Friday, September 23, 2005

Film Festival, Part Two

Today, for the first time, I felt unsafe in Ramallah. Not because of anything that happened to me, but because of two documentaries that I saw as a part of the Women’s Film Festival. The first documentary, called Massacre, is about the Sabra and Shatilla refugee camp massacre in Lebanon. Directed by a German woman, the documentary focuses on the stories of Lebanese men who participated in the massacre. These six men agreed to participate in the documentary on the condition that they would remain anonymous. Some were remorseful, and some were not – but the stories they told were chilling. I have seen similar accounts from Nazi soldiers about the realities of the atrocities they committed during WWII, and this was disturbingly reminiscent. What human beings are capable of is both terrible and terrifying. Several of the Lebanese men talked about being trained in Israel, and talked about the Israeli involvement in the Sabra and Shatila massacres. One of the men said that the Israeli army had planned ahead and provided the plastic bags and the chemicals necessary for the mass burial of the Palestinians that had been murdered.

I truly believe that most of the Lebanese soldiers didn’t know what they were getting into when they went to Sabra and Shatila. Obviously, once there, they had a choice – and some (not many) did chose to walk away. Those soldiers are responsible for their actions, but they were not the ones who planned the incident. Higher up Lebanese generals and Israeli army officials (including Sharon) planned the details of the massacre. They knew what was going to happen; the idea of people sitting in a room and coldly calculating the number of body bags they would need for the people they were going to kill makes my skin crawl.

After the full length documentary, we watched a 30 minute documentary about the siege of Ramallah in 2003. Of course I knew that Ramallah had been occupied and bombed during that time, but it takes a whole new meaning when you recognize the buildings that have been bombed and meet the director/ narrator who is still living in Ramallah. I am amazed at how good Ramallah looks now considering how trashed it was after the siege. Buildings were bombed, store fronts shot up, cars destroyed and used to block main streets. The woman who made the documentary works at the Ministry of Culture in Ramallah which was used to house Israeli soldiers during the siege. She filmed footage of the building after the Israeli soldiers departed – leaving behind feces smeared on walls and all over the floor, computers smashed and pissed on, furniture and windows broken, and threats written in Arabic and Hebrew on the walls. How does this secure the state of Israel? Of course I’ve heard of these things being done in schools and medical centers in Gaza, but again, it is something different to see it and to recognize the location of these acts.

So, I feel unsafe tonight because I’m not sure how fine the line is between the documentary I saw about Lebanon, and the documentary I saw about Ramallah. Those Lebanese men were “just following orders” same as the Nazi’s. How far will Israeli soldiers follow orders? At what point does the dehumanization of the other become so total that it is possible to “follow orders” in this manner? This is not just a commentary on the situation in Palestine – but more of a question about the human psyche. I think most people are capable of this kind of violence in the right circumstances . . . as much as I would prefer to think otherwise.


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