In light of recent events regarding the ongoing Israel-Palestine conflict—including U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice’s statement on Monday that it’s in the U.S.’s interest to see the creation of a Palestinian state—the issue has again become a hotbed for discussion.
First-time director Sufyan Omeish, together with his brother Abdallah, wanted to provide an alternative view of the conflict in their documentary “Occupation 101: Voices of the Silenced Majority.”
The film was screened to a crowd of about 30 people on Friday night in Dunning room 14.
The Queen’s chapter of Solidarity for Palestinian Human Rights (SPHR) hosted the event.
Dana Olwan, chair of the Queen’s chapter of SPHR, said the group decided at the national level to screen the documentary at different universities because it introduces the history of the conflict to people who don’t know about it.
“It begins an analysis … in terms of talking about similar modes of resistance,” Olwan said. “It’s really important, we felt, for students to begin to make those comparisons.” Jared Giesbrecht, Law ’08, said he attended the screening to get a different perspective of the conflict.
“I guess you see inspiration for violence and terrorist acts coming out of Palestine,” Giesbrecht said. “It’s deserving of our attention.”
Omeish was on hand to answer questions after the viewing.
Omeish said he and his brother, who live in New York City, became interested in the situation after the second intifada began in September 2000.
They were planning a trip to the Middle East and added a stop in Gaza to see the conflict first-hand because they weren’t satisfied with the news they were getting.
“Living in New York and seeing how the media presented the conflict, we didn’t like it,” Omeish said. “There’s a misrepresentation in the media and there’s a misunderstanding in general.”
Omeish said the American media is sympathetic to Israel because it focuses on Palestinian militants’ attacks and ignores the Palestinian refugees. After their visit, Omeish and his brother felt they needed to make a film to address the issue from a different angle.
The documentary looks at the issue of American support for Israel. It states the U.S. has given more aid to Israel in the last 50 years than it has to sub-Saharan Africa and Latin America combined. Omeish said a lot of U.S. tax money is sent to Israel, so Americans have the right to know what their money is being used for.
“If any real change can happen, it has to start in the U.S.” he said.
The film consists of interviews with prominent Israeli scholars who support an end to the Israeli occupation of East Jerusalem, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, which Israel took over during the Six-Day War in 1967.
Omeish said they purposely avoided interviewing Palestinian officials who would be critical of the occupation, choosing to interview Israelis opposed to it instead.
“It probably will seem more credible,” he said.
He also interviewed many humanitarian workers.
“It brings a voice of these people who actually go and see it ... and don’t have a political agenda.”
Omeish said one of the greatest difficulties was making the documentary to target an American audience.
“Most Americans think they already know about the conflict,” he said.
Because of the nature of his film, which includes interviews with Palestinians living in the occupied territories, Omeish and his brother met with difficulties from the Israeli army.
Once they were detained in Gaza for seven hours by the Israeli army and their tape was taken away from them.
Omeish said the officials held him and his brother because their American passports listed Libya as their country of birth.
When they called the U.S. embassy for help, it “essentially took the army’s side,” he said. He said they questioned him on why he was making the film.
Footage in the film included aerial shots of the Israeli army shooting at, and bombing, Palestinian villages, killing many civilians in the process.
Omeish said people who gave them footage wanted Americans to see what hadn’t been shown on U.S. news channels.
The response to the film has been overwhelmingly positive, he said, among critics, audience members and even Jewish groups.
The documentary most recently won the Golden Palm Award—equivalent to Best Picture—at the 2007 Beverly Hills International Film Festival.
“We’re actually looking into distribution [on TV],” Omeish said.
The film will have its European release on Nov. 6 in Ireland.
Omeish said they chose Ireland because of its struggle with British occupation.
“They’re sympathetic,” he said.
The documentary’s main purpose is for it to serve as “a catalyst for a debate on this issue,” Omeish said.
“We’re having people do with it what they want to do.”