Director Farah Nabulsi: “The World Is Seeing What It’s Like to Be Palestinian” (Guest Column)
Amidst the grief for those killed in Gaza, and the rage at the Israeli bombardment of a blocked territory with strikes that devastate tower blocks and wipe out families, there is an outpouring of support for our rights and our plight the likes of which has never been seen before.
This is a difficult and often overwhelming contrast.
In the Gaza Strip, Jerusalem and the West Bank, Palestinians under Israeli military occupation have been subjected to intense levels of dehumanization and violence. Palestinians with Israeli citizenship, meanwhile, are targeted by far-right Jewish Israeli gangs and a brutal police force.
Palestinian artists have not been exempted from these realities. Actor Maisa Abd Elhadi, for example, a star of U.K. Channel 4’s Baghdad Central and Gaza Mon Amour, was shot and wounded by Israeli forces during a demonstration in Haifa against Palestinians being dispossessed of their homes in Sheikh Jarrah, Jerusalem.
Turner Prize–nominated artist Lawrence Abu Hamdan platformed fellow artist Inas Halabi on his Instagram account, as she reported on continued police brutality in Haifa, while well-known musician Tamer Nafar has urged international protection for Palestinians under threat in al-Lydd (Lod). (He also turned filmmaker and shared on social media ominous personal phone footage shot from his apartment window while on the phone with Israeli police, reporting what he was witnessing and filming: Israeli settlers armed with semiautomatic weapons being loaded off buses outside his home during what is supposed to be a “curfew” for all. The police hung up on him after telling him it was not his business).
The only art supply store in Gaza has been destroyed by Israeli air strikes while actual artists trapped there post hellish videos of massive explosions of fire and the sound of bombs thundering right outside their windows at night.
Palestinian filmmakers, actors, and artists, already hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic, are now impacted by the Israeli government’s assaults on all fronts, just as they are also part of this far-reaching and inspiring mobilization on the ground by Palestinians united in a way we haven’t seen in at least a generation.
For those of us Palestinians who live in the West, following from afar, it is extremely difficult reading and watching these events reported to us in a distorted and often biased form by major media outlets.
While our families and friends send us updates of the latest atrocity on the ground, headlines and news bulletins mislead and confuse; colonialism becomes a “conflict,” ongoing ethnic cleaning, “evictions,” attacks on civilians, a “clash.”
Though nothing new, this media fog, where a “both sides” discourse erases the difference between occupier and occupied, and a military behemoth versus a fragmented civilian population, makes the bold and brave shows of solidarity all the more appreciated.
Demonstrations and marches the world over have warmed the heart, but it has been particularly noteworthy and wonderful to see quite so many artists, creators and Hollywood stars speak up and speak out, using their platform and influence to raise awareness and a call for justice.
Actors such as Susan Sarandon, Viola Davis, Mark Ruffalo, Idris Elba, Natalie Portman, Lena Headey, and Danny Glover have expressed their public support for Palestinians — whether it’s for those Palestinians struggling to keep their homes in Jerusalem or the plight of Gaza under Israeli bombs. International footballers raised the Palestinian flag in solidarity, like Paul Pogba and Amad Diallo did at a recent Manchester United game. Even Geraldo Rivera shocked Fox News TV with his words calling out the United States for being “complicit in an ongoing crime against humanity” by providing Israel weapons to bomb Gaza.
Such statements and their amplification of pro-justice voices are both indicative of, and in turn help expand and deepen, a seismic shift of perceptions about Israel and the Palestinians. Put simply, our demand for freedom and basic rights is being understood with growing clarity amongst the public and politicians.
This shifting ground is down to years — decades — of hard work by Palestinians, and their pro-justice allies, to educate and inform. In the times we live, where a phone turns every Palestinian into a filmmaker, the mainstream media’s failings are being compensated for and positively challenged. Moral compasses are pointing more clearly at the cruel reality.
The world is seeing, more directly and vividly than ever before, what it is like to be Palestinian: to yearn to live freely with dignity and without oppression or discrimination in your own homeland. This is thus a moment of anger but also of hope. We are witnessing a narrative being transformed, and it cannot come a moment too soon.
Farah Nabulsi is a Palestinian British filmmaker whose credits include the recent short The Present, which was nominated for an Oscar in the best live action short category and won a BAFTA for best short film.