My weekend in London (Ontario)


I had the opportunity to see Arna's Children and found it to be quite disturbing.
Even more disturbing is that last week it was reported that the Israeli Air Force is sending 10 F-16 fighter jets and about 150 air crew to participate in major war games in Cold Lake,Alberta later this month.

I attended the London (Ontario) Palestine Film Festival over the weekend. There were some great films shown. I was there to visit friends and to be on a panel on media coverage of the Israel/Palestine conflict. The panel was shown after the film 'Peace, Propaganda, and the Promised Land' (I follow Bollywood convention and abbreviate this film to P3L). All of the films were, in my opinion, excellent. In the order that I preferred them, from excellent to superb, here are some brief descriptions.

P3L - A good 'Media on Palestine 101' kind of film. Interviews with Chomsky, Fisk, and others not as well known like Seth Ackerman, Hussein Ibish, Sam Husseini, Alisa Solomon, and Robert Jensen. All the interviewees were very solid. The coverage of the major issues was well done. Things were demonstrated with maps and graphics. All in all, a very good teaching tool.

A Stone's Throw Away - A really powerful slice of life in Occupied Palestine. The director follows a group of children around, interviewing them and following them as they throw stones at Israeli armoured vehicles, risking their lives. Why would children do such a thing? That is the question treated in this film. The answer, which is shown and not told, is shown quite starkly: because everything in their lives has been cruelly, deliberately, and systematically stolen away by people who are utterly indifferent towards them when they are not actively hateful and vindictive.

Gaza Strip - This film is slightly older, and shares with 'A Stone's Throw Away' its presentation of an unadorned slice of Palestinian life in Occupied Gaza. The director here follows people around in Gaza City, Khan Yunis, and Rafah, the three main cities of the Gaza Strip, where 1.3 million people live in a few hundred square kilometers, sealed in, starving and dying by Israeli design, with Israelis periodically killing them, bulldozing their homes, shooting their children, and - as the filmmaker documents for Khan Yunis - conducting weapons experiments on them, using odd and new nerve gases and chemical warfare in attacks. Like 'Stone's Throw', the protagonists are mostly children, and there are some heartbreaking moments, one of which is listening to one of these kids describe what his conversation is going to be like with God once he dies and goes to heaven - in fact, the kid is unsure whether he will go to heaven or hell (if there is one, I would tell him that he'll go to heaven).

Arna's Children - This is just extraordinary, and also heartbreaking. A woman named Arna ran, with her son, a theatre group in Jenin that started in around 1989. The idea was to help children deal with the trauma of occupation. The son is the filmmaker. Arna, who died in the late 1990s, was an Israeli. The filmmaker's father was a Palestinian. The filmmaker thus has footage of a group of children growing up and doing various adorable and sweet things children do. He visits them a number of times over the years, with footage each time. Then he has footage of them during and after the Jenin massacre/battle of 2002. One of them became a prominent leader of the armed resistance in Jenin. Two others died in suicide attacks in Israel. He interviews some of the survivors and spends time with young man who became part of the armed resistance. Then he's there when that young man dies. It is truly a devastating film, going from seeing kids playing to watching them grow up and eventually die fighting, brave and hopeless.

The Killing Zone - This was the most devastating - sorry to keep using that word - film in my opinion. It has a clear focus: the deaths of three internationals - Tom Hurndall, James Miller, and Rachel Corrie, in Rafah. The filmmaker reconstructs their deaths in a kind of filmic forensic investigation. She's there for most of Tom Hurndall's death. She has footage of James Miller's death. Rachel's death is reconstructed from interviews and footage. Over the course of her investigation, the filmmaker stays at a house that is about to be bulldozed, travels with Palestinians through the unmitigated horror that is Gaza, and is in a hospital room when a young girl learns she is blind. This particular young girl was blinded while sitting in class. In a school. An UNRWA school. For girls. She was shot by an Israeli sniper, in the head.

Please stop and think about that for a minute. Think about it, not from the point of view of the Palestinian girl or her family. Think about it from the point of view of the shooter. That's not someone who was firing a lot of bullets. That's not someone who hit someone in the crossfire. That's someone who looked at a little girl in a classroom in the sights of his gun, and shot her in the head.

Perhaps more enraging than these murders was watching the Israeli authorities blatantly lie about them, in great detail. Also you see just how well and how thoroughly surveilled Gaza is. The Israeli military shows the filmmaker how they see and control everything that happens in Gaza. Which means that every child that dies there dies because someone killed her on purpose.

Watch, and distribute, any and all of these films, if you can.