Monday, August 18, 2014

“Exactly like Omar … Not”

I never thought of life here in Palestine as an action movie, or maybe it’s more of a mix between romantic ,action, and drama, the perfect combination for entertainment. Why would I really?

Yet I started to consider life here as such after an interesting conversation with the sweetest Jewish American group. We were talking about the situation here, and of course “the Wall” was included, and the topic of “crossing” the Wall came up. I told them we have the checkpoints, if they were too much to handle Jerusalem residents can go through a checkpoint on a bypass road, which is easier since they assume you’re a settler and you’d go right through no questions asked. Or, and this was the most interesting option, some Palestinian youth who don’t have blue IDs to let them pass or Israeli permits would simply climb off the wall with the assistance of a rope and a ladder.

At that thought this girl -she was one of those free-spirited, full of life and happiness characters- jumped in excitement and said, “You mean like Omar?” I laughed my heart out at the thought, well Hani Abu Assad sure did something right. I told her, “Exactly like Omar”. Then she resumed, “So cool! Now I could go back and tell my boyfriend that I saw the Wall that Omar climbs to see his girlfriend.”

I laughed again, it was ironically funny. But in my head I was saying, “Oh shit.”

It never occurred to me what impact Palestinian films like “Omar” and “Paradise Now” could have on people, especially non-Palestinians, or people who are associated to the Palestinian\Israeli conflict but not viewing matters from a Palestinian perspective. And that day, I was introduced to one of these perspectives.

It was that this Wall, this horrendous-ugly-disgusting Wall, was actually –partly- the reason behind an amazing tragedy. One hell of a story to tell, where you have the hot Palestinian hero climbing off walls ,shooting Israeli soldiers, being tortured, and agreeing to collaborate with his enemy for the sake of his one true love. Leaving all horrendous and “violent” details out, if we look at it that way, “Omar” would be the perfect fairytale, it can even work as a Disney movie.

The problem is, it’s NOT a fairytale. It’s too realistic.

And this brings us to the main issue, will romanticizing the Palestinian reality do us more harm than good?

I spent four months of my last semester in college trying to figure this out. I literally criticized the hell out of this amazing Native American activist because she was romanticizing herself, her community, and her cause. But to be totally honest the research about this Native American was a bit personal to me, I was criticizing her while in fact I was criticizing myself. I was also a romanticizer of reality, like her, it was the perfect escape. If we looked at matters here truthfully, without filters, or adjustments, I don’t think we could handle it. I know I couldn’t. 

But have we taken it too far? Making it almost desirable? … Maybe we did.

Growing up I fell in love with the image of the young Palestinian guys with their Kuffiyes’ wrapped around their heads and faces only showing their eyes, and their hands clutching the rocks so hard they bleed.
Fell in love with the image of the slingshot in their hands, and that revolutionary gleam in their eyes.
Fell in love with the fire burning so bright coming out of the Molotov Cocktails thrown by the hands of the revolutionists and their full of rage and power screams while sending it through the Israeli barriers to cross them triumphantly.

So when Omar, this young handsome Palestinian, was presented to us as the courageous hero who climbs Israeli Walls so he’d be closer to his friends and the love of his life, of course we’re going to fall head over heels in love with him. It’s the image of the Revolutionist from ages and ages ago, but this time brought in this attractive form to attract people other than “us” –other than Palestinians. We are familiar with this image of the revolutionary Palestinian, but not everyone worldwide is, mostly worldwide –when it comes to Palestinians- this image is related to terrorism. Not once the question of “Why” has occurred, why are these young Palestinians throwing rocks? Why are they shooting Israeli Soldiers? They sure look violent and angry, but why?

The “why” never mattered, because it wasn’t in the benefits of these people spreading these images, until Palestinians themselves took matters into hand, like Hanny Abu Assad. Even though I’m not a huge fan of “Paradise Now”, because it seemed to me a bit of an audience-pleaser (international audience), but it was the first film exposed to foreign audience that presented the question of “Why?”

According to Dr. Bader Araj’s research, “Suicide Bombing as Tragedy and Interaction: The Case of the Second Intifada”, there are many motives and reasons that answer the “why” question. Among the motives is this one: “Desire to regain one’s reputation due to the suicide bomber having engaged in shameful behavior, such as collaboration with the enemy.” And this is the one Hanny Abu Assad chose for his movie “Paradise Now”, where we have this young Palestinian who blows himself up in an Israeli bus, in order to honor the name of his disgraced family. His father was a collaborator with the Israeli Intelligence, meaning his father would “snitch” on his fellow Palestinians that are designated by Israel as terrorists, and hence the Israeli Intelligence would wipe them off the face of earth. 

In Palestine it’s not easy being a collaborator, especially if you get caught. Not only will your life be ruined or eliminated, but your family will suffer of disgrace and alienation as well. (And here I’m not going to discuss if these methods of punishment are justifiable or not, it’s another topic all on its own). Now if we look closely at the motives behind Abu Assad choosing this particular motive to commit suicide bombing, it might not seem so clear. At first it might feel it’s because of the Palestinian barbarians who executed Said’s –the suicide bomber in the film- father as punishment for his betrayal of his people.  But the question doesn’t stop there, automatically you’ll have to ask some follow-up questions like, “Why did the Palestinians execute him? Why did he become a collaborator?” … etc. These questions among others will lead to one result: the gruesome Israeli Occupation.

We witness this same notion of driving people to ask critical questions in “Omar”, where we know this young man and his friends shot dead an Israeli soldier at an Israeli checkpoint. In this film it’s a little bit clearer, where we see him climbing the Wall and getting shot at by Israeli soldiers, or when he’s humiliated by Israeli soldiers when he’s on his way back home and they end up beating him up, and in the end he simply sums up the motive loud and clear when his friends ask him “Why now?” (in reference to why do their operation of killing the soldier that night) and he replies, “Everyday we wait is another day of occupation.” In other words, resistance has to happen, there is no other way. And this would push towards the direction of other questions, such as: “What is the Israeli Occupation? When did it start? So this territory was originally Palestinian? So Israel was also founded on a Palestinian land? … etc”

Yet all of these signs might not be clear to everyone, in the end it is “pretty cool” that a guy would go through so many dangers for the girl he loves. But while fantasizing about how “cool” that is, the other intense motives were a bit undermined. He was not only fighting for the love of his girl, it was also for the security of this love (though I’m kind of allergic to the word “security” giving the circumstances), for a safe haven to resort to, for a place to call home, for a place where you would simply “walk” home instead of climbing walls. The Palestinian struggle isn’t a struggle for the land, the olive tree, the mosque or the church: it’s a struggle for the people. The reason we do all that we do is because we love our cause, and our cause is our people.

So many times on so many occasions I would say to myself, screw this I’m done with this Palestine drama, but then I realize it’s not my decision to make. Thousands and thousands of Palestinians were killed, injured, displaced over and over again since 1948. It is a struggle for life that’s been occurring and reoccurring for years, and I can’t just give it up. This fight for our people is a fight of resorting justice and regaining the safe haven we lost years ago. Who am I to give that up?
It’s about our people, it was always about the people, about love, friendship, and restoring the sanctity of life.

So the question of whether romanticizing the situation is a downside or the opposite, still remains. 

Sometime we need to beautify the situation a little, to make it more bearable. The real problem occurs when we fall in love with this beautified version of reality. After all, who wouldn’t want to be a revolutionist? A freedom fighter? But our hearts could easily get heart-broken and we’d fall out of love with this image when one of these revolutionists gets killed by an Israeli bullet. Waking up of that fantasy is devastating, all of us glorified Muhammad Abu Khdeir and praised him as a heroic martyr, but the reality says that kid was terrified to death. He’s been kidnapped, tortured, and burnt ALIVE. Nothing can beautify this picture, EVER!

That’s why it’s important to remember on what basis these movies and stories are built, they’re not a fantasy or one heck of an agonizing tragedy. It’s real life, it’s our daily life, so there should be tremendous effort to not undermine it.

When the American group had to leave Ramallah and go through the Israeli checkpoint, I felt horrible they had to go through it. It’s never a pleasant experience to go through, but when I talked to the same full-of-life girl, she said, “Don’t worry, it’s okay. It’ll make a good story to tell”. I wish I had her optimism, but how could I when the checkpoint isn’t a one-time experience to me? It’s a humiliating process that I have to go through almost daily.

So I only wish at some point of the future we will reach the stage where the situation would merely be “good stories to tell”, but for now let’s emphasize the impact they have on us as our actual daily reality.

Additional information:
1.      Bypass roads are Settlers-only (Jewish only) roads that connect the illegal Israeli Settlements in the West Bank with Jerusalem, but if you have the “Blue ID” and a car with yellow plates (Israeli plates) you can pass through the checkpoint on these roads without any obstacles or humiliation.

2.      “Blue ID” is the legal document Palestinian residents who live in East Jerusalem hold, and it’s not really an ID, it’s a permit that allows us (East Jerusalem residents) to move “freely” between the West Bank and Jerusalem through the checkpoints, but not Gaza. And it gives us the “permission” to live in Jerusalem as well, but it has to be renewed regularly in order to gain the “rights” to move and live “freely”.

3.      Palestinians in the West Bank have the “Green ID”, and they can’t pass through the checkpoints or the bypass roads’ checkpoints unless they have Israeli permits, which are extremely difficult to obtain.

4.      The Wall mentioned above, is the Separation\Annexation\Apartheid Wall, just so we’re clear. Not the security fence thing they keep inventing, it’s a real cement wall. Ask whoever came to visit here, or Google it.

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