Israelis and Palestinians Destroy the 'No Partner for Peace' Canard

Virtually everyone knows what the end of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will look like -- technically, at least. Still, it would take a healthy dose of political courage and a pile of luck for significant progress to occur anytime soon. The official charter of Palestine's elected leadership includes portions of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, while Israeli PM, Ehud Olmert, recently appointed an anti-Arab racist with genocidal fantasies as his deputy prime minister. The Road Map is stalled and, governmentally speaking, the peace process has flatlined. But then little, if any, progress was ever born in government anyway.

Into this apparently hopeless situation comes Encounter Point, an award-winning feature film documenting the movements that bridge the Israeli-Palestinian divide on the ground, among the people most affected. Filmmakers Ronit Avni and Julia Bacha (cowriter and editor of Control Room) have trained a refreshingly sharp eye on the detail and meaning in their surroundings as well as in their subjects -- a regrettably rare trait in a political documentary. But the question of why art and politics have filed for a separation is a different story.

The Bereaved Families Forum, a major focus of the film's energies, is comprised of families from both sides, all of whom have suffered the death of one or more loved ones to the conflict. Rather than resort to more violence, these people have each asked themselves, in one form or another, what Robi Damelin does in the film: "So what do you do with this pain? Do you take it and look for revenge and keep the whole cycle of violence going, or do you choose another path to prevent further death and further pain to other parents?"

On the other side of the border lives Ali Abu Awwad, a young Palestinian man whose character almost doesn't work on paper. After years of opposing the Israeli Occupation in the stone-throwing era of the '80s and '90s, Awwad was in Saudi Arabia when he received the news that his brother had been killed by an Israeli soldier. Awwad was there, ironically, seeking medical treatment for an Israeli-delivered bullet-wound himself.

Having asked himself the question above, Awwad chose reconciliation, resisting pressure to do otherwise -- not to mention his reward: "great status" and "the right to hate." But Encounter's rich cast of characters goes beyond classical progressive heroes like Robi and Ali, to include the likes of Shlomo Zagman, a settlement-born Israeli who once advocated for the deportation of Palestinians to neighboring countries.

Zagman now heads up the more pragmatic-minded reconciliation group, Movement for Realistic Religious Zionism which seeks to convince religious Jews that reconciliation is in their best interest. The MRRZ is roughly akin to a moderate Democrat who argues that the War in Iraq must end because it was poorly planned and expensive, as opposed to being a fundamentally errant policy.

One of the reasons you can, and will, show this film to conservative members of your family is because it refuses to incapacitate itself with the hot-button issues of history and negotiations, opting to highlight the human side of the conflict. Frankly, this decision may piss off activists on both sides, but every person who watches the film will leave with an appreciation for the humanity of both Israelis and Palestinians, a sense that both people love their children, argue with their parents, are stubborn, and like food.

In the exclusive clip above, Awwad speaks to a bunch of young men convalescing from a variety of Israel-inflicted wounds -- missile scars, lost limbs, poisonous bullets. Their skepticism about Jews' desire for peace (they use "Jew" and "Israeli" interchangeably) could just as easily take place in a Long Island dining room if you simply replace "Jew" with "Arab."

More important than understanding their skepticism, however, is the clarity of the humanity depicted. The young men awkwardly decide where to sit, joke and josh each other, leave the table and come back, argue, question, and otherwise reveal themselves to be indistinguishable from the young men in your neighborhood. One of the more bellicose members of the group, a wise-cracking Yousef, a cigarette smoked to the filter between his fingers, returns at the end of the film with a surprise which I won't ruin. But the power of the scene comes from what you've seldom seen before on film: Palestinians just talking to each other honestly and openly, discussing a variety of ideas.

After listening to his spiel about nonviolence, Ali's young nephew argues that Palestinians must have "resistance and war."

Ali responds, without a moment's hesitation, to a roomful of rapt young men: "I don't differ from you. I am resisting too. I have to resist. But the form of my resistance is different. Because, think about it: a just cause like ours is being called terrorism. We've never been terrorists -- but today you must convince the world that you are not."

Of an entirely different issue, former congresswoman Elizabeth Holtzman, D-N.Y., who played a key role in the impeachment of Richard Nixon, recently noted that:

"Nobody -- no Democrat was pushing for [impeachment]. And, in fact, as the revelations came out, it still wasn't on the table. It took the American people, after the Saturday Night Massacre [Nixon's firing of the prosecutor investigating him], sending a clear message to the Congress ..."
Ditto Vietnam, ditto civil rights, abolition, women's suffrage, labor laws, etc. If we know one thing about positive, progressive social change, it's that governments are followers, begrudgingly make changes at the request of popular movements. Encounter Point offers an injection of hope in a beautiful package as it highlights the efforts of those courageous few, whose movement will one day animate the technicalities agreed upon at Oslo, Camp David, Wye, and in the Road Map.

Check this link for screenings of Encounter Point in your area.


Another sign of hope comes in the form of a Zeitgeist. In 2004, Ellen Frick and Gretchen Burger codirected Another Side of Peace, a 60-minute documentary following Roni Hirshenzon's Parents Circle which, like the Bereaved Families Forum, is comprised of Palestinians and Israelis touched by the violence.

While Another Side of Peace doesn't have the rhythm of Encounter Point, and while it focuses a bit too heavily on its Israeli subjects, it is nonetheless a powerful testimony to those who have the strength to break the cycle of violence, to work for something greater than the urge to avenge the death of a loved one.

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