This past Thursday, I attended the Other Israel Film Festival's closing night gala with my Modern Israeli Culture class. The Other Israel Film Festival, run by the Jewish Community Center in Manhattan's Israel Film Center, screens films produced by both Israeli and Palestinian directors about minorities and, most often, Palestinians in Israel. That night, we watched a short film, "Eye Drops," by Palestinian director and actor Mohammad Bakri, and "Wherever You Go," by Israeli director Rony Sasson-Angel.
"Eye Drops" portrayed a Palestinian man (played by Bakri himself) and his two sons, Saleh and Ziad, living in Tel Aviv, Israel, who would, every day, pass by an aging Jewish Holocaust survivor named Sarah and help her out in various and sundry ways -- usually by helping her with her eye drops. "Wherever You Go" shows Zohara, an Israeli woman, who helps Nariman, a Bedouin woman, run away from her family after they attempt to marry her off to her cousin, and, as a result, misses her own sister's wedding. Together, the two women risk being arrested and being hurt by Nariman's brothers.
Both of these films stood in stark contrast with the reality that has been taking place over the past week 3,000 miles across the Atlantic Ocean, between Israel and the Gaza Strip. Here we were, sitting in the auditorium of the JCC Manhattan, watching movies about Israelis and Palestinians (or Bedouins, as it were) working together, cooperating, and finding common grounds. Across the Atlantic, however, Israelis have been landing air strikes in the Gaza Strip in response to the thousands of rockets sent into Israeli territory by Hamas terrorists. In turn, Hamas retaliated by sending rockets into Israel, some reaching as far as Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.
Like every other event that transpires in the Middle East, it did not take long for the events of the last few days to be politicized. Already, people are speculating that Operation Pillar of Defense, which includes the airstrikes that took out a number of weapon stores and bomb sites, as well the assassination of Ahmed Jabari, a senior Hamas leader, is a strategic move on Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's part to gain support in the upcoming Israeli elections. Avi Benayahu, a former Israeli Defense Forces spokesperson, called Jabari's assassination "Netanyahu's equivalent of America's strike on Osama bin Laden." Jabari, as the leader of Hamas' military wing, was responsible for the kidnapping of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, and also oversaw the negotiations that would lead to Shalit's eventual release five years later. He also engineered Hamas' takeover of the Gaza Strip in 2007.
Sitting safely at my desk in Brooklyn, New York, I cannot possibly try to relate to the some 75,000 Israeli reserve soldiers who were called to duty this Saturday for a possible ground invasion, nor can I imagine the fear of 5.5 million Israelis who are in danger as a result of Hamas' ongoing rocket-fire into Israel. I cannot fathom the fear that those living in the Gaza Strip are living under, be it because they fear being bombed or, arguably even worse, being used as human shields as they were during Israel's invasion of Gaza during Operation Cast Lead in 2009. (In 2009, Hamas made use of mosques and hospitals for military purposes.)
What I can say, though, is this: Whatever your stance on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict -- if you believe that Israelis are in the right and the Palestinians in the wrong, or vice versa -- war is just as much about the human consequences as it is about the political consequences. The planes that dropped bombs into Gaza that killed Jabari were manned: They had pilots. They had people who ordered the airstrike, and, out there today, there are Israeli soldiers who are awaiting orders. There are people from Hamas who sent the rockets into the surrounding area. When a siren goes off in the Israeli cities of Sderot, Rishon Lezion, Tel Aviv, or Jerusalem, people -- young and old, man and woman -- have as little as 15 seconds to run to the nearest bomb shelter. When an Israeli plane drops leaflets into Gaza, telling civilians to evacuate before an airstrike, they are afraid of exactly that: the human side of the war, the fact that there will, inevitably, be collateral damage.
Out there today are people who have no place in the middle of this conflict. Those are the civilians who neither need nor want conflict -- civilians like the ones I saw in "Eye Drops" and "Wherever You Go." Fictional though they may be, the characters showed me that, beyond the articles and blog posts and tweets, there are people who are willing to put aside their ideological and political differences to help one another, even when they have nothing to gain. The Israeli woman in "Wherever You Go" had no selfish reason to help Nariman, nor did she do it for the money that Nariman offered. Whatever preconceived animosities between Israelis and Arabs were not present, nor were they present in "Eye Drops:" Bakri, who portrays a director and actor, and his sons did not have any reason to help the old Israeli lady living next door to them other than their desire to be good neighbors and, in essence, good human beings. We see no evidence of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in either of these movies. Instead, we see people, each of whom is trying to make the world a better place in the small ways they can. The characters in these films were reminders to me that the war going on in Israel is much more than the politics that we see in the news clippings and tweets.
I can't pretend to have any more of a stake in the ongoing war between the Israelis and the Palestinians than the majority of the people who I know will read this. I do not personally know anyone who's serving in either the Israeli army or Palestinian forces. My connection to the war extends only so far as someone who supports the State of Israel and has an interest in the goings-on of the country. I am not a soldier, nor am I a politician: I am a high school student, who cares about a cause that I only know so much about.
Despite that, I urge, before you make assumptions or take positions on the war: Ask yourself what the human results of this war -- or any war -- will be. It's not politics or ideologies that are fighting this war. Before postulating how this will be good or bad for the Palestinians, the Israelis, or anyone else, ask how the Israeli and Palestinian civilians are feeling right now. The entire world is watching and either supporting or condemning a side, but they seem to forget: No matter which side is ultimately right and wrong, the loss of life is tragic for both parties, for both Palestinians and Israelis. Politics can be changed; ideologies can shift over time. But human life can never be brought back.
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