Why Gaza Is the Real-World Set for 'The Hunger Games'
I could have never imagined myself drawing parallels between my refugee camp, Nuseirat, in the Gaza Strip, its heroic people, and a Hollywood movie; the struggle of my people is too sacred for that. But I couldn't help it as I watched the latest from The Hunger Games franchise, Mockingjay.
A feeling of anger initially overwhelmed me when I saw the districts destroyed by the heartless rulers of the Capitol. As I watched the movie, not only resistance of Palestine, but particularly that of Gaza, was on my mind.
The Capitol - with unmatched military technology and access to an enormous media apparatus - was unstoppable in its brutality. Its rulers, who claimed to have superiority over all the inhabitants of the dystopia of Panem, had no moral boundaries whatsoever.
The Hunger Games, the story's version of a reality television show, was created as an annual event to celebrate the victory of the Capitol over a previous revolt by the districts. It also served as a reminder of what the Capitol was capable of, if anyone dared to rise up again in the future.
The show's participants - all children who were chosen or volunteered in a process called the "reaping" - came from every district. The contestants had to kill one another for the amusement of the Capitol, which drew its strength from the division and oppression of others. But the districts rebelled.
They resisted because there can be no other response to systematic oppression but resistance. District 13 was annihilated early on so that the rest of the districts dare not entertain any ideas aside from the Capitol's insistence that resistance is futile. Panem's ruthless president was adamant at referring to those who defied the Capitol as "radicals," and not "rebels." At times, the Capitol tried to turn the districts against one another, inciting civil war.
The Gaza connection became too stark to miss when Katniss, one of the early "tributes" and the symbolic Mockingjay of the resistance uttered these words soon after the Capitol bombers destroyed a hospital full of unarmed men, women and children, killing everyone: "I want to tell the people that if you think for one second the Capitol will treat us fairly if there's a ceasefire, you're deluding yourself. Because you know who they are and what they do."
The events in this drama were eerily similar to the bombing and complete destruction of al-Wafa hospital in Gaza in late July of this year - the only rehabilitation center in the strip for thousands of victims of previous Israeli atrocities.
Her message to the Capitol: "You can torture us and bomb us and burn our districts to the ground, but do you see that? Fire is catching! And if we burn, you burn with us!"
It is as if the author of The Hunger Games, Suzanne Collins, knew so much about Gaza. As if she had fashioned her stories to tell of a real fight between a brutal Capitol, called Israel, and rebellious districts called Palestine. It is as if Gaza was the inspiration behind District 13 because despite attempts at repeated annihilation for the past 65 years - and in particular the last two genocidal wars in 2008-9 and 2014 - the resistance is still alive.
Does Collins know that Katniss, who didn't choose such a fate but had to step up in defense of her people, is represented in thousands of men, women, and yes, children of Gaza?
Does she know that her stories were already written and enacted by real people, who may never have heard of her franchise and may never live to watch her movies? Does she know that criminal leaders such as President Snow are not something of fantasy, but they actually exist, here today in the persons of Benjamin Netanyahu and countless other Israeli leaders who call for the absolute annihilation of Gazans at a whim?
As for Gaza's Hunger Games, the similarities are uncanny.
Just before Israel imposed severe economic sanctions on Gaza, to punish Palestinians for the result of their democratic elections, top Israeli government adviser Dov Weisglass made a spine-chilling promise in 2006: "The idea is to put the Palestinians on a diet, but not to make them die of hunger." This was not a passing statement.
After much legal wrangling, an Israeli human rights group, Gisha, managed to obtain documents which showed that since then Israel has enacted a "deliberate policy of near-starvation" in Gaza and that "security" had nothing to do with the Gaza blockade.
In Israel's Operation Cast Lead, over 1,400 Palestinians were killed and 5,500 wounded. But in Israel's latest war the price tag for resistance was increased to 2,137. More are still dying from their wounds.
Gaza stands in ruins. Entire neighborhoods were destroyed, villages erased and whole families annihilated. Hundreds of schools, hospitals and mosques have been blown up in an unprecedented orgy of death and destruction.
Yet the resistance has not been defeated in Gaza. Because resistance is not men and women with guns. Resistance is an idea, pure in its intentions, romantic, at times, maybe, but certainly the work of an entire collective, who has chosen to die fighting, if they must, but never live carrying the shackles of a slave.
Not even the chilling words of Moshe Feiglin, deputy speaker of the Israeli parliament (Knesset) were enough to intimidate Gaza. In his Facebook plan to destroy the resistance on August 1, 2014, Feiglin called for the, "conquest of the entire Gaza Strip, and annihilation of all fighting forces and their supporters". He then went on to call for all its remaining inhabitants to be pushed into concentration camps near the Sinai desert.
"In these areas, tent encampments will be established, until relevant emigration destinations are determined," Feiglin wrote.
Feiglin, and his prime minister, Netanyahu - among many others in Israel's political and military establishment - are real life leaders of the Capitol, which is allowed to operate with complete impunity against the oppressed districts of Palestine.
And like the Mockingjay, which was resurrected against great odds, Gaza will remain the rebellious district. The blood of its "near-starved" children will someday unite all districts against the Capitol. Then, all the voices that doubted the wisdom of the resistance will be diminished by the loud, but harmonious chanting of a united people.
Till then, the Mockingjay of Palestine, and the thousands of living martyrs will continue to circulate the skies singing the same song as the people of the districts do:
"Are you, Are you
Coming to the tree
Where I told you to run, so we'd both be free
Strange things did happen here
No stranger would it be
If we met up at midnight in the hanging tree."
If only the other districts would rise.