As a woman who cares deeply about women’s rights and as a Jew who cares deeply about peace between Israelis and Palestinians, I feel it is easy to feel discouraged and heavy-hearted by the way things are going in the Middle East today.
Most of the time it seems the wheels of change are stuck in the mud, and we, as people hoping for peace and equality, get stuck in the cracks between understanding the issues and effectively causing change.
This was not so on Sunday, during Meretz USA’s film screening of the documentary film “Paradise Lost” and dialogue with its Arab-Israeli director, Ibtisam Mara’ana. If only for a brief moment, I was reminded why I work so hard for peace and equality in Israel and the future Palestine. Her documentary film, Paradise Lost, was her semi-auto-biographical search for understanding her own identity as a woman, her national identity, and her village’s history. Here is the official brief synopsis of the film:
Arab Israeli filmmaker Ibtisam Salh Mara’ana grew up in Paradise (Fureidis in Arabic), a small fishing village overlooking the Mediterranean. One of the few Arab communities remaining after the 1948 war. This thought-provoking and intimate film diary follows the director’s attempt to recreate the village’s lost history, including the story of her childhood hero Suuad, the legendary local “bad girl” who was imprisoned as a PLO activist in the 1970’s and banished from the community. Presenting the rarely heard voice of an Arab Israeli, this important film offers valuable insight into the contradictions and complexities of modern womanhood and national identity in the Middle East.
This description of the film’s content, while accurate, only touches the tip of the iceberg of all of the emotion, discovery, and growth that filmmaker Ibtisam portrays herself going through. As I watched, I quickly realized that I was being confronted by a very strong woman: a Palestinian, a Feminist, and an Artist, who through heart-break and bravery goes against her family’s wishes, her village’s social contract, and her own childhood hero, to become a free person and a free woman.
After the film screening was over, Ibtisam came forward to answer questions, which ranged from “how has this film affected your relationships with the people in the film?”, to a question about her love life, to “what are your feelings about the recent Gaza War?”
Through broken English, swearwords, and tears, she charismatically responded, proving to an audience filled with Jews of all ages that she had a fiery soul and would not be burning out any time soon.
Whether or not she believes that a two-state solution would be her ideal future, she made it clear that, as a Palestinian Citizen of Israel, she could not speak for the people of Gaza and the West Bank. Their situations are unique and while they all identify as Palestinian, their histories and their future are different.
What I found most fascinating about Ibtisam was that she identifies as a Palestinian and yet, is almost seamlessly integrated into life as a Tel Avivian artist and activist. She holds her history and her plight very close to her heart, but has somehow reconciled her past with her present. In her documentary she searches for national pride as a Palestinian in a village that practically forbids it – in fear of the Israeli Government. And by searching for this pride, she also found that she could not live in a place that tried to keep her silent and tried to make her live a certain life as a woman, so in the end she finds herself with a stronger identity, and an ability to live peacefully with Israelis and become active in Israeli Politics.
She now has very close relationships with Jews, and as a secular Muslim, has been able to learn and partake in Jewish culture. And while she protests against Israel when it comes to the Gaza war, she protests alongside Israelis for the sake of Israeli Art and Artists.
Finally, when asked why she gave up her seat on the Meretz party line-up in protest of the Gaza War, she simply said that she was anti-war and anti-violence. To her it didn’t matter who was fighting who, it just doesn’t make sense to kill.
Ibtisam might be ahead of her time, but she has an outlook that is invaluable in these times. Her forward thinking and peaceful ways brightened my eyes and lifted my heart, because I think it is people like Ibtisam that bring hope to the future.
Keep your eyes open for Ibtisam and her films! Hopefully with the help of The Other Israel Film Festival, and The JCC in Manhattan, we will be hearing many more inspiring Palestinian-Israeli voices in the future.