Category Archives: Israel/Palestine

Sundance Exclusive: Interview with Emad Burnat and Guy Davidi of 5 Broken Cameras

Co-directed by Palestinian filmmaker Emad Burnat and Israeli activist Guy Davidi, the images in 5 Broken Cameras are beautiful, haunting, and bring about dozens of other questions about the history of the occupation and the tactics around love and resistance. Thanks to their fabulous publicist Eseel, I got to interview Guy and Emad and ask them about their lives, their work, and what they think the future holds for Israel and Palestine.

What was the experience like, creating this film out of the footage?

Emad: It has been a sometimes good experience, a sometimes bad experience. In 2005, when I started to resist with my village, I decided to film to protect myself and to protect the other protests and to show the footage for other people, and to use the footage sometime to prove what is going on. Over the last seven years, [I documented] how what happened in the village affected me, my family, my children, and my friends, week by week. After many years of documenting, I thought that there was a huge story that I have to tell to other people. We decided to construct a documentary from my personal life and personal story. [5 Broken Cameras] is not a political film or just a film about conflict – it’s a film about life, and how the people can survive and how people live, and how kids grow up. For my kids, everyone loves those boys, and I wanted to make for them a good life, I wanted to take care of them, and protect them. I can’t tie them in the house every day, keep them 24 hours in one room. This is our life, like this. I tried to build for them a good life and a good situation. And I wanted to put my life and my experience in the village in one documentary.

Maybe [other people, in other parts of the world] see footage on the news, but they don’t know the reality and they don’t know the life of these people. I hope that this film does make some change, so we can change the life for everyone – in Palestine and Israel.

Guy, how did you get involved in the film?

Guy: I came to Bil’in in early 2005, one of the first Israeli peace activists that came. I was already interested in what was happening in this movement, I wanted be a part of it. My first main motivation is a bit selfish, it wasn’t just to help the movement – it was also for me. Israel is like a ghetto – it is closed, like a bubble, not sensitive to the others. You’re not allowed to go here, not allowed to go there – so I wanted to break that. I wanted to live in a free way. If we live in a free way, we have to confront the shadows – and what happens in the shadow is in Palestine and the settlements.

So I met Emad. He was a very known character from the start, because he was the only cameraman who was basically staying in the village all the time. He became what we say in the film, “the village’s eye.” So we met many times while filming. We didn’t work together until 2009, when Emad approached me to make the film, so we decided to make it as a personal narrative. When I thought in the beginning to make a film on Bil’in, there were many that were similar. We had to have a new and refreshing take and I was happy to find out in the material that we could tell the story in this very intimate and personal way. You could see in the world both the context of the movement and the occupation, and you can have a really intimate family moments.

One of the moments that is the most striking to me in the film are the images of people moving into the settlements that are causing all this conflict. Why is this still happening?

Guy: First we have to know that there are many kinds of settlements and many kinds of settlers. It is the Israeli machine that is making it move. These are not necessarily ideological settlers going because they want to conquer the land or wipe out Palestinians. They just want to improve their lives. The government is subsidizing the apartments in the West Bank, and using [the people's] financial circumstances to move an agenda forward. Some settlers don’t know what is going on – the way Israel is designed, you can travel through parts and not really know where you are. Some settlers do know what’s going on and don’t care. And then you have a very small minority, a violent minority, the fundamentalist Jews that are creating terror in Palestine. They are small, but noisy and strong. If Israel would like to change its ways, they will have to find a way to root out the fundamentalists, to pull the weeds. Continue reading

Quoted: Houria Bouteldja on “White Women and the Privilege of Solidarity”

In 2007, women from the Movement of the Indigenous of the Republic took part in the annual 8th of March demonstration in support of women’s struggles. At that time, the American campaign against Iran had begun. We decided to march behind a banner that’s message was “No feminism without anti-imperialism”. We were all wearing Palestinian kaffiyehs and handing out flyers in support of three resistant Iraqi women taken prisoner by the Americans. When we arrived, the organizers of the official procession started chanting slogans in support of Iranian women. We found these slogans extremely shocking given the ideological offensive against Iran at that time. Why the Iranians, the Algerians and not the Palestinians and the Iraqis? Why such selective choices? To thwart these slogans, we decided to express our solidarity not with Third World women but rather with Western women. And so we chanted:

Solidarity with Swedish women!

Solidarity with Italian women!

Solidarity with German women!

Solidarity with English women!

Solidarity with French women!

Solidarity with American women!

Which meant: why should you, white women, have the privilege of solidarity? You are also battered, raped, you are also subject to men’s violence, you are also underpaid, despised, your bodies are also instrumentalized…

I can tell you that they looked at us as if we were from outer space. What we were saying seemed surreal, inconceivable. It was like the 4th dimension.  It wasn’t so much the fact that we reminded them of their situation as Western women that shocked them. It was more the fact that African and Arabo-Muslim women had dared symbolically subvert a relationship of domination and had established themselves as patrons. In other words, with this skillful rhetorical turn, we showed them that they de facto had a superior status to our own. We found their looks of disbelief quite entertaining.

Another example: After a solidarity trip to Palestine, a friend was telling me how the French women had asked the Palestinian women if they used birth control. According to my friend, the Palestinian women couldn’t understand such a question given how important the demographic issue is in Palestine. They were coming from a completely different perspective. For many Palestinian women, having children is an act of resistance against the ethnic cleansing policies of the Israeli state.

There you have two examples that illustrate our situation as racialized women, that help understand what is at stake and envisage a way to fight colonialist and Eurocentric feminism.

— Houria Bouteldja, spokeswoman for the PIR (La Indigènes de la République) speaking at the 4th International Congress of Islamic Feminism, in Madrid, 22 October 2010

(Hat Tip to Huimin)

An Everyday Epic Battle: Pride Toronto, Blackness Yes, Israeli Apartheid and Sticking Together

By Deputy Editor Thea Lim

I am from Toronto, though I now live in Houston.  I get most of my Toronto community news through Facebook, and I have been watching with disgust and amazement for the past two months as my Facebook feed has filled up with reports about Pride Toronto, Blackness Yes! – a community organization that celebrates black queer and trans history – and Queers Against Israeli Apartheid (QuAIA).

Long story short: Pride Toronto, which is an internationally famous week-long celebration of queer and trans pride, has made conscious or unconscious attempts to curtail the wholehearted participation of queer and trans folks of colour and their allies in Pride. They have attempted to relocate and shrink black-identified spaces, and they have banned QuAIA from participation in Pride 2010.  This year queer & trans people of colour (QTPOC) and their allies may participate in Pride, but only as long as they check their histories and politics at the door.  Short story long? Hang on to your hats, this is an epic tale.

Blackness Yes!

The first news I heard of this mess was in April, when the Blackness Yes! Blockorama party was asked to move by the Pride Toronto organizing committee for the third time in 4 years.

Blackness Yes! organizer Syrus M. Ware describes Blockorama and Blackness Yes!:

Since 1998 Blockorama has been a party at Pride where black queer and trans folks, their allies, supporters and people who love them came together to say no to homophobia in black communities and no to racism in LGBTQ communities. To say Blackness Yes at Pride – loud and proud…We have built Blockorama out of love, through sweat and toiling. For 12 years, we have claimed space, resisted erasure, found community, shared memories, built bridges, embraced sexuality, and found home. Blockorama is not just a party or a stage at Pride. It is a meeting place for black queer and trans people across North America- Blockorama is the largest space of its kind at any Pride festival on the continent.

Yet Pride Toronto has multiple times tried to move Blockorama further away from the main events, or relocated the party to smaller spaces that will not fit the huge crowds Blockorama draws.  Blockorama is a hugely important part of Pride, not only a black space where queer black folks go to party, but also a space that has always been immensely welcoming to non-black folks of colour.  Pride Toronto’s moves – whether or not they are racist – indicate a lack of sensitivity, care or even basic awareness of the size and meaning of Blockorama.

University of Toronto professor Rinaldo Walcott wrote this letter to the Pride Toronto organizing committee, upon news that Blockorama was to be moved again:

…at the same time that Pride Toronto has moved Blocko three times, Pride Toronto has also taken on the mantle of global human rights as its signature issue.

It is in fact the discrepancy between Pride Toronto’s treatment of local black communities participation in pride events and its attempt to position itself as a global player in the LGBTQ global rights movement that I find particularly offensive, disrespectful and unmindful of the very communities residing here that Pride Toronto would seek to champion overseas.

How can this be? How could it be that Pride Toronto did not see this ethical dilemma before it? Is it because Blocko is the last non-commercial space at pride? Is it because like much else in this country Pride Toronto too believes that black people as a constituency can be ignored? These are genuine questions, not accusations.

…We will not as black people here and globally stand to be exploited by white folks who now want it to appear that all is well at home, but not elsewhere.

On April 13 Blackness Yes! held a community meeting to protest these moves.  Deviant Productions, an alternative youth media collective, made a video of the meeting:

You can read a transcript of the video here.

In many ways this community mobilisation was successful.  3 days after the meeting, Pride Toronto agreed not to relocate Blockorama to a smaller venue for this year, and agreed to work with Blockorama, starting in July, to put a stop to the yearly migrations and find a permanent home for Blocko at Pride.

However negotiations are stalled around the matter of a dancefloor. This is a queer dance party, after all.

Continue reading

Open Thread: The Gaza Freedom Flotilla

by Latoya Peterson

On Memorial Day, twitter was abuzz with news about the Gaza Freedom Flotilla and what happened.  Mainstream media, not so much.

Here’s a quick run down for those not familiar with the chain of events.

The Gaza Freedom Flotilla is a part of the Free Gaza movement.  The boat trips were designed as an act of international civil disobedience to challenge the State of Israel’s blockade which prevents ship travel into Gaza.  According to the Free Gaza’s “A Simple Idea” section:

The Free Gaza Movement began in the Fall of 2006 with a simple idea: Instead of waiting for the world to act, we would sail to Gaza ourselves, and directly challenge the Israeli siege ourselves. For almost two years, Free Gaza activists in Australia, Britain, Cyprus, Germany, Greece, Lebanon, Palestine, and the United States worked to raise money, locate ships and crew, and train and organize for our first attempt to break through Israel’s blockade. By August 2008 we were ready, and we sailed to Gaza in two, small, wooden fishing boats: the FREE GAZA and the LIBERTY.

The Free Gaza & The Liberty, in Larnaca Port (August 2008)Since then we have continued to sail to besieged Gaza, bringing in human rights workers and lawyers, journalists, academics, and parliamentarians, as well as several tons of desperately needed humanitarian aid. We are students and teachers, human rights observers and aid workers, lawyers, medics, activists – parents and grandparents. We are of all ages and backgrounds, from countries all across the world. We will go to Gaza again and again and again. We have not and will not ask for Israel’s permission. It is our intent to overcome this brutal siege through civil resistance and direct action.

We will continue to challenge Israel’s illegal closure of the Gaza Strip and collective punishment of its civilian population until the Israeli siege is forever broken and the people of Gaza have free access to the rest of the world.

The Guardian has posted a Q & A about the flotilla, which reads:

What was the aim of the Gaza Freedom flotilla?

The Free Gaza movement says it was intended to deliver aid to Gaza to get around the Israeli blockade and “to raise international awareness about the prison-like closure of the Gaza Strip and pressure the international community to review its sanctions policy and end its support for continued Israeli occupation”. The movement is an international coalition of pro-Palestinian human rights organisations and activists. It has been endorsed by Desmond Tutu and Noam Chomsky and counts on the support of a number of Jewish groups that campaign for the rights of Palestinians.

Israel‘s deputy foreign minister, Danny Ayalon, said: “The armada of hate and violence in support of the Hamas terror organisation was a premeditated and outrageous provocation. The organisers are well-known for their ties to global Jihad, al-Qaida and Hamas. They have a history of arms smuggling and deadly terror. On board the ship we found weapons that were prepared in advance and used against our forces. The organisers’ intent was violent, their method was violent, and unfortunately, the results were violent.”

Israel has singled out the Turkish-based Insani Yardim Vakfi or IHH (“humanitarian relief fund”) as a radical Islamic organisation.

The boat was filled with both aid and an international group of activists, many of whom had protested directly on the ground in Gaza or had joined the 2008 flotillas.

On Sunday night, Israel made the decision to storm the vessel, with lethal results. Continue reading

Coming Attraction: After The Cup in L.A. Friday

By Special Correspondent Arturo R. García

I just wanted to tip our readers in the L.A. area off about the West Coast premiere of After The Cup: Sons of Sakhnin United, which has been garnering praise around the documentary circuit for its’ story about Bnei Sakhnin F.C., a football team based out of the city of Sakhnin, an Israeli town that is home to more than 25,000 Arab Israelis. The team’s roster is comprised of both Arabs and Jews, and though some elements in the film hew close to more traditional “underdog” fare – because Sakhnin is a small club, for example, its’ facilities aren’t as modern as its’ competitors – it does change up the formula in one significant way: After The Cup deals with Sakhnin in the season after it won the Israeli Premier League’s championship, the State Cup. Slight spoiler here: the team soon finds it really is harder to stay on top than to get there.

Unfortunately, I can’t make the premiere – I live too far away – but if any of our readers can catch it this weekend, I’d be interested in getting your take on the film in this thread.

An Interview with Cherien Dabis, the Woman Behind Amreeka

by Special Correspondent Fatemeh Fakhraie

Fatemeh Fakhraie spoke with Cherien Dabis, the director behind the film Amreeka, a story about a Palestinian woman and her son as they adjust to their new life in America.

It seems that your experiences as an Arab-American have really shaped the way you tell stories. I remember reading in another interview of yours that the story behind Amreeka is a personal one. Could you talk a little bit about that?

Cherien Dabis: The story is very much inspired by my family and the love, strength and pride that held us together during a difficult time. I grew up in a small town in Ohio where there was no anonymity. So everyone knew that my parents were Arab and that we spoke Arabic at home and went away to Jordan and the West Bank every summer. That was all it took for people to treat us differently. Mostly they were just ignorant, asking questions like: Are there cars in Jordan? It wasn’t until the first Gulf War when ignorance turned into racism. My father – who’s a physician – lost a lot of his patients because people didn’t want to support an Arab doctor. We got death threats on a daily basis. And the secret service even visited my high school because of a tip that they got that my 17 year-old sister allegedly threatened to kill the president. I was 14 years old at the time and actually lost a lot of my friends, that’s how ostracized we were. When a so-called friend came up to me at my locker one day and said, “my brother could go to war and die because of you,” I knew it had gone too far. I knew that I needed to try to do something about it. But not only is the film loosely based on what happened to my family in 1991, my family members also inspire the characters in the film. In fact, the main character Muna is inspired by my Aunt who immigrated to the U.S. with her teenaged son in 1997. What struck me about my aunt was her attitude. She was so full of hope and optimism, despite the daily challenges that she faced. She was so trusting of people that she unknowingly disarmed them. Even people who didn’t want to like her or would have otherwise been suspicious of her couldn’t help but ultimately fall in love with her. It’s this quality that inspired Muna. When I sat down to write the script, I kept thinking: If more people were like my aunt, the world would be a better place. Continue reading

Losing My Religion

by Racialicious Special Correspondent Fatemeh Fakhraie. A longer version of this article appears on altmuslimah.

I finally got around to watching AmericanEast this weekend. Full disclosure: I had originally read Tariq Nelson’s review, which was a pretty good rundown.

AmericanEast is an attempt at mainstreaming American Muslims and attempts to portray the struggles Muslims face in the United States. In my opinion, they overdid it and never established a coherent plot. And on top of that, I found that the characters had no depth and some were cartoonish caricatures.

The movie centers on Mustafa, an Egyptian immigrant who owns a café in a heavily Middle Eastern part of Los Angeles. His life, and the lives of several close to him, is one problem or tragedy after another: at one point during the movie, I asked myself whether anything good was ever going to happen to anyone.

Mustafa has a sister, Salwah. Tariq outlines her character:

Salwah Marzouke, Mustafa’s sister, was a nurse that styled hair in the back of her brother’s restaurant and was arranged to marry her cousin Sabir. However she did not like him and they did not get married. But the cousin was never informed (at least not on camera) and the story was dropped. Salwah was also interested in a doctor at her hospital who was not Muslim.

The movie stresses over and over that marrying Salwah off is Mustafa’s duty (or so he believes). Sabir comes from Egypt to marry Salwah and take him back home with her, although she is less than excited (that’s an understatement) about this arrangement. Even though she often fights with her brother, she gives off major submissive, dutiful vibes that plague many female Muslim characters in the form of wide-eyed, helpless stares contrasted with humbly averted eyes and lowered chin. Continue reading

Sundance Interview: Cherien Dabis, Director of Amreeka

by Guest Contributor Melissa Silverstein, orginally published at Women and Hollywood

Cherien Dabis is having one of those dreamlike weeks. She was named one of Variety’s 10 Directors to Watch in 2009, and her film Amreeka had its world premiere at Sundance this past weekend to a standing ovation and positive reviews. Now all she needs to do it sell the film and get an agent.

Not being in Sundance, I haven’t seen the film but if I were there, it would been tops on my list. Here’s the description from the catalog:

Director Cherien Dabis’s auspicious debut feature, Amreeka, is a warm and lighthearted film about one Palestinian family’s tumultuous journey into Diaspora amidst the cultural fallout of America’s war in Iraq. Muna Farah, a Palestinian single mom, struggles to maintain her optimistic spirit in the daily grind of intimidating West Bank checkpoints, the constant nagging of a controlling mother, and the haunting shadows of a failed marriage. Everything changes one day when she receives a letter informing her that her family has been granted a U.S. green card. Reluctant to leave her homeland, but realizing it may be the only way to secure a future for Fadi, her teenage son, Muna decides to quit her job at the bank and visit her relatives in Illinois to see about a new life in a land that gives newcomers a run for their money.Dabis weaves an abundance of humor and levity into this tale of struggle, displacement, and nostalgia and draws an absorbing and irresistibly charming performance from actress Nisreen Faour as Muna, who stands at the heart of this tale. Amreeka glows with the truth and magic of everyday life and signals the arrival of an exciting, new directorial talent.

She took a couple of minutes to discuss the film and her Sundance experience.

Women & Hollywood: What made you want to make this film?

Cherien Dabis: The story is quite personal, inspired by my family and loosely based on true events. I grew up in a small town in Ohio of about 10,000 people. I actually grew up between Ohio and Jordan but most of my time was spent in this small town where as Arab Americans we were isolated because there was no Arab community and not a whole lot of diversity. For a while everything was fine and we fit in relatively well until the first Gulf War when my family was scapegoated and overnight we virtually became the enemy. All kinds of absurd things happened. My father who is a physician lost a lot of his patients because they wouldn’t support an Arab doctor and then it came to a head when the Secret Service came to my high school to investigate a rumor that my 17 year old sister threatened to kill the president.

Continue reading