Friday, October 24, 2014

My Log 446 Oct 23 2014: Two excellent films from opposite sides of the Separation Wall, reveal the twisted nature of Palestinian society under the probing of their Israeli conquerers

The brutal, convoluted, only partially human life that has been imposed on Palestinians by the Israeli

occupation of their homeland has been graphically illustrated in the two films, one Palestinian, one Israeli, which were nominated earlier this year for the best foreign language film at the Academy Awards. I caught up with them this week, grace a Netflix.
The better of the two is Omar, directed, conceived and written by Hany Abu-Assad, an experienced Palestinian filmmaker, who has told of how he conceived the idea of the film in one night, wrote it in the following four days, and over a year managed to put together the two million dollars he needed for filming, 95 per cent of it from Palestinian investors.
On the surface this is a heart-breaking love story, but at a deeper level it is a story of the intrigues, lies, dissimulations and treacheries that have become the warp and woof of Palestinian life.  As is obvious to anyone who has watched from afar the agonizing and virtually ceaseless attacks on Palestinians, the Israelis have an incredible network of informers among their adversaries: otherwise how would they know which cars to attack, which houses, which cafes, when they make their many targeted assassinations?  One of the most chilling of the many horrendous sequences shown on TV during the recent onslaught on Gaza came when we were shown the exact spot at which multiple executions of informers had been carried out by Palestinian activists, leaving tell-tale splotches of blood on the cobblestones.
This system of intrigue is the subject of both the Palestinian film, Omar,  and Bethlehem, the Israeli version of a very similar story. The love story in the Palestinian film is between Omar, a good-looking, typically Arabic-looking boy, played with notable intensity by Adam Bakri, and Nadia, a fresh-faced, pretty little girl played fetchingly by Leem  Lubany. Omar is in the habit of scaling the Wall, the horrendous Israeli-erected barricade that separates the residents of the particular village the two principals live in, and fetching up outside her window to carry on his courtship in  time-honored fashion. He has to be careful, because the Israeli police are constantly cruising in their vehicles, and might catch him in the act, but also because Nadia has three brothers, the elder of whom, Tarek,  is a major freedom activist who is looking out for the welfare of his sister with an intensity that matches that of her prospective lover. Omar and Tarek are boyhood friends who, along with a third friend Amjad,  have been taking target practice with their rifle. Eventually they set themselves up to take out an Israeli policeman with a long-distance shot, which they do. They are hotly pursued, and Omar is arrested, tortured by an Israeli agent, played with intriguing attraction by Waleed Zuaiter, (an American-born Palestinian who helped raise money for the film) who releases Omar for a month on the promise that he will hunt for  Tarek, and help to turn him in. Of course, Omar has no intention of betraying his friends, but rather is plotting to turn the tables on the Israelis, a feat that proves to be rather beyond him.
Omar’s acquaintances in the Palestinian town begin to ask, how come he has been released so early? Is it possible that Omar is the traitor whom they know to lurk among them? This is the evil, this impossibility to trust anyone, that lies at the base of Palestinian life, according to this brilliant film. At the end of the month, when there is no sign of Tarek, the Israelis again chase and arrest Omar, again torture him, again, reluctantly (according to them) release him as a means of “giving him another chance.”
This time, the three boys are planning an ambush of the Israelis when they come to collect Tarek: but once again their plan goes wrong. Tarek is accidentally shot dead as the three quarrel over their relationship with Nadia and his body is  delivered to the Israelis. This earns Omar favor with the Israelis, but in the street  it deepens the doubts about Omar's loyalty to the cause.
Another scary aspect of the Palestinian life touched on in the film is that they know all about Omar and his visits to Nadia, and use that knowledge to drive a wedge between the friends. 
The film has a sensational denouement, not a happy one from Omar’s point of view, but one that the audience can sense has been forced on him by the events of his life, so much of which has been controlled by the knowledge gathered of the Palestinians and their daily lives by Israeli agents.

A similar tale is told in the Israeli film, Bethlehem, another film illustrating the depth with which Israeli agents are able to penetrate the very private secrets of Palestinian life, a penetration achieved because of the intense level at which they interfere with the subjects under their command.  The picture given by these brutally realistic films of  Palestinian life shows  their society to be one twisted beyond measure by the hostile, dedicated and fanatical power that is controlling them from such close quarters, and that affects their every movement as citizens of their non-country.  This is a  melancholy picture, indeed, yet illustrating the immense courage Palestinians require if they are to maintain their self-respect under the pressures on them.

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