July 2010 Archives
But there's something even more alarming there than Kristof's casual reference to putting his children in danger or his obliviousness to the irony of his self-contradictory accounts of episodes of "non-violent" protest against Israel's security fence. Titled "Waiting for Ghandi," the column is about a "documentary" anti-Israel film that has utterly captivated audiences on a global scale in a carefully crafted publicity blitz that seems to have by-passed the rational filters of viewers everywhere. Never mind that the film appears to blur the line between "documentary" and fiction. It was filmed on location and contains real, live footage (however selectively edited), and that apparently suffices these days to make a movie a "documentary" (unless, of course, it was shot by members of the IDF or anyone else remotely sympathetic to Israel, in which case the camera angles, editing and overall story must be assumed to be highly suspect).
Amir Mizroch summarizes the story here, in a post called "Budrus. A film flotilla?" (Good title. It evokes the slight of hand and misdirection that appear to be the essence of the work.)
The film, an Israeli-Palestinian coproduction, chronicles the nonviolent resistance by villagers in Budrus, a small Palestinian farming community of some 1,500 people about 30 km. northwest of Ramallah and three km. from the Green Line, against the construction of the security barrier whose route cuts through the village's land.The narrative is that, through (largely) peaceful protest and obstruction, the villagers, together with palestinian and Israeli "peace activists" succeeded in challenging Israel's authority over land beyond the Green Line and changing the route of the security fence. It that true?
It's curious that such a huge achievement would have occurred with no current media recognition. After all, the events the film relates took place in 2003, when there was already considerable public scrutiny of the protests against the security fence and the impact they were having. What actually happened was that in October, 2004, the Israeli High Court of Justice ruled in favor of a petition asking that the fence be relocated to reduce claimed hardship affecting the olive groves of Budrus. But the High Court does not take its lead from protests, peaceful or not. It takes its lead from the rule of law and the balancing of equities as argued and demonstrated before it. This is how things work in a democracy, but apparently not in the world of "documentary" film making, where, as Kristof summarizes, "Israeli security forces knew how to deal with bombers but were flummoxed by peaceful Palestinian women."
Amir Mizroch further describes the film's message.
... While stones are thrown at soldiers towards the end of the campaign, IDF troops are seen beating up civilians, including women. Unarmed villagers, protecting their olive groves - to which they are bound for their livelihoods - with their bodies against fully armed soldiers and border police. Punches are thrown. Batons are wielded. Stun grenades are lobbed. Live ammunition is fired. Arrests are made. Bulldozers are seen uprooting olive trees. Israeli officers are filmed making remarks like, "why do you throw stones when you see Israelis? Where's the respect?" The villagers are portrayed as a community banded together, struggling for the land they have lived on for generations against an occupying power erecting a barrier on Palestinian land.And he notes the likely impact of that message (but without bothering to verify whether the story behind it is "true or not.")
Indeed. Couple that with the almost universal uncritical acclaim this picture has received. Mizroch again:
The film's essence raises the question of whether nonviolent demonstrations have the potential to achieve Palestinian national goals. The answer, in the case of Budrus, is a resounding yes, evidenced by the fact that, as the film documents, a political-legal decision was ultimately taken to reroute the barrier away from the village and its olive groves. According to the IDF spokesman interviewed in the film, the demonstrations had nothing to do with the decision to reroute the barrier.
That may be true or not; what's relevant is that anyone watching the film will come to the conclusion that the villagers' persistent demonstrations forced the change. This brings to mind another recent forced change in Israeli policy: the "nonviolent" and "humanitarian" Gaza Freedom Flotilla, in whose wake Israel was forced, under international duress, to significantly relax its blockade on the Gaza Strip.
AS OF this week, Budrus has won the audience award at the San Francisco and Berlin international film festivals. It won a special jury mention at the Tribeca Film Festival as well as at Documenta Madrid 2010. It won the Witness Award at the AFI/Discovery Channel Silverdocs documentary festival, and was feted at the Sixth Dubai International Film Festival (where it received a gala opening on the same level as Avatar).
Dubai rolled out the red carpet for it, hosting the Gulf's big sheikhs at the opening event. Jordan's Queen Noor gave a keynote speech after the film. Hotdocs called it "outspoken" and "outstanding." Variety magazine called it "inspiring," It received very positive press in Berlin and London. It has been screened in Thessaloniki, Rio and Sao Paulo. A glitzy panel was held for it in New York, with Queen Noor and Robert De Niro attending, and with Christiane Amanpour moderating. Michael Moore has even invited the film to his festival in Michigan. A panel was also held for it on Capitol Hill in DC, with private screenings for both Republican and Democrat lawmakers.
With such accolades behind it and no critical copy in sight, history is being rewritten on a very broad stage under a very bright spotlight, the false after-images of which are intended to burn themselves deeply into the consciousness of even the most casual viewer. A meaningful response is required.
No, I do not want modesty police patrolling the neighborhood. I would prefer that people exercise the simple prerogative of looking in a mirror before they go out in public. But as that is quite clearly an unreasonable demand, perhaps it's time for our local establishments to suggest a slightly more expansive dress code of their own.
Now in Israel, they have, perhaps, the other side of this dilemma. As a libertarian-leaning non-affiliated person politically, my personal inclination would be to allow people to just live and let live. But I also try to be sensitive to the concerns of the haredi elements in Israeli society who view the world of ... exposure ... in a very different light. The philosophy of live and let live requires one to make space for people who have different concepts of propriety. So how do you accommodate the needs of an entire society when a substantial minority of that society is made up of people whose deeply entrenched idea of propriety is profoundly different than the one to which we in Western society have become accustomed?
Imagine the reaction most of us would have if we walked up to a public services counter and found the attendant completely nude. I mean, it would be problematic. Disconcerting, to say the least. Possibly debilitating. This is somewhat akin to what members of the haredi community experience when they encounter female clerks in sleeveless tank tops and low cut, bursting blouses at ticket windows. And so initiatives like this pop up. Understandable.
This is a slippery slope. Are hijabs and burkas not far behind? And yet, is there no unhappy medium? I'm no more inclined to have some repressed male cleric tell me how to dress than the next person. But dress codes are nothing new or outrageous and even in this country they're liberally applied in restaurants and stores and on public beaches. It's a requirement of many jobs as well. A lawyer does not show up in court wearing a tee shirt and shorts. But I've had employers who have urged me to "show more cleavage." IMO, that's something no employee should ever have to deal with (unless, alas, it's part of her job description). Dress codes can be for the protection of the workers, as well.
"Mutual respect" is a good name for this campaign. It's to be hoped that those pushing it will keep that sentiment in mind and show the same restraint in their suggested regulations that they wish others to show in their style of dress.