USA, 2009, 78min. | Switzerland/ Qatar, 2010, 86min.
It is almost impossible to find a film about Israelis and Palestinians in which their conflict is not present. It is almost impossible to talk about a film about Israelis and Palestinians without considering how they are represented.
Both Aisheen [Still alive in Gaza] and Budrus predominately portrait everyday Palestinians, and in both, only Israeli officials (border police) are present. Both express hope, though in extremely different ways in terms of content as well as style.
Budrus tells the story of the villagers who start peaceful protests against the route of the Israeli security fence. The route cuts off the village from the olive orchards and thus the villagers from their livelihood. By confronting the border police and the bulldozers that are uprooting their trees, the Budrus villagers hope not only to change the wall’s projected route, but also show that peaceful protest is the only way forward.
Aisheen – Still alive in Gaza shows the daily life of mostly unnamed Palestinians and the challenges they face. At a limited number of locations such as the beach, a playground, the zoo (or what is left of it), and the border with Egypt, we witness their struggle, the arbitrariness they encounter, the lack of recourse. Where Budrus focuses on a specific event, Aisheen shows us daily life with little specific context.
The representation of Palestinians in the news has changed over time. In, for example, Belgian newspapers a shift in the representation of Palestinians between the First Intifada (1987-1993) and the second (2000-2005) is visible. Palestinians go from having a largely positive image (of victims of an occupation) to a largely negative one (as terrorist bombers). Israelis go the opposite way. 9/11 and other international events play a role here.1
However, in Israel, the media the story is different. During the First Intifada, Palestinians
were altogether excluded from the Israeli screens, but during the second their human side was shown. A broad range of Palestinian figures were presented to Israeli viewers: political leaders, ordinary people and terrorists.2
«they are convinced the Israelis won’t use force against women»
Both Budrus and Aisheen focus on ordinary Palestinians finding their own ways of dealing with their situation, so they challenge mainstream media representation. Two organizers of the protest marches in Budrus, Ayed, and his fifteen-year-old daughter Iltezam are the main figures in Budrus. They try to convey the need for peaceful protest and the Palestinian ability to co-operate with Israel’s sympathetic protesters and to stay away from violence. In addition, Iltezam represents the women protesters, who actively and purposefully engage in the struggle, convinced the Israelis won’t use force against women.
Interviews are intercut with images of the village, the protests and daily life. Through text and maps we learn geographical details. The way the interviews and images of the protest are intercut separates them more than unites them – and makes it hard to really feel involved. Music is present continuously and many details are mentioned in text. The filmmakers seem worried we are going to miss something and this is very much where the film differs from Aisheen. In the latter, the images are allowed to speak for themselves.
Aisheen starts with a little boy looking for the haunted house – a real one, which has been demolished. You could send him to any house these days. Because of the recent clashes in Gaza, the zoo has lost many animals. There is a shortage of decent food – not a good time to bring in new animals. Another scene: One of the attractions in the playground is broken, but the spare-parts shops are empty. Another scene: A little window gives access to the UN food supply office. Too many people turn up to get food and crush each other against the little window. The filmmaker takes the time to observe and let the images do the work. Music is mostly absent. This allows for beautifully commonplace scenes: Several men sitting around a fire, discussing a telephone call, while one is making coffee. The call involves an audio taped voice asking for information about a certain Gilad Shalit. Is this telephone terror from the Israeli side? The men contemplate: “Let us take care of ourselves”; “Maybe it would be best to just leave everything and go elsewhere”; “Did I put in seven [spoons of sugar]?” Such commonplaceness, enacted by ordinary people, only occurs with time.
Both films express hope, though Budrus does so more explicitly. Its message is that Palestinians are capable of keeping the peace, of working with Israelis and changing their situation. Women are granted an important role here. However, it is not clear what the relationship between the 55 peaceful marches around Budrus – and the few less peaceful ones – and the impending revision of the fence’s route is.
The film’s presence in the village of Budrus ends with an ‘occupation’. The next thing we see the route is revised and the people of Budrus claim their victory. As much as I wish them well, it is unclear to what extent the marches caused the revision and what really happened after the siege of Budrus. Hope in Aisheen is more subtle and visible at the end: despite the hardships, people cope and find ways to continue living. Shops stocking spare parts may be empty, but that does not keep the playground manager from coming up with another trick to repair his attraction. When the rappers of Darg Team get a chance to present themselves on a local radio station, they are met with hostility: rap is not suitable for Arabs. But they tell people to stop basing their judgments on appearances and to accept that people are different. As one of them says: “Not all your fingers are the same”.
1 Annelore Deprez and Karin Raeymaeckers (2009). Bias in the news? Representation of Palestinians and Israelis in the coverage of the first and second intifada. International Communication Gazette, 72(1), p. 91-109.
2 Tamar Liebes and Zohar Kampf (2009). Black and white and shades of grey: Palestinians in the Israeli media during the second intifada. The International Journal of Press/Politics, 14(4), p. 434-453.