By Dr Marwan Asmar
As the world remembers the anniversary of 11 September, Osama Al Zain’s feature documentary Palestine Post 9/11 becomes ever more relevant in providing an analysis of the international system where war became an instrument of politics and priorities and alliances reordered to fight terrorist threats that may have been blown out of all proportions.
Al Zain’s documentary is a full-length feature examining the attack on New York and Washington from a Palestinian perspective, suggesting 9/11 has been a disaster for the Palestinians, and which Israel exploited to provide a false linkage between Palestinian ambitions for statehood and Osama Bin Laden and Al Qaeda. In so doing it has fed into the growth of Christian fundamentalism in the USA and Christian Zionism in the Bush administration and built a rock hard alliance with Israel under the banner of fighting global terrorism.
After 9/11 new factions developed in the “US government and the intellectual contours of American life” to make sure “no even-handed policy [towards the Palestinians] ever occurs,” and the Israeli view remains supreme by hijacking American foreign policy through its totally biased media.
Palestine Post 9/11, meticulously navigates through the complicated set of relations that developed after 11 September 2001, whose hallmarks were obtrusiveness, fighting terrorism, and adventurous politics and which on the Palestinian level meant tightening the screws of occupation and making sure talk of final status negotiations take a backseat which continues to be the case today.
Through footage, on-site film location in New York, Washington, and Palestine, Al Zain produced and directed a film that sought to be informative, analytical, and issue-oriented with powerful-videography that weaved together a world-wide connection that started in the United States and stretched to Palestine, Israel and its occupation.
Through expert commentary, camera movement, sound effects and editing techniques, the documentary sought to be educational and thought-provoking, stimulating the mind of viewers in the United States and the West generally about the evil nature of the occupation that is harsher today as we approach 2009, than has arguably ever been with Israel’s building of its separation wall, its siege of the Gaza Strip and closures of different towns and cities in the West Bank
When it was made in 2005, Palestine Post 9/11 was an appeal to common sense, rationale and a call for better understanding, a far cry from the present Israeli belligerence on the occupied territories as underpinned by its 2006 war on Lebanon made with American blessing under the pretext of fighting global terrorism allegedly spearheaded by Hizbollah, Syria and Iran.
Today also the film continues to be shown in major cities in the United States, and many European countries as well as international film festivals through the Cinema Guild Inc., one of the major distributors of documentary and foreign films in the United States and which has worldwide distribution rights.
Because of its educational value, Cinema Guild Inc has been distributing the film to the educational market as well and currently, the film has been acquired by the libraries of the American University in Georgetown, Washington, and Columbia University.
The film’s importance lies in its sharp angles, camera shots, text, photography, camera techniques, visualization, editing, video composition, clear sound effects and light background piano notes characterized by its music and audio tracks depicting a cross-cultural human image through its clear message of debunking the Israeli-induced myth that sought to link 9/11 with so-called Palestinian terror!
Palestine Post 9/11 dwells into the labyrinths of international power, Israeli hawkishness, harshness of daily Palestinian life, and their tough economic conditions whilst stressing how Israel sought to capture the imaginations and emotional fear of the American people and build a rightwing alliance in the post-attacks period, projecting itself as a bulwark against manufactured battles that maybe waged on behalf of the United States in the Middle East; today Israel maintains this image when it cracks down on Hamas in Gaza, and saber-rattles on the Lebanese border.
The filmmaker sought eight experts to throw light on the international machinations through no less than 87 commentary shots including that by Stanley Cohen, a Manhattan lawyer filmed in the occupied territories, Anthony Sullivan of the University of Michigan, Phyllis Bennis of the Institute of Policy Studies, Edmund Ghareeb of Washington University, Joe Stork of Human Wrights Watch in New York, Ali Hamidah of the University of New England and University of Tennessee’s Fouad Al Mugharbi.
“It was the 20 second news clip that showed few Palestinians dancing in the street in Jerusalem that drove me to produce Palestine Post 9/11 as the US corporate media ran the byte again and again. Over a very short period of time, these scenes became an iconic image portrayed to create a false link, or rather equivalence, between the Palestinian struggle for independence and Al Qaeda’s ideology and actions,” points out Al Zain.
Long-time Middle East politics professor Edmund Ghareeb says the media made a big deal of the dancing scene, although this was an isolated incident, and did not reflect the Palestinian street which through an opinion poll, showed the vast majority expressed sympathy with the American people, as opposed to US policies and terrorist acts were against Muslim teaching and values.
“Palestinians and Arabs have a great deal of admiration for American values, American freedom, tolerance and democracy, they want to emulate these principles and have them implemented back home,” Ghareeb says in one of the commentary shots.
“But because of the corporate control of the American media, Israel, which is the occupying power, is shown as the underdog, surrounded by savage primitive Arabs, who want to destroy the oasis of democracy in the region that is repeatedly underlined by the media’s intentional blindness which helps to perpetuate a mistaken reading of history regarding the Palestinian question,” Al Zain adds.
A Palestinian film-maker living in the United States and maker of Transparency, Al Zain’s first award-wining documentary for its focus on the Hajab, also in the libraries of Harvard and Yale universities, says it’s important to highlight the media treatment in the US which tends to use a well packaged stereotypical portrayal of the conflict in black and white, civilized vs uncivilized, whites versus colored, well-groomed Israeli army soldiers in uniform versus bearded fighters in civilian clothes—with the Palestinian-Israeli conflict with all its history and complexities reduced to simplistic binaries that are well received by a “conditioned” rather than an informed American public.”
sought to strip these binaries. For every shot, there was a commentary,
a sound byte, an explanation of what westerners may consider contentious.
Images were backed, nothing left in the lurch and the voices important
in leading the documentary rather than having an overall narrator,
moving from one scene to another and one issue to the next.
“I prefer the narration-free style of documentary filmmaking where the story moves forward flawlessly through seamless editing and juxtaposition. Takes lay the scene from one to the next without the need for a narrator, the over-riding voice to cement the structure of the film. Narration is an intrusion that allows the narrator/writer to offer the dominant—if not the only, perspective on the footage or the subject matter of the film,” says Al Zain, who received his MA in Film and Video from the American University in Washington DC in 2002 and has made many shorts and public service announcements.
Juxtaposed to New York were flip-flaps of Stanley Cohen’s journey to the West Bank, the Qalandia checkpoint, Jenin, and East Jerusalem.. Through direct film takes and archival footage, Cohen, an American Jew, clearly shows, through different camera shots and angles, the heartaches, and agonies in closures, endless curfews, humiliations, soldier-control, shootings, searches, and the Bantustans-like existence which the Palestinians are forced to live under and which is the current situation in Palestine despite the lip-service Israel leaders make to the peace process, especially in front of the world cameras and print media, many of whom parrot judiciously.
Palestine Post 9/11, sought to stay away from showing blood and gore for its own sake, and stopped short from profiling direct killings because it would have trivialized the over-riding issue of seeking an end to occupation and Palestinian self-determination. Although Osama Al Zain didn’t comment on that, body bags were shown and extensive demolitions displayed on screen.
The Muqata, the compound of the Palestinian leadership in Ramallah was at one time raised to the ground with senseless destruction: A car park and a complex which at one time showed “vitality”, serving the local community was gone through sheer Israeli bloody-mindedness with soldiers flexing their muscle-power as Cohen tell-tales.
The film concentrated on heavy tanks rooming streets, Israeli fighter planes in the sky, shootings at children, settlers vandalizing property in Hebron—showed the manifestations of Israeli control over Palestinian lives which inevitably hit back at the Israelis. Camera shots of body bags of Israeli deaths and kin crying over them in Haifa were slotted to show Israelis too were paying a high price because of their government’s bloody actions on the West Bank and Gaza.
Despite the gloom, Al Zain points out “9/11 served as an eye-opener, a wake-up call, and an opportunity for some Americans to look at the world from a totally different perspective. Many Americans, especially the educated, know that the Palestinians had nothing to do with what happened on 9 September. But they also became aware of the fact that the issue of Palestine is like the elephant in the room you can’t ignore.”
Also on the Palestine-Israeli conflict, a forward-looking view is offered from Sullivan who says Bush was the first sitting president to call for a Palestinian state but the 9/11 attacks got in the way, overtaken by a belligerent environment and possible conciliation and were Israel veered more to the right.
He says Palestinians must continue to forge a political campaign in the West that is far more important than military operations and not fall into traps put by people like Sharon when he entered Al Aqsa Mosque and sparked the second Intifada. Palestinians have to go beyond the “hate consuming hate [that] has filled their hearts and clouded their judgments”.
Joe Stork of Human Rights Watch says everyone, Palestinians and Israelis must respect human rights, and the killings of civilians from which every side must be a no-go area; he calls on Palestinian political parties and factions, including Hamas to respect that although in earlier shoots he had no qualms in saying that settlers often act in vigilante groups against Palestinians.
Palestine Post 9/11 has to be watched, re-watched, analyzed and fathomed. It’s a documentary feature film that threads together linkages related to existence, violence, suicide bombings, harsh living and an open call to end occupation represented by Phyllis Bennis quoting Gush Shalom that says “the occupation is killing all of us, its killing Palestinians and its killing Israeli Jews.” Today, this is true as it was when it was said at the beginning of the Intifada in the year 2000.
It ends on strong words of defiance from Stanley Cohen: “For the occupier, they always have two choices, for the occupied they only have one. Palestinians have absolutely no option, no choice, to stop resisting means death, the occupier does not have to occupy, the occupied must fight back ….”
In this day and age of stop-go political negotiations, resistance seems to be the only option out of the stalemate where Israel flexes its muscles over the weak. In remembering, 9/11, we should also remember it was the Palestinians who became one of the major victims of that disaster made thousands of miles across the Atlantic.
The writer is an Amman-based journalist specializing on Middle East Affairs.