Cal Poly students filled 102 seats, lined the classroom walkway and stood in the doorway for the Al Jazeera documentary, “The Promised Land?” presented by
Students for Justice and Peace in the Middle East (SJPME) Wednesday, Feb. 10 at 7 p.m.
The documentary presented a history of the state of Israel, narrated in Oxford accents over crackly footage and translated over modern-day Israeli and Palestinian interviews. Although it focused on the Palestinian side of the conflict, it also featured Israeli professors, authors and citizens.
The three-part documentary presented a history of the conflict and outlined it in terms of the ideology and movements of different eras rather than individual wars. History senior Sarkis Peha, president of SJPME, said he thought this was a great introduction to an extremely complex story.
“If you want a starting point, if you’re coming from absolutely nothing, this is a good documentary to watch,” Peha said. “It really kind of highlighted every important era.”
The first episode discussed the surge in Jewish population, from the articulation of Zionism in 1896 to the vast, global return of the Jewish people to modern-day Israel in the 1940s.
The second part focused on the conflict between the relatively small Jewish population and, not only the Palestinian people, but also the armies of the five Arab states who unsuccessfully attempted to defend the region.
The last episode discussed the modern Israeli state, and claimed that its diverse population, in terms of both religious and ethnic background, poses issues for the country’s survival.
The documentary addresses a balance poised between two sides, both of which could seem right, depending on the background of the viewer. Former president of the Cal Poly Israel Alliance Jacob Kory said he thought the documentary was well-made, but a bit biased.
“In terms of the actual movie that was shown, I thought it was good,” he said. “But it was definitely one-sided.”
For example, the contrast between the religious orthodox and modern, secular Israel was portrayed through a disco scene of masked party-goers. The scene was used to highlight the fact that modern Israel might face future issues due to its diversity.
“To put that into context,” Kory said, “The clips that were shown were from the holiday of Purim.”
Purim is an ancient Jewish religious festival that celebrates the Jewish peoples’ deliverance from a Persian plot for their annihilation.
Social sciences professor Maliha Zulfacar teaches a class on ethnic conflict on a global scale, and intends to show her own documentary, “Kabul Transit,” on March 2. She said that when watching a documentary, it is important to take note of who the director is and where he or she is coming from.
In this case, the movie was made by Al Jazeera, a state-sponsored, Middle Eastern broadcasting station with an international news focus. Political science freshman Danny Outlaw said he thinks it is good to learn all sides of the issue.
“I don’t think there’s such a thing as an unbiased documentary,” he said. “But as far as something made by Al Jazeera, it could’ve been a lot worse.”
Business senior Ian Drogin said he attended the event because he was interested to learn more about the Middle East “and to get a better understanding of the messages being conveyed to Cal Poly students.”
It’s important for Cal Poly students to become increasingly aware of world events, Zulfacar said.
“The physical distance should not keep us isolated and unaware about the global issues,” she said. “We do live in a global world in which the speed of communication and transportation have made us interconnected and interdependent. We no longer live in a bubble.”
The documentary is part of a series the club is doing on Middle Eastern conflicts from a variety of perspectives. SPJME secretary Haroun Idris, an electrical engineering graduate student, said that this is the first event of the quarter for students interested in the Middle East, and that they will hold more events that focus on the Israel-Palestine conflict.