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Who Are the Palestinian Bit-Players in ‘Body of Lies’?

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By James North
There’s one scene in the just-released film Body of Lies that shows perfectly why the American popular understanding of the Middle East is so distorted.  Much of the big-budget film is set in Amman, Jordan. Leonardo DiCaprio is a CIA agent with something of a conscience; he becomes interested in Aisha, an Iranian nurse who also volunteers in a Palestinian refugee camp. Aisha invites him to dinner at her sister’s house, and the sister challenges him about the American war in Iraq. He restrains himself at first, but then passionately attacks the Iraqi insurgents who are killing their fellow Iraqis with car bombs. Later, incredibly, Aisha apologizes to DiCaprio for her sister’s outburst.
The film is based on a novel by David Ignatius,
the Washington Post columnist who is also an old college friend of
mine. I haven’t read the book yet, but on balance the film is certainly
not simplistically pro-American. The main villain, played effectively
by an overweight Russell Crowe,
is DiCaprio’s CIA boss; he is ruthless and insensitive, and he uses
high-tech spy drones to hunt "terrorists" ineffectively. He is
contrasted with Hani, the head of Jordanian intelligence, basically an
honorable man, who is more successful by using trust and patience. Hani
is one of the "good Arabs," who have been part of the Western
imagination ever since the time of Lawrence of Arabia.
But let’s raise an unasked question. Who are all these Palestinian refugees we see all-too-briefly? By one reckoning, two-thirds of all Jordanians are of Palestinian origin; why are they in Jordan?
I personally do not believe that Israeli injustice to Palestinians
explains all the violence in the region, or the attacks in Europe and
America. Those British Muslims who blew themselves up on London
transport in 2005, for instance, had other and complicated motivations.
But how can you make a 2-hour, $70 million film about violence in the
Middle East and never mention Israel once?

Philip Weiss

Philip Weiss is senior editor of and founded the site in 2005-06.

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