Having an isolated office at the fringe of the campus has its pros and cons. So while I just need to walk about 50 meters from my office to catch the escort back home, being a corner graduate student place, not a lot of notices make it to the notice board of the building.
This isolation had almost insured my missing the CMU's very own film festival, that is being called "Faces of Democracy" this year. It has a wonderful collection of documentaries form across the world relating to the theme of democracy and the best thing about it is that is the outcome of a semester long course taught here ! Imagine that ! Getting academic credit for designing and organizing a Film Festival ! Bliss !
So having already missed the opening yesterday, I made it to Avi Mograbi's Avenge But One of my Two Eyes, a look at the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The festival broacher told me that Avi is known as Israel's Michael Moore and is an ardent critic of Israel's policies. No need to say that this movie is yet another strong statement.
However contrary to what you may think, even after watching the movie, this is not a movie about the Occupied territories, about the plight of Palestinians and Israel's handling of them. This was my first time of seeing a docu on this topic and I kinda remained absorbed in the extremely heart breaking incidents unfolding on the screen. The desperation of the situation is overwhelming. The sheer humiliation faced by the Palestinians, by ordinary civilians everyday is enormous. What do you do to a tank or a jeep that just says no through a speaker without listening to whatever you have to say? Where there is no leeway of any kind to help adjust the problems of daily life? So in Bangalore when a ambulance comes, everybody leaves the road for it, traffic is stopped. How do you handle a situation in which a ambulance is returned back, not allowed to pass, not allowed to reach to those who need it?
And for a moment it is not about taking sides. Not about thinking who is correct and who is wrong. It is about a urge to defuse such a situation. If this continues, there is only one way for it to go, to disaster. As the friend of Mr. Avi talking to him on the phone says that he wants to live but the line between life and death keeps getting blurry with every passing day. After a point, it doesn't matter anymore. When Avi tries to ask him what can be done about solving this, he replies that he cannot see anything to be done on his side. It is something that has to happen in the Israeli society.
Which brings to me the point of the movie. Yes, it is a movie with scenes of ground situation but the main point of the story is more inwards and it achieves that through contrasting the treatment of the legend of Masada and Samson the hero in today's Israeli society with the actual ground situation. People do not seem to realize the irony inherent in celebrating the myth of Samson on one hand who can be called the first suicide "bomber" of the world and calling Palestinian suicide bombings as a crime against humanity on the other. The footage from the ground brings out the situation perfectly. How the Arabs are humiliated by making them stand on a stone just like how Samson was put on stage for the amusement of his captors. Or how the fence put up by Israel resonates with the wall built by Romans to besiege the zealots at Masada.
Bringing out this irony of popular discourse is what Avi is trying to achieve in the movie and in this way doing his bit in response to his friends statement that the realization has to start from within Israeli society. It is by scrutinizing and questioning our own believes that we can begin to understand others. True for Israelis and true for everyone of us.
Another aspect of the movie is worth mentioning. At many points in the movie, Avi takes a provocative stance against the Israeli soldiers. In fact in the very last scene of the school children, he starts abusing the soldiers who just listen quietly and remain very restrained and for a second even I felt that he is messing up all the good work. But on second thoughts it seems more deliberate and not an act of desperation. It is clear that he is safe and is treated rather well by the soldiers even when he is openly provoking them because he is a Jew. Any Arab in place of him would have had a very different fate. And the harmless school children standing across the closed gate provide the strikingly contrasting background. As I read somewhere, it is irony with capital I.