The tortuous discussion within Palestine over BDS

How to show solidarity with Palestinians under occupation seems increasingly clear; civil society is calling for boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel.

Here’s an interesting piece in Haaretz about a new documentary that tackles the complex issue of a cinema in the West Bank town of Jenin and the inevitable political debates:

Yet the technical and practical problems were only some of the hurdles on the road to completing the project. Despite the three founders’ intention to steer clear of politics, it kept intruding, and it does to this day.

Vetter emphasizes how important it was to the founding generation to preserve the social character of the cinema, while deliberately ignoring other voices. Those other voices also came from intellectuals like Mer-Khamis and filmmaker Udi Aloni, who got involved in the project at a later stage, as well as from local VIPs such as Zakaria Zubeidi, a leader in the Al Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades and former Israeli security target who quit the militia and became involved in the Freedom Theater.

Vetter explains: “We wanted to build a good movie theater, to discuss sound rather than the conflict. An Israeli sound engineer and a Palestinian sound engineer can communicate better and more easily if they talk about a professional matter. They have more in common than politics and conflict. The problem was that we repeatedly got involved in a discussion of ‘normalization,’ of whether this was an attempt to normalize the existing situation.”

That’s a discussion that can be dangerous. Vetter: “Absolutely. We realized how fragile the entire project was. In my opinion the great achievement of the film lies in its ability to show all the points of view surrounding the movie theater: Fakhri, who says spectators from all over the world can come to the theater, and opposite him Zubeidi, who says that being political is an obligation. There are high and low classes in Jenin, there are people who are politically aware and those who are less so, people who are more pragmatic and those who are less so, and people in the middle of the road. When I arrived there for the first time I thought that there were terrorists and fighters in Jenin and no normalcy at all. I feel that the film shows that the ordinary people are there and they need support.”

One of the marvelous moments in the film is a conversation between Hamad and Vetter side by side with one between Mer-Khamis and Aloni. The Israelis speak in extreme terms, demand that the Palestinians set down conditions for guests from Israel who are interested in coming to the cinema, for example that every guest sign a BDS – boycott, divestment and sanctions – declaration against Israel. Hamad, on the other hand, is totally opposed.

“That really was an amazing moment,” says Vetter. “The Israelis accuse Fakhri [Hamad] of being a ‘normalizer’ – encouraging normalization with Israel. I felt that perhaps the intellectuals on both sides are defining what the conflict is and what normalization is, and by doing so are making things insoluble. You can destroy any idea in Palestinian society with the word ‘normalization.'”

Hamad: “I have six siblings. We were all arrested in the first intifada and some of us in the second one too. I don’t come from the moon, I suffer from the occupation just as I suffer from the corruption of the Palestinian leaders. After 60 years of conflict I believe that resistance is one way and it causes damage. If we could get the normal Israeli populace, people who are likely to vote for the extremists under certain circumstances, to understand that we want an ordinary life, as they do, we can change things. I believe that in this way, through cinema for example, we can explain ourselves. It was very strange to get instructions from Udi Aloni on how to protest and how to resist. He shouldn’t come to my community and convince them that Israelis are bad.”

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