History department’s film series shows a personal view of Israel and Palestine

Professor Gasper explains the Israel Palestine Film Series in his Swan Hall office at Occidental College in Los Angeles on Sept. 18, 2018. Zachary Forsyte / The Occidental

The history department commenced its Israel Palestine Film Series Sept. 12 in Choi Auditorium. Professor Michael Gasper of the history department organized the documentary series. He is currently teaching a Cultural Studies Program course, “Diversity and Secularism in the Ottoman Middle East.”

“I did a class last semester on the Palestine Israel question and there seems to be a lot of interest in it,” Gasper said.

The first film Gasper showed was “Arna’s Children,” Juliano Mer Khamis’ documentary about his mother. Arna is an Israeli woman who opened a theater for children in Jenin, a city in West Bank, Palestine. The film chronicles her work with a group of children from 1989–1996 and then revisits the children in 2002 after Arna’s death to follow up with them.

The Jenin refugee camp was severely affected in 2002 by the Palestinian revolt and Israeli response. After 10 days of intense fighting, Israeli Defense Forces occupied the camp, destroying 400 homes with hundreds more being severely damaged. More than a quarter of the population was rendered homeless.

“Jenin is far worse now than it was then. The Iraq War hadn’t started yet in 2002 when ‘Arna’s Children’ was shot. That opened up, as I say in the class I’m teaching in the spring, a Pandora’s box of absolute misery that has no parallel in the history of the modern or ancient Middle East,” Gasper said.

Muslim Students Association members Shareef Khwajazada (sophomore) and Layal Bata (sophomore) attended “Arna’s Children” and voiced their opinions on the film.

“The film comes from the perspective of someone who grew up in Israel but goes out of his way to interact with people who he didn’t necessarily have to,” Bata said.

Layla Bata (Sophmore) represents MSA and details their stance on the Israel Palestine Film Series at Occidental College in Los Angeles on Sept. 20, 2018. Zachary Forsyte / The Occidental

“Arna’s Children” shows a nuanced portrayal of the situation in Israel and Palestine that’s not simply one side versus the other,” Khwajazada said.

One focus of the film is how Arna’s children change over the years. Many of the children witnessed the destruction of their homes after Israeli soldiers destroyed the buildings. Videos of their childhood performances document how Arna helped them express the students’ everyday anger, bitterness and fears through theater. The film then returns to Arna’s children in their adult lives, although many of those children have died as a result of the war.

“That was the most important part to me—seeing these people who had grown up as children doing childhood things, playing and laughing. Then seeing the juxtaposition later in life—how their lives growing up had hardened them,” Bata said.

“Arna’s Children” raised questions for Khwajazada about the intentions behind the subject and the making of the film.

“It’s a crossover, but sometimes it raises suspicion as to why one might want to do that. So for me, it definitely gave a lot of food for thought. I liked that choice by professor Gasper,” Khwajazada said.

Shareef Khwajazada (Sophmore) represents MSA and details their stance on the Israel Palestine Film Series at Occidental College in Los Angeles, on Sept. 20, 2018. Zachary Forsyte / The Occidental

The film series offers a different perspective for students, other than reading about the Middle East in textbooks or journals.

“I think it’s important that everybody becomes more educated about the situation in Palestine and Israel. We need to understand the political implications of supporting Israel or not. It’s not a black and white issue,” Khwajazada said.

The second film, “Slingshot Hip Hop,” will be shown Wednesday, Sept. 26 at 7 p.m., in Choi Auditorium. This documentary is about Israeli and Palestinian youth making music together.

The third film, “A World Not Ours,” will also be shown in Choi Auditorium Wednesday, Oct. 24 at 7 p.m. It is a documentary created by Palestinian filmmaker Mahdi Fleifel.

“It’s kind of a memoir of his time in Lebanon during the summertime. One reviewer talked about it as Kafka meets Woody Allen in this refugee camp because there are bits that are humorous,” Gasper said.

The last movie, “Waltz With Bashir,” will be shown 7 p.m., Wednesday, Nov. 14. The film, written and directed by Ari Folman, is an animated documentary about Israeli soldiers in the 1982 invasion of Beirut. Gasper explained the film incorporates a heavy psychological element, documenting the trauma of the soldiers and the experience of war.

“There’s no single way to watch any movie just like there’s no single way to read a book. There are many viewings and many readings. I had 20 students write reviews of ‘Arna’s Children.’ They all said different things. The suggestion is in the eye of the beholder,” Gasper said.