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a watchful eye of creative complexity
Too much has been going on in the world. Too much. I am so angry. Too angry to even put the feelings into words. I am sick and tired of arguing that institutional racism actually exists; I am tired of trying to convince others that black people are human beings, especially to other people of color. It’s nauseating and tiresome. I can’t imagine what it is like for black people walking about this life every day knowing there is someone out there who fears them simply because they are black. How much time must they spend proving that their lives matter? Why do they even need to spend time proving such a thing? Black lives matter. Really! I don’t even understand how anyone can see it any other way. I supposed it must be similar to how I have to try and convince others that Palestinian lives matter—that we are not terrorists and that we have feelings and desires similar to everyone else.
Stop blaming the victims. When a group of people is segregated into an area, denied resources and opportunities, is harassed, has violence committed against them, is portrayed as uncivilized human beings unworthy of life, and is oppressed for decades upon decades, or centuries upon centuries, resistance is justified. The oppressed are not to blame because they rise up, become full of rage, and at times, snap into violence. I am tired of people ignoring the systematic racism that is the root of all of these issues. From Ferguson to Gaza, USA to Palestine, Native Americans to Black South Africans, and on and on. The issues are not completely the same, but are they oh so similar and quite connected.
It’s not enough to be angry. Time and time again we are angry. We rise up angry. We demand human rights. We demand civil rights. And then we are placated. We are pacified and soothed by our temporary stint of outrage and perhaps our lack of hope in any change and time to make it happen. It seems that in this country, the good old USA, change will only occur once every last person is in the street, when even the most well off person has become touched by the horrid nature of this world, has personally become affected by the oppressions running through the streets.
We do not need to wait for the day, however. We all must act now and act every day. Enough is enough. How many Mike Browns or Oscar Grants or Renisha McBrides or Trayvon Martins have to perish before we realize something is incredibly wrong? What has changed since the Civil Rights Movement? It seems like nothing has changed except for the blinds that have been put over people’s eyes to make them believe in the guise of a “post-racial society.” Well, wake up! That world does not exist.
So many images coming out of Ferguson are scary and depressing, yet they are also inspiring. These protestors are standing their ground in the face of a heavily militarized police force, one that calls these brave black souls “animals.” What is happening—and has been happening for decades—is disgusting. It needs to stop. We need justice for all lives. All life matters. I hope the rage coming out of Ferguson spreads to the entire country. It it way past due. Let this rage consume us all.
Inspired by the events in Ferguson, the courageous people in that community, and the last moments of Michael Brown, I sketched “Don’t Shoot” in a way that contrasts the terrible elements of those moments yet flows with hope.
Tonight at the Gene Siskel Film Center, Conversations at the Edge (CATE) hosted “We Began By Measuring Distance,” a series of experimental films by Palestinian women curated by Tirtza Even. Six films were screened, beginning with “Pomegranate” by Jumana Emil Abboud. It was a three minute color film of a hand pressing pomegranate seeds into the inside of an empty pomegranate held in the person’s other hand. The protagonist lodged the seeds into clearly demarcated indentations of where the seeds once belonged. Symbolizing the Palestinian Right of Return to their homeland, s/he would press hard on some of the seeds implanting them back into the pomegranate shell, fixing them back into their original home. When a seed popped out, refusing to embed itself in a particular area, s/he would pick it up and insert it in another area of its home. Unfortunately, in most cases, justice never comes about without violence along the way, without bloodshed. As the protagonist forced the seeds back into their original habitation, some of the seeds would gush their juice, reddish-purple liquid squirting all over the pomegranate. The pomegranate is commonly cultivated in Palestine and I thought it was interesting to use such a fruit as a map symbolizing the territorial nature of the colonization of Palestine, the violence in the struggle for justice, and the Right of Return, stating that Palestinian refugees who lost their homes in 1948 and 1967 should be allowed to return, as stipulated in UN Resolution 194.
Following “Pomegranate” was a film by Basma Alsharif entitled “We Began By Measuring Distance” (the event took its name from this film). The film begins by speaking of boredom—”the worst of all evils”—the boredom one experiences after a place has been destroyed and one doesn’t really have anything to do. Because of boredom, the characters decided to play a game of measuring. They measured the size of various objects and even measured measurements. Two people stood between two trees holding up a white sheet in some way signifying a measuring tape and a projection screen. They began to measure the distance between places:
We measured the distance between Gaza and Jerusalem: 78km
We measured the distance between Gaza and Jerusalem: 67
We measured the distance between Gaza and Jerusalem: 48
We measured the distance between Gaza and Jerusalem: 17
We measured the distance between Palestine and Israel: Rome was not built in a day.
The numbers are reminders of the prominent years for the plight of the Palestinians. 1917 is the year of the Balfour Declaration, explicitly stating the promise to create a Jewish state within Palestine. 1948 is referred to by Palestinians as al-Nakba, The Catastrophe, otherwise known to Israelis as their Independence day. Over 400 Palestinian villages were destroyed and depopulated, leaving so many Palestinians dead and three-quarters of a million Palestinians refugees. 1967 is the year of the Six-Day War in which Israel occupied the West Bank and Gaza Strip declaring the whole state of Palestine under Israeli rule. These years are recognizable and are very unforgettable.
The film transitions into a juxtaposition of various images and music. Jelly fish and bombs, fish and women running were among the scenes contrasting one another. Sea life was placed next to video clips of bombs and white phosphorous falling over Gaza during the Gaza Massacre in 2008-2009. Accompanying these scenes was disturbingly positive music. I didn’t know how to feel. I have seen the exact same video clips of Gaza so many times and seeing them with the very music playing was a little bit unsettling, yet playing off the desensitization that we experience when we constantly see footage day after day of a place experiencing war and occupation and embroiled in violence. It ends with a woman in a look of shock and sadness, screaming voices of agony and Abdel Halim Hafez’s “Fortune Teller.”
Another one of Basma Alsharif’s films was screened, entitled “The Story of Milk and Honey.” The film seemed to take on a first person point of view of the filmmaker and her process of working, which is to collect all types of different information and somehow find use for it all later. It was humorous and enjoyable, and it also was telling of the absurdity and length of the Occupation. She juxtaposes love, with random people on the beach, with information about images and places, and finds that the strangeness of all of this actually represents the Land of Milk and Honey: Palestine. It does.
Next was Mona Hatoum’s “Measures of Distance” where she reads letters that her mother has sent to her while showing images of her mother’s naked body in the shower placed under arabic script. The only thing I would like to point out from this film is something Mona’s mother had said, “Being born in exile in a country that does not want you is no fun at all.” The feeling of fragmentation is embedded within such a person’s identity.
It is a thousand times easier for you
To pass an elephant through the needle’s eye.
To catch fried fish in the Milky Way…
A thousand times easier
Than smoldering with your oppression
The spark of an idea
Like twenty impossibles
We shall remain.
After the screening, we had a Q&A/discussion session with Basma and the question was raised about whether the fact that all the films were made by women influenced the reading of the films. Some people felt it did, some didn’t understand the relevance of such a question. For me, gender isn’t something that I think about when I look at work made from Palestine unless the central theme is gender. While many in the West have the view that all Arab countries are the same and that women’s voices are completely silent in all of them, this is not true for Palestine. While yes, some Palestinian women are looked down upon by men for being an individual and pursuing the very things they want such as music or race car driving, this is something that should be dealt with within the community. Why is this relevant to the West? The West has its own inequalities to focus on, but would rather ignore it and shift the public’s focus to another region. In the West, and more specifically the United States, it doesn’t matter if you are a Palestinian man or a Palestinian woman, your voice is silenced. Women have been a large part of the Palestinian struggle since the beginning and both men and women suffer the effects of the occupation and oppression by Israel, albeit in some different ways. The common thread throughout these films is not merely gender, but the baggage of displacement, exile, and the wait to return.