Film series inspires discussion on Israel/Palestine conflict

This article was printed two weeks ago on 10/29/15. Due to an editorial error it was not posted online at the same time.

The Israeli/Palestine Film Series will hold the last of its six screenings next Wednesday, and its creator, Peace and Conflict Studies Professor Sa’ed Atshan ‘06, is enthusiastic about how the series has been received. The screenings, all open to the public, cover a diverse array of voices, including documentaries and films from Israeli, Palestinian, and American filmmakers.

Atshan hoped the films would appeal to the emotions of students and community members as well as provide personal narratives that political debates over the Israeli-Palestinian conflict may neglect.

“The point is to see the human component of Israeli and Palestinian experiences,” Atshan wrote over email. “I organized similar film series while teaching at Brown and they were a huge success so [I] wanted to bring that to Swat.”

After five screenings, Atshan is pleased that the series has also received a great deal of positive feedback at Swarthmore. Several students found the films to be both gripping and eye-opening.

Celine Anderson ’19 reflected on watching the fifth film, Paradise Now, about two Palestinian men resentful of Israeli occupation preparing to commit violent acts in Tel Aviv.

“It was really an emotional experience [and I] empathized with characters,” she said. “The movie is coming from a real and honest place.”

Rachel Vogel ’16, a member of Swarthmore Students for Peace and Justice in Palestine, was impressed by how extensively the films captured the lives and cultures of different people within Israel and Palestine.

The first film, Frontiers of Dreams and Fears, follows a pen-pal relationship between two Palestinian girls in separate refugee camps. In The Flat screened the following week, an Israeli filmmaker uncovers the relationship his grandparents had with a Nazi officer. The next two films, The War Around Us and Promises, were documentaries. The first follows the only two international journalists in Gaza to report on the unfolding of the Israel-Hamas War, and the latter observes Israeli and Palestinian children first meeting within the region of Jerusalem. The last movie, Eyes Wide Open, is a story set in Jerusalem about a romantic affair between two Orthodox Jewish men.

“So many different topics are covered [and] you get a more thorough sense of the conflict.” Vogel said. “All [the films] are very humanizing.”

Vogel commented on how the series reveals the countless perspectives of people within the region, and how much more complex the conflict is than a dichotomy between Israeli and Palestinian interests.

Killian McGinnis ’19, who is enrolled in Atshan’s Israeli-Palestinian Conflict course, also said the films allow viewers to explore multitudes of nuanced factors rarely addressed in polarizing political discourse.

“I didn’t know a ton about the conflict before, I thought it was kind of a two-sided conflict and that’s certainly not the case,” she explained.

Having taught about the topic at many schools and institutions, Atshan finds Swarthmore students especially receptive to different views.

“There is much more openness here to critical thinking and viewing the conflict from a social justice and human rights perspective,” he wrote. “People have asked very thoughtful questions [and] shared compelling reflections.”

Some students described how the films could expand Americans’ perceptions of the conflict.

“In the U.S. media, we are fed a certain perspective about the conflict that often favors Israel, and that biases our view,” McGinnis said. “[The series] gives Palestinians a voice in a way that our media doesn’t.”

Zackary Lash ’19, also enrolled in the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict course, expressed how his own views of the conflict have evolved.

“I come from a very Jewish background [that is] pro-Israel,” he shared. “[The Series] really humanizes [an] issue that isn’t really humanized in terms of where I come from… It has certainly made me sympathize more with the Palestinian cause.”

He explained that the movies provide a substance that feels more personal than reading a text.

“You see the people… are just individuals trying to live their lives,” Lash said in regards to the masses living through the conflict. “Hearing stories really gives a better picture of what’s going on.”

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