As some of you know, my film EXILE, A MYTH UNEARTHED, which examines the myth of the Jewish EXILE and its political impact on both Israeli Jews and Palestinians in the Middle East, was going to be shown on the BBC Thursday April 25th. It was pulled out of the schedule only a few days earlier.

Since than I was flooded by dozens of emails of angry and concerned viewers asking what happened.   To be honest I debated whether to tell the story of what I think had happened. I have worked with the BBC in the past on some programs that were deemed controversial and I never had any political censorship. On the contrary I was impressed by the integrity and fairness of the people I dealt with.

So based on my past experience, I was going to wait patiently until the BBC programming executives would solve the internal drama that apparently has begun to brew inside the BBC.  “The film is gorgeous, courageous and fresh, “ I was told several times by the programming executives. I was promised that the cancellation was temporary: “Given the short timescale and your workload, we have decided to delay transmission until we’ve had the chance you’ve had the chance to go through it in detail”. 

I naively believed and decided to wait quietly. But things have their own momentum and as I learned more, I realized that the story of “EXILE” in the BBC is far more complex.

Among the dozens of emails I received one caught my attention. It included the official email response from the BBC to the inquiry/complaint sent to irate viewers who contacted the BBC asking why the program was pulled out of the schedule. This email contradicted a private email sent to me by the programming executives. I was intrigued.

I discovered after quick research that while I was contacted by the BBC barely a week before the broadcast asking for my comments about the cut, the BBC have had the film for almost 6 months. So why was this sudden rush which supposedly was the excuse given to me as to why the film was pulled out?  Why was I contacted so late in the game?  And why was there a discrepancy between what was told to me and the “official” version . I started to dig a bit deeper and to put my findings in a blog, rather than answer the dozens of people who wrote to me privately.

This is not a personal issue.  This is ultimately a sad saga of what I believe is a mixture of incompetence, political naiveté, conscious or subconscious political pressure and ultimately, I believe, a lack of courage of broadcasters when they are faced with the complexity of the Middle East issue and the intense emotions, fears and aggression it generates. Once you indeed depersonalize this incident, you gain a fascinating insight into  how subtle and complex is the process by which our understanding of the  Israeli Palestinian conflict is being shaped and what happens when one dares to raise questions about issues deemed by some as taboos.  It is this insight that I think is worth sharing and detailing.

The story begins for me with the name. I discovered only 3 days before the broadcast that the BBC has been using a different name for the film: Jerusalem – An Archeological Mystery Story.   It struck me as an odd choice that seems to camouflage the film’s real subject and repackages it as a neutral archeological mystery of sort- like the hundreds of hours one can see on cable and Satellite channels throughout the world.

“ Exile” of course is not about a mystery, neither it is limited to archeology or to Jerusalem. The name and the illusion that one can pretend that this film is just about archeology and its mysteries are at the core I believe of Thursday’s fiasco.

Digging deeper I also learned that this title was established back in November 2012 in the agreement between the National Film Board of Canada (one of the  film’s co producers and its int’l distributor) and the BBC.  I was approached  by the distributor to see if I would agree for the BBC  to cut down the program.  I agreed to it on the condition that I would be  consulted  so the integrity of the longer version (104 min) would be preserved.  I also  said that if I was not  to be consulted  my name should be  removed  from the program and the cut down  will be listed as an “adaptation from a film by Ilan Ziv”.  From my access to some internal documents, it is obvious now that the BBC was not genuinely interested in my getting involved.  As the documents suggest, they  already   announced that the cut down version would be an adaptation.

So back in November 2012, everything seemed to be on track to produce a cut down of the film without having to deal with the director, broadcast the film under a neutral title and hopefully avoid any serious political debate. A perfect solution!  So what went wrong?

Fast forward to Saturday April 20th 2013 when I received an email from a friend in the UK who saw that “my” film Jerusalem; An Archeological Mystery Story was going to be broadcast on BBC 4. He even read a preview of it in the Guardian. The preview promised that the film “ will ruffle some feathers”.  Two days earlier I did receive from the editor who cut the film a copy of the cut for me to comment on, but there was no mention of an impeding broadcast date!

On Monday, 3 days before the broadcast, I fired an email to the BBC programming executives complaining that it is unfair to expect me to spend time reviewing the cut and coming up with suggestions of a re cut, when I was given only a few days before a broadcast date that no one bothered to inform me about. I pleaded for more time. It was only when one of the programming executives called me, I realized that there were much bigger issues for her than my complaint about being pushed into an impossible schedule.

The program executive seemed genuinely shocked that a freelance employee hired by the BBC to take part in the re-versioning process called the film “propaganda”. When I asked if this unnamed person had specific examples to support such a sweeping charge, I was told  that she claimed that , “Everything was propaganda”.  And there was more.

An “unnamed” BBC insider who I was told “liked the film,” claimed that the film props up the myth of Exile “ which we all know did not happen, in order to support his political analysis”.  I learned that the cut I was given was now irrelevant, since some internal review deemed one scène with the Palestinians to be “too emotive” and they were asked to cut it down.  Realizing that a mini political storm was brewing around the film and attacks lodged against its integrity, I asked and was promised that I would be given at least a summary of the essential charges so I could answer them in length.  I am obviously very familiar with some of them and could easily and in detail refute them.  I told the programming executive that my reply would help them to defend the film in the Channel. After all, they professed to love the film and seemed genuinely interested to show it.  I told them it was very easy for me to prepare a detailed rebuttal with citation of sources for every word of the narration, the overall  analysis and for every scene. I told them that some of the academic participants in the program who  saw the cut and are reputable scholars in their field  did not find any factual errors or misrepresentations of facts or  of the historical narrative. In other words, I argued that such a detailed and substantial defense would convince any objective reader and observer of the editorial integrity of the film. I repeated the request several times yet I never got a reply. Instead, I received an email telling me that they decided to pull it out of the schedule, citing  the “ short  timetable and my work load “( !) A few days later I saw the “official” version that went to the public:

“We originally acquired ‘Jerusalem: An Archaeological Mystery Story’ to supplement BBC Four’s season exploring the history of archaeology. However, we have decided that it doesn’t fit editorially and are no longer planning to show it as part of the season.  Plans to broadcast  the program are currently under review”  So Exile, A myth unearthed  has begun its own exile within the BBC.

I do believe it is ultimately a sad saga. A saga of well meaning programming executives who acquired  the  “courageous “ film  they claim to love, believing that they can sneak it by with a “neutral title”. When they were “caught”, rather than face the criticism  and be helped by the mountains of documents and data I was ready to send them,  they panicked like deer in the headlights not knowing what to do and eventually raised  their hands in resignation.

The truth of the matter is that the reaction outside and inside the BBC surprised me too. The film by now has been shown in a Jewish Festival in Toronto, playing in a screening room there for a week. It was shown on Canadian TV with a second broadcast  planned for June.  Another version of the film is scheduled to be shown in France and  the original  version in Switzerland ,with  hopefully screenings in the US later in the year.  The response in all the public screenings, some of which I attended, was overall extremely positive. Nowhere did the film generate such a reaction as  that of the few individuals inside and outside the BBC.

The temporary success to “exile” the film might prove I believe to be a pyrrhic victory.

EXILE does not deal with contemporary politics in the Middle East, rather, it proposes to examine their ideological and historical underpinnings.  EXILE has not contributed to the political stalemate in the region nor to the continued bloodshed, occupation and violence. It is a film born out of the continued violence. Rather than propose a simplistic solution or an aspirational political program , it tries to suggest a possible way out by re examining the historical narratives we all grew up on, suggesting that in this tormented land there are historical models of co existence and tolerance that could replace the dominant conventional nationalist ones. Silencing this film is silencing a possibility of discussion, debate and re examination not of the current political stalemate but of the intellectual stalemate that contributes to it.

I hope that somewhere in the BBC someone will rise above the hysteria and the attempts at self censorship to take a cooler look at the film and realize how it has been profoundly mis-characterized , -viewing it through partisan glasses instead of looking at it for what it is:  a film that can and has already in its  public screenings generated  dialogue and positive, thinking rather than perpetuating divisions  and polarization.

So for me this is not the end of EXILE in the UK but only the beginning.  I will show the film publically throughout the UK and will challenge the BBC to either broadcast the film or relinquish its rights. I have offered to buy these rights so I could place the film elsewhere in the UK.

The saga of EXILE will continue. Stay tuned!


  1. Pingback: » The BBC: An Archaeological Mystery Story As Jerusalem Doc Is Pulled From Schedule Bartholomew’s Notes on Religion

    • Since I do not have the distribution rights I need to consult with the distributor. Right now I plan in the Fall a screening tour in the UK. Streaming will be an issue in any territory that a broadcast purchased the rights. That is the reason why I will insist that either the BBC broadcast the film in the UK or sell me back the rights.
      As to Australia I think that a digital copy of film can be bought very cheaply on the ONF/NFB web site.: If that does not work let me know and I will find out

      • Thank you Ilan. that was helpful. I will for sure look at option of renting or buying a copy:) It will still be great to see a wide public release. And just a thought: Have you read Salibi’s “The Bible came from Arabia”? an intresting book you may enjoy given your interest.

      • A version of the film will be broadcast in June on ARTE both in Germany and France. I will let you know the exact date when I have it.

  2. Thank you Ilan. that was helpful. I will for sure look at option of renting or buying a copy:) It will still be great to see a wide public release. And just a thought: Have you read Salibi’s “The Bible came from Arabia”? an intresting book you may enjoy given your interest.

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  4. Its not just bbc which is powerless against the pressures of the zionist lobby all media is. If you want to work or do business in/ with USA you must never ever question /criticise Israel or judaism. Even the US president is powerless when he is openly opposed by the Isaraely PM in elections.BBC has no problem in airing twisted stories about Islam and muslims many of which orignate in Israel.

  5. Ilan, you should sue. You’re perfectly entitled to it, after the shoddy treatment both you and your work received from the BBC.

    Glad to hear of the planned screening tour this autumn. I will be there.

  6. Ilan – when I heard that the BBC had pulled the film and showed a repeat programme of Flinders Petrie, with his Zionist take on Jerusalem, despite the archaeology -it seemed to repeat a pattern of possible lobby pressure by the Board of Jewish Deputies and the Israeli Embassy who have the habit of badgering the media to censor or stop showing anything that dispels the myths that have been ingrained in the West of the Israeli narrative of events and the nationalising of the Bible as history and the title deeds for the Jewish State. (this is all covered in Shlomo Sand’s book on the invention of the Jewish People and land of Israel.) The BBC last week showed another programme about Israel and the Arab Spring, that contained all the Zionist tropes of a beleaguered state surrounding by Islamist Arab states, ready to wipe it out, and again failing to emphasise the illegality of the Occupation. The BBC has failed to report accurately on what is really going on, has totally ignored the story of the Palestinian prisoners and hunger strikers, and hardly allows the best critical voices of activists and NGOs to be heard.

    This article :
    shows the extent of Zionist bias and the pro-Zionist inclinations of the new director general of the BBC, Tony Hall, with James Harding as the BBC’s new director of news and current affairs, and the former Labour Party minister James Purnell taking up his new position at the BBC as director of strategy and digital, the promotion of former Today editor Ceri Thomas to the post of BBC head of programming, all of whose appointments confirm they will be easily susceptible to pro-Zionist pressure, which will make un-biased and free reporting on Israel a chimera, and makes one ask questions as to whether this is the reason for the pulling of your film, that may dismantle some of the Zionist myths regarding Israel’s coming into being? What really went on behind the scenes? Questions must be asked of the BBC.

  7. Ilan, One must wonder what it is really that is causing such a response from the BBC and its backers. Perhaps the disquieting fact that this film removes another brick in the wall that has taken centuries to build and maintain (at a terrible cost) but now is slowly and surely being deconstructed. When it is tseen to have no foundatons, well, that will be a demolition job! Let’s call it the critical mass…thereafter, the pages of history turn very quickly…

  8. I discovered your blog site on google and check a few of your early posts. Continue to keep up the very good operate. I just additional up your RSS feed to my MSN News Reader. Seeking forward to reading more from you later on!

  9. not seeing the film is not intelligent to comment first ziv s argument is excellent the ancient history of the jews is a nice fable but than exile ended in 1948 now we have a dead zionism and a disfunctional israeli nation that cannot figure out how to live in modern times among other nations that is the issue i am sure mr ziv has not a clue how to answer this problem some other might have answers i have an israeli republic with a written constitution that will be a good start this is our problem

  10. Ilan, I was sympathizing with your position until I got to this:

    “It is a film born out of the continued violence. Rather than propose a simplistic solution or an aspirational political program , it tries to suggest a possible way out by re examining the historical narratives we all grew up on, suggesting that in this tormented land there are historical models of co existence and tolerance that could replace the dominant conventional nationalist ones.”

    To someone who is familiar with left-leaning political discource on Palestine/Israel, this is all basically code for anti-Zionism. When a Jewish person makes historical film because of the conflict, and expresses their opposition to “nationalism”, that’s obviously a dig at Israel, not the PLO, and the BBC’s audience is in a position to affect one much more than the other. You’ve done a lot of damage to your credibility as an objective student of history just with this statement. The euphemisms and the qualifiers aren’t going to get past the people who care about this stuff.

    • Dear Richard:

      Your are obviously entitled for your opinion. But I think you are making a huge mistake brushing people and opinons like that and categorizing people into “anti Zionist/Anti Israel or Pro Zionist/Pro Israel. I am precisely trying to set up a new arena for debate which is beyond this silly stereotypes
      which actually do not say much. I am fully familier with your point of view and arguments and I will debate them publicly and on these pages.
      In the meanwhile try to download the film (NFB.CA) just type Exile, A Myth Unearthed in the search box. It costs $3 to “rent” which might be worth it since it will give you so much ammunition to attack. Once you armed yourself with more ammunition and examples of supposedly rabid anti zionism come back to this blog when hopefully after the broadcast by the BBC ( there are developments on that front to be posted today) there will be a lively debate where you could participate on the condition that you will be open to hear other opinions and be surprised by them!

      • Ilan, I’m not nearly as partisan on the historical question of the Exile as you might imagine, and my point of view, what I tried to explain in my comment, is neutral and pragmatic. I agree that on an academic level, views on the historicity of the Exile should not be confined to narrow political categories, but you cannot seriously think that in the realm of public opinion, “Zionist” is a silly stereotype that actually does not say much. Because public opinion on issues like war, and which side to take in a war, tends to be influenced by simple, diametrically opposed accounts of the facts, and not nuanced historical debates, you cannot credibly dismiss the political significance of denying the most basic claims about the Jewish diaspora, just because you say there’s nuance to be discussed as well. I’m inclined you’re think that you’re not that naive, and that you’re engaging in basically the same kind of disingenuous discourse-engineering that Norman Finkelstein derided in his comments about BDS. To boil it down – if you wanted to make a credible historical film, you shouldn’t have started saying slightly weird and suspicious things about your perspective on the current political situation. I think you’ve already lamed yourself, and sound too much like the play-dumb-about-politics “human rights” folks who focus on Israel. Even if you get screened on the BBC there’s enough out there already to make a strong case of bias against you. So if I were you I just wouldn’t bother and move onto another project, because either you are naive about politics or you’re overestimating the effectiveness of your political strategy.

    • Richard Hoberman -how pathetic! You are trying to dismiss and belittle Ilan Ziv for commenting that what he has revealed in this film and from research might help the way to solve the impasse that has deliberately created by the nationalist Zionism which uses the mythology of the Bible as its title deeds to all of Palestine -making it impossible to achieve a peace with justice. Ilan, you should carry on with your important work -and not listen those who wear revisionist Zionism on their sleeves!

    • Please go to the NFB web site ( NFB.CA) and in search box put Exile, A Myth Unearthed. you could rent the film ( for limited viewing) for $3 or purchase it for I think $15.
      Let me know if it works

    • The DNA evidence TO DATE suggests that the Khazar hypothesis is without basis. Of course, those with an anti-Zionist (and/or anti-semitic) agenda are never concerned with scientific evidence.

  11. Ilan, I have downloaded and watched the whole programme – and most interesting it is too. You have helped me to realise the true circumstances of Josephus, who was a turncoat, who wrote his “history” at the behest of his slave-master, Roman Emperor Vespasian. I have felt for a long time that Josephus’s “history” was not the work of an objective individual but was a work written for the edification of his current and subsequent Roman imperial masters. Christians cite him as the sole source for the existence of Jesus Christ, even though Josephus only wrote about a single “holy” man, without actually naming him. I have never believed a single word that Josephus wrote and your work has helped to reinforce me in this regard.
    As an ignostic humanist, I am unpersuaded by the claims for the historic existence of Moses and Jesus. Put simply, I do not believe there is a single shred of objective evidence for their existence. The entire religious histories of Judaism and Christianism are, therefore, fictitious, if not downright bogus. Therefore, I cannot take the claims of rights to the so-called “Holy Land” at all seriously.
    I think you are right to dismiss the silly claims of “Hasbara” Hoberman, whose only goal is to divert attention away from your serious work by making the ritual claims of anti-Semitism or any such similar nonsense. Do not allow him or others like him to divert and distract you away from the excellent work you are doing.
    Best wishes.

    • Thank you very much John. I am optimistic that the BBC situation will be resolved the program will be shown in the UK and we can begin a debate on the issues . I do believe that by now we are suffering from an intellectual stalemate that feeds the political one and for truly to move forward beyond the political cliches we need to change our perception. We are at a moment in history that we can. Exile is but just one step on this road.
      Thank you for your words and keep following the blog where I will not only update as to the BBC situation but try to write and publish some excellent work that is being done in the line of Exile- promoting a different understanding of history and its complexity and exploring common narratives out side of narrow nationalistic ones.

      Thanks again

  12. Comments like that of Genie re Khazars prove which category you Ilan and your ‘perspective’ appeal to.

  13. Keep up the good work. What has happened is an outrage against both free speech and rational historiography. – Martin

  14. Cardiff Palestine Solidarity Campaign would like to stage a public screening of your film, either as part of your autumn tour or before if that’s possible.

    • Dear Linda:

      I will be in touch in the next few weeks when I have my plans firmed up. Many thanks for your in terest.
      and sorry for the late reply. I am just back from 10 days in China where for whatever “mysterious” reasons you can not access many web sites including the site that carries these blogs.

  15. Greetings Ilan,

    I support the reconquest of Israel’s independence, as the Israelite nation depends on it in order to ensure its survival and self determination, not to mention it’s the land where the Israelites emerged as nation more than 3000 years ago.

    However, I also believe the majority of those who presently identify themselves as Palestinians (a people of Southern European origins who ceased to exist around the 5th century BCE) from a hybrid community made of Israelites who remained in Israel during the Roman/Byzantine occupation period and were gradually converted to Islam and Arabian culture during the Arabian and Ottoman occupation periods and (to a lesser extent) people form other ethnic groups/nations (such as Arabians, Egyptians, Assyrians, Babylonians, Armenians, Bosnians, Albanians and Chechens) who settled in Israel during those periods.

    In other words, the conflict we witness today, is a basically conflict between Israelites who preserved Hebrew language and Judaism and those who did not.

    Now, since I haven’t watched yet your documentary, I’m only curious about whether you’re suggesting or not that there was no gradual migration of Israelites from Israel to Southern Europe, North Africa and other parts of the Middle East before and during the Roman/Byzantine occupation periods?

    I obviously agree that the majority of the Israelite population at the time remained there. We can’t just ignore the brutal conflict beween the Israelites and the the Romans/Byzantines, which lasted until the 7th century CE – How could the Israelites have possibly reconquered Israel’s independence under the leadership of Nehemiah Ben Hushiel (even if it only lasted for a few years) without a strong presence there? However, if this film is based on the ridiculous theories of Shlomo Sand, according to which the Israelites, are the only Levantine population that was uncapable of traveling (or unwilling to) by land and sea in ancient times, and thus implying that the Israelite communities living outside Israel were mainly formed by local converts, then I won’t even bother to watch it.

    Could you please clarify this question, before I spend my money?

  16. Pingback: BBC airs Israeli “Independence Day” propaganda presented as documentary | Ramy Abdeljabbar's Palestine and World News

  17. There is NO evidence whatsoever that there was a king David,,,so the whole “story” ends right there,,the rest is just meaningless conversation that has resulted in the deaths of many.

  18. Pingback: SALEEM: BBC airs Israeli ‘Independence Day’ propaganda presented as documentary 14May13 | Australians for Palestine

  19. Pingback: Forbidden News » BBC airs Israeli ‘Independence Day’ propaganda presented as documentary

  20. The use of an anonymous name Nottakapo tells one all one needs to know about the person submitting a comment. Ignore him and the ridiculous rantings of David Ebaz. The latter one is simply trying to waste your and everyone else’s time with ridiculous and stupid statements, which he could have submitted in Yiddish.
    Thinking about this BBC saga, one possibility might be that they deliberately bought it in in order to suppress it. If I wanted to bury an inconvenient truth, that is what I would do. Perhaps they should change their name to the Zionist Broadcasting Corporation? It really has gone that way in recent years.

  21. @John D, you’re only revealing your ignorance about the subject and insulting me doesn’t add any credibility to your baseless arguments. It’s well known that the Torah does not provide an accurate description of Israelite History, specialy when it comes to the Bereshit (Book of Genesis). However, this doesn’t mean everything written in it is false, as most historians agree (except some obscure ones, who probably have your admiration).

    You may even question the existence of King David and King Omri (even though there’s archaeological evidence to support their existence), but there should be no doubts in your mind that when Greeks and Romans invaded the Land of Israel, the only people they found there were Israelites (Jews and Samaritans). There were no Palestinians there, as they ceased to exist as a distinct ethnic group around the 5th century BCE. This is an undisputed fact.

    You should also know that your comments about Josephus would be a reason of laughter in any serious academic debate. Everybody knows that part of his narrative is politically biased, but no serious historian would dismiss everything he wrote.

    It seems you’re nothing more than a cheap revisionista with little knowledge abotu History. Anybody na tell that your perspective is purely base don wishful thinking and your desire to erase any trace of Israelite History in the land of Israel.

    PS: I don’t speak Yiddish. I’m Sefaradi/Mizrahi. But I guess you’re too ignorant to tell the diference.

    @Ilan, it seems you don’t want to answer a simple question. Do you subscribe the theory of Shlomo Sand, according to which there was no gradual dispersion of Israelites around the Middle East, North Africa and Southern Europe before, during and after the Roman/Byzantine occupation period or not? I think it’s a fair question to make before I pay money to watch your documentary.

    I’m looking forward to get your answer.

  22. I am from the UK, is there somewhere where I can buy the movie a vast number of individuals would love to see this.

  23. Pingback: Palestine Solidarity Campaign BBC DG faces claims that political pressure led BBC to drop film | Palestine Solidarity Campaign

  24. Pingback: BBC questioned over why it pulled documentary on Jerusalem By Amena Saleem | William

  25. Pingback: BBC questioned over why it pulled documentary on Jerusalem | Ramy Abdeljabbar's Palestine and World News

  26. Pingback: Will the BBC Trust investigate axing of Ilan Ziv’s “Jerusalem – An Archeological Mystery Story”? | the blog-o-bot

  27. Pingback: 25 juillet 2013 | yulberto

  28. Pingback: BBC series to culminate in “historian-Zionist” making “moral case for Israel” | The Electronic Intifada | digger666

  29. Pingback: Forbidden News » BBC series to culminate in "historian-Zionist" making "moral case for Israel"

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