progressive’ voices are biased or silenced on this topic. I also enjoyed the discussion period afterwards because some of the audience’s questions brought in a Canadian context to the movie […] Even though the people that attended the screening were most likely already sympathetic toward the message of the film, I still found it very informative.
Student 2: The event was successful because of the dialogue discussion at the end of the movie. I was able to realize so many of the tactics used by politicians that I wasn’t previously aware of.

MD: Were there any particular points that stood out to you either from the film or the discussion?
Student 1: For me, personally, a lot of the historical aspects of the film regarding both the conflict itself and the representation really stood out to me […] Although I was aware, I hadn’t known the exact details of it beforehand. The ending was of course also very encouraging because a large part of the film made the situation seem very hopeless.
Student 2: There was a part of movie where they discussed the “five step program” which was a proposal by Frank Luntz to […] create sympathy for the Israelis […] It was just a very systematic way of trying to appease news viewers and steer the conversation towards “right to self-defend” with no regards to the realities of occupation and victimhood.
Student 3: The film discussed issues of Islamophobia, which is something I feel isn’t talked about enough [in mainstream media].

The Daily also had a chance to speak with George Matta, one of the associate producers of the film.

MD: What organization are you a part of?
George Matta (GM): I am part of Mundovision, the international distributor of the film […] I [raised] funds for the film by pre-selling to public broadcasters. The Media Education foundation produced this film. They are a Massachusetts-based organization that specializes in distributing educational films about the social, cultural, and political impact of American mass media.

MD: How does this documentary fit into your organization’s mission?
GM: Mundovision specialises in geopolitical documentaries and social themes, so this [film] fits right in.

MD: Do you feel the screenings and discussions went well?
GM: Yes, they all went well, and often the discussions after the film would go on for an hour and a half. We did fear there might be some controversy […] On one night there were a couple of Zionists that tried to monopolize the discussion but overall very few people [reacted badly to] the screening.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Catch The Occupation of the American Mind this Monday, October 3 at 7:00pm at Concordia University’s Hall Building (1455 Maisonneuve) room H-110. A Q&A with Sut Jhally, the film’s executive producer, will follow the screening. Admission is by donation basis. The venue is wheelchair accessible.