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Gaza Strip: The Movie -- Review of a film by James Longley

The Resource Center for Nonviolence is again advertising a screening of the documentary "Gaza Strip" which shows a very lopsided view of life in this Palestinian territory. Here is my review of the film written last February 4th when the film was shown on the UCSC campus.
Santa Cruz, Ca. --- I attended the screening of "Gaza Strip" last night at the University of California in Santa Cruz. At the well attended event, I learned from the organizers, the Committee for Justice in Palestine, that Gaza "is illegally occupied by the Israeli army and that they are there to "humiliate, bulldoze, and to kill." The organizer then explained that since the filmmaker is "an American, he does not have a vested interest in the topic of the film."

The opening screen of the film states regarding the residents of Gaza that "most were purged in 1948" and that after years of unproductive talks the Intifada "broke out."

Okay. All by itself. No one started it.

The story is told by a 13 year old boy who dropped out of school in the 2nd grade, can't read, and by his own account throws rocks at Israeli soldiers daily, steals copper, steals oranges, steals tomatos, sets tires on fire, and sneaks through the perimeter fences to burn Jewish fences. He is the main source for political and historical information on the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. Okay.

We are told that Gaza is a "prison camp" because 1.2 million people live on 139 square miles of land. Contrast this with San Francisco which has 675,000 people living on 47 square miles of land. By the way, they are both on the beach.

Everyone in the film blames Israel for all their problems. Not one word is said about suicide bombings, snipings, kidnap-torture-murders by Palestinian terrorist groups such as Hamas, Islamic Jihad, Tanzim, El Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, Hizbollah, Fatah, the PLO, or PFLP. Instead we are told that "the Jews want to push us into the sea." Hmmmmm. I thought it was the Arabs who wanted to push the Jews into the sea. Like in 1948, 1956, 1967, 1973. Old news,right?

The filmmaker takes us into a hospital in Gaza to see young boys recovering from various injuries, some of which appear to be from bullet wounds. While it is implied that the Israeli soldiers shot the boys, it is ambiguous. Were those boys shot while stealing oranges, stealing tomatos, stealing copper, setting tires on fire, or burning down Jewish fences? The most disturbing shot in the movie is of a young boy who is killed by an explosion near his abdomen. His injured friend tells the cameraman that an Israeli tank dropped a boxing glove with a grenade in it. If the boy had been killed by a bomb he was carrying or by an accident with explosives at a terrorist's house, would he have said that? The thing is, you will never know.

Two Palestinian women wail "Why don't they just leave us alone?" and "We only want to live in Peace!" A few moments later they are calling to kill the Jews.

No doubt life in Gaza Strip is unpleasant and downright depressing. But the film does little to reveal either the cause of their suffering or invite the viewer to do anything but express hatred towards Israel. The Israeli Defense Force soldiers, who's outpost is shown in the film with the Israeli flag flying above it, are in Gaza per the terms of the Oslo accords signed in 1993 by both Israel and Arafat's Palestinian Authority, a fact never mentioned in the film. Longley does not interview anyone with an Israeli perspective.

Longley claims he witnessed Israeli attacks "nightly" while in Gaza. Yet of the 75 hours of film he claims he shot, not even one second of the film depicts this. The only footage he managed to get was some grainy footage of a bulldozer at work which Longley claims is destroying "Palestinian homes." He objects to the presence of Jewish settlements in Gaza. Perhaps he doesn't know that those settlements have been there for 900 years.

The history of Gaza is somewhat different than what Longley presents us. David Horowitz documents in 2002 how Gaza came into its current condition. In 1948, as Arab civilians fled Israel to make way for the war, Egyptian soldiers met them at the border to Egypt. They disarmed them, and herded them like cattle into the Gaza Strip. Egypt was just not willing to take in a lot of Palestinian Arabs. Not then. Not now. So the "prison colony" of Gaza was created by the Egyptians, rather than the Israelis who were too busy trying not to be engulfed and destroyed by 5 attacking Arab nations who outnumbered them 10 to 1.

From 1948 to 1967 Gaza was "occupied" by Egypt. There is no movement to return Gaza to Egyptian rule. Instead, the Palestinians solely blame Israel for their plight. They have not one word of criticism for the Palestinian Authority who takes in $125 million per month in foreign aid, but little trickles down to the Palestinian people. No, the message is clear. Whatever problems the residents of Gaza are suffering from, Israel is to blame for everything.
 
 


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New York Times Review

August 1, 2002, Thursday

THE ARTS/CULTURAL DESK

FILM REVIEW; Hard Life in Gaza, Through 13-Year-Old Eyes

By A. 0. SCOTT

Like most news reports and television images coming out of the Middle East these days, "Gaza Strip," an unsparing new documentary by James Longley, offers little reason for optimism. The film, which opens today at the Anthology Film Archives in the East Village, was shot in the winter and spring of 2001, and it provides a grim, upsetting glimpse at the lives of some of the 1,2 million Palestinians who live in the crowded cities and refugee camps of Gaza.

Mr. Longley makes powerful use of the techniques of cinema verite. The absence of voice-over narration and talking-head interviews gives his portrait of daily life under duress a riveting immediacy.

Much of "Gaza Strip" follows Mohammed Hejazi, a 13-year-old newspaper vendor. This youth, who left school after the second grade, spends much of his spare time with other boys throwing rocks at Israeli soldiers, even though his best friend was killed by the gunfire that is the Inevitable response, and his father, who had spent time in an Israeli prison, once tied his son up to keep him at home,

Mohammed presents a mixture of hardened cynicism and childish innocence that is both heartbreaking and unnerving. He is equally contemptuous of Ariel Sharon, whose election as prime minister takes place early in the film, of Mr. Sharon's predecessor Ehud Barak and of Yasir Arafat, and he fluctuates between weary sorrow and militaristic bravado. ("We want weapons. We don't want food.")

A similar mixture of emotions is expressed by the adults in the film. Sometimes in the same breath, they give voice to longings for peaceful coexistence with Israel, to the wish to be left alone and to the desire to drive the Jews not only out of Gaza but out of the region altogether.

Mr, Longley's camera does not have to look far to find the sources of their rage and despair: Israeli bulldozers demolishing houses and date groves; an absurd traffic jam on the beach after roads have been closed; emergency rooms full of wounded Palestinians, many of them children. It is impossible to see these images and remain unmoved, but the raw intensity of "Gaza Strip" is also a limitation, since it is purchased by the absence of anything (aside from some text at the beginning) that would provide some historical or political context.

 

Arab News Review

Arab News Review of Gaza Strip, 10/22/02.

 

In 'Gaza Strip' the camera never blinks

By Fawaz Turki

Memorable movies, movies that have aged well and left a durable legacy in popular culture and cinematic art. are often recalled by film buffs through a signature line in the script

There's "Gone with the Wind" (1939) with dark Gable telling Vivien Leigh, "Well. frankly my dear. I don't give a damn!" an epithet that scandalized Puritan America at the time. Then there's Humphry Bogart looking into the soulful eyes of Ingrid Bergman in "Casablanca" (1942) and saying, "Here's looking at you. kid!" In "A Streetcar Named Desire" (1951). the image of Marion Brando hollering. "Stella. Stella!" is unforgettable, as is the collective roar of Arab horsemen-warriors, led by Peter O'Toole. in "Lawrence of Arabia" (1962). "Akaba. Akaba!" And there's "Shane". without a doubt the best Western ever made. as the homesteaders' kid runs after Allan Ladd. in the last scene, pleading, "Shane. Shane. come back Shane!"

Closer to our generation, in "The Graduate" (1967). it took but one word to do the trick. "Plastics!" and trust "Easy Rider" (1967) to leave us with the zonked out 60's line. "We blew it!" There's Al Pacino in "The Godfather" (1972) telling Diane Keaton about some recalcitrant fellow to whom the "family'1 had made "An offer he couldn't refuse." Who could forget Robert de Niro's existential angst, progressively morphing into psychosis in "Taxi Driver" (1976) as Travis Bickle asks the mirror, "You're talking to me?" and from "Star Wars" (1977) we get "May the force be with you!" And finally, there's "Gaza Strip" (2002) with 13-year old Muhammed Hijazi reflecting on existence, "What is death after all. it's like life!"

"Gaza Strip"? A timeless film with its own iconic line?

Well, not quite. Truth be told. few American moviegoers have heard of it. And if you haven't either, don't worry. This is the kind of production—a documentary to be exact—that typically attracts a small audience of movie buffs who patronize art-house theatres like Anthology Film Archives in the East Village and the NYU Film Center in New York. and Visions, off Dupont Circle in Washington. "Gaza Strip" is at once grim. eloquent and searing. a film with a riveting particularity all its own.

American filmmaker James Longley visited Gaza (a strip of misery that is just 28 miles long and four miles wide, inhabited by 1.2 million Palestinians, with 35 percent of it taken over by Israeli settlers and soldiers) in January 2001 with the intention of staying two weeks. He stayed three months, and ended up shooting 75 hours of video footage that he turned into an 87-minute. unflinchingly honest documentary (in Arabic, with English and French subtitles) about the life of an occupied people living under siege, and his powerful use of cineme verite technique, absent talking head interviews, pontificating politicians and voice over, turns "Gaza Strip" into a film. as the Village Voice film critic J. Hoberman put it. sure "to make the stones weep."

Much of "Gaza Strip" follows the 13-year old Muhammed, a newspaper vendor who left school after the second grade, and who spends a great deal of time throwing stones at Israeli soldiers, though his best friend had been fatally shot in the head earlier, and his father (who had spent time in Israeli jails) "once tied me up and even beat me to keep me from doing that." His father, he said. once berated him with the question: "And who will drive yourwheelchair around if you get shot in the back and are paralyzed?"

As you follow Muhammed around, you ask yourself where the kid could have gotten his unnervingly sophisticated reflections on life. politics, history, love, death and alienation from. From the adults around him? Clearly not. For as Longley's camera moves back and forth, portraying the unspeakable pain that Palestinian society daily endures, we know how easy it is in a place like Gaza. even for children, to internalize the politics of experience and process it intuitively.

 

Is Israel respnsible for what's happening in Gaza?

Becky states:

"In 1948, as Arab civilians fled Israel to make way for the war, Egyptian soldiers met them at the border to Egypt. They disarmed them, and herded them like cattle into the Gaza Strip."

Why were they fleeing?

Because the bumbling British had conquered the Ottoman Empire and felt for various reasons
(including a christian belief that the jewish people must have a homeland before Christ would return; and that the Jews were more powerful than they actually were (note the Bolshevik revolution).

Do Israelis have a right to live in peace? I think yes, they do.

Are they responsible for the displacement of the Palestinian people? I think yes, unfortunately they are.

Will Israel be able to defend itself from the larger Arab world if the Palestinians are given the Gaza and the West bank?

That is the question we all face now.
 

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