Screaming into The Waves
On bearing witness and Palestine on film.
“And my ambition is to write both in defiance of tragedy and in blindness of its possibility, to keep screaming into the waves.” –Ta-Nehisi Coates, We Were Eight Years in Power: An American Tragedy
The “Palestinian Girl”
What broke me, finally: a photograph. The image is a still from an interview in which Amina Ghanem, a thirteen-year old Palestinian girl, describes how a tank bulldozed her family home, killing her father and sister. She speaks with an unsettling, preternatural calmness, wearing a light gray hoodie, the hood up to cover her hair. The whites of her eyes are no longer visible, as they have filled completely with blood, and her irises appear black.1 It makes for an appalling image, one that blends both Steve McCurry’s famous (and famously exploitative) portrait of Sharbat Gula, or the “Afghan Girl”, as well as Nick Ut’s photograph of Phan Thị Kim Phúc (“Napalm Girl”) from the Vietnam War.
If, like me, the thought of the “Palestinian Girl”, or any of the pan-platform, multimedia documentation of this genocide, makes you feel bad: good. You are experiencing the appropriate, human reaction to life around you.
I can offer no solace – in fact, quite to the contrary, I’d argue that those of us who’ve had some share in the comforts and privileges of the world must (and, increasingly, will) partake in a measure of its horrors. For this, if nothing else, is what it means to “bear witness”.
What we can do, other than feel bad
Pulling from direct sources and from the broader discourse, I’d suggest the following: support the BDS movement, as boycotts appear to have an effect; harass your elected representatives, at all levels (e.g. 70 U.S. cities have now called for a ceasefire); follow and share pro-Palestinian voices on social media – Palestinians are watching, make no mistake; and donate to any of the initiatives and organizations in this document, shared via a Palestinian-Canadian friend.
Then there are the small, solitary acts of solidarity, such as engaging with Palestinian art and literature.
Oh, the humanities
In a recent episode of the Minority Views podcast, writer Omer Aziz spoke to Rashid Khalidi, historian and author of The Hundred Years’ War on Palestine. At the end of the interview, Aziz asks if his guest has any books to recommend; after mentioning Tareq Baconi, Noura Erakat and Edward Said, he adds: “I think the other place to look at is literature, and poetry and theater. There’s an enormous amount of Palestinian literature that illuminates aspects of this that you won’t necessarily get from history books or legal or sociological texts.” Khalidi adds that literature gives you “a sense of the humanity – the humanities – involved” and that it can reveal the “complexities of this [situation] – that are not quite so complex as they’re made out to be.”
Same goes for film, of course. For my part, I’ve been watching every Palestinian movie I can find lately, and have included some recommendations below. One thing these films share, apart from their exceptional quality, is a depiction of human life under oppression; how, within the physical and political architecture of colonial apartheid, everyday activities – paying a visit to a crush, seeing your child in hospital, going to work in the morning – become darkly Odyssean, fraught with uncertainty and humiliation, laced with the risk of incarceration or violence.
But they also reveal other beats in the rhythm of everyday life: the revelry of new love, the restless boredom of adolescence, the joys and frustrations of marriage, the tiresome annoyance of a nosy neighbor. Or, as Khalidi puts it, the “humanities” involved.
Wajib, Annemarie Jacir (2017)
A divorced father and teacher and his visiting son spend the day delivering invitations to a wedding as per local custom. In the process, the tensions in their relationship come to head.
Omar, Hany Abu-Assad (2013)
Arrested after the death of an Israeli soldier, a young Palestinian baker agrees to work as an informant, but his true motives remain hidden.
200 Meters, Ameen Nayfeh (2020)
A father finds out that his son has been in an accident on the other side of the Israeli-controlled separation wall in the West Bank and sets out on a journey to cross the border illegally.
Salt of This Sea, Annemarie Jacir (2008)
An American-born Palestinian woman returns to her ancestral homeland to recover her grandfather’s money, frozen in a bank in Jaffa since the Nakba.
Paradise Now, Hany Abu-Assad (2005)
Two young friends are recruited to carry out a suicide bombing in Tel-Aviv.
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