Palestinian Filmmakers Resist to Promote Culture

RAMALLAH — Defying the Israeli closures and intimidation, Palestinian women filmmakers are struggling to promote cinema in the occupied lands and to have their voice heard.

"It’s hard to work in films here," Alia Arasoughly, who runs Shashat, a non-profit organization focusing on women’s cinema, told Agence France-Presse (AFP).

Arasoughly’s organization is running a women’s film festival to be staged across the occupied Palestinian territories until December to promote cinema among the Palestinian people.

Public cinemas barely exist in the Palestinian territories outside al-Quds (occupied East Jerusalem) and Ramallah.

Most Palestinian filmmakers are better known abroad than at home.

Many of them lack funds to produce films about the Palestinian culture, especially in view of the US-led international aid cut and huge domestic recession.

"So much of the funding comes from abroad and the donor community prioritizes emergency aid. It is a real struggle," said Arasoughly, an elegant woman with a PhD in cinema.

In preparing for the film festival, organizers have encountered endless problems.

One screening was cancelled in the northern West Bank town of Nablus owing to a general strike and Palestinian clashes.

Backed by Fatah, tens of thousands of workers have gone on strike, paralyzing the Palestinian Authority and many government services.


Palestinian filmmakers also face severe difficulties in getting their films shot and edited.

Last month, a group from Ramallah was also unable to get to Al-Quds because of Israeli checkpoint restrictions.

"For every single act you have to calculate twice as much time. Everything requires four times as much effort," sighed Arasoughly.

"I had a panic attack near (the village of) Jayyus for the first time in my life … because they (Israeli soldiers) were pointing weapons at my chest," said Liana Badr.

Badr said she endured threats and intimidation from Israeli occupation troops while trying to film her documentary "the Gates Are Open Sometimes" near the Israeli separation wall.

"The area is a military area and we’re not allowed to photograph, even come with a camera. So it was horrible. We had to have a lot of courage."

The 700km-long barrier is a mix of electronic fences and concrete walls that will eventually snake some 900 kilometers (540 miles) along the West Bank and leave even larger swathes of its territory on the Israeli side.

It is estimated that with the competition of the wall, 30 percent of the West Bank population, or some 680,000 people, will be "directly harmed".

After the International Court of Justice issued a landmark ruling branding the wall as illegal, the UN General Assembly asked Israel to tear it down and compensate the Palestinians affected.


Despite the endless obstacles, the Palestinian audience was responsive to the film festival.

Arasoughly said scores of people have flocked to watch.

In the southern Gaza Strip, where electricity is strictly rationed after Israel bombed the strip’s only power station, a film was shown by generator.

"Rafah had been bombed (during an ongoing Israeli offensive) that morning and they ran the film in the afternoon. Why? Because we’re not animals," she said.

Despite the problems, many of the Palestinian filmmakers have won international prizes for work that focuses on the human cost to their fellow Palestinians from the Middle East conflict.

Critic Yousef Shayeb said a string of recent Palestinian successes, such as Oscar -nominated "Paradise Now" – has opened the door to Palestinian filmmakers to make films with worldwide appeal.

"There is a need to tell the Palestinian story in a language that can be heard in the world, not by shouting," he said, highlighting young director Liana Saleh and fellow filmmaker Najwa Najjar.

Still studying in Paris, Saleh won a prize from the Doha-based Al-Jazeera television for her short film "A Ball and a Coloring Box" about the dreams of Palestinian children living amid death and occupation in the West Bank.

"This is Liana’s first film and she is the youngest filmmaker in Palestine. It’s amazing to have a 17-year-old girl make a good film about the dreams of Palestinian children," Shayeb said.

Najjar’s debut feature "Yasmine Tughani", beautifully shot in scenes that more closely resemble Tuscany than the gritty documentaries featured in the festival, tells the story of young lovers thwarted by the separation barrier.

Arasoughly and three other filmmakers will travel to London this month after being selected to make shorts for a "three-minute wonder" series to be broadcast by Britain’s Channel 4 television.

© (October 12, 2006)

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