Friday, September 29, 2006

Echoes of Ireland in Palestine: a review of Ken Loach's new film

Ali Abunimah, The Electronic Intifada, 29 September 2006

"Watching The Wind That Shakes the Barley, UK director Ken Loach's new feature film set mainly during the Irish Civil War in the early 1920's, it is impossible not to make comparisons with contemporary events. Indeed Loach, whose film won the Palme D'Or at Cannes, has been quite explicit about his own view that the film is not merely an examination of the past, but a comment on the times we live in. Loach recently announced his support for the call by Palestinian film-makers, artists and others to boycott state sponsored Israeli cultural institutions and acknowledged that "Palestinians are driven to call for this boycott after forty years of the occupation of their land, destruction of their homes and the kidnapping and murder of their civilians."

This painful scene is a timeless reminder that colonial rulers—no matter how much they pretend to represent civilization and democracy—maintain their power in the manner of common street thugs: beating out people's teeth and breaking their bones with rifle butts, and when that doesn't work, torturing and killing them and destroying their homes. This mentality is alive and well in Palestine-Israel. The morning after I saw Loach's film, I was confronted by two statements. The first was from the UN's special rapporteur for Human Rights, the distinguished South African jurist John Dugard who declared that the situation Israel had created for ordinary Palestinians in Gaza was "intolerable, appalling, and tragic" and that Israel had turned Gaza into a giant "prison" and "thrown away the key." The second statement came from Israel's Trade Minister Eli Yishai who demanded that Israel should completely raze Palestinian villages in Gaza until Palestinians learn to submit quietly to their fate. "And to do this village after village until they stop firing rockets against us."

Through Palestinian eyes there is a strong echo with the split that has emerged on the one hand between those who view the 1993 Oslo Accords and a two-state solution (with a Palestinian state to be created in a tiny fraction of Palestine) as a reasonable and desirable settlement with Israel, and those on the other who view the accords as a sell-out that allowed Israel to maintain and expand its colonial rule of Palestinians under the guise of a 'peace process.' European Union officials like to make the comparison between modern Sinn Féin in Northern Ireland renouncing armed struggle for purely political means with what they hope Hamas will do. The comparison they do not mention is between the banning of the Sinn Féin MPs who won the 1918 election and Israel's wholesale kidnapping of Hamas legislators freely elected by Palestinians under occupation in 2006.

The basic structure of the conflict in Palestine-Israel today is like Northern Ireland writ large—two communities of roughly equal size with nowhere else to go brought into bloody confrontation by colonialism. There can be no solution that preserves the domination of one over the other and none that is good for everyone that comes out of violence. A just solution based on full equality is still be worked for and hoped for in Northern Ireland and in Palestine-Israel. But as The Wind That Shakes the Barley so movingly depicts, history does not always provide easy or happy endings that fit neatly with passionately held ideals."

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