As I practice filmmaking, I’d like to give a cinematic introduction to this
article. Here are five scenes:
RELATED:'Mavi Marmara' passenger: No one preached violence Livni: Flotilla affair should be viewed in wider context
Scene 1, 2010, Carnegie Mellon University campus,
Pittsburgh: Shabbat dinner for grad students. Two young ladies at the
ticket-selling desk, switching between English and Hebrew; I said, “Shalom” and
smiled, they smiled back. I thought of joining in, but then what would the
reaction be when I introduced myself to the kippa-wearing guys saying, “My name
Scene 2, 2008, Jordan. Azmi Bishara, in a documentary about the
Sabra and Shatilla massacre on Al Jazeera
, noted how it was unlikely that
Israeli soldiers would commit the crime; it would not fit their professionalism
as soldiers in a regular army.
Scene 3, 2010, US, on the phone with a
friend. Checking my following of homefront news, he asked: “Have you heard about
the latest Israeli massacre?” referring to the flotilla incident.
4: 2004, Jordan, a rainy winter night. I was replaying a scene from
Steven Spielberg’s Schindler’s List
in which a little girl in red against a
black-and-white background runs for shelter. So sad I wept a lot; I felt guilty
– for weeping – especially as to the “Zionist” ending of the film.
5, can’t recall the time or place but definitely 21st century, planet Earth. In
an academic, specialist discussion of literary criticism and philosophy; by way
of concluding and at the mention of Marx, Freud and Darwin, one of our Arab
colleagues exclaimed in a matter-of-fact tone: “They are all Jews... trying to
lead humanity astray. You know, part of the Zionist Protocols
I have a
large repertoire of similar scenes from everyday life, but those will do for
The first observation is how much our worldview in the Middle East,
especially on the Arab side, is fraught with assumptions, misconceptions and
stereotypes, all presented as historical facts. Those facts-in-disguise program
us and interfere in all levels of our lives, even the most basic ones, like
forming a friendship or taking interest in others.
The second issue is
the centrality of the enmity toward Israel, which often takes an anti-Semitic
nature. Recognizing Israel as the archenemy seems to have an ontological
dimension. It is a way of defining ourselves in the world, a ritual of coming
into political existence, a baptism.
An immediate consequence of this is
that we end up having ready-made scenarios of how events go and, no matter what
the facts are, we tend to accept and assign credibility only to our own
The general framework goes something like this: In an encounter
between an IDF soldier and a Palestinian, or an Arab in general, there is only
one of two outcomes: a murder (a massacre, a martyrdom) or a heroic victory. The
soldier will do his best to kill, the Palestinian (or Arab) will do his best to
THIS MIGHT look like a simplification, but let me illustrate it
with a recent example, the Turkish flotilla incident.
interpretation in the Arab world about what happened on that May 31 morning and
the interpretation now, after several months, are one and the same. How is that
Before we had any facts, everybody “knew” what had happened – an
Israeli massacre. As I said, this is the ready-made scenario. I had difficult
times trying to offer an even slightly altered situation.
“Those on board
the flotilla, who are they?” “Freedom fighters, heroes,
“Fine, are they willing to die for their cause?”
“What do you think they will do if they spot an Israeli
soldier?” “They will fight heroically.”
“So they will try to kill
“Definitely, it is their duty”.
This is what everyone in the
Arab world knew about the feelings of those aboard the ship. But they themselves
panic when a more “realistic” scenario is suggested: The soldiers came for
inspection. On spotting them, our friends did what they thought was their duty,
and what they were prepared, at least mentally, to do. The soldiers acted
accordingly, and since they were more professional and better equipped, they
ended up with no casualties.
This scenario can in no way be accepted
except as an attempt to defend the Israelis and “collaborate” with them. The
other scenario, ready before and despite any facts, is as follows: The soldiers
intercepted the Mavi Marmara
with the intention of killing as many people as
possible. They started shooting in all directions. The heroes had to fight back,
and were able to hurt some of the enemy fighters, but many fell as martyrs. The
soldiers might also have offered a villain-like grin at the end.
SABRA and Shatilla massacre is another relevant example. Like everyone else in
my part of the world, I was raised to believe that the Israelis planned and
committed that heinous crime – led by the ultimate butcher, Ariel Sharon. The
involvement of Lebanese militia was a marginal, secondary issue. Of course I had
to discover the facts through my personal research, and away from our mass
The unlikelihood of IDF soldiers slaughtering civilians is such an
esoteric issue that it needs an intellectual insider to Israeli politics, like
Bishara, to grasp.
The massacre is a good case in point also in that it
shows how the reaffirmation of enmity to Israel is manipulated in the resolution
of national and local conflicts. It is reactionary to accuse Israel. In Lebanon,
it was easier and more useful for the national compromise after the Taif
agreement to let the blame fall on Israel. Everyone is happy.
is common to dehumanize enemies, in our case the process is
overwhelming. Attempting any “humanized” presentation of Israelis is not
tolerated, regardless of one’s ongoing enmity with Zionism and the “Zionist
state.” This is what Mahmoud Darwish, the top Palestinian nationalist poet,
tries to do in his poem “A Soldier Dreaming of White Daffodils” where he
presents an “imaginary” dialogue with an IDF soldier and shows him victimized by
the Zionist discourse.
The poem is always criticized, not esthetically,
but due to the fact that the “humanity” of the IDF soldier is “beyond the norm.”
In this context and to mention another work of art, the problem with Ari
Folman’s Waltz with Bashir
, from our point of view, would be the “humanized”
presentation of IDF soldiers, who seem to not act like butchers or killers all
This kind of prejudiced, ready-made thinking, besides perhaps
Israeli preoccupation with security, is what made something like the flotilla
incident possible both in the reality of the event and its
It is becoming challenging to state that you need not be a
Zionist or a collaborator to understand the flotilla incident was not a
massacre, or to believe that the Israeli army would have prevented
the Sabra and
Shatilla massacre, or to argue that the Israelis are not after genocide in Gaza,
but rather interested in a more pragmatic objective – blocking the traffic of
weapons and missiles.
Sadly enough, it is still hard to see where in our
discourse the boundaries, if any, exist between ending Israeli occupation and
“wiping out” Israel and “the Jews.”The writer is a PhD researcher at IUP and an independent filmmaker.