Washington, DC– As Palestinians mark 47 years of Israel’s military occupation of the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip, human rights groups are accusing NBC of complicity in Israel’s violations of international law and human rights by filming its new series DIG in occupied East Jerusalem, after clearly stating that they would not do so.
The series, which according to Israeli media has already begun to be filmed, has outraged Palestinians and human rights groups, who have been calling on NBC to cancel it since it was announced back in November 2013 because it would give legitimacy to Israel’s policies in the city. Nir Barkat, the Israeli mayor of Jerusalem, and the Israeli Keshet Media Group declared at the time that most of the filming would take place in the “City of David National Park,” an illegal Israeli settlement located in the Palestinian neighborhood of Silwan in East Jerusalem. In a letter dated December 20, 2013, Cory Shields, Executive VP of Communications at NBC Universal, wrote to the General Delegation of the PLO to the US: “NBC Universal Cable Entertainment reiterates that there are no plans, and there will be no plans, to film ‘DIG’ in the City of David National Park or the village of Silwan.” Subsequently, activists wrote to NBC seeking assurances that the series won’t be filmed in any other East Jerusalem location and were met with silence.
However, according to information recently obtained by U.S. groups working on this campaign, NBC is filming in the tunnel that links the City of David National Park in Silwan with the Archaeological Park and Davidson Center, which is located near the Western Wall. Other filming sites in occupied East Jerusalem include the rooftop promenade and Ma’alot Harav Shlomo Goren in the Old City, and the Tzidkiyahu Cave in Sheikh Jarrah, another Palestinian neighborhood that has been the site of intense Israeli settlement activity.
“Israel has misused archaeology projects in occupied East Jerusalem to strengthen settlements, evict Palestinians, and damage their homes,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “If NBC plans to make a fictional mini-series in East Jerusalem, it should avoid filming in any location that would make it complicit in this illegality.”
The Israeli government and the Jerusalem municipality are also providing the series a $6.3 million grant, part of an effort to brand Israel’s control of Jerusalem in a “positive light.” Last week the cast and crew met with Minister of Jerusalem and Diaspora Affairs Naftali Bennett, who is a member of the extreme right-wing nationalist and pro-settler Jewish Home party. “A picture is worth a thousand words- sometimes shooting a series in Israel is worth more than a thousand publicity tours of the country,” Bennett said about DIG.
“With its production of the DIG series, NBC Universal is engaging in a deliberate act of deception by presenting this Palestinian city of East Jerusalem, which is illegally annexed by Israel, as though it were actually an Israeli city,” said PLO Executive Committee member Dr. Hanan Ashrawi. “It is playing into the Israeli occupation’s propaganda and a campaign that distorts Jerusalem’s genuine Palestinian character, culture, history, and demography. NBC is thereby being complicit in Israel’s occupation of Palestine and its blatant violation of international law and international consensus.”
“It is a shame that as Palestinians mark 47 years of living under a brutal military occupation that has included the confiscation of land, expansion of illegal settlements, and entrenchment of an apartheid system, NBC would choose to continue with this series despite strong objections from Palestinian civil society and its allies. The decision to go on with this project violates all standards of corporate ethics and responsibility and is deeply immoral,” said Zakaria Odeh, Executive Director of the Civic Coalition for Palestinian Rights in Jerusalem.
Last month activists delivered more than 5,000 petition signatures to NBC offices in New York and Los Angeles calling on the network to end its involvement in the series.
“As the global movement for Palestinian rights grows, NBC is choosing to stand on the wrong side of history by filming in occupied East Jerusalem and cooperating with Israeli government bodies that carry out violations of international law and human rights abuses there,” said Anna Baltzer of the US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation. “NBC is tarnishing its reputation through this complicity in Israel’s oppression of the Palestinian people.”