Tag Archive | film

Lost in Palestine: A quest for identity

Palestinian filmmaker Alaa Ashkar investigates his heritage and that of his family who live within the Green Line.

An intimate account of the filmmaker’s quest for identity, “You reap what you sow” is Alaa Ashkar’s second film.

The simple storyline takes the audience along a journey with a Palestinian filmmaker who is living in France and wants to start a documentary on Palestinian memory in Israel. During a trip to his family’s home in Galilee, relatives expressed their concern about the film and the life choices made by the director, adding a further dimension to the production.

Ashkar’s first offering, “Route 60” showed an awareness of the policy of global Israeli colonisation and its effects on the land and people’s minds; however he now questions his family to better understand himself. Through this journey from childhood within his protective family to adulthood through his travels, we accompany the narrator into historical Palestine.

From the very beginning Ashkar tells MEMO: “Please make it clear that I am a Palestinian filmmaker who is a citizen of Israel and not an Israeli Arab filmmaker or an Israeli Palestinian.”

I refuse to call myself an Israeli Arab because Israeli Arab is an Israeli invention whose purpose is to make our Palestinian identity meaningless.

“For some of us, we are Arab Israelis, but is it the same as being Jordanian, Iraqi, Egyptian? For them, our references are the official authority. This is Israel, so they feel like Israeli Arabs. I am a Palestinian of Israeli citizenship. I am Arab because I belong to an Arab nation, but I am Palestinian… We must not deny who we are.”

Ashkar says of the film: “Some people expect to see different Palestinians, resistant, suffering from the occupation. But this film shifts away from that. This may come as a surprise. I wanted to give a different perspective on the Palestinians as they are seen in France. It’s not a militant film in the sense that it’s not going to speak directly about occupation, conflict, resistance,” Ashkar adds.

Though it does not tackle the question of occupation heads-on, it raises the issue of identity, memory and how Palestinians who remained in what became Israel in 1948’s Nakba are portrayed. Does this make it a film about militants?

If it’s in the sense of memory, then yes, my film is militant and resistant in the sense that I’m trying to maintain a memory. I am talking about the 1948 Palestinian question. We look a lot at the West Bank or Gaza, but we do not know this other Palestinian reality.

Palestinians represent 20 per cent of the population in Israel, most often marginalised in Israeli society. For the new generations, 1948, when Israel was created and hundreds of thousands of Palestinians were expelled, is a page of history – rewritten by the Israeli state – learned at school. Some families choose to forget their Palestinian identity to better help their children integrate. Double culture, double language, but finally a single identity, surrounded by silence.

Throughout the film Ashkar asks: “What is our identity?” The answers are all the more surprising and lead to an in-depth reflection of what it means to be a Palestinian in Israel. If the Palestinian memory is very much alive and well maintained in the West Bank, there seems to be a deficit of memory for Israeli Palestinians of 1948, those who are of Israeli citizenship and of “Arab” nationality.

We are not refugees. We have become Israeli citizens. We lived in Palestine and then suddenly we lived in Israel. The refugees have been ripped out of their homes; that’s the difference.

Ashkar’s young niece, who pops up throughout the film, highlights more questions of identity; that of today’s generation. Through her innocent and often childish questions she too is learning about her history, stories in which she doesn’t appear.

She is seen asking Ashkar which football team he would support, “his country France’s team”?

“The scene where she asks me why I do not support my country, France, shows that she is not aware of her identity either, like many Palestinian children in Israel. For her, Palestine is something else, it’s the West Bank. This is not our concern. She’s still small, 13 years old. As she grows up, she will do as others do: either she will proudly claim her Palestinian identity or she’ll be ashamed of it and hide it,” Ashkar explains.

The filmmaker describes daily life in Israel as being one that denies identity and creates discrimination. A citizenship that does not grant full equality of rights:

We are home and we are considered immigrants. It is a state considered to be made for the Jews. What is non-Jewish is considered to be inferior, individually and collectively.

“It’s all about military service. We are exempt from it. Only Jews are obliged to do it. Military service then gives us the right to benefits, access to housing, to study… We do not have the same rights, so there is a form of segregation. Many rights are conditioned to this military service. Even those who decide to volunteer in the army [they are very few among the Israeli Palestinians] remain collectively discriminated against. Arab localities do not have the same aid and advantages as Jewish localities.”

“Our parent’s generation lived in fear. The word Palestine or Nakba was forbidden, for example. Then there was an entire Israeli political process that wanted to erase this memory. Some young people of the new generation do not know much about their history. Their parents don’t want them to be interested in politics because it’s scary. There are similarities with the Algerians growing up in France who are cut off from their memory and history.”

The Israeli education system reinforces this, Ashkar explains, by erasing Palestinian memory. “At school we are not taught our history. There is a whole political, educational and media strategy to erase the memory of Palestine in general, but also of these Israeli Palestinians. For we are at the heart of the subject of memory.”

But is there still only one Palestinian memory left, or has it broken up into three parts: Gaza, the West Bank and the 1948 Palestinians? Land dispossession in the West Bank, confinement in Gaza, dispossession of the memory of the Ashkar family and so many others. All Palestinians are being besieged by a slow process of dispossession of their lands, homes and identities. Beyond that, according to Ashkar, is there still a Palestinian nation? “Yes, there is a Palestinian nation. But we are in a region where the stakes are so high that we sometimes feel cursed. We are also in a mosaic of identities that marks the political issue. The European nation-state is not the possible model in this region. The question of Palestinian identity is part of the Arab nation’s question. The only question that can be asked is: is there an Arab nation? The answer is yes. If there are tensions between the political groups, at the individual level, we are all Palestinians, despite different contexts. We are all Palestinians because we share the same history, the same memory and the same hopes.”

“I’m looking for the ideal Palestine through this film too. I want to sow the memory to reap the peace and quiet. In Israel, fear is sown to harvest walls. I wanted to sow honesty in order to reap the benefits of openness,” Ashkar concludes.




Palestinian Dance Education under Occupation: Need or Frill?

By Omar Barghouti

Despite an almost obvious and persistent need to promote creativity, imagination and freedom of expression as crucial ingredients in cultural development, dance as a form of spiritual and cultural education as well as a useful medium in education has been virtually non-existent in the formal education system in the occupied Palestinian territory (oPt). el-funoun-cropped-483Music, drama and plastic arts may have fared relatively better, but not by much. It is high time to challenge this deficiency head-on, both from a cultural and a political perspective, particularly since its causes are self-inflicted, to a large extent.

Arabs in general have traditionally viewed and practised dance as a communal expression of happiness, experienced during revered folk festivities of all sorts: a good harvest, a wedding, even a spiritual occasion, although the latter demands its own, quite different choreographies. Unlike in some other world cultures, where traditional dance may express grief, fear, defiance and readiness for battle, among other dramatic themes, folkloric Arab dance — of which Palestinian dabkeh is a branch — as a genre has for generations been restricted to more or less a single celebratory theme. Among other effects, this mono-thematic prevalence limits the value of dance as an educational medium and as a field of education in its own right, as it prevents dance from artistically adapting to more complex or demanding themes and from enhancing the cognitive and critical faculties of participants and spectators alike.

In the Palestinian context, decades of occupation, exile and colonial oppression have left their mark on the Palestinian collective approach to art, where the above limitations are evident. While t, plastic art and film had more flexibility and agility to adapt to changing circumstances and needs, even in the formal education sector, the movement alphabet of traditional Palestinian dance was, comparatively speaking, set in stone. To make a “new” dance about prisoners of conscience, say, you only need to compile steps from the same old constrained repertoire, only set to the “right” song with prisoner-related, preferably direct, lyrics and a familiar traditional tune that guarantees applause from start to finish. Such artistic experiences, if they can be so called, can rarely touch minds or hearts, let alone play any transformative or liberating role; they can only appease some sectors’ basic obsession with familiarity and stability — stagnation, really — in a sea of political turmoil and rapid socio-economic changes.

Under conditions of occupation Palestinian dance has been largely viewed as yet another tool for political agitation against the oppressor or a politically-motivated exercise in reviving cultural roots, again in defiance of the will of the occupiers, who have consistently tried to confiscate or altogether suppress any expression of Arab-Palestinian cultural heritage. Artistic excellence, innovation and growth, deemed far less significant than political content, were thus forfeited or ignored. As a result, developing dance — in both technique and content — even as a form of artistic resistance, open to the fresh influences of world cultures and changing Palestinian circumstances, has faced serious challenges from within society, not just from the occupation authorities. Social conservatives were particularly incensed by the tendency inherent in contemporary Palestinian dance, as in all contemporary art forms around the world, to defy anachronistic norms, challenge patriarchic and clerical authority, or rebel against molded, inherited parameters of allowed thought and expression.

With boldness and almost a sense of mission, some Palestinian dance groups were able to build on the roots of Arab-Palestinian folkloric dance, while wisely and selectively integrating techniques and style details learned through international exposure, to create an altogether fresh spirit, texture and movement terminology that is distinctively Palestinian in character yet universal in appeal. This development succeeded in capturing new audiences, particularly among Palestinian youth, who for many years have been gradually and steadily losing their devotion to — and sometimes their belief in — Palestinian cultural manifestations and symbols. Being Palestinian was no longer exclusively associated in their minds with being traditional, or being like their grandparents! It can be fun and hip to be Palestinian, too! If only for this, education officials and experts alike must reconsider the current exclusion of dance from art education in the school system.

But the value of integrating dance into Palestinian education goes well beyond its function in rehabilitating a sense of identity among youth or invoking self-respect for Palestinian culture and its potential. Dance, as an art form that involves the coordinated and expressive movement of the entire body, has its unique, critically needed, therapeutic effect on a community deeply traumatized by Israel’s relentless crimes: wanton destruction; indiscriminate killings; the medieval-like siege; the colonial Wall; denial of education rights, and all the other systematic efforts designed to induce gradual ethnic cleansing. For children and youth facing such terribly inhumane conditions, artistic expression, especially through dance and drama, becomes a necessity, not a luxury.

Finally, aside from its internal benefits, so to speak, dance, like other local arts, is a vehicle through which Palestinian culture may be presented to the world in our untiring effort to counter, to refute, to substitute the myriad forms of dehumanization we must reckon with at the hands of our oppressors, their fervent lobbies, and their enormous media machine. But for dance to reach a deeper medium in our international audiences’ thinking and feeling and to be worthy of its name, it should by all means avoid falling into the trap of “victim art,” begging sympathy — which is transient, sometimes patronizing, and often superficial — instead of building solidarity — which is more lasting, respectful, and principled. Many in the West think of Palestinians as one-dimensional, as if placed in a mental box. We may indeed be incarcerated in the world’s largest open-air prisons, surrounded by the world’s most barbaric concrete walls, but our minds can still be free, and so can our ability to express ourselves in movement, music, poetry, or any other form of artistic articulation. It is time we told the world our whole story, not as victims, not as heroes either, but as human beings who aspire to live in dignity, in freedom, and who struggle to realize their fullest humanity without fetters, colonial or otherwise.




Filmmakers challenge Israel “spotlight” at this year’s Locarno Festival

Posted on: 13 April 2015

By Sarah Irving

A star-studded list of Palestinian and international filmmakers has called on the organizers of the Locarno International Film Festival in Switzerland to cancel its plans to highlight the Israeli film industry.

Annemarie Jacir is one of many high-profile filmmakers calling for an international festival to drop a planned “spotlight” on Israeli film.   (Lamma Shoftak /  Philistine Films)

Annemarie Jacir is one of many high-profile filmmakers calling for an international festival to drop a planned “spotlight” on Israeli film.
(Lamma Shoftak / Philistine Films)

The call comes in response to plans by the festival to focus on Israeli film in its “Carte Blanche” program, taking Israeli government funding to do so.

The statement asks the festival to “reconsider their relationship to the government of Israel, and withdraw their partnership with the Israel Film Fund, Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs and all other official Israeli entities.”

Signatories to the call include well-known Palestinian filmmakers and actors including: Annemarie Jacir, Elia Suleiman, Mohammed and Saleh Bakri, Hany Abu-Assad, Suha Arraf, Ruba Blal Asfour and Liana Badr.

They are joined by international names including Ken Loach, Richard Horowitz, Walter Bernstein, Paul Laverty, Yasmine Hamdan, Helene Louvart, Simone Bittone, Eyal Sivan and Jasmila Zbanic.

The festival has run annually since 1946 and is a major event in the cinema calendar, known for its focus on emerging talent in cinema.


The section of the festival’s website devoted to the Carte Blanche special program currently reads:

The fifth edition of Carte Blanche, the Festival del film Locarno’s initiative dedicated to films in post-production, this year turns the spotlight on Israel. The films that will be selected will have the chance to be presented to the professionals attending Locarno during the Industry Days.

Thanks to a partnership with the Israel Film Fund, which coordinates the Israeli works in progress of the initiative, Carte Blanche will select 5 to 7 films in post-production. The producers of the selected films will attend the Locarno Festival and present their work to industry professionals. Intended to facilitate the films’ completion and distribution, they will be screened to sales agents, buyers, programmers and representatives of post-production support funds for attending Locarno during the Industry Days event (8 – 10 August). A jury of professionals from the sector will be convened to select the best film, which will receive an award worth 10,000 CHF.

But opponents of Israel’s inclusion in such a high-profile slot at the festival, and with major Israeli government funding for the festival, stated in an 11 April press release that:

We hope that our colleagues and friends at the Locarno Film Festival will stand with us. We hope you will recognize the direness of the present situation, and that you will choose to stand for human dignity in the face of barbarity and injustice perpetrated against any and all peoples.

A longer statement on the website of the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel adds that:

We are particularly disturbed about the timing of this Locarno Film Festival decision to promote Israel, coming on the heels of Israel’s latest massacre in Gaza in the summer of 2014, where more than two thousand Palestinians were killed, including more than five hundred children. Locarno’s decision also follows the election of the most racist, far-right government in Israel’s history.

The calls for the Locarno Film Festival to reject Israeli government funding follow campaigns challenging Israel’s attempts to boost its international image through arts and cultural propaganda. These have seen Israel’s presence in film festivals challenged in recent cases from Montpellier, France and Bristol, UK to San Francisco and Texas in the US.

The Locarno Film Festival organizers have also faced calls in previous years to rethink Israeli links. In 2006, the festival dropped funding from the State of Israel after an open letter by Palestinian, Lebanese and Swiss filmmakers protested Israel’s ferocious attacks on civilians during its 2006 war on Lebanon.