Almost everyone I know likes “Omar”, the Palestinian drama film directed by Hany Abu-Assad currently showing across Canada.
The critics certainly liked it. It won the Jury Prize in 2013 at Cannes. It was shown at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF), and was the Palestinian entry for the Best Foreign Language Film at the 86th Academy Awards.
And my friends also all rave about it. They think the film is powerful. Gripping. Well acted. Realistic. There is a Palestinian love story which shows Palestinians as very human. But most of all, they like it because it shows graphically just how mean and vicious the Israeli police/IDF are in their treatment of the Palestinians.
I agree with all of that.
BUT – I think it also carries another message that is very negative for Palestinians and damaging for anyone trying to develop support for Palestinian human rights in Canada.
Think of it. What is the main argument we hear when we talk to normal, decent Canadians about the injustices Israel inflicts on the Palestinians?
In a nutshell, it’s this:
“OK, Israel does a lot of nasty things. The occupation is bad. The blockade of Gaza is bad. Repression by Israeli police is bad. BUT – Israel is surrounded by terrorists. Palestinians and others send rockets into civilian areas. They send suicide bombers into cafés. They assassinate Israeli soldiers. So what is Israel to do? It has no choice but to defend itself – and unfortunately that means using some pretty unsavoury tactics.”
I think “Omar” reinforces this narrative.
It starts off with 3 kids who decide to assassinate an Israeli soldier. No particular reason is given. (I am sure lots of Palestinian kids dream of this. But hardly anybody really does it.) They are part of some kind of “brigade” which sets up an ambush to kill some more IDF troops in a café.
Voila – our worst suspicions confirmed – the Palestinians are born terrorists. There is an ongoing “war” between Palestinian guerillas and Israeli troops. Israel has to do something!!!
Judging from the movie you would think that Israel is under constant siege and knocking off Israeli soldiers is an almost daily event. In fact, it pretty rare, and certainly much rarer than Palestinians being killed by Israeli soldiers, or police or settlers.
And why do the Palestinians hate the Israelis so much? The only clue we get in the movie is that the Israeli soldiers are brutal and insolent and humiliate the Palestinians. The movie doesn’t refer to land confiscation, or lack of human rights, or economic exploitation or house demolitions or ethnic cleansing or any other reason for Palestinian resentment.
Unfortunately, many Canadians think they already know why Palestinians hate Israelis. They have been told over and over again that the Palestinians hate the Jews because… they are Jewish!!
Of course, I can’t fault the film maker for the message a Canadian audience takes from the film. The film maker is neither a propagandist or educator.
But like it or not, a film is both propaganda and educator. And I think this film encourages a widespread view in Canada that Palestinians are anti-Semitic terrorists who just wont leave the Israelis in peace. As a result, in the eyes of many Canadian viewers who do not understand the conflict, while the film exposes the brutal activities of the Israeli security forces, it also seems to provide a logical explanation for them.