Louis Theroux, The Ultra-Zionists

by roadsideservice

Below is Louis Theroux’s The Ultra-Zionists, which was on the BBC a couple of days ago. I am not sure if BBC will be pulling this from YouTube soon, but it is definitely worth checking out. Theroux describes the process:

For several weeks I’d been spending time in some of the most hardcore and uncompromising sections of the Israeli nationalist community – the Jewish enclave in Hebron, in the hilltops in the north of the West Bank, and in the crowded Arab neighbourhoods of East Jerusalem – choosing to come at a time when peace talks were ongoing and the extreme settlers were therefore more embattled.

For me, not growing up in a Zionist home and being on the whole utterly bewildered by some of the logic as understood by settlers, this was (for someone finding themselves so often on the “outside”) an eye-opening insight at what can only be described as pretty scary and at times revolting ideological movement. This is an ideology that sits in the convergence nationalism; far-right politics; the weight of authority in the military and private/corporate security; the invocation of colonial and racialised discourses; reactionary religious doctrine; its rejection of humanism and pluralism, not the least their rejection of reactionary social forces such as social democracy and, indeed, liberalism.

I am aware of Theroux’s love of making wacky spectacles out of his subjects and although he has an obvious agenda, I think he made a concerted effort to humanise the religious nationalists and their world, which I really valued. I say this not out of sympathy for their views, but because I don’t like being treated like an idiot. I felt he sought to neither condemn nor laugh at their beliefs, nor trap them into saying something stupid  (though the grubs over at Stormfront thought the doco was proof that the-Jews-are-feasting-on-our-babies-before-they-take-over-the-world, so who knows?). But the reality is, those interviewees, stuck in such small orbits of internal logic, do a pretty decent job of putting their foot in it themselves. The ease in which they talk about the degeneracy of Palestinians is really disturbing.

There is a scene where a busload of tourists is given a tour of the former Jewish neighbourhood in Hebron, as Theroux explains, now an “Arab” area after the violence of the 1920s. It is a fascinating little scene, mostly because this gawky little group of tourists (looking as “tourists” do everywhere) attempt to act cool as cucumbers while so much stuff is glaring them in the face. ‘I feel safe’ says one of the men, as no less than four M16 strapped IDF lads file past behind him. ‘There was an eerie quality to the tour’ say Theroux, ‘somewhere between embattled and entitled…I wondered whether even more of Hebron would become a part of the so called “sterile zone”‘.

I would have liked to have seen more complexity around representations of Palestinians, beyond the unruly-hoards trope. Its lack of context does teeter on the brink of wrongtown sometimes. And a good chat with more of the organised resistance to settlements couldn’t have hurt. So too, it would have been interesting to see what the other forces are at work that propel people to decide to move to settlements, such as poverty and state kick-backs.

The doco’s preoccupation with far-right, religious nationalists is interesting, but it should also be remembered that it is not teenagers in tents alone that make an occupation.

What are your thoughts?

Also, you might find this map, with all kinds of details, interesting/helpful in gaining some understanding of the length and breadth of the occupation. It is a map of settlements in the West Bank, and might give some further context to some of the ideas discussed.