My Word: Cinema verité and calling the shots

Forget waiting for the fat lady to sing: There won’t be peace until Palestinian cinemas can screen a movie starring Gal Gadot – and Jews and Palestinians will be safe watching it.

Gal Gadot  (photo credit: REUTERS)
Gal Gadot
(photo credit: REUTERS)
I need to start with an apology – not to those who might be offended by what I’m about to write, but for not writing it earlier.
The idea for this column was born two weeks ago, when I first heard of the trip made by a group of Jews – most of them from the Diaspora – who traveled to Hebron on a Friday to sing feel-good songs and clear the ground around abandoned buildings with the idea of constructing a cinema for the local residents – well, the Palestinian local residents, at least.
Following a long chain of Facebook comments on a +972 Magazine feature, it is obvious that Jewish residents of Hebron would not be welcome, or safe, in the darkened movie theater if it ever gets off the ground.
I’m not sure Palestinian residents would be safe either, Hebron being a Hamas stronghold. The cinema culture that once flourished in Gaza ended when the Muslim Brotherhood affiliate ousted Fatah following Israel’s pullout in 2005.
I postponed writing the column because the Nice ramming attack in which more than 80 people were killed was more on my mind than a small group of people spouting civil rights movement slogans and purportedly carrying a message of “tikkun olam.”
(I doubt most of them understand the concept. Labeling and libeling the Jewish state an apartheid entity while demanding Palestinian areas be judenrein is not “mending the world.”) This week has not been much better with the ongoing attacks in Germany and the blood-chilling murder of an elderly priest as he conducted morning mass in a small church in northern France.
(There have been other atrocities, but most of them fell off the Western radar, being carried out by Islamists in places ranging from Pakistan to Somalia. Attacks by jihadists on Christians in Africa and throughout the Middle East are so commonplace they barely get mentioned – one of the reasons people were so shocked when this type of attack was carried out in Europe.) There was something farcical in what the cameras filming the cinema construction team captured. A Jewish Press report included video footage, provided by local Jewish resident Tzipi Shlisel, in which a Palestinian man claims that the ground is used for grazing and belongs to him.
Both claims are being disputed, but he doesn’t seem to want Cinema Hebron opening near him soon.
This didn’t stop Peter Beinart, who had a cameo role at the Friday protest, from opening a July 19 opinion piece in Haaretz: “Jawad Abu Aisha owns a cluttered yard in H2, the sector of Hebron that falls under direct Israeli control. He’d like to turn it into a cinema. Many local Palestinians – lacking recreational opportunities – would like to help him. But Abu Aisha says that Jewish settlers, and the Israeli military, prevent him from developing the space.”
In the op-ed titled, “What I Saw Last Friday in Hebron,” Beinart says he joined 52 Jewish activists on the trip “organized by the Center for Jewish Nonviolence and the anti-occupation collective, All That’s Left.
We came at the request of a group called Youth Against Settlements. It’s [sic] burly, charismatic leader, a student of Gandhi and Martin Luther King named Issa Amro, asked Diaspora Jews to come and help clear Abu Aisha’s yard. He didn’t need American Jewish muscle. He needed American Jewish privilege, the privilege that gives American Jews protection from the Israeli state... He also hoped it would bring them publicity.”
A few paragraphs and a lot of clichés later, Beinart admits he doesn’t think this type of protest will have a direct impact on Israelis.
“The protests are too American,” he writes.
“....But the protests aren’t meant to change Israeli opinion. They’re meant to change American Jewish opinion, which could in turn change American government policy.
And curiously, it was the very Americanism of the protest that made it so Jewish.”
So much for democracy. Those Israelis don’t know what’s best for them, so we’ll force them to change their minds.
The sight of Israeli and American flags being burned by pro-Palestinian activists outside the Democratic convention this week and the speeches coming out of the Republican gathering did nothing to reassure most Israelis.
Beinart asserts he “spent the day fearing Jewish soldiers and police” and being protected by the Palestinians as he worked alongside them.
As he celebrated a Kabbalat Shabbat, welcoming the Sabbath, surrounded by Palestinian activists, I don’t suppose he considered the possibility that the Jewish (and probably also Druse) soldiers and police were risking their lives to protect all of them.
Israeli actor and peace activist Juliano Mer Khamis, 52, who ran a drama project in Jenin, was shot dead by masked men in 2011 near the theater he founded, following many threats on his life from Islamists.
When I mentioned in the +972 Magazine comments section on Facebook that a cinema just for Palestinians “doesn’t sound like something that could further peace,” I was predictably attacked with the words “occupation,” “racist” and “Zionist bitch.”
I take the “Zionist” part as a compliment.
I don’t have the looks or the talent of Gal Gadot but at least I share the pride of the Israeli actress, who faced far more public and more vicious talkbacks and tweets than I did this week.
Gadot – a former Miss Israel, supermodel, and IDF combat trainer to boot – is the new Wonder Woman.
Rather than judging it on the screenplay, plot or acting, there are those who want to boycott the movie because the star is an Israeli.
Gadot, more than just a pretty face, says that IDF service taught her useful Wonder Woman skills.
Beinart calls the American Jewish activists “formidable” and “brave,” and says they gave him hope.
There’s a Hebrew phrase for that: “Hai beseret.” He’s “living in a movie,” a fantasy world.
So is the Palestinian Authority whose foreign minister Riyad al-Maliki, on behalf of President Mahmoud Abbas, presented the Arab League this week with a request to help prepare a file to prosecute the British for the 1917 Balfour Declaration.
Too bad they can’t find any Jebusites to sue for losing Jerusalem to King David.
If Abbas can’t accept the idea of a Jewish homeland, how is he meant to seriously negotiate a peace agreement with the Jewish state? Building bridges is good. Normalizing relations is better. Admitting that neither the Palestinians nor the Israelis are going away is essential.
I know a Palestinian journalist from Ramallah who visited Jerusalem’s Cinema City before me, but is too scared of the response of other Palestinians to publish her experience.
Forget waiting for the fat lady to sing: There won’t be peace until Palestinian cinemas can screen a movie starring Gal Gadot – and Jews and Palestinians will be safe watching it, noshing popcorn in the dark together.
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