Africa has Bono. The world’s orphans have Saint Angelina. Even animals enjoy the buxom support of PETA spokesperson Pamela Anderson. Now how about Palestine? “To denounce the treatment of Palestinian refugees is not anti-Semitic,” says an Israeli journalist in the new documentary “Occupation 101,” “it is humane.” Her words fill the small room of a rundown building on an aging stretch of Lawrence Avenue where a handful of people have gathered to screen the film. “The media portrays the violence between Israelis and Palestinians as an inherent problem but there is no historical enmity between Jews and Arabs. The truth of this situation is being hidden from mainstream America.” Tonight there are three empty chairs in a room that seats twelve.
“My family is from the West Bank. I was born there,” says a man before the film begins. “But we rarely go back.”
“Why?” asks a girl with pale blue eyes. “Because it’s depressing,” he answers, “at best.” She asks if he protests and he answers that he used to, but not anymore. “But you have to,” she insists. “People have to know.” He smiles as she speaks and it’s clear that he finds her optimism both endearing and sad.
The lights go dark and the film opens with a montage of rebellion. The National Guard fires on students at Kent State, a fire hose is turned on civil rights demonstrators in Birmingham. On the streets of Ramallah, a child hurls a rock at a passing tank. It is a study in disproportionate force. Over the next ninety minutes, the film will introduce staggering accounts of desperation and loss at a pace that makes it impossible to go numb. Beliefs and affiliations notwithstanding, this is raw human tragedy.
Indignation in the room grows palpable when the screen fills with the image of American activist Rachel Corrie, her thin white body forced into the dark earth. Some say she was protecting the home of a Palestinian family, others that she was abetting terrorists. Either way she was run over by an armored Israeli bulldozer. “Even Americans aren’t safe,” mutters a woman in the back row. “What does that tell you?”
“I know its late,” says the meeting’s organizer as the film ends. “We’re hoping to have a discussion but if you have to go…,” her voice trails off as nearly everyone stands to leave. (Sarah Nardi)