Imagine that every time you wanted to visit your mother in Albany, you had to submit to questioning by an 18-year-old flaunting a loaded automatic weapon and with the power to send you back home.
This, or worse, is everyday reality for four million Palestinians who have lived in territories under military occupation by Israel for 43 years.
Israel claims the controls are necessary to stop “Palestinian terrorists.” Yet Israel’s policies—continuously stealing land and water resources from the native Palestinians for Jewish settlement, using a tightly knit system of abusive regulations and restrictions—have clearly provoked, rather than protected against, terrorism.
In reality, the vast majority of Palestinians have never turned to violence. Their patience, endurance, and nonviolent resistance to dispossession are the subject of five extraordinary films to be shown in April and May, at the Berkeley Fellowship of Unitarian Universalists.
Also pictured in the films are Israelis who have chosen to act against the injustice of their government’s policies. They demonstrate with Palestinians against Israeli soldiers carrying out orders violating international law, or defend Palestinians in Israeli courts against confiscation of their land.
Most important, many Israelis document the abuses committed by their government and armed forces. Indeed, the first three films in the series were made by Israelis.
Encounter Point portrays Palestinians and Israelis who have known violence intimately and now see true nonviolence as the only way. During the first intifada (Palestinian uprising of 1987), Ali, aged 16, was sentenced to 10 years in Israeli prison for throwing stones and demonstrating. In the second intifada (begun in 2000), he was shot in the leg by an Israeli settler and his brother was killed by a soldier at a checkpoint.
Today, Ali is a follower of Gandhi, whose teachings he discovered in prison. We see him in a hospital talking about nonviolent resistance with angry young men, civilians injured by Israeli soldiers. Yousef, who lost a leg to an Israeli bullet, says: “With Jews there’s no peace.” Patiently, brilliantly, Ali explains the power of nonviolence.
Checkpoint shows West Bank Palestinians attempting to travel to neighboring towns—to fetch goods, bring children to school, or go for medical treatment. The film was shot over three years at checkpoints throughout the West Bank. Self-absorbed and bored Israeli teenage soldiers play cruel games. They promise to let a man through, then, when reminded of their promise, say, “That was an hour ago.” They keep some waiting for hours under a freezing rain. Saddened for both sides, we become engrossed in these callous and childish demonstrations of power, with no relationship to Israel’s security.
Bil’in My Love is the work of an Israeli activist who joined the people of Bil’in in their nonviolent protests against Israel’s taking their land to build the Separation Wall. He decided to chronicle the confrontations, and created a moving and intelligent documentary.
The film opens with Israeli soldiers chainsawing olive trees, as the Palestinian owner of the grove cries out, "Why? Why the olive trees?" Week after week, the unarmed villagers face Israeli soldiers and are met with tear gas, rubber bullets, beatings and arrests. Israelis and internationals join the protests. A touching friendhip develops between the filmmaker and a young Palestinian paralyzed by an Israeli bullet.
Jerusalem: East Side Story documents Israel’s policies in Palestinian East Jerusalem. As Jerusalem is holy to Muslims and Christians, as well as Jews, there can be no peace unless the city is internationalized and open to all for worship. However, since Israel conquered the city in 1967, it has worked to drive out Palestinian Muslims and Christians. It annexed East Jerusalem, and constructed a ring of Jewish settlements that cuts Jerusalem—the center of Palestinians’ religious, cultural, and economic life—from the rest of the West Bank.
The film shows the effects of these policies on Palestinians. Families watch in desperation as giant bulldozers demolish their home. Some live in tents across from their homes, evicted to make room for Jewish settlers. Crowds tussle to obtain permits to go worship at Al Aksa mosque, the Muslim heart of Jerusalem. The many who fail to obtain permits on time pray in the streets.
Slingshot Hip Hop, a hopeful and sometimes joyous film, closes the series. Young Palestinian men and women in Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza use music to express their pain and frustrations at living separated, occupied and treated as lesser beings. They communicate not only with each other, but, through this extraordinary film, with the world. Their music, energy and gentleness go straight to the heart.
Each of these films exposes a facet of Israel’s oppressive occupation. Taken together, they should make it impossible to accept the misconceptions perpetuated in the U.S. media: Palestinians are terrorists, Israelis are their victims.
There is in fact a long history of Palestinian nonviolent resistance. But Israel has been particularly quick to pounce upon such movements, imprisoning or deporting their leaders, because the image of Palestinians as terrorists is necessary to justify their massive violations of the rights of Palestinians.
As for Israelis being the victims in the conflict: Israel receives three billion dollars in military aid every year from the United States. This provides Israelis with the most sophisticated amd powerful armed forces in the region. By any standard of comparison, the Palestinians are effectively un-armed and pose no threat to Israel’s survival. In effect, Israel is primarily the victim of its own greed for land and power.
For the sake of both Palestinians and Israelis, Israel must be stopped on its path of folly. For this to happen, the U.S. public and Congress must be educated about the realities of the conflict. The films presented are powerful testimonies which should help in this task.
PALESTINE: OCCUPIED LIVES, NONVIOLENCE AND
All shows at 7 p.m. Fridays at Berkeley Fellowship of Unitarian Universalists, Fellowship Hall, 1924 Cedar St. Donation appreciated. No one turned away for lack of funds. Wheelchair accessible.
April 2: Encounter Point (directed by Ronit Avni and Julia Bacha)
April 16: Checkpoint (directed by Yoav Shamir)
April 30: Bil’in Habibti (Bil’in My Love) (directed by Shai Carmeli-Pollack)
May 7: Jerusalem: East Side Story (directed by Mohammed Alatar)
May 21: Slingshot Hip Hop (directed by Jackie Salloum)