Saturday, December 11, 2010

Why can't a Palestinian woman tell her own story?

By Robert Fisk

"....By chance, I read the text of Mortier's short but eloquent speech this week, a day before watching Julian Schnabel's new movie Miral, a feature film which follows the life of Rula Jebreal, a real-life Palestinian-Israeli woman who became a journalist, author and television presenter. Schnabel, who is Jewish, lives with Jebreal in New York. Their movie begins and ends with the death of Hind Husseini, a remarkable and courageous Palestinian woman who found orphans from the Jewish massacre of Arab villagers at Deir Yassin in 1948 and started a boarding school for girls that still exists in Jerusalem. Husseini died in 1994, but Rula was one of her pupils. Her childhood – losing her mother, choosing to be a well-educated woman, sucked into the intifada, arrested and brutalised by the Israelis – is the story of Miral.....

And yet... Israel's so-called "friends" in America and Britain also panned the film, primarily for two scenes. In the first, Rula is beaten into unconsciousness by an Israeli woman torturer. In the second, an Israeli bulldozer demolishes a Palestinian home. Crocodile tears on the floor, please. The Israelis have indulged in torture of both men and women for years – dozens of Amnesty International reports bear witness to this – and I have personally heard the screams of the tortured at what was Israel's proxy jail at Khiam in southern Lebanon. I have witnessed countless home destructions by Israeli troops in Jerusalem and the West Bank. Indeed, a day after I watched Miral, an al-Jazeera news broadcast showed real scenes of Israeli house evictions and bulldozing far more dramatic than the movie.

But that's not the point. The film has been abused as (of course) "anti-Semitic", the same old slander that's been spat at me for more than half my life. The real problem, of course, is that Palestinian cinema is slowly coming of age, and Israel's supposed "friends" want to stop it in its tracks. The sin of Miral is that it exists. The plight of a young Arab woman – ultimately another victim of the Great War (ergo, the Balfour declaration) – should not be told. All manner of spurious movies about Israel – including the awful Exodus – can be made and loved. I once watched a Hollywood film in which Israeli troops rushed to the Sabra and Chatila camps in 1982 to save the lives of Palestinians being massacred; in reality, the Israelis sent the murderers into the camps, watched while they slaughtered the innocent – and did nothing. I was there.

So I called Rula Jebreal in New York from my home in Beirut and told her frankly what I thought of Miral. But we both agreed that the real reason for the political/racial attacks on her movie was its existence. "Why can't a Palestinian woman tell her own story?" she asked. And she is absolutely right, even if only one cinema in New York is showing the movie. My advice to her was twofold: never apologise if you've done nothing wrong, and never, never, never, never, never give up. Thank you, Churchill!....."

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