After its successful debut last year, the Israel/Palestine Film Series is returning this semester in an attempt to supplement the analytical study of Israeli and Palestinian politics and to shed some light on the underlying emotional complexities of the conflict.
Last Wednesday, the film “Walk on Water” was screened in LPAC Cinema. It was the second of six films which will be shown throughout the months of September and October. The film series is curated and hosted by visiting assistant professor of peace and conflict studies Sa’ed Atshan. Attendance of the screenings is required for students currently enrolled in Professor Atshan’s Israeli-Palestinian Conflict class (PEAC 053), but the series is open to the public as well.
The goal of the film series, according to Atshan, is to provide a human aspect to the politics of the Israel/Palestine conflict.
“The purpose for my students is so that they not only study the conflict from a cerebral, intellectual, abstract, academic realm, but that they understand the human, visceral, emotional component of this,” Atshan said. “And so I think that the six films play a very powerful role in humanizing both Israelis and Palestinians.”
Personally, Atshan added that he also very much enjoys organizing and hosting a film series in general.
“I love films,” he said. “I very much appreciate films. I think it’s an incredible human invention. And it was really really fun to be a curator and to choose six films that are diverse in terms of different genres … that cover such a range of themes.”
“Walk on Water” follows Eyal, an Israeli Mossad agent assigned to hunt down an ex-Nazi officer. Eyal befriends the man’s two grandchildren, brother and sister Axel and Pia, to get closer to his target. Along the way, Eyal’s beliefs are challenged when he learns that Axel is gay and when he meets Axel’s friend Rafik, an Arab man. In turn, Axel also learns about and struggles with the role his family played in the Holocaust.
The drama/thriller was directed by Israeli filmmaker Eytan Fox. Fox was born in New York and moved to Jerusalem with his parents when he was two years old. He attended the Tel Aviv Film School before joining the army where he struggled with his homosexuality. Following his military service, Fox worked in television for a number of years before directing big screen films. In his films, Fox explores questions of identity in the midst of national conflict. “Walk on Water,” his fourth feature length film is critically acclaimed internationally and has won a total of four awards including Best Music and Best Sound from the Israeli Film Academy.
For students majoring in Peace and Conflict Studies or for students who have taken a class or two in the department, the humanizing aspect of the films seems to add an emotional dimension to their studies of words on paper about the complex politics of the Israel/Palestine conflict. For community members who may have had limited or no exposure to the conflict, the films are a reminder of how the events in the news affect the people living there.
“Last week, a faculty member, a biology professor, shared that in the discourse on the conflict, he had forgotten these were everyday people doing everyday things,” Atshan said. “And that was just such a powerful realization [for him] that, in the midst of the conflict, ordinary life has to go on.”
Jasmine Jimenez ’19 experienced a similar realization when she attended last year’s film series. Prior to the screening, Jimenez did not know much about the Israel/Palestine conflict.
“I was not aware of the issues that the series concerns itself with until I saw that movie,” she said. “It literally showed me a world and … an entire paradox that is so apparent [but is] still ignored and … dismissed for whatever reason.”
Jimenez went on to discuss how a student she knows went on a trip to Israel and Palestine with Professor Atshan and saw the conflict in person.
“He [mentioned] how profound of an experience it was to witness that kind of disparity and aggression … and the fact that it was solely based on identity: political, religious, ethnic,” Jimenez said, “and since then, whenever it’s mentioned, I definitely have this perspective of it’s not as simple as anyone can make it.”
Last year, some students who took PEAC 053 had the opportunity to travel with Professor Atshan to visit the region which the class is concerned with. The students enrolled in the course this year will have the same opportunity over winter break.
“I think [this is] a topic that does not get as much attention as it deserves,” Jimenez said, “and however that can be helped I think is in a positive direction.”
Other students agree that it is important to discuss the conflict. George Abraham ’17, a Palestinian-American student also enrolled in Atshan’s class, expressed his appreciation for it. He feels that the class does a good job in allowing students to talk about the conflict.
“The class promotes discussion in a very constructive way and not in a way that’s harmful to any particular perspective,” he said.
Abraham acknowledged that because the conflict in Israel-Palestine is such a contentious topic, there is always a bit of tension in class. However, he believes discussion is important.
“No matter who you are you’re going to get challenged in this class,” he said. “There’s a devil’s advocate in every discussion and your views are going to be challenged, and I like that.”
It is important to note that, while many members of the community agree that PEAC 053 is a fantastic class and that the film series promotes valuable discussion, it is by no means a unanimous sentiment. The complexities of the conflict in Israel and Palestine transfer over into the Swarthmore community. Some voices are significantly underrepresented on campus and in discussions of this controversial topic. In fact, many individuals decided to stay out of this particular article altogether, wary of the potential repercussions of voicing an unpopular opinion. This caution further illustrates the fact that these issues are far more complicated than many feel capable of expressing.
While opinions differed on the film series overall, many community members felt that the first film, a documentary entitled “Promises,” successfully illustrated the complexities of the conflict.
“It’s not possible to jump into the conflict in 2016 without an understanding of what has been taking place for the better part of the last century,” one student, who requested to remain anonymous, expressed. “But the first movie did a good job of giving a balanced perspective of what people are currently feeling.”
Centered around Jerusalem, the documentary interviewed children of all backgrounds in Israel and Palestine. Some were very religious and some were very secular. The focus on children provided a powerful awareness of how conflict impacts people living on different sides.
“[The children] had very mature and complex emotions on what was going on. It was like, ‘Oh my goodness,’” Abraham expressed. “They interviewed refugee children and it’s amazing how they learn to adapt and survive.”
At the end of the documentary the filmmakers asked the children if they wanted to meet some of the others. Abraham described their responses.
“Some of the kids said no and were very racist,” he said. “It was interesting to see there were some kids on the extreme [ends] in both cases.”
Other kids, however, who fell more in the middle of the spectrum, agreed to meet each other and ended up getting along. Abraham said that it was touching to see these children from such different backgrounds become friends.
In general, many viewers appreciated the honesty with which the documentary illustrated how the conflict affects the day-to-day lives of Israelis and Palestinians.
The third film, “The Gatekeepers,” was shown yesterday, and there will be three more films in the remainder of the series. “The War Around Us” will show on Wednesday, September 28, “Paradise Now” on October 5, and “Eyes Wide Open” on October 19, following Fall Break. The films are also on reserve in McCabe and can be borrowed by anyone who cannot make it to the screening.