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Even in Gaza, you can't have a film festival without a red carpet

The human rights film festival sends a message that Gaza is not just a strip of flattened homes, poverty and militants, as the media tends to portray it, says one of the organizers. ‘The people of Gaza are human beings, who love life, who seek peace, and who want to go to the movies, to live normal lives.’

By Avi Blecherman

Attendees line the red carpet at the Karama Gaza Film Festival in the Shujaiyeh neighborhood of Gaza City, May 13, 2015. (Photo by Dan Cohen)

Attendees line the red carpet at the Karama Gaza Film Festival in the Shujaiyeh neighborhood of Gaza City, May 13, 2015. (Photo by Dan Cohen)

While Israeli entertainment reporters have been busy covering the DocAviv documentary film festival in Tel Aviv in recent days, but nearby, another rather exceptional film festival came to a close Thursday evening in the Shujaiyeh neighborhood of Gaza City — a festival dedicated entirely to films about human rights.

Shujaiyeh, where the festival was held, was the scene of some of the heaviest fighting and destruction during last summer’s Gaza war, in which Israel flattened large swaths of the crowded neighborhood. Some 100 Palestinians and 13 Israelis were killed there on July 20, 2014. Many of those killed and injured were women and children.

I spoke with festival organizer Saud Aburamadan, a veteran journalist and resident of Gaza on Thursday — in Hebrew.

Saud, tell me a little about the festival, please.

This is the first film festival held in Gaza, ever. A group of filmmakers and journalists in Gaza, who aren’t affiliated with any [political] organization organized the unusual festival, out of the belief that everyone deserves a bit of dignity and quiet.

The director of the festival is Palestinian filmmaker Khalil al-Muzain, and the Jordanian Karma Film Festival sponsored us. We have films from Syria, Iraq, Egypt, Jordan, Russia, and other countries. There are 180 films, 28 of which were selected by the professional committee to be screened over the past three days.

How did local residents react to this initiative?

Look, part of our complicated reality here is that there hasn’t been even one movie theater in all of Gaza since the First Intifada. I know Gazans in their twenties, my children for example, who have never been in a movie theater. We live with the conflict and under siege, it’s a hard life. People are preoccupied with survival, how to feed their families, how to find work, how to protect their families and their children during wars.

When we were looking for locations to screen the films we arrived in Shujaiyeh in eastern Gaza City, a large part of which was turned to rubble. We stood there next to the destroyed mosque, surrounded by destroyed homes in every direction, and became clear that it was the right place to hold a film festival focused on human rights.

Do you feel that this festival is also sending a message to the outside world?

Definitely. The festival reminds the world at large, the Middle East and Israel, that the people of Gaza have been living under siege for more than eight years and that it needs to be ended. We are also trying to remind the world that spoke about sending aid to rebuild Gaza, that if it is serious about its promises, then this is the time the time to act.

People here live in an impossible reality. And you know what? This festival also sends a message to Hamas and Fatah, that the internal conflicts between them are also destroying our lives here in Gaza.

But no less important is the message that Gaza is not just a strip of flattened homes, poverty and militants who fire missiles at Israel, or people who just live to die, as the media tends to portray us. It’s important to us that the world see that is not true. The people of Gaza are human beings, who love life, who seek peace, who want to go to the movies, to live normal lives.

A film is shown on the screen built out of the wall of a destroyed home at the Karama Gaza Film Festival, Shujaiyeh neighborhood of Gaza City, May 13, 2015. (Photo by Dan Cohen)

A film is shown on the screen built out of the wall of a destroyed home at the Karama Gaza Film Festival, Shujaiyeh neighborhood of Gaza City, May 13, 2015. (Photo by Dan Cohen)

How did you manage to put on an event like this in a destroyed neighborhood, without any infrastructure?

It wouldn’t have happened without the help of the neighborhood’s residents themselves. They an integral part of the crew that put this festival on. We asked them if they wanted to help and everyone showed up — children, women, men, the elderly and the young. Everyone came to help — to clear rubble and prepare the area, one person brought water, one person brought coffee, they helped build the stage, to hang the signs, to set up the giant screen, a movie theater-sized screen that we built on the wall of a destroyed home.

The image of the red carpet with destroyed homes on both sides is spine-tingling. Who walked down it?

Well, you can’t have a film festival without a red carpet. We took that symbol and made it work for the our reality here in Gaza. For us, red is first and foremost the the color of so much blood that was spilled here this summer. The blood of women, men and children.

There was a family in Shujaiyeh, the al-Hilu family, which lost 11 people in a bombing, most of them women and children. Usually the people walking down the red carpet at a film festival are VIPs. Here, we laid down the 70-meter red carpet on one of the main roads that leads to where we screened the films, a road that has nothing but destroyed homes. We invited all of the residents to walk down the red carpet to the premiere. It was our way of saying that each and every one of them is important.

Attendees watch a film  at the Karama Gaza Film Festival in the Shujaiyeh neighborhood of Gaza City, May 13, 2015. (Photo by Dan Cohen)

Attendees watch a film at the Karama Gaza Film Festival in the Shujaiyeh neighborhood of Gaza City, May 13, 2015. (Photo by Dan Cohen)

How did the audience react to the festival?

On opening night hundreds of neighborhood residents showed up, along with others from other parts of Gaza. It was a very happy and celebratory evening with speeches and musical performances and children singing. We screened two films that night: one by a Gazan filmmaker and the second one from the West Bank. They both dealt with human rights.

It was 9:30 p.m. and the place was full of light. You have to understand, Shujaiyeh has lived in darkness for the past eight months. The infrastructure was destroyed. People have been living in darkness, in candle light. This festival brought normalcy back for a moment. It brought daylight. People came up to me and said: ‘Saud, this might be the first time that we’ve felt like we aren’t living in Gaza. We’re going to the movies, it’s great!’ If you ask me, something like this can be more important than food, and certainly more important than politics around here.

Said, do you have something you want to say to our readers in Israel?

You know, I’ve been a journalist for 28 years, writing for international outlets. I’ve been interviewed by Israeli news outlets and I have a lot of journalist friends. It’s a shame that Israeli news outlets ignore events like this and don’t present them to the Israeli public. I know that you have a film festival in Tel Aviv this week. We have one in Gaza, and they couldn’t be further apart.

I wish that one day soon there will be peace and we will be able to come and participate in your festival and you can come to Gaza once again and participate in our festival. We are all human beings. It’s a shame that the years and days are filled with pain and sorrow. As a resident of Gaza, I am sorry about all of this violence and war. We are all human beings and we need to enjoy life and not kill and be killed.

Avi Blecherman is an Israeli activist and journalist. This article was first published in Hebrew on Local Call, where he is a blogger. Read it here.

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    COMMENTS

    1. Sheikh Yahudi

      Do you seriously believe anyone in the world would care about a film festival, or anything else in Gaza that the Jews cannot be chastised for?

      Reply to Comment
    2. Pedro X

      Palestinians are pathetic beyond imagination when they say they just want to live in peace and go to the movies.

      “The people of Gaza are human beings, who love life, who seek peace, and who want to go to the movies, to live normal lives.”

      Eh, come again, where are these lovers of life and peace seekers going to watch movies? There are no movie houses in Gaza since Gazans destroyed them decades ago. Hamas destroyed the Grande al-Nassar movie house in 1995. I ask you what happened to the al-Samer, al-Jalaa’ or Amer drive in Gaza City? The Gazans destroyed the famous al-Khadra and al Hamra in Khan Younis. Same happened to the the movie houses in Rafah, Sabrine, al-Salam and al-Hurriya. Movie theaters were branded as anti-Islamist and destroyed. Gazan Journalist Mohammed Othman recently wrote:

      “Nothing remains of the Gaza Strip movie theaters except their names used to describe squares located nearby. These names have become associated, in the minds of the new generation of Gazans, with geographical locations, as the meaning of the term cinema is no longer part of their collective memory.”

      Of course these movie theaters thrived under Israeli rule when free speech and freedom of movement were taken for granted. Under Israeli administration of the Gaza Strip a guy could take his girl or guy to a movie house. Then in 1994 the Palestinians took over rule of the Gaza strip and the movie houses were suppressed and destroyed.

      If Gazans wanted to live in peace and go to the movies they would turn their weapons into plowshares and build movie houses. They are not doing this. Gazans instead are ploughing their money into more weapons and military infrastructure and paying militants instead of civilian employees. If they think this will allow them to live normal lives, they more delusional than ISIS militants who think they can re-establish the Islamic Caliphate by slaughtering everyone who stands in their path.

      Reply to Comment
      • David T.

        “Palestinians are pathetic beyond imagination when they say they just want to live in peace and go to the movies.”

        So because Hamas or Gazan extremists closed or destroyed cinemas you conclude that Palestinians as such are pathetic beyond imagination when they say they just want to live in peace and go to the movies. Well, nobody claimed that black propoganda must be reasonable and never sounds racist.

        But what would be your similar silly conclusion about Jews as such in this case?
        http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/middle-east/israelgaza-conflict-sderot-cinema-image-shows-israelis-with-popcorn-and-chairs-cheering-as-missiles-strike-palestinian-targets-9602704.html

        “Of course these movie theaters thrived under Israeli rule when free speech and freedom of movement were taken for granted. Under Israeli administration of the Gaza Strip a guy could take his girl or guy to a movie house. Then in 1994 the Palestinians took over rule of the Gaza strip and the movie houses were suppressed and destroyed. ”

        Those were the days, when Israel bribed Palestians into forgetting the occupation. Read Neve Gordon’s “Israel’s Occupation” how Israel even turned the electricity an water infrastructure into a tool for collective punishment. Btw, The cinemas were allready closed at the beginning of the first uprising against the occupier in 1987.

        “If Gazans wanted to live in peace and go to the movies they would turn their weapons into plowshares and build movie houses.”

        Ah, so if Jews wanted peace they would turn their weapons into plowshares and stop destroying Gza’s civilian infrastructure and restricting construction materials for Gaza?

        “Gazans instead are ploughing their money into more weapons and military infrastructure and paying militants instead of civilian employees.”

        Jews are not ploughing their money into more weapons, militants and military infrastructure, have not one of the highest ratios of defense spending to GDP among developed countries and don’t punish Palestinians collectively by withholding Palestinian money for Palestinian civilian employees?

        Given Israel’s large scale destruction of Gaza, its mass killing of civilians and its ongoing illegal blockade what would Jews do in this situation? Not building military structures or shelters and not buying guns? Did they turn their weapons into plowshares and build cinemas in 1948, too?

        Reply to Comment
        • Pedro X

          Let me get this straight, a whole 50 Israelis from Sderot, who have been subjected to thousands of missiles over more than a decade, sat on chairs and cheered when Gazans rocket launchers and terrorists got hit as Israel forces attempted to stop Gazans from targeting their community. This offends you.

          In comparison tens of thousands and hundreds of thousands of Gazans attended Hamas rallies for the destruction of Israel and killing of Jews. This did not offend you. At these rallies no one demanded the right to live in peace or to have the right to attend movies. What they demanded was war and killing of Jews.

          At these rallies the crowds sang in unison death to Jews and cheered for more rockets. Let me give you an example, at Hamas’s 25 year rally on December 7, 2012, hundreds of thousands of Gazans attended the rally. Hamas claimed that 500,000 came out, nearly 1 in every 3 Gazans attended the rally. The background set for the rally was a giant stage with a giant mock up of M75 Hamas rocket. Child soldiers with toy guns were openly displayed on the stage aping military maneuvers of Hamas terrorists. Khaled Meshal and Ismail Haniyeh entered the stage by a door built into the Rocket.

          The crowd was in rapture as Khaled Mashal told them that they would never recognize Israel and that all of Palestine was theirs.

          “Palestine is ours from the river to the sea and from the south to the north. There will be no concession on an inch of the land,”

          He further stated:

          “It will remain Islamic and Arab for us and nobody else. Jihad and armed resistance is the only way. We cannot recognize Israel’s legitimacy.”

          The crowd gripped by an ideology of hate chanted in reply:

          “Oh dear Meshal, your army struck Tel Aviv, Oh Qassam, do it again, hit Haifa next time,”

          In the 2014 war when Hamas rockets struck near Jerusalem, some Arabs in Jerusalem cheered and called for more Hamas rockets on Jerusalem.

          In another large Hamas rally held on March 23, 2014 Palestinian Prime Minister Haniyeh told an cheering crowd of green that:

          “The resistance is stronger than you think, and our force has doubled and our arsenal has doubled,” and

          “From below ground and above ground, you, the Occupiers, will be dismissed. You have no place in the land of Palestine.”

          Chants from the crowd of “Jihad is not terrorism” were amplified by loudspeakers. There was no doubt that Gazans were desirous of another war in which Israelis would be killed and expelled from all of Palestine.

          This message reverberates in Gaza. Hamas TV (Al-Asqa TV) on March 6, 2014 broadcast the speech of Hamas lawmaker Yunis Al-Astal who in his address said that the Koran proclaims that the killing of Jews is a religious obligation of every Muslim. Memri.org translated his address in which he said:

          “The worst beasts in the sight of Allah are those who disbelieve. They are the ones with whom you made a covenant, but they break their covenant every time,’” Al-Astal said.

          “The obvious question is: What is the solution to his gang of people? The Al-Anfal chapter of the Koran provides us with the answer,” he explained.

          “After He said: ‘They are the ones with whom you made a covenant, but they break their covenant every time,’ Allah added: ‘If you gain mastery over them in a war, use them to disperse those who follow them that they may remember.’ This indicated that we must massacre them, in order to break them down and prevent them from sowing corruption in the world. They are the ones who still spark the flame of war, but Allah has taken it upon Himself to extinguish it.”

          This ideology of massacring the Jews is supported by the people of Gaza. Shortly before the 2014 war, Gazans sent 100,000 of children to Jihad camps in Gaza to learn to be little soldiers. Earlier that year Hamas had celebrated the graduation of 13,000 children from military training in schools to be fighters and suicide bombers. The Gazan people fully supported Hamas in these endeavors.

          What is worse is that after the summer war of 2014 Palestinian polling firm PSR found that 80% of Palestinians in both Gaza and the west Bank supported Hamas tactics during the war, that is war crimes. And more telling West Bankers supported importing Hamas weapons and tactics into the West Bank for the better continuation of the war.

          The Palestinians call for war, plan for war, go to war and then cry and whine about the results of their war. If Palestinians turned their weapons into plowhares they would have peace. If Israel turned its weapons into plowshares they would be massacred per the Koran’s instructions as interpreted by Palestinians and the Arab world.

          Reply to Comment
          • David T.

            “This offends you. … This did not offend you.”

            Silly Pedro, my question was what would be your similar silly conclusion about Jews as such in this case. Do Jews are pathetic beyond imagination when they say they just want to live in peace and go to the movies?

            “… who have been subjected to thousands of missiles over more than a decade”

            The Gazans have been subjected to 14.000 artillery shells alone in 2006. Would you like to compare the effects on civilians, too?

            “… sat on chairs and cheered when Gazans rocket launchers and terrorists got hit as Israel forces attempted to stop Gazans from targeting their community.”

            What if the Gazans attempt this way to stop the IDF from targeting communities and dense population areas? After all it’s Israel who brakes cease fires first.
            http://www.huffingtonpost.com/nancy-kanwisher/reigniting-violence-how-d_b_155611.html

            “… Hamas rallies for the destruction of Israel …”

            Like Israel destroyed Palestine?

            “… and killing of Jews. …”

            Hamas offered Israel at least twice to stop targeting civilians, but terrorism is the presence of an occupier.

            “Palestine is ours from the river to the sea and from the south to the north. There will be no concession on an inch of the land,”

            Insert Israel and it sounds like any of its prime ministers.

            “This ideology of massacring the Jews is supported by the people of Gaza.”

            Again, what would be your similar silly conclusion about Jews as such according to this writing?
            Netanyahu and the laws of killing ‘goyim’
            http://www.haaretz.com/misc/article-print-page/netanyahu-and-the-goyim.premium-1.517024

            “What is worse is that after the summer war of 2014 Palestinian polling firm PSR found that 80% of Palestinians in both Gaza and the west Bank supported Hamas tactics during the war, that is war crimes. The Palestinians call for war, plan for war, go to war and then cry and whine about the results of their war.”

            Again, what would be your similar silly conclusion about Jews as such according to this poll and the support for Israel’s war crimes which were far worse?
            “More than 90 percent of Israeli Jews support Gaza war”
            http://www.haaretz.com/misc/article-print-page/haaretz-poll-more-than-90-percent-of-israeli-jews-support-gaza-war.premium-1.478903

            “If Palestinians turned their weapons into plowhares they would have peace. If Israel turned its weapons into plowshares they would be massacred per the Koran’s instructions as interpreted by Palestinians and the Arab world.”

            Palestinians only had plowhares in 1948 because of their demilitarzation after their revolt. And then and were massacred, expelled, dispossessed, denationalized by Jews. An that is the truth compared to your lame propaganda hypothetical.

            And the Quran doesn’t instruct genocide:
            Quran: “Fight in the way of Allah those who fight you but do not transgress. Indeed. Allah does not like transgressors.”

            In which ‘holy script’ do we really find a deity commanding genocide and what is your racist conclusion about its followers as such?

            Hamas Charter: “Only under the shadow of Islam could the members of all regions coexist in safety and security for their lives, properties and rights. In the absence of Islam, conflict arises, oppression reigns, corruption is rampant and struggles and wars prevail. … Under the shadow of Islam it is possible for the members of the three religions: Islam, Christianity and Judaism to coexist in safety and security. Safety and security can only prevail under the shadow of Islam, and recent and ancient history is the best witness to that effect.”

            Israel’s declaration: “WE APPEAL to the Jewish people throughout the Diaspora to rally round the Jews of Eretz-Israel in the tasks of immigration and upbuilding and to stand by them in the great struggle for the realization of the age-old dream – the redemption of Israel.”

            Which sounds more like peaceful coexistence?

            Reply to Comment
    3. David T.

      Rofl. A Hasbara bot spamed exactly the same 4 day ago:
      http://972mag.com/hundreds-of-palestinians-displaced-in-jordan-valley-by-idf-training-exercises/106611/

      But thank you for bringing it up again. The Palestinian nationality and citicenship exists since 1925 and included back then and in its 1964 revision Jews. But neither a Jewish citizenship nor an Israeli nation or people (according to Israel) exists.

      Therefore the concept of a “Jewish state” and its differentiation between (only Jewish) nationals and citizens is as blatantly racist as the national concept of states in which Jews weren’t regarded as nationals.

      Reply to Comment
      • BigCat

        Brian Ben David T. Dekkers (LoL..), you are confused and rambling again? Oh boy…

        Check this out, you little psychotic moron with multiple identities on this site:

        “Palestine has never existed . . . as an autonomous entity. There is no language known as Palestinian. There is no distinct Palestinian culture. There has never been a land known as Palestine governed by Palestinians. Palestinians are Arabs, indistinguishable from Jordanians (another recent invention), Syrians, Lebanese, Iraqis, etc. Keep in mind that the Arabs control 99.9 percent of the Middle East lands. Israel represents one-tenth of one percent of the landmass. But that’s too much for the Arabs. They want it all. And that is ultimately what the fighting in Israel is about today . . . No matter how many land concessions the Israelis make, it will never be enough”.

        — from “Myths of the Middle East”, Joseph Farah, Arab-American editor and journalist, WorldNetDaily, 11 October 2000.

        Reply to Comment
        • David T.

          I’m not the little psychotic moron with multiple personal disorders confusing commenters, rambling about them and using pathetic sources.

          Chairman of the Nation Leagues Permanent Mandate Comission, 1937 (paraphrase):
          “Palestine, as the mandate clearly showed, was a subject under international law. While she could not conclude international conventions, the mandatory Power, until further notice, concluded them on her behalf, in virtue of Article 19 of the mandate. The mandate, in Article 7, obliged the Mandatory to enact a nationality law, which again showed that the Palestinians formed a nation, and that Palestine was a State, though provisionally under guardianship. It was, moreover, unnecessary to labour the point; there was no doubt whatever that Palestine was a separate political entity.”
          http://unispal.un.org/UNISPAL.NSF/0/FD05535118AEF0DE052565ED0065DDF7

          Reply to Comment
    4. Bruce Gould

      The Vatican recognizes a Palestinian state and the New York Times mentions boycotts of Israel in a neutral tone:

      http://www.nytimes.com/2015/05/15/opinion/the-vatican-and-the-palestinians.html?_r=0

      While the Vatican’s announcement may carry special weight, it’s far from the only government to recognize Palestine. Some 135 nations have recognized a state of Palestine since 1988. In October, Sweden formally recognized the Palestinian state. In recent months, parliaments in Britain, Spain, France and Ireland have urged their governments to do the same. Meanwhile, international efforts are underway to increase pressure on Israel through boycotts and United Nations resolutions.

      Reply to Comment
      • BigCat

        Non-new.

        The Vatican recognized the “Palestinian state” back in 2012!

        You are getting excited over nothing.

        Reply to Comment
        • BigCat

          “Non-news” …… is what I meant

          Reply to Comment
    5. Mary Hughes Thompson

      God bless Palestine. It was always Palestine. It will always be Palestine. Israel is just a temporary invention that will soon disappear into oblivion.

      Reply to Comment
    6. Mish Fahim

      Anyone can point me to the lyrics to the song?

      Reply to Comment
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