Conan’s Israel special aired with the segment dedicated to the death of a Palestinian teen edited out.
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BY AMY SPIRO
The Israeli travel special Conan O’Brien aired for audiences around America Tuesday night showcased the fun, frivolous and routine side of life in Israel.
What most viewers were unaware of, however, was that after a preview screening on Monday night, the team behind the TBS show edited out portions filmed in Bethlehem and added a disclaimer to another segment.
The original version of the show – screened for 200 people in Los Angeles on Monday – included a scene filmed in a home in Bethlehem where a father discussed his son, who he said was killed by IDF soldiers during a riot. There was even footage of the funeral procession included.
But in the post-screening Q&A, some audience members expressed their discomfort with the footage. What was the context of the killing and who was at fault? And if you’re going to show Palestinian sorrow and suffering – what of Israeli suffering? What of Israeli victims of terror, who have watched their families be slaughtered? Or those who live in range of rockets from Gaza?
Following the screening, those in attendance received an email from the show thanking them for their feedback, “and especially for your post-screening questions and comments, which were greatly appreciated and will be immensely helpful as we continue to edit this show into its final version for eventual broadcast.”
And when it came to the show aired Tuesday night, the footage of the grieving father was nowhere to be found – not even in the online exclusives.
Instead the 40-minute show featured O’Brien at his best – being goofy, silly and self-deprecating as he traveled around the country. He admired the toned beach bodies in Tel Aviv, floated in the Dead Sea, haggled in the Arab shuk and danced on the streets of Bethlehem. He even donned a tallit to have a bar mitzva and visited the Syrian border to see how Israel treats wounded Syrians in its own hospitals.
O’Brien filmed a fake scene from Fauda, where he tried to torture star Lior Raz to give up Gal Gadot’s home address. And when he got to Gadot’s apartment? She told him she had company and asked him to come back later.
Without a doubt, O’Brien showed that Israel was about more than just the conflict. That people here – Palestinians and Israelis – live their lives, work, joke, laugh and eat like anyone else.
But when he did touch on the tensions – still an undeniable part of Israel’s existence – things took an interesting turn. While filming on the Palestinian side of the security wall, O’Brien ran into a group of American activists. They told him that people in the West Bank were living in an “open-air prison” and that the US is funneling money and weapons to the IDF. “There’s no way my 40-minute program is going to satisfy what it is you want me to do,” O’Brien told them in the show. “What I do promise to do is to make sure the people who watch this program will have an idea that this other reality exists.”
The full version of the comedian meeting the group of activists was posted online, where many incendiary and false accusations were made; one man proclaimed that “from the river to the sea, Palestine will be free.” In the show that aired on TV, O’Brien added a disclaimer: “To be fair I must emphasize that we did not have a similar conversation with the people who dispute these views.”
The comedian clearly set out to explore the country, and its people, and to make everyone laugh along the way.
While there is so much going on in Israel – and so much even from O’Brien’s filming that didn’t make the cut – not all of it is funny. He was aware of that, and also of the limitations he was facing.
“It is impossible to do justice in 40 minutes to the incredibly complex and polarizing country of Israel,” O’Brien summed up, “but I did accomplish my goal, which is to make friends wherever I went.”
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