The other day I reported the news NBCUniversal had pledged to the PLO delegation in Washington that it would not use the City of David settlement in occupied Silwan/East Jerusalem to film a new Indiana-Jones style archaelogical thriller called “Dig.”
While this is a step forward, there is no promise in the letter that NBCUniversal or its Israeli partner Keshet will not use other sites in occupied Jerusalem for the series. Human rights advocates remain very concerned about that possibility.
What I failed to note in that post is that NBC’s statement apparently represents a reversal: NBC’s Israeli partner was planning to use the City of David, and civil society pressure brought about a reversal. This is also good news, but it means that pressure shouldn’t let up on the broader issue: Don’t film in an illegally-occupied city.
Let me review the record here. Haaretz reports that “Palestinian pressure,” caused the producers to abandon plans for Silwan:
Some six weeks ago, Keshet and the municipality of Jerusalem announced that the series, which will deal with an FBI agent investigating the murder of a female archeologist, would be set in Jerusalem. The press release stated that “the project would be shot in the City of David and present the exciting history of the Old City.” The Israeli-American project is supported by Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat, and Economy Minister Naftali Bennett.
Following the announcement, PLO Executive Committee Hanan Ashrawi called on NBC not to shoot the series in the City of David. “Such a production will legitimize the annexation of Jerusalem and the destruction of the authenticity and character of the occupied city,” Ashrawi told the Ma’an Palestinian news agency.
It wasn’t just Ashrawi. Civil society groups also sent a letter to NBC, urging all people of conscience to put pressure on NBC.
We, the undersigned Palestinian civil society organizations and national institutions, condemn in the strongest terms the plan of the American TV company NBC to produce and broadcast a drama series that will give legitimacy to Israel’s policies of apartheid, ethnic cleansing and colonization in occupied Palestinian Jerusalem. The NBC’s engagement in such a film project is deeply unethical. It also entails reputational risks and legal responsibility for complicity in the serious violations of international law, war crimes and human rights abuses committed by Israel in the occupied Palestinian city. We urge the NBC’s management to respect basic standards of ethics, law and human rights of the Palestinian people and to terminate immediately all involvement in this film project. We also appeal to filmmakers, journalists, media networks and all people of conscience worldwide to support our call and engage the NBC management.
At that time, Israeli producer, Keshet, pushed back against the protests. In this December 11 article in The Times of Israel by Debra Kamin, Keshet said that Ashrawi’s letter was premature and ill-founded. It denied it had plans for Silwan:
“There was no plan made to film the series in the City of David National Park or in the village of Silwan…Furthermore, location scouting and planning will not begin until February 2014, and any decisions regarding possible production sites will be made with respect for all concerned parties.”
That seems somewhat disingenuous. Ashrawi was just responding to what Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat and multiple newspapers had said in November: that the show would be in the City of David. Here are some examples:
1) Nir Barkat on Facebook in November (translated from the Hebrew):
“During my visits to LA, we developed strong connections with leaders of [the entertainment] industry in Hollywood, and when I brought them to Jerusalem to the City of David, the place where everything begun, I revealed to them the cinematic potential of the most important and fascinating in the world. They fell in love with the place that gave them the inspiration for a script of a thriller, fascinating, unique and Jerusalemite. The series will be shot in the City of David and will display the fascinating historical heritage of the Old City.”
2) Debra Kamin wrote this piece for Variety about Keshet CEO Avi Nir in November:
“The idea for the program came from Nir, who realized during Keshet retreat at the ancient tunnels in Jerusalem’s City of David that the scene was the ideal setting for a thriller. He took his idea to [Gideon] Raff, and together they selected [Tim] Kring to serve as the script’s American partner.”
3) Ha’aretz also reported that the series was slated to be in Silwan: “American TV series to be filmed at City of David: Arab residents of Silwan are less than elated at prospect.”
Most of the filming will take place in the City of David national park, in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Silwan…. The City of David national park is one of Israel’s most popular in terms of visitors, but is also highly controversial. The park is run by the Elad organization, sanctioned by the Israel Parks and Nature Authority. Silwan residents have filed numerous complaints against Elad, which is also active settling Jewish families in the area.
4) JTA said so too:
A new drama series by Homeland creator Gideon Raff, will be filmed mostly in eastern Jerusalem. Dig will be filmed in the City of David national park located in the Silwan neighborhood as well as the Old City of Jerusalem.
5) El Ad even posted the Ha’aretz piece to its website: “Hollywood coming to city of David.”
Thus NBC’s letter saying that it won’t be coming to the city of David appears to be backing away from positions that Nir Barkat and possibly also Keshet had happily fed to the media in November– without NBC or Keshet seeming to feel any need to contradict the claims then. All indications are that NBC has pulled back due to pressure. And that people who care about human rights in occupied East Jerusalem shouldn’t let up.