The Israeli-Palestinian conflict has raged for nearly four decades, and the issue is just divisive today as it was at the start. I'm not for a minute going to pretend that I understand all of the intricacies involved in the conflict, but it's clear that each side has enough evidence of wrongdoing to keep the animosity burning for another four decades. What's needed is a willingness on the part of all the interested parties to set aside violent histories and work toward a common ideal grounded in the shared desire for a peaceful future. One way to do that is to allow the voices of the ordinary people living amidst the violence, and desperate for its end, to be heard.
This is the second year for the Witness Palestine film series, which continues its mission to shine a spotlight on the conflict and bring attention to the oppression faced by the Palestinian people as a result of the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip. The series offers a program of documentary features, to be screened at The Little Theatre (plus "Going Against the Grain," which will be shown at St. John Fisher). Each of the films will be followed by a panel discussion. Tickets are $8, except for "Going Against the Grain," which is free. Visit witnesspalestinerochester.org for more information.
Providing a strong start to the series is the eye-opening documentary "5 Broken Cameras." Consisting of footage shot by Palestinian farmer Emad Burnat, the film is a heartbreaking firsthand account of life in an occupied territory. Originally having purchased a camera to document the 2005 birth of his son, Burnat decided to keep his camera trained on his fellow villagers as they staged nonviolent protests against the Israeli settlements, only to be faced again and again with a violent response from the Israel Defense Force. He kept at it over the course of the following five years, with a throughline centering around the events that led to the destruction of each of the five cameras for which the film is named. Nominated for Best Documentary Feature at last year's Academy Awards, it's ultimately a powerful and stirring piece of political activist filmmaking. (Sunday, September 8, 2 p.m.)
The riveting winner of the Documentary Grand Jury Prize at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival, "The Law in These Parts," examines the legal foundation for the occupation of Palestine, through interviews with the lawyers and judges who built that foundation beginning in the 1960's. Israeli-born director Ra'anan Alexandrowicz builds a solid case, showing how the laws originally intended to protect Israelis from violence gradually over time became a source of oppression themselves. (Monday, September 9, 6:45 p.m.)
Much like it sounds, "Jerusalem... The East Side Story" focuses exclusively on the lives of Palestinian people in Eastern Jerusalem, documenting the displacement of the Palestinian people and providing a window into the isolation they feel. The film suffers a bit by not providing a counterpoint, but the ultimate message is summed up best by one woman's comment: "When the stones of Jerusalem become holier than its people, then doesn't Jerusalem lose its holiness?" The film is accompanied by "Follow the Money," which focuses on the international boycott of Israeli products as a form of protest against the country's actions. (Sunday, September 15, 2 p.m.)
The inspirational "The People and the Olive" follows a group of American activists who coordinate the 2012 Run Across Palestine, a five-day, 120-mile marathon run through the West Bank. Their goal is to raise awareness of the struggles Palestinian olive farmers face, as well as collect funds to replant the olive trees that have been destroyed in the creation of Israeli settlements. Though the runners immediately face aggression from Israeli military, they aren't dissuaded from remaining hopeful that peace will win out in the end. (Monday, September 16, 6:45 p.m.)
Taking the opposite approach as "Jerusalem... East Side Story," to arguably much greater effect, is the moving documentary "Two Sided Story." Director Tor Ben-Mayor's film documents the "History through the Human Eye" project, which brings together 27 Palestinian and Israeli people, of all walks of life, to share and listen to one another's stories and hopefully come to some form of understanding. By keeping the focus on the personal, maintaining an even-handed style, and showing how this method allows the participants to see eye-to-eye, the film emerges as the most optimistic in the series. (Sunday, September 22, 2 p.m.)
Produced by Al-Jazeera, "Going Against the Grain" focuses on Israeli journalist Gideon Levy, a vocal critic of Israel's occupation, and the ways his outspoken nature have made him a controversial figure in his native country. (Monday, September 23, 12:30-2 p.m., St. John Fisher College)