Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Occupation 101 (Abdallah and Sufyan Omeish, 2006)

by Mark Gabrish Conlan • Copyright © 2009 by Mark Gabrish Conlan • All rights reserved

Occupation 101 turned out to be quite a movie; directed by Abdallah and Sufyan Omeish (I presume they’re brothers) and written by them and Alison Weir — she did the narration (both writing and delivering it), it’s a relentless portrayal of Israel’s oppression of Palestine dating from the inception of the “Jewish state” in 1948 and even earlier, and makes it clearer than most presentations on this topic that in more ways than one, Israel is yet another bit of collateral damage from the Holocaust; not only did the world community’s position on Zionism shift from anti to pro just after World War II when the victor nations (the U.S. and Britain in particular), realizing how little they’d done to prevent the Holocaust, gave the Zionists international sanction to launch their state, but even before that the pressure of Nazi persecution led a lot of European Jews to flee to the Holy Land and shift the population balance of Palestine from only 3 percent Jews at the turn of the last century to about one-third at the end of World War II. (Ironically, all these Jews ended up going to Palestine at least partly because the U.S. and the Western European countries they would have preferred to relocate to wouldn’t let them in.)

The film taught me one fact about Israel’s occupation of Palestine I hadn’t known before: it highlighted the size of the Palestinian Christian community and noted that they’re lumped in with the Palestinian Muslims and treated just as savagely by the Israeli occupiers — which made it even more ironic that the evangelical Christian movement in the U.S. has embraced Israel’s cause, and in particular the demand of the Israeli far-Right that Israel annex all of the West Bank and Gaza because the fulfillment of the eschatological predictions of the Book of Revelation (at least the way the evangelical community’s consensus reads it) demand, among other things, that the Jews rule all of historic Judea and Samaria so the battle of Armageddon can occur (at which time the Jews will be given an on-the-spot choice — immediate conversion to Christianity or eternal consignment to the flames of Hell — with friends like these, the Jews don’t need enemies!).

Aside from that, Occupation 101 — which begins with footage of the Nazi occupations and then flashes forward to the British in India, the apartheid regime in South Africa and then Israel in Palestine, all set to a relentless rock beat that turns occupation footage into a weird music video (at this point I was thinking maybe the film should have been called Palestoyisqatsi) — presents a story familiar to anyone who’s researched the issue from alternative sources of the Israeli Jews’ relentless pursuit of religio-ethnic cleansing in the Holy Land from their initial occupation of it in the late 1940’s, which kick-started into high gear with Israel’s sweeping triumph in the 1967 Six-Day War and now leaves Israel in effective control of about 90 percent of historic Palestine.

The film features a long list of commentators, many of them Israelis themselves — this isn’t the first movie to note that the Israeli mass media (especially the newspaper Ha’aretz) are more free to offer criticisms of Israel and its occupation policies than the U.S. media, which hew to a strongly pro-Israel line — exposing the Israeli abuses and arguing that what Israel is after is to make the existence of the Palestinians so unpleasant long-term that they simply leave. Indeed, on this point the film may not be radical enough; in Israel’s recent attack on Gaza, even the option of flight was denied to the Gazans under siege because Egypt, the only other country that borders Gaza, accommodated Israel and the U.S. and sealed its border so the Gazans couldn’t leave and badly needed food, medicine and other supplies couldn’t get in.

Quite frankly, the Israelis seem to be interested not in getting the Palestinians to leave but in starving them slowly and achieving the kind of slow-motion “genocide by hunger” the government of Stalin wreaked on the Ukrainians in the early 1930’s — and one could certainly argue the possibility that the Israelis are perfectly aware of a point made in the film, that the more you terrorize people by subjecting them to long-term occupation the likelier they are to lose all faith in life itself and become terrorists, and are counting on that outcome so they can use the Palestinians’ suicide bombings and rocket attacks on Israel as an excuse to wipe them out and thereby apply a “final solution to the Palestinian problem.” After the film I made the point that, while calling the occupation of Palestine a “second Holocaust” (with Jews as perpetrators instead of principal victims this time) is a bit extreme — Israel hasn’t actually set up death camps to kill the Palestinians en masse the way the Nazis did to kill the Jews — Israel has uncannily reconstructed the same array of oppressive measures the Christian governments of Western Europe routinely imposed on their Jewish populations from the Middle Ages until the 18th and 19th centuries: locking them in ghettoes (one shot in the film even shows a spray-painted graffito on the “separation wall” by which Israel has bisected Palestine that reads, “Ghetto,” obviously the work of a Palestinian who has made this historical parallel), depriving them of work and income, forcing them to carry internal passports and have their movements monitored and arbitrarily restricted through checkpoints.

There’s no particular ground for hope in this situation — the makers of this movie are obviously hoping for an international outcry against Israel that will parallel the one against apartheid South Africa and lead to the fall of the Zionist state and its replacement by a secular, democratic, multi-religious Palestine (the “one-state solution”), but as of now Israel has the major cards on its side — notably a state-of-the-art military and the 100 percent backing of the world’s greatest military power ever, the United States — and, ironically, it seems as if the Palestinians’ best hope is if they can hold out as a people long enough for the U.S. to fall victim to its own economic weakness and the American empire to pass from the scene the way the Roman, British, German and Russian empires did.