Turkey’s ‘Midnight Express’ about Israel

A recent debate over the TV series “Ayrılık,” which caused a diplomatic row between Turkey and Israel, reminded me of “Midnight Express.” Before this diplomatic crisis, I did not know Turkey’s state-sponsored television channel TRT had been broadcasting this series for a while. I recently watched a video clip of the series on the Internet. It is a very cheap drama that portrays Israeli soldiers attacking Palestinians; the soldiers are brutal, sadistic people who kill children and so on. I did not watch the series, but I do not think this portrayal will show any good Israeli. It is the Turks’ “Midnight Express” about Israel.

Let me clarify one thing: There is no doubt Israel has been systematically and on a widespread basis violating the Palestinians’ basic human rights. These are facts established by international human rights NGOs and, very recently, by a UN report.

However, I found Turkey’s approach to this film quite problematic. First of all, it is still not possible for Turkish filmmakers to shoot this kind of film in the context of human rights violations perpetrated by Turkish security forces. If you make a film in Turkey showing “sadistic” Turkish soldiers burning a Kurdish village, it is very likely that you can get into legal trouble for insulting “Turkishness” or the military. Second, Turkey is not a country that can tolerate a similar film about its problems made by another country. For example, had Israel broadcast a film on Israeli state-sponsored TV about massacres of Armenians, our officers would consider cutting all diplomatic ties with Israel. Third, these kinds of films do not help in promoting human rights awareness or any other sensible social awareness. They only use graphic images of violence and resort to cheap emotional exploitation.

The problems, human rights violations and handicaps of others are always much easier to handle but not useful at all. What is progressive is to have insight into your own problems first. If Turkish state television would really like to contribute to the promotion of human rights, it can prepare a documentary on the destruction of Kurdish villages, for example. Or, if they really want to kill two birds with one stone, they can shoot a documentary about Israeli peace and human rights movements. Israel has a very strong and viable civil society sector in the human rights field. If Turkish television stations introduce these movements to the Turkish public, they will not only show the humane side of Israel but can also demonstrate to Turkish civil society how unbiased NGOs act and work even in the most intense and conflict-ridden situations.

“Midnight Express”-type films do not contribute to promoting any kind of sensitivity for human rights or a real empathy for human suffering. They just make us angry; they cause absolute labeling. They make us anti-Turkish, anti-Jewish, anti-American and so on.

I want to finish this article on a positive note. While planning to write this article, I came across an interview Parker gave to the Hartford Courant on Oct. 25. I like the way he described Turkey:

“But visiting Turkey was an experience. It’s a modern world mixed together with ancient history. If you’re interested in history, how could you not want to visit Troy, Ephesus and Gallipoli? … I was just fascinated by the place. İstanbul has been the meeting point where East touches West for centuries, and you can feel the energy of this cultural collision just walking through the city.”

I hope Parker will shoot another film about Turkey, showing its positive and negative sides at the same time. Seeing İstanbul through his camera lens is very interesting indeed!