Sunday, November 22, 2009

A Solution: Acknowledging the History and Owning the Guilt

Lessons in Fear – James Cullingham, 2006

This Canadian documentary portrays the fear and hate as states of mind, being a picture of a group of people living in constant tension and conflict. It shows the efforts made by different communities (both Israeli and Palestinian) to come out of this situation, focusing mostly on youth and their educational experience. The teachers in these communities think the kids, the teenagers especially, need to know the history and to understand the frame of the past events, even if this past reality is hard to be accepted. The hope of a possible peaceful cohabitation of these populations remains only in the educated ability of overcoming the differences through dialogue, in an open minded approach of the other not as an opponent but as a possible friend, partner, neighbor. It takes a real commitment for the Jewish girl to be able to put aside the common perception of Palestinians as violent and dreadful, but once she makes it, she is surprised to discover in the Palestinian boy she agrees to meet a human being very much like herself – they both share an inherited conflictual perception of each other as representatives of their peoples, perception artificially nurtured by fear, preconceptions and hate. The film is about the concerted efforts of a few to eliminate this heritage of hate. It’s also about the reality of the huge gap between these grass-roots efforts and the politicians/leaders’ interests.

We meet teachers, students, scholars, researchers, political leaders – we accompany most of them at school, at work, at home, on the street. Their interviews are illustrated with images of their daily life. Some are Palestinians, some are Jews, all have to deal with the same fearful, violent present day reality. The film does not keep sides, doesn’t point one way or another, it doesn’t look for the guilty. It communicates the frustration and anger of the people. It shows the power of human contact, the wonder of acknowledging the humanity in all of us. The change, it seems to be said, could come from this level of person to person interaction. But what are the real chances of these humanist undertakings, in the bigger picture of the political and economical interests of the ones in power?

Equally powerful, focusing on the adult population, is a similar undertaking by two journalists living in America. Jamal Dajani, a Palestinian-American, and David Michaelis, an Israeli citizen, decide to go to Jerusalem and the Occupied Territories, and walk the fine line of dialogue, armed with their friendship and the determination to look for any possible signs of change towards peace. They visit scholars – intellectual moderates, as well as extremists from both sides. At times, they have to skillfully enforce and sustain a dialogue, through means of rewording controversial points of view – in order to be recognized by both sides, the relation of Palestinians as victims versus Israelis as oppressors has to be framed within justifiable albeit fabricated reasons. The people have a hard time acknowledging the history, and even understanding the meaning of their own acts (as 18 year-old soldiers are ordered by the Israelis to kill the Palestinian “terrorists” by throwing grenades over the Arab houses), as they are brain washed and kept with the eyes covered. However, there are a few who start to see, who are detaching themselves from the official policy, who start asking questions and taking a different stand. These is were the two filmmakers see the hope, the glimpse of a light at the end of the tunnel.

Occupied Minds – Jamal Dajani, David Michaelis

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