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Category: Movies that Bang

GAZA STRIP

by Jordan Hiller Posted: 07-25-2006(Viewed 1722 times)

This will not necessarily be a review of James Longley's well-made and harrowing documentary about life in the hellish squalor known as the Gaza Strip over the past two years. Whether it is unfortunate or not, the film had only a week's run at Anthology Film Archives in the West Village, so it will be difficult for wider audiences to see at the present (wwww.littleredbutton.com for more info). I will eventually give what I aspire to be an objective account of the film, yet it will be from the only perspective I possess, that of a Jew who loves Israel with an almost suffocating and sometimes troubling unconditionalism. Which brings us to the first debatable point.

Debatable, in that every Jew who searches and yearns for intellectual honesty, for clarity, for answers, finds themselves in the eternal Jewish struggle to think outside of themselves, outside of their leaden religious context, yet not betray the knowledge that in the end - no matter how many lofty contemplations they may conjecture - they are Jews; Jews who G-d has dragged and rallied through history with thunderous continuity, Jews who have marched to gas chambers whether they wore bekishas and taught Torah or sported cardigans and preached assimilation. Knowledge of self is the first step in the pursuit of understanding; realizing that what you see is merely that, what you see. We are trapped in these Jewish bodies, with Jewish brains and souls, for better and worse, and so all these points are debatable, not only by the community at large, but also by the worlds colliding within. Therein lies the persisting sentiment of guilt and fiendishness in trying to adequately talk about a film that portrays rather poignantly and starkly the suffering of Palestinians (I do not intend to hide from this word).

I remain unequipped and uneducated in that my education is purely Jewish, not only that but Orthodox Jewish, not only Orthodox Jewish but vehemently Zionistic Orthodox Jewish. It is a biasing hole so deep and blindingly dark that I may never crawl out, but of course chances are I would never dare try.

Understand that based on the above, my opinion, in a categorically intellectual setting, is worthless and irrelevant. But thankfully I am writing to my brothers and sisters who are spectacularly aware from where I sit.

They can imagine my discomfort in the theatre, watching, like a traitor about to be discovered, a street corner conversation in Khan Younis where Arab boys describe how the "Jews want to kill us all". (Note that the word is always "Jews" when the enemy is named. Not Israeli's, Jews). They can appreciate my unsolicited, yet guttural hatred for even the most beautiful tiny Palestinian face staring at the camera form beneath their bitter mother's arms. Faces whose doe eyes and angelic lips mask, in my mind, no matter how I try to beat it out, thoughts of carnage, of deceit, of unspeakably vicious potential. But most of all my friends, you can understand my desperate desire not to believe what I was seeing.

Forget if you would the fact that the film is almost surely a propaganda piece (whether intentionally or just affectively), regardless of the fact that the website will tell you it's purpose is to "provide a voice for underrepresented points of view". Gaza Strip opens with a paragraph that use the word "purge" to describe the intentions of the Israeli Army in its occupation of the Gaza Strip in relation to the Arabs living there and the film closes with an unnecessary and trite speech by some French (sound the Anti-Semite alarm) woman who explains how the Israelis are clearly violating the Geneva Convention. So there is no question as to the leanings of Mr. Longley. Propaganda aimed at hurting our people is painful but we would be foolish and hypocritical to condemn its usage. We have all been victims of pro Jewish/anti Goyish propaganda at one time or another - sometimes we noticed, sometimes not (you know Uncle Moishey had an agenda). Either way, the heart of the film is raw and unscripted making it difficult to swallow because those aren't sets, those are filthy hovels where these people live; that boy with flies crawling on his dusty face isn't an actor, he is a ten year old who is so sad and hopeless that he wants to die - not kill people and die, just die and leave this horror filled world behind.

So someone will say, "Naah, these Palestinians are pros. They make up this stuff for a living. The kids are told to say that". Well, then what can I say? Maybe I'm nave in trying to comprehend (or at the very least perceive) the sympathetic point of view of someone who I am convinced would be happy to see me suffer and die. Personally, I would rather keep my mouth shut from fear of being labeled and gain perspective than bury my head in the sand and scream at the top of my lungs. So the following will be an account of the film and its contents. There will be no political inflections, arguments as to veracity, or assignments of blame or fault - just the experience of Gaza Strip. Do with it what you will.

Although we meet a series of characters, our host is Mohammed Hejazi, a thirteen-year-old boy with a soft voice and the musings of a poet despite virtually no educations beyond what the street has to offer. He throws stones. That is his purpose in life and he confesses that there is little else to be done besides his job selling newspapers with his friends. His best friend is shot and killed while throwing stones and Mohammed mourns as this personal tragedy gnaws at him. He sells the papers to provide for his family; his father is in an Israeli prison, arrested during the first Intifada. Mohammed has memories of his father demanding that he not throw stones, sometimes tying him down to prevent his joining the others. His father feared that his son would be killed. (The movie takes no stance on suicide bombings).
As a narrator, Mohammed is powerful because he comes off as honest and introspective. He derides Sharon and Arafat equally and is uncommonly self aware as to his wasteful existence. His life is a series of fatalistic exchanges (words, rocks, bullets) which lead nowhere - it is a truly miserable life from morning till night. A life void of order, discipline, or meaning. He wishes there was something better. The Jews are blamed for his troubles. Outside of Mohammed's story, the film running a bit more that an hour provides basically four separate set pieces attempting to convey the Gaza Strip atmosphere. I will simply list them.

The first is an elongated scene involving a mass of boys ranging in age sitting or standing by a low wall, doing nothing (as is what appears to be the most available pastime). Gunfire crackles from the distance and they duck and lope in all directions. The tension eases after moments of silence. They assume casual position again and again the guns sound off. The boys scatter and take cover. This cycle goes on for a few minutes. The affect is like watching a flock of pigeons gather in a park square and fly off in a frenzy when a pedestrian passes through, only to return thoughtlessly to the very same spot where the next passerby and the next frenzied escape is just as inevitable. A pitiful scenario for birds and humans alike. The boys' reaction to the gunfire appears instinctive. They are not in danger as the gunfire is from far away and not intended for them (the source of the shooting and its targets are unknown), yet despite this knowledge, their knees buckle in a way that is beyond a logical control.
The second depiction of Gaza Strip life comes on the beaches where caravans are trudging through sand and stone to avoid checkpoints. We hear individuals lamenting the situation and the degrees of difficulty completing simple tasks has undergone. The beach appears to be an awful way to travel and travelers describe intentions of reuniting families, providing medicines, and making a living as their purposes of avoiding the checkpoints. One old man watching the mess on the shore screams, "Is this peace!".

The last two events presented are the least palatable, perhaps even impossible to stomach, but I will name them in short detail. Both are stories told by Palestinians and both have video footage of half the story, the tragic result half; there is no proof of the alleged "Jewish" cause - it is all hearsay. Two Palestinian boys watch as an Israeli tank approaches the outer wall of their town. The tank drops something on the ground a few yards away from the town and leaves. The boys, curious as to everything and always looking for valuable "treasure", run out to see what the tank left behind. They do not know what it is but think it is some sort of copper glove. They believe the copper is worth something and intend to break the find down into parts. As one of the boys smashes the device on a wall to crack it apart, it explodes, tearing him open. This is the story told. The film provides a gratuitous shot of the child staring dead eyed at the camera and his bloody lifeless body lying on a table as the family cries and wails. The child is subsequently wrapped in a shroud/flag and placed on a stretcher to be carried through the city. The mob gathers and raves. Israel fires gas canisters into an Arab village. The people assume it is the usual tear gas and are not alarmed because they know it has essentially harmless effects (long term) and they may even be accustomed to it. The color of the smoke, though, is not like tear gas, nor is the scent or the taste. Hours later hundred are rushed to the hospitals with violent fits of physical agony. The type of gas used is mysterious but believed to be the cause of the deadly illnesses being treated. This is the story told. Longley provides gruesome footage of bodies fidgeting spasmodically and wracked with pain.

In the end I feel the need to commend Longley for making a documentary that flows naturally and with a fresh, lively style. He must also be rather brave or stupid because when everyone around him in a gun battle is fleeing, he stands his ground and gets the shot.

Epilogue

After watching the film, as, lets say an unaffiliated Jew, the whole conflict in the Middle East can seem like a misunderstanding or a miscommunication, but as we have learned as observant Jews, not the type that can be resolved with open channels of dialogue or other civil actions. We are dealing with a "misunderstanding" of biblical proportions, literally, and the resolution does not appear to be in our hands. Here's why:

They want us dead. They don't care about innocent lives. They kill children without flinching. They want to drive us into the ocean at all costs. They are animals driven by a lust for blood. They disgrace the name of the One True G-D. They are raised with hate, brainwashed to destroy those different than them. Their entire culture festers with corruption, arrogance, and animosity. They do not want peace.

The paragraph above represents the thoughts of Palestinians about Jews. It is not what they believe about us, it is what they know. Do you see? They know it just like you "knew" I was referring to Palestinians in that very same paragraph. But I wasn't referring to anyone in particular and so you were wrong. The paragraph was merely a series of words chosen to prove a debatable point.

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Bangin' Reader Comments:


From: rivka@hadassah-col.ac.il, Jeru
Date: 07-25-2006
Rating: 1
Comments: I found your analysis of the film "Gaza Strip" to be more than offensive. Although you profusely insist that you will give no "political inflections, arguments as to veracity, or assignments of blame or fault", the depiction of the film, in and of itself, does just that. This film was made, as even you yourself admit, with strong political leanings, none of which are in favour of my little country. Although I am well aware of the sufferings, injustices, and afflictions of the Palestinian people, maybe you are only now awakening to them. That is the luxury of not living in this war zone. As Israelis, we struggle daily with how we are forced to live and the actions that we are forced to take. We know that war is not one-sided.
Of course I dont want my children to have guns pointed at them. Even less so would I want them to point guns at others or enter their homes in search of terrorists. I certainly dont want my kids to be the chayalim standing outside my office window stopping people in the street - shouting, frisking, making them stand around for an hour for authorization to cross the street.
But right now we have no choice. Indicative of this would be the path of my twice-daily fifteen-minute walk between office and home, ridden with the scars of this battle, for over a dozen terror attacks have occurred in this small area in the past year alone. I have missed some of the most deadly attacks by minutes, even seconds. My sister was recently forced to hide in the storage room of a local clothing store while a Palestinian gunman sprayed bullets in the area.
How dare you, living thousands of miles away, proclaim yourself as a "Jew who loves Israel with an almost suffocating and sometimes troubling unconditionalism"? Have you ever experienced a terror attack? Lost a friend or family member? Do you live daily in fear? Have you served in the IDF or National Service?
You would be wise to cease your politically correct attempts to understand the "other side", considering that it is not you sitting opposite the Palestinian people. If you want to express opinions about our conflict and our lives, be these opinions militant right or olive-leaf-bearing left, join us here and put your money where your mouth is.
Shame on bangitout.com for making this farce their only mention of the atrocities visited upon their Israeli counterparts over the past two years.

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From: gr8ness14@yahoo.com, Jerusalem
Date: 07-25-2006
Rating: 10
Comments: I'd like to comment on your review on the Gaza Strip. forgive me if it's kind of long, but I have to respond to the people who posted comments on your site. I live in Israel. In Jerusalem in fact. That means I wake up in the mornings with sirens in my ears, and I go to bed with the news of people killed. I live in fear every day of someone I love getting killed or hurt. But yet, we continue to live, to strive for peace and make deals where we will lose half of our country - all for peace. Even when our friends and family lie dead around us, and the economy is in the dumps, and it seems that we have nothing to look forward to - we continue. We do not kill ourselves. Even in the holocaust when it was impossible for things to get worse - we continued to live. And most people did not kill themselves. As long as there was the slightest chance for survival, to get out of that hell, they continued to try - did everything to live, never giving up.

That is the difference between us and the Palestinians. there are Israelis who live in the exact same conditions. And they get killed just like the rest of us. And yet, you don't see them blowing themselves up in revenge, do you? you don't see an 18 year old jew getting on a bus full of children and blowing them up, so that you can not even distinguish between the bodies.

The situation in Gaza is that way because the Palestinians made it that way. They started the bombs - not us. I used to believe that there was a chance for peace - that was 2 years ago. There used to be tons of arab workers all around - and I was never afraid. They had jobs, they received paychecks - and then there really was hope. But after the intifadah started - who would hire Palestinians? Esp. after some killed their bosses? Who would want to take that risk? And even those who would - hardly could, because there was a lack of tourists. Because they are afraid of getting blown up by arabs. So they wreck the economy and then hope for jobs?!

Arafat is a smart man. He knows that the best soldiers are starving and mad. People who are contented and happy with their lives, are less likely to fight because they don't want to lose what they have. So they bomb us. We close the border so now they can't work. Now they are jobless, hungry and mad. Now they will fight. But the Israeli army has shown them that they will let them through when there are no terrorist attacks. They pull out from places when it is quiet and go back in when they do an attack. Those who say that the terrorists are only a minority, I'll believe it when you prove it. Where are the thousands of Palestinians who stand up and try to stop it?! Where are the peace rallies? maybe they're hidden among the celebration parties when there is a terrorist attack. Or maybe they happen in the summer camps where children learn how to shoot at cardboard cutouts of Israeli soldiers?!

Any movie that tries to portray the situation here without referring to suicide bombings, and other terrorist attacks, the fake funerals and the celebration parties when Israelis die, is not just having a biased view - they are obviously anti-Semitic. James Longley would have made a good Nazi.

---------------------------------------------------------------
From: James Longly, Director of the
Date: 07-25-2006
Rating: 10
Comments: Wow. It *is* interesting.
When I read his review I just get this desire to take Jordan on a long tour of the Gaza Strip and really show him all of the detail and nuance that was so hard to fit into my film, that is impossible to show in the same vast wide-angle immensity that you experience it in person. I also got this great feeling that I had made a film that got some people to question their beliefs. Thanks for showing that to me
James

---------------------------------------------------------------
From: Sam, a Palestinian
Date: 11-13-2007
Rating: 10
Comments: Mr. Hiller,
I commend you on a job well done. It is very difficult these days to keep a strong moral view of what's going on in our environment.

We as human beings have ascended in the animal kingdom to be the number one most intelligent animals on this earth, but yet we fail to take care of each other in a way that it is killing our race and our world. Thank you for speaking out for my people.

If you need more information about my homeland...and yours for that matter, please do not hesitate to email me back. ...a Palestinian.


---------------------------------------------------------------
From: Isa Totah
Date: 11-13-2007
Rating: 10
Comments: Jordan,
I read your review of Gaza Strip. I found it very moving in that it clearly was difficult for you, and yet you struggled to find the truth. I am Palestinian. I too fight for the truth because only what is true is of value. And you are right, it's far better to pull your head out of the ground and face the crowd, even if you are the lone voice of disagreement. It's not easy, but it's the only way out. The conflict between Palestinians and Israelis is far closer to being a "miscommunication" that all the rationalizations we've all heard in the media and among our friends. The truth is Palestinians and Israelis are more similar than different. They are people -- not generalities. They have dreams, aspirations, loves, hopes, passions. And they have their percentage of crazies as does other group of people on the planet. What most don't realize is that the percentages are the same for all, a minority of destructive people that tries to poison the rest. But they are a minority, a small minority. Palestinians are not born with a desire to die. If you live among them for any length of time, you would know this. If you live in Gaza, how would you react? How would I react? I spoke to James Longley on the phone -- before making this film, he had no knowledge of Palestinians. Before he went there, what he knew is what he read in the newspapers and saw on television. That's what he told me. The film is what he perceived from that vantage point.

I admire you for what you said in your review. If there were more people like yourself among Palestinians and Israelis and Americans, we could solve this thing. By the way, the film moved me too. And not because it showed us what villains the Israelis are -- they are not. We could easily be following a tragedy of a suicide bomb, and the lives of the families and children that were affected. The film moved me, because it reminded me the beauty of all people and the wrongness of war. I love Palestinians. I do. They deserve a better fate, as do our cousins the Israelis.

Best, Jordan,
I read your review of Gaza Strip. I found it very moving in that it clearly was difficult for you, and yet you struggled to find the truth. I am Palestinian. I too fight for the truth because only what is true is of value. And you are right, it's far better to pull your head out of the ground and face the crowd, even if you are the lone voice of disagreement. It's not easy, but it's the only way out. The conflict between Palestinians and Israelis is far closer to being a "miscommunication" that all the rationalizations we've all heard in the media and among our friends. The truth is Palestinians and Israelis are more similar than different. They are people -- not generalities. They have dreams, aspirations, loves, hopes, passions. And they have their percentage of crazies as does other group of people on the planet. What most don't realize is that the percentages are the same for all, a minority of destructive people that tries to poison the rest. But they are a minority, a small minority. Palestinians are not born with a desire to die. If you live among them for any length of time, you would know this. If you live in Gaza, how would you react? How would I react? I spoke to James Longley on the phone -- before making this film, he had no knowledge of Palestinians. Before he went there, what he knew is what he read in the newspapers and saw on television. That's what he told me. The film is what he perceived from that vantage point.

I admire you for what you said in your review. If there were more people like yourself among Palestinians and Israelis and Americans, we could solve this thing. By the way, the film moved me too. And not because it showed us what villains the Israelis are -- they are not. We could easily be following a tragedy of a suicide bomb, and the lives of the families and children that were affected. The film moved me, because it reminded me the beauty of all people and the wrongness of war. I love Palestinians. I do. They deserve a better fate, as do our cousins the Israelis.

Best, Isa Totah


---------------------------------------------------------------
From: Yonatan Bendheim
Date: 11-13-2007
Rating: 10
Comments: Jordan,
Just wanted to drop you quick note to commend you on your latest review of "Gaza Strip". Your intellectual honesty coupled with your impressive ability to vividly translate imagery to words is truly a pleasure to read.

Yonatan

---------------------------------------------------------------
From: Molly Saiger
Date: 11-13-2007
Rating: 10
Comments: Jordan,
I read your review of Gaza and I really hear what you said. It is hard to step outside ourselves and see, or at least be patient and hear what/try and feel what these people feel. Without losing site of what we believe, there is a tragic situation. I find it hard to have real conversations with people in our community sometimes. It is especially difficult for me to listen to rational, good Jewish people say that children deserve to die when tragedies occur and civilians are killed.
Anyway, thank you for your difficult,balanced review.
Molly

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Average Rating:8.7142857142857 out of 10





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