I’ve been meaning to write about this for a while now, but busy busy life in Palestine kept me from it.
But here it is.
But here it is.
A couple of weeks ago, for the second time; I watched Hany Abu-Assad’s film “Omar” at Yabous Cultural Center in Jerusalem. And for the second time I was in awe.
“Omar”, is the first -almost 100%- Palestinian film; from the cast to the director to the funding ... you name it; all Palestinian. Yet this is only one aspect of its uniqueness, the other is how real it was. If you’ve watched it, then you’ll see how some parts of it were pure fiction and a bit more dramatic, but you won’t be able to deny the intensity of its elements, the story-line, and how realistic it was.
- Spoiler alert, for whoever haven’t watched it-
The film opens with Omar climbing the famous cement Wall cutting the West Bank into tiny islands and prisons, with the help of a rope; and right there and then you’re hooked. After climbing down the wall, as if it was a very casual thing to do, Omar goes to visit his childhood friend’s house –and his girlfriend’s. Everything is nice and “normal”, we have Omar sitting with his two best friends, Amjad and Tariq. Then the love of his life, Nadia (Tariq's sister), comes in with some delicious Arabic Coffee. They joke around, have fun, all is good, Omar and Nadia secretly exchange love letters then … the fun is over.
The scene shifts to somewhere in the woods, where the three best friends are seen to be training on how to shoot; using a rifle. They’re training to shoot a soldier. From that second you know these three are doomed to hell if they go on with their plan. They’re all set to go, they’re ready to do it, they just don’t know when exactly. Then again, when you’re living under occupation; you don’t have to wait too long for a catalyst to bring out your “inner terrorist”.
One day after Omar climbed down the Wall again, after his secret date with Nadia, he was stopped by a bunch of soldiers, bored and in desperate need to demonstrate their fake superiority and new guns. So they stop Omar, after they make sure he has no weapons or bombs on him, they tell him to go stand on a rock with his hands on his head. Hours pass by; they play around with their guns, sing, and talk; while Omar is still on his feet with his hands on his head. After he’s fed up with this, he goes to confront them only to get hit in the face with the rifle and end up standing on the rock, but this time standing on one leg instead of two with a bleeding nose and tremendous pain and indignity.
Then it’s decided. The next day Omar informs Tariq and Amjad; it’s time. Tariq asks Omar, “Why the sudden rush to do it now?” Omar replies, “One more day without going through with it, is another day under occupation”. With his brief answer, he summarized our entire existence as Palestinians, and the core of our struggle. You either do something to change your gloomy reality, or you don't get to complain about it.
So they steal a car, go to an Israeli checkpoint and after some hesitation, Amjad pulls the trigger and we have a dead Israeli soldier on our hands; and from that moment the life they once knew will never be the same again.
After a few days, undercover Israeli agents catch Omar. So once again the scene shifts and this time we’re in one of the dark gloomy Israeli interrogation rooms. This is the room where they torture you till you wish you’ve never existed, and it doesn’t matter if you break down or hold still, you’ll never leave this room as the same person you used to be.
We used to hear stories about this room, how they torture Palestinians, whether these Palestinians, usually minors, actually did something, or they were suspected or they simply knew the people who were suspected … etc. I had an uncle who went into these rooms twice, and he was sitting amongst the audience with me while watching this scene. I couldn’t look at him, because I knew if I did I’d have to see the agony –I’m only using this for lack of words- he must've gone through when he was 14 years old. He never talks about it, but once I heard him say, “It’s a ghost that haunts you every single day for the rest of your life”.
And this is what happened to Omar.
He’s been tortured, humiliated, and dehumanized to the fullest, but to a Palestinian that’s okay- to some extent. If you truly want a Palestinian to fall apart, ask him\her to collaborate with the Israeli Intelligence Forces. That was a breaking point for Omar and the film itself. The Israeli Intelligence Agent, Rami, who’s fluent in Arabic; addresses Omar in this friendly manner. Saying bullshit like, “If you collaborate with us, we’ll help you get what you want”. For Omar, it was clear what he wanted; Nadia.
So Rami, comes off as this nice Israeli dude who only wants Omar and Nadia to be together, if Omar could bring them who shot the Israeli soldier; because they know it was not him. They wanted Tariq. At first, of course Omar refuses, then after a session with his lawyer he realizes there’s no way out but collaborating. He’s been sentenced for 90 lifetimes in prison, when he asks his lawyer, “Is there a way out?” she responds,” as long as there’s occupation, no”.
Then his mind was set. He’s going to outsmart them, yes he is. He’s going to leave prison, he won’t turn in his friends, and he’ll get Nadia and run away somewhere. It was clear in his head; little did he know it was ONLY in his head.
They set him free with the promise to keep him safe and secure if he brings in Tariq. This is as far as I’m going in spoiling the film. The rest is much more complicated to put in few words.
The brilliancy behind this film is how, with some fictional elements, it was able to capture the day-to-day Palestinian reality. It was scary, intense, and real. The pain embedded and shown in the film was real.
It had a lot of powerful scenes, but there was this particular one that made me hate the minute I was born as a Palestinian. It was some 2 or 3 years after the friends drifted apart, and then Rami showed up again; asking Omar for another “favor” or they will never leave him alone which shows that THEY NEVER LEAVE YOU ALONE. So once again Omar is standing in front of the cement Wall in order to climb it, but he can’t anymore.
He broke down.
It wasn’t the torture in Israeli prisons that broke him down, it wasn’t having to become a collaborator, it wasn’t losing the love of his life and his best friends; it was all combined. This is the intensity of the Palestinian life we’ve talked about, and how it came tumbling down when he fell while trying to climb the wall.
At that moment, I started thinking; in what world would this happen? And what kind of world is this? Most people fall in love, work hard to gather some money to support a decent life, get married, have children, travel the world, get their Masters degree….etc. They don’t climb over walls to get to their loved ones, they don’t plan to kill, and they don’t get tortured at prisons …, and normal girls won’t have guys like Omar to be their prince-charming.
Yes, guys like Omar are our “type”. Not because he’s handsome and tough. No.
It’s because he represents everything Palestinian we desire. He’s not silent about occupation. They built a wall, he climbed it. They created a checkpoint with soldiers, he killed them. They wanted him to become a collaborator and turn in his friends, he went against them and lost everything to not turn them in.
I’m not saying I want a guy who climbs walls and shoots soldiers, that’s superficial to assume. But what I’m saying is, if we ever decided to be with someone he has to be someone who completely went through the Palestinian “experience” without being passive; someone who is still not used to checkpoints, Apartheid Wall, house demolitions ... etc. In short, someone who’s not used to life under occupation and will never be.
So if he’s a guy who lived through all of this, and didn’t give up; what more can we ask for? And yet how pathetic is this?
Omar as a character, which is so real, could be looked at as a terrorist, as backward, as a threat, as someone who doesn’t deserve to live. But whoever says so, doesn’t even know half of it.
Maybe it’s awful that young guys like these had to kill a soldier, but what’s even worse is the circumstances that lead them to do so; which most people seem to forget and neglect, focusing on the result instead of what has lead to it.
In the end, “Omar” takes us on a journey of love, resistance, friendship, treason, defeat, and freedom. And it is probably the only Palestinian film, so far, to reflect the situation as it is. If you haven’t watched it yet, MAKE SURE YOU DO!!!!
Much respect to the cast, the director, and everyone who took part in it.
"A critique of the film will be up soon, after all it's not perfect"
"A critique of the film will be up soon, after all it's not perfect"