Review of Palestinian Days Film Festival, Brisbane 16-18Oct09 October 28, 2009

Palestinian Film Opening Night
Opening Night of Palestinian Days Film Festival, Brisbane. Photo: Carolyn Stubbin

Palestinian Days Film Festival was held in Brisbane’s Schonell theatre at the University of Queensland over the weekend 16-18 October 2009. It was organised by the Queensland Palestinian Association and Justice for Palestine.

The festival consisted of films made by Palestinian and other filmmakers who support the Palestinian people in their struggle for self determination. In the period between 2002 and 2006 there was a burst of documentaries produced — an intifada of Palestinian cinema. Films like Frontiers of Dreams and Fears and Arna’s Children are contemporary documentaries of a high technical standard that should be shown on prime time TV. A young person, when asked what she thought of Arna’s Children shown on opening night, said that it put the violence (of the conflict) shown on TV in context. Yet the films have not been shown on Australia TV for political reasons. For example, SBS – TV is not permitted the use of the term “Palestinian land” in news reports about the Middle East. The SBS ombudsman said:The land concerned remains the subject of protracted and deep dispute and therefore the reasonable viewer could consider that the use of the term “Palestinian Land” indicates a lack of impartiality as required under the Codes.” The triennial funding of SBS would not be in question on this issue, management have toed the position of the Australian government perfectly: ‘No Justice for Palestine’.

Opening night of the festival was a spectacular affair with the theatre booked out. People were treated to felafel rolls, dabke dancing, singing and music followed by a speech by the special representative of the Palestinian Authority in Australia, Izzat Abdul Hadi. He spoke about the films and the strong culture that they depict. In all, 421 people saw the films and over $5,000 was raised to support the Palestinian people through organisations like Apheda – union aid abroad, Australians for Palestine, Qld Palestinian Association, Muslim Aid Australia and Justice for Palestine.

Prior to the festival the films were reviewed and classified and submitted to the censor. Many were rated R 18+ and MA 15+ because they depict violence done to Palestinians, many of them children. Palestinian children at the cinema were unable to see violence on film that they had encountered in their daily lives on the West bank.

One film, The Iron Wall, sets out the main cause of the conflict between the Palestinians and Israel – the occupation of Palestinian lands, villages and houses by settlers. Both Jewish and Palestinian commentators like Jeff Halper[1], Samaan[2] and Hind[3] Khoury and Ismail Daiq[4] explained how Israel was trying to create ‘facts on the ground’ to deprive Palestinians of their land. The film shows the building of the wall by Israel by which means ‘Zionist colonization can develop[5]’. It demonstrates the failure of the two state solution advocated (previously, at least) by the people interviewed in the film.

Other festival films show the humanitarian crisis and the courage and determination of the Palestinian people. Of these, the award-winning Jenin Jenin[6] by Mohammed Bakri is particularly powerful because it shows how ordinary people resist the occupation. Banned in Israel, Jenin Jenin is dedicated to Lyad Samudi, the producer of the film, who returned home to Yamun after the shooting of the film was completed. On 23 June 2002, as Israeli forces besieged Yamun, Samudi was shot and killed as he was leaving a militarily-closed area with three friends. The devastation of the village of Jenin by Israeli caterpillar bulldozers inspired inquiries, songs, reports, and films. Finally the United Nations appointed a commission of inquiry, but Israel refused to let its members visit Jenin. Will prosecution of Israeli war crimes in Gaza in December/January 2009 be thwarted as well? Jenin Jenin has a scene with a small girl standing on the rubble of her town saying that when she heard that Sharon was coming to the Camp she was so angry she burst into tears because she had a great desire to take revenge on him. She told us how legendary was the cowardice of the Israeli soldiers who hide inside their tanks when children throw stones and who dropped bombs that fell like rain on her family’s house and nearby houses for two weeks during the devastation of Jenin. “What is my life worth?” she asked as she stood there in the rubble and then tells us that she and all her people will resist and win the struggle for their homes and their lives.

Since the Madrid conference in 1991 there has been a promise of peace through negotiation with Israeli governments. Yet, in the years that followed, hundreds of settlements have been built, housing for economic refugees lured there by cheap accommodation, duped by economic incentive. In Hebron, violent and fundamentalist settlers tried to drive Palestinian residents from their homes. Settlement building increased after the Oslo Accord was mediated by President Clinton at Camp David in December 1992. Not a single settlement has been dismantled in the West bank in the 17 years since. The failure of the peace process was confirmed when Israeli Prime Minister, Ariel Sharon, went to the temple mount with many troops and provoked the Al-Aqsa Intifada (Arabic: انتفاضة الأقصى‎ ). Since that time Israel has invaded Gaza and Lebanon (Palestine, Summer 06) and placed a wall around Palestinian towns and villages on the West Bank. All this to contain the Palestinian resistance! These events are depicted in films like ‘Arna’s Children’, ‘Gaza Strip’, ‘Jerusalem – the East Side Story’ and ‘A Letter from Sarah’.

During the festival, filmmakers John Mandelberg and Janice Abo Ganis spoke about how the films were made including the making of their own ‘Watani Habibi – My beloved homeland’. After the screening of ‘Frontiers’ and ‘Jerusalem’ on Saturday, Michael Shaik from Australians for Palestine spoke about the current situation in Gaza and the occupied territories.

Thanks to all the many people who helped organise the event. We are amateurs all, but made the festival a success through solidarity and practical sense. The mainstream media were contacted and some reference to the festival appeared in the Courier Mail, Quest newspapers, the ABC and some community radio stations. The alternative media and the web played their part in making sure people knew about the festival. The people at the Schonell theatre were supportive and the University of Queensland Student Union provided an excellent venue. A photographer provided beautiful shots of the festival like the one shown above of Amber dancing the dabke in front of the opening night crowd.

Thanks to all those who made the festival possible and to all those who came to see this touching human narrative of Palestinian struggle and determination.

But how to break down The Iron Wall?

There is a march on Gaza planned for 5th December 2009. Justice for Palestine, like many other groups around the world, intends to send a representative on that march.

But what if all the solidarity groups worldwide were to organise a March of Return – this time to Gaza, the West Bank and the occupied territories – a Return to Palestine from Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria? This would take a lot of organisation but it is not impossible.

The convoys to Gaza earlier in 2009, Viva Palestina, proved that.

Ian Curr, October 2009

References:

For the program of the PDFF in Brisbane click here

More photos of the festival can be found at www.flickr.com/photos/memsahib1.


[1] Prof. Jeff Halper founded Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions (ICAHD) which resist Israeli demolition of Palestinian homes in the Occupied Territories.

[2] Peace and Democracy Forum.

[3] Minister of State in the Palestinian Authority in early 2005.

[4] Ismail Daiq is the General Director of the Palestinian Agricultural Relief Committees (PARC)

Vladimir Jabotinsky, leading intellectual of the Zionist movement, wrote: “Zionist colonization must either stop, or else proceed regardless of the native population. Which means that it can proceed and develop only under the protection of a power that is independent of the native population – behind an The Iron Wall , which the native population cannot breach.”

[6] 2002 – Best Film – Carthage Film Festival, Tunisia; 2002 – The Critics Prize – Ismalia Film Festival, Egypt


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