Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Review: Palestine Blues

Well, I'm a gonna raise a fuss, I'm a gonna raise a holler....I've been bombing all summer just to whine for a dollar...Well I refuse to go to work, told the boss I was sick...Now I can't stone cars 'cause I gotta work late...Sometimes I wonder what I'm a gonna do, but there ain't no cure for the Palestine Blues...

Last night I watched the documentary Palestine Blues in the name of balanced documentary viewing. The film is about the effect of the security wall/fence on the Palestinians living in the West Bank at the time it was constructed in the fall of 2002. The film interviews various Palestinians living in different villages near the construction of the fence, but focuses mainly on the filmmaker's uncle who lives in Jayyous.

This movie is sort of the opposite of Hijacking the Holy Land, misinformative to the point of outright lying, but a very well made and engaging film. The film does a good job alternating between casual human interest parts such as the uncle picking fruit from his trees and tense standoffs between Israeli soldiers and Palestinians. When guns are out and emotions are high, you can't help but get sucked into the film, regardless of which side you support.

But now let's talk about the politics of the film:

Regardless of which side you stand on this conflict, you need to see this movie because it shows just how duplicitous and one-sided the Palestinian narrative is. Unlike Hijacking the Holy Land, which covers the history of the conflict in a somewhat objective and dispassionate manner, Palestine Blues begins with Rachel Corrie's death and then switches to the West Bank for the construction of the fence. '48 and '67 are mentioned, but only by old Palestinian women as part of their complaining about "the Jews expelling us."

I made a joking bet with myself that terrorism wouldn't be mentioned once in this film, not really believing it to be true. But I won my own bet. In a film about the security fence, filmed at the height of the Second Intifada, absolutely no mention was made of suicide bombings. I couldn't believe it as I was watching it, but it was true. The closest you come is an IDF soldier saying "Any one of them [Palestinians] could go to Tel Aviv..." but then the camera quickly cuts before he mentions the inconvenient truth. Watching this movie is like watching a Japanese documentary about the bombing of Hiroshima that doesn't mention World War II, in which the evil Americans just bombed the Japanese for no reason.

Once you realize what the filmmaker is doing, it becomes a lot harder to cry along with the Palestinians who are losing access to their trees and farms. They appeal to the Israeli soldiers "How will we make a living?" which is undoubtedly sad, but compared to Israelis dying by the busload it's a lot less sympathetic. Even in conversations between Palestinians, they don't talk about the terrorism. Is it because they genuinely don't see the connection between the terror and the wall or are they being deliberately dishonest along with the filmmaker? We never know for sure.

But like all Palestinian propaganda, sometimes the mask of "poor oppressed innocent" slips and we see things that aren't necessarily so great for the Palestinians. At one point, a group of kids are interviewed and one of the kids talks about how they dodge Israeli patrols past curfew. We are clearly meant to be impressed by their courage and resistance. But then one of them says something like "we will expel them from our land," and anyone paying attention knows what that means. At another point, a Palestinian song is played, singing about "the return" and "resistance to Zionism." But when it talks about liberating the land it names places like Haifa, Acre, and Jaffa, all cities in Israel. So again, the lie that Palestinians just want Israel out of the West Bank is busted in their own documentaries and songs. The filmmaker has no problem trying to push both ideas that Palestinians just want to be left alone by Israel and that Palestinians are going to destroy Israel someday at the same time.

Another example of the film busting Palestinian mythology is when the film again attempts to portray the brave Palestinians fighting back against the cruel Israelis. The Palestinians and their Western supporters walk right up to armed Israeli soldiers, yell at them, spit on them, and push and shove them. Naturally the soldiers push back. There is one part where a girl stands in front of an Israeli jeep and refuses to move until a soldier grabs her and moves her out of the way. We are meant to be amazed at the bravery of the Palestinians, and it's true, they are brave to a certain extent. But at the same time, can you imagine protesters in Syria or China being able to walk up to soldiers and shove them without being immediately gunned down? How about protesters in Afghanistan walking up to American soldiers? A girl stands in front of a jeep in Libya, she is getting run over, no question. It's funny, by showing Palestinian "resistance" to Israel, the filmmaker also shows how restrained the Israeli soldiers are (though he would never admit it).

No film would be complete without some Pallywood. There's one part where (to the film's credit) it shows Palestinians using slings to hurl rocks at Israeli soldiers. One Palestinian goes down holding his leg. The camera rushes over to him, but there is no sign of blood anywhere, and we never hear about the hit man again. I guess we'll just have to take it on faith that he was hit by Israeli soldiers and died, or something.

I could talk for a lot longer about the numerous political problems I had with the film, but I think you get the idea. I would recommend this film to any pro-Israel person, just so they can see precisely how bad (and how good) the Palestinians have it and how much they are willing to lie to support their narrative. And to any Israeli filmmaker for ideas about how to make an arresting, interesting documentary. 


  1. A great review, you sat through it so we don’t have to.

    Re standing in front of jeeps
    Just search youtube for “egypt run over” to see what happens when you go up against an actual despotic regime.

  2. This film doesn't aim to represent "the" Palestinian narrative. It just follows the lives of some people who have been affected by the wall. It doesn't aim to be "balanced", if such a thing were possible. That's how the film gets its power: by _not_ offering an interpretation or a narrative, but by just letting the people and events speak for themselves.

    The mistake you make is this: the people whose farms and homes are destroyed haven't committed any crime. They haven't blown anyone up. Comparing it to suicide bombings in Israel only makes sense if somehow all the Palestinians must be held responsible for the actions of a small number of terrorists.

    When you remove the politics of collective punishment, you're left with the raw facts - people whose lives have been destroyed and whose reason for living have been taken away from them, for no other reason than that they are Palestinian.

    Yes, worse things happen in the world. But that doesn't mean the suffering of these people is somehow acceptable. And what are the results of taking away the land and livelihoods of innocent people? Leaving aside the politics, how would you react if somebody tried to bulldoze your house or take away your property, even if they offered you some money in return? What happens if you do that over and over again, for years and years and years?

  3. Mr. Humble,

    You are attempting the classic Palestinian defense of "we're blameless for what those crazy terrorists do!" which we've heard before on many occasions and it's getting stale. The "small number of terrorists" you mentioned are also the REPRESENTATIVE GOVERNMENT of the Palestinians. The Palestinian people elect, arm, feed, train, clothe, house, and march in the thousands in support of these terrorist organizations, only to claim innocence when the blowback comes. Claiming that the Palestinians in general should not be held responsible for their own government's actions is an exercise in futility. Civilians have always born the consequences of their governments' actions throughout history, but apparently the Palestinians are exceptional and it's only wrong when it happens to them.

    By removing vital context from the film (namely: WHY the fence is being built) the film ceases to be informative and becomes outright propaganda. I'm glad you admit the film does not intend to be "balanced" because it clearly isn't.

    Describing the "suffering of the Palestinians" without mentioning the suicide bombings that caused them is the equivalent of filming a man in prison without ever mentioning the crime he committed that landed him there and letting the viewer think he's completely innocent. Just as the filmmaker has the right to make a biased propaganda film, I have the right to call him out on it. The film is dishonest, immoral, and despicable.

  4. The problem is, "vital context" depends on who you are. The Palestinians would claim that "vital context" includes having their land taken away to build settlements, and of course we can go back to the establishment of the British Mandate in Palestine, or thousands of years to the events described in the Bible. As far as I can tell - and I probably have more Jewish friends than Muslim - both sides are guilty as hell, and there's undoubtedly a special place in hell for me too since it was the Brits who established Mandatory Palestine.

    So at some point we just have to take the actions as they stand in themselves. There is no evidence that the dude who had his farm bulldozed to build a 2m wall through the middle of it - or the other people who were killed peacefully protesting against it - had committed a crime. Of course there are plenty of people who protested violently, but the film isn't trying to justify that (which is a point in its favour).

    So yes, you have the right to call the author out for a "biased propaganda film". But frankly, when it comes to the Israel-Palestine conflict, there's no such thing as an unbiased film, and everything from both sides is propaganda.

    You say that people should be held responsible for the actions of their governments. I am British. Should I be held responsible for my country's illegal, criminal war on Iraq, which I protested against at the time? Well, perhaps. But here's the problem - nobody's going to do anything to the British. And nobody is going to do anything to Israeli government for criminal activity such as the partition wall. But the Israelis can do whatever they want to the Palestinians and nobody is really going to give a shit (not even other Arabs).

    At some point we have to stop vilifying the other side, stop worrying about who threw the first stone, and start treating each other as human beings.

    1. The Palestinians can and do claim that the "land theft" is vital context as well, which is fine and should be presented along with the war that caused that "land theft". I have no problem with that.

      You're contradicting yourself. First you say "there's undoubtedly a special place in hell for me too since it was the Brits who established Mandatory Palestine," and then you said "Should I be held responsible for my country's illegal, criminal war on Iraq, which I protested against at the time?" Why do you feel you deserve to be in hell for the British establishment of Mandatory Palestine, which happened probably before you were born, but blameless for the war in Iraq, which your tax dollars financed? That doesn't make any sense.

  5. haha prior to reading i bet myself that this would be a shit review and i was right! what is terrorism matty? was running over rachel corrie with a bull dozer not terrorism? is committing genocide and establishing illegal occupations not terrorism? ok for the sake of argument let's agree that the wall was built out of fear of terrorism.. why didn't they build the wall along the israeli border? why destroy the palestinians means of life? why confiscate water supplies and destroy farms and stores? what is the palestians form of terrorism a result of? are they just blowing themselves up for no reason other than they hate jews or are they desperate people who have lost their homes, land, loved ones and are hell bent on seeking revenge in any form possible? operation cast lead wasn't terrorism? how many israeli civilians have been killed compared to palestinians? why is only terrorism when palestinians fight back but it is self defense when israel kills out of naked aggression? very dishonest you are mr. matty. you should be ashamed of yourself. anyone reading matt's garbage review should watch the film for themselves. listen to other jews who have the integrity to speak about the situation as it is... norman finkelstein and noam chomsky are a good start. matty boy is nothing more than a coward.

  6. This review is itself misleading - to read this review you would think that Palestinians are fighting for Land they did not once live on. You would think that they have not gotten the raw end of the deal. Similarly, however, the Israeli state has been thrust, unfairly so, into a cultural and religious war and one wonders if the powerful states that declared present-day Israel a land for Israeli's, do not owe Palestinians and Israeli's more than the spectator support each side is getting. It was not hard to figure out that if you drop a new country into an existing territory that there will be problems. I think the focus should shift to the world and the rest owes the east!!!!!!!


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