Like many Israel/Palestine activists, I was thrilled to see two thoughtful films on the subject nominated for Best Documentary Oscars – and if I was pulling for any movie at all last Sunday night, it was Emad Burnat and Guy Davidi’s “5 Broken Cameras.” If you haven’t seen it yet, please do. It is, I believe, one of the most important films on Palestine and Palestinians you will ever see. It’s also brilliantly constructed and deeply, almost unbearably moving. It’s available for free on Netflix, so you won’t need to wait for it to come to a theater near you.
I knew, of course, that it was a long shot, but oh, what an incredible, incredible opportunity it would have been if Emad Burnat could have gotten up before 3 billion people and read the speech he had prepared:
I’ve been thinking a great deal lately about the differences between “Cameras” and the other nominated Israel/Palestine documentary, “The Gatekeepers.” I’m particularly struck that the latter film, which features interviews with six ex-Shin Bet chiefs, is in many ways as characteristically Israeli as “Cameras” is Palestinian. For me, the most fundamental difference between the two films resides in their literal perspectives: In “Gatekeepers,” we largely view Palestinians from above – mostly through footage taken by the Israeli Air Forces as they surgically strike their targets from the skies. We never see anyone actually get killed – they just seem to disappear in a sudden puff of smoke.
By contrast, “Cameras” was filmed on the ground in a Palestinian village. We see Palestinian non-violent protesters getting beaten and shot. In one particularly heartbreaking instance we witness the shooting death of Bassem (“Phil”) Abu-Rahma. Indeed, the moral center of this movie resides in the way it places us firmly in the lives and reality of these Palestinians – we experience their humanity, their tragedies, their courage up close and personally.
For all of its depth and nuance, “The Gatekeepers,” is ultimately a film that presents us with the moral angst of a people who are, quite simply, on the side of the oppressor. Many critics have have been struck by the level of ethical soul-searching evidenced by ex-Shin Bet chiefs who were, after all, the heads of Israel’s powerful security establishment – and I fully agree. It is a tribute to the genius of “Gatekeepers” that it gives us a genuine glimpse into the humanity of men who typically occupy a position of invisibility in Israel’s massive national security apparatus.
For me, however, this insight cuts both ways. While we can and should understand that there are real, living flesh and blood human beings with real, human concerns behind the Shin Bet, I believe their humanity is many ways subsumed by an inherently oppressive infrastructural reality. And this reality is much, much larger than these individuals, no matter how deeply they might engage in soul-searching over their actions.
This institutional soul-searching is, in fact, a time honored Israeli cultural enterprise – they even have a name for it: “Yorim U’vochim” (“Shoot and Cry”) - a term that was coined in the wake of the Six Day War to describe this uniquely Israeli expression of angst. Indeed, Israelis have produced countless films, books, poetry and essays that struggle deeply over their treatment of Palestinians. But in the end, no amount of individual soul searching, no matter how heartfelt, can itself erase the collective guilt of what Israel has perpetrated – and continues to perpetrate – against Palestinians.
Take a look at the clip below: an interview with “Gatekeepers” director Dror Moreh on “Democracy Now.” Pay particular attention to Moreh’s comments at the 3:30 mark, where he expresses his discomfort with those who portray Israelis as the oppressors and the Palestinians as the poor innocent victims. In a (possibly) unguarded but telling moment, he says, “After, all, there is a reason why the Shin Bet is doing what it is doing.” Moreh continues: this is not a black and white situation – we must see it in “shades of grey.”
I fully agree that this is a complicated situation. But I would add that there is nothing complicated about the institutional oppression that the Shin Bet inflicts on Palestinians. While the fears and pain and moral anguish of Israelis is indeed very real, I believe we must be willing to admit that these feelings are largely helpless in the face of a larger infrastructural reality that Israelis have created – and within which, in a very real way, they have become subsumed.
Critics who condemn those who stand in solidarity with Palestinians often fail to appreciate this point: it is not Israelis to whom we stand in opposition, but rather the oppressive institutions that they have constructed and which we believe threaten the well being and future of Israelis and Palestinians alike. In watching “The Gatekeepers,” I was deeply touched by the humanity of men such as Ami Ayalon, Avraham Shalom and Carmi Gillon. But I never forgot for a second that the organization they led was and remains a profoundly oppressive, even criminal institution – and no amount of soul-searching, no matter how anguished or heartfelt can wash away this essential reality.
A final note: less than one week before the Academy Awards ceremony, the Israel Defense Forces and the Shin Bet arrested a 30 year Palestinian named Arafat Jaradat, claiming that he threw stones at cars from a nearby settlement. Jaradat was taken first to the Jalameh Interrogation Center in the northern West Bank before being transferred to Megiddo Prison. Four days later, he was dead, tortured to death by the Shin Bet.
Jaradat was a student at Al Quds Open University, married with two children (Yara, 4 years old and Mohammad, 3 years old) and was expecting a third child with his wife Dalal. His lawyer, Kamil Sabbagh, who defended him in a court hearing two days before he died, reported that Jaradat was terrified and complained of intense back pain when he saw him.
The Shin Bet claimed Jaradat died from cardiac arrest, despite the fact that an initial autopsy indicated he was in fine cardiac health. A subsequent autopsy determined that Jaradat had been beaten with repeated blows to his chest and body and had sustained a total of six broken bones in his spine, arms and legs; his lips lacerated; his face badly bruised.
I agree with Dror Moreh: there is a reason the Shin Bet is doing what it is doing. We just disagree what that reason actually is. Their ultimate goal is not simply the security of Israelis, but the security of Israelis maintained through the subjugation of Palestinians.
And for all the Israeli soul-searching on this point, this oppression will only make Israel less secure in the long run.
“Zero Dark Thirty” hasn’t come to Chicago yet, so I can’t weigh in on the controversy surrounding its portrayal of the torture in the Bin Laden raid. Having read countless articles already, however (most notably the pointed criticisms by Glenn Greenwald), I can safely say it’s going to be pretty hard for me to overcome my prejudices going in. I certainly can’t imagine feeling sanguine about a film that gives the mistaken (and dangerous) impression that torture “works.” Still, I’ll do my best to keep an open mind – and offer my thoughts after I’ve actually seen the movie.
In the meantime, if you’re looking interested in a film that accurately and powerfully explores torture’s tragic legacy, check out “Beneath the Blindfold,” a new documentary by Evanston-based independent filmmakers Ines Somer and Kathy Berger. The film follows the lives of four torture survivors – a nurse from Africa, an actor from Colombia, A US Navy veteran from Chicago, and a physician from Guatemala – and documents their journeys as they attempt to build new lives, careers, and relationships. Despite the painful fallout from their experiences, we witness each of them becoming empowered to speak out and become public advocates for an end to torture.
“Beneath the Blindfold” has been garnering rave reviews and was just voted the Best Political Documentary of 2012 by the Chicago Reader. JRC was honored to host Ines and Kathy four years ago when they showed and discussed some footage of their work in progress. Now that the film in finished, we are thrilled to screening and discussion with the filmmakers on Saturday, January 19 at 7:00, in partnership with Percolator Films. (Click here for more info.)
Click here for Ines’ and Kathy’s recent interview with Jerome McDonnell on WBEZ’s Worldview.
Over the past month, Israeli activist Joseph Dana has been chronicling Israel’s practice of arrest and detention of Palestinian children in the West Bank village of Nabi Saleh. I don’t know what to say except that his reports have left me numb:
“They come for our woman and our children,” Bassem Tamimi, the leader of the Popular Committee of Nabi Saleh recently told me, “they [the Israeli army] know that woman are half our population and half our strength and so they target them along with the children.” Tamimi, a gentle man with a warm smile spoke to me about the repression of his village as we sat in his home overlooking the settlement of Halamish. “They know where to apply pressure on our resistance. It has become really difficult since the last wave of arrests.”
Israel is devoting maximum effort to the repression of Nabi Saleh’s determination to demonstrate against the Occupation. The specific method of repression has been in development for the past eight years and is not only designed to break the demonstrations but to leave permanent psychological scars on the next generation of Nabi Saleh villagers. In short, children are used to implicate the leaders of the Popular Committee for incitement in demonstrations, providing evidence for their long term incarceration. In the last month, six children have been arrested or detained in Nabi Saleh by the army.
The video above shows the capture of eleven year old Kareem Tamimi who is chased down and grabbed by Israeli border police before he is shoved into a police van. The voice you hear screaming in the background is his mother.
Other videos on Dana’s site are no less disturbing. Two clips document late night home raids by the IDF, who go from from house to house photographing children and recording their names and ID numbers. As Dana explains:
14 year old Islam Tamimi, one of the children seen being photographed in a night raid, has been in jail for the past three weeks. Days after the video was shot he was arrested and detained for a number of hours at the Halamish military base. Two days after he was detained, the army raided his home at 02h00 and arrested him. He was left in the cold, blindfolded and bound for the rest of the night and then taken imminently to interrogation without lawyer or parents present. The interrogation lasted eight hours. Incidentally, the day that Tamimi was arrested the IDF Spokespersons office tweeted that ‘a wanted suspect was arrested overnight and taken for security questioning.’
In another post, Dana reported that fourteen year old Islam had a hearing on February 14 (in which he was brought before a judge while wearing an over sized adult prison uniform). While he originally was held in a cell with his 24 year old brother (who was jailed on stone throwing charges), he was subsequently moved away to another prison. His trial is scheduled to take place next week.
This is not only an issue for Nabi Saleh. According to the Middle East Children’s Alliance, thirty two Palestinian children were arrested by Israeli authorities in the first two weeks of February alone. A recent report by Defense for Children International (Palestine Section) has concluded:
Each year approximately 700 Palestinian children are arrested, interrogated and detained in the Israeli military court system, and reports of torture and ill-treatment are common.
My friend Father Cotton Fite, who is currently visiting Israel/Palestine, has dear friends in the village of Beit Ommar. Shortly before he left, he heard from them that the IDF had come to their home and was targeting one of their young sons. The family was understandably terrified.
Cotton is visiting the family now and is also meeting with B’tselem field workers to find out exactly what is happening on the ground. He promised to send in a post about his experiences. (In the meantime, you can read this report from last summer that claims that over a dozen youth from Beit Ommar were arrested in less than a month’s time.)
Nelson Mandela is famously quoted as saying,
There can be no keener revelation about a society’s soul than the way in which it treats its children.
Bear these words in mind as you watch the film clip above…
Last night, JRC was honored to host an important program in recognition of Human Rights Week. We were joined by Dr. Mary Fabri, Senior Director of the Marjorie Kovler Center for the Treatment of Survivors of Torture, along with documentary filmakers Ines Sommer and Kathy Berger, who presented the first public showing of the trailer for their new film, “Beneath the Blindfold.” That’s Dr. Fabri above on the right, next to Ines, Kathy and JRC member Ellen Rosen Kaplan, who organized the program for our congregation.
Though torture is now infamously on the political radar screen of most Americans, the one dimension of this issue that is too often neglected is the profoundly traumatic effect of torture on torture survivors themselves. The film sensitively but powerfully presented the stories of several survivors, each of whom have been forever transformed and are responding differently to the reality of their experiences. Even at just eight minutes, the “Beneath the Blindfold” demo reel offered a profound insight into the human cost of torture, on survivors, their families, and on society itself. Perhaps most important, the film gives a real, human face to the human beings behind this political issue.
The brief taste of the film was sometimes painful, but in the end, deeply inspiring. After the showing, Dr. Fabri, Ines and Kathy led an extended conversation on the film and the complex, critical issues it raises. By evening’s end, we were motivated all the more to work to end the sacrilege of torture once and for all.
Ines and Kathy are currently editing “Beneath the Blindfold” and continue to raise the funds they need to finish the film. I believe this is a movie that must be completed and seen by as many people as possible. If you would like to contribute, contact the filmakers at firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.
Here in Chicago, a decades-long shandeh may finally be coming to an end: US Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald announced today that former Police Commander Jon Burge (above) has been arrested and charged with two counts of obstruction of justice and one count of perjury for denying his department tortured suspects in their custody.
According to witness allegations, Burge led the torture of criminal suspects for two decades, coercing dozens of confessions with fists, kicks, radiator burns, guns to the mouth, bags over the head and electric shock to the genitals. Burge was suspended by the police department in 1991 and fired in 1993, but, amazingly, was never charged with a crime.
Just to compound the outrage, Burge had since retired to Florida to spend his golden years boating and fishing while the city of Chicago paid for his pension and legal fees. While the statute of limitations has run out on the torture, there is some satisfaction in knowing that Burge could still be brought to justice for lying about it to prosecutors decades later.
In a press release, the Jewish Council on Urban Affairs called Burge’s arrest “a remarkable victory for all who have vigorously stayed the course in seeking justice for the victims of the torture,” adding:
We now call on the City of Chicago to cease it’s pension payments to Burge and it’s support for his legal defense. Justice is long overdue. We are gratified that action has finally been taken and the prosecution of Burge can commence. We applaud all who have worked so tirelessly to bring the Burge case to justice.
June has been designated as “Torture Awareness Month” – a time set aside to shine a light on the growing use of torture by our own country as well as other nations around the world. To mark this occasion, the National Religious Campaign Against Torture (NRCAT) and Rabbis for Human Rights – North America (RHR-NA) have mobilized more than 275 faith communities around the country to openly display banners in front of their houses of worship that convey one basic message: torture is a critical religious and moral issue for our nation.
There are 27 Jewish congregations displaying banners and I am proud to say that JRC is one of them (see above). JRC also recently joined the K’vod Habriot inititative of RHR-NA – a national network of Jewish communities and individuals committed to building a Jewish commitment to human rights. The K’vod Habriot Statement of Principles will give you some idea of the Jewish values behind this effort:
- “Every human being is created in the image of God” (“Bidmut Elohim asah oto”): It is incumbent on each of us to act in a way that affirms the fundamental dignity of every human being. Respect for each human being is the foundation of Jewish ethics.
- “[We must] do what is just and right.” (“La’asot Tzedek U’Mishpat): For a nation to have legitimacy, it must enforce a system of law that is fair, equitable, and just.
- “Do not oppress the stranger, orphan or widow.” (“Ger, Yatom, V’Almananah Al Tonu”): We have a duty to promote a society that cares for the economic well-being of all of its members, especially those who are most vulnerable.
- We believe that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights flows from these Jewish values, as well as from our own historical experience, especially that of the treatment of Jews during the Holocaust. Therefore, it is incumbent on us, as Jews, to defend the human rights of all who are oppressed.
I encourage you and/or your congregation to join K’vod Habriot and help us put human rights firmly on the agenda of the North American Jewish community. NCRAT is also organizing an anti-torture Statement of Conscience - I’d say that signing onto it would be a very appropriate way to mark Torture Awareness Month.
From this week’s Torah portion, Parashat Va’era:
But when Moses told this to the Israelites, they would not listen to Moses, their spirits crushed by cruel bondage. (Exodus 6:9)
This short verse offers a profound insight into the psychological/spiritual disconnect that results from physical oppression. Here is a more contemporary rendering of these effects, described by ASTT (Advocates for Survivors of Torture and Trauma):
The effects of torture are wide-ranging, and may be multiple and long-term in nature. Physical effects may include brain damage, loss of vision or hearing, atrophy or paralysis of muscles, scarring, and injury to internal organs, including the reproductive organs. Survivors may experience chronic pain or find it difficult or impossible to undertake certain activities.
The psychological effects of torture can include major depression, anxiety, and the constellation of symptoms known as Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Survivors of torture and trauma may also experience feelings of shame, guilt, powerlessness or worthlessness, an inability to visualize the future, and difficulty connecting to other people…
For more information about how you can speak out against governments that currently practice the systematic crushing of spirit through cruel bondage, click here.
Below is an important Action Alert from the Jewish Council for Public Affairs. Given the latest news out of DC regarding erased tapes and Justice Dept. intransigence, our advocacy on this issue is more critical than ever…
Two weeks ago, a joint House-Senate Conference Committee decided to include anti-torture provisions in the final version of the Intelligence Authorization Conference Report. Last week, the House of Representatives adopted the conference report. The roll call vote can be found here. These new provisions, offered by Senator Diane Feinstein (D-CA), would require all federal agencies engaged in the prosecution of the War on Terror to comply with the interrogation guidelines in the Army Field Manual. This legislation would effectively outlaw the Central Intelligence Agencies “enhanced interrogation techniques,” including the use of waterboarding
Over the last several years, the issue of United States sponsored torture has become increasingly prominent. Since the horrific photos of the treatment of prisoners at Abu Ghraib emerged in 2004, we have learned about the existence of secret CIA prisons and the use of controversial interrogation procedures. Such procedures include the use of waterboarding, a technique used during the Spanish Inquisition, that has been considered torture by the United States military since the Spanish-American War.
In 2005, Senator John McCain (R-AZ) offered an amendment to the Detainee Treatment Act which explicitly outlawed the use of “cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment.” Further it required all agencies within the Department of Defense to comply with the carefully constructed interrogation guidelines in the Army Field Manual. JCPA strongly supported Senator McCain’s efforts. Now, it is important to expand the principle of the McCain Amendment to all federal agencies and ensure that all United States officers and personnel are complaining with our nation’s laws and international treaty obligations.
The anti-torture torture provisions in the Intelligence Authorization Conference Report would create a uniform standard that all federal agencies must abide by during the prosecution of the War on Terror. The United States Army Field Manual on Intelligence Interrogation was carefully written to provide our intelligence agencies with solid guidance. The Army Field Manual guidelines allow interrogators to successfully extract useful and actionable intelligence while ensuring compliance with our national legal commitments. We face a moral and ethical imperative to stop United States sponsored torture.
Contact your Senators and urge them to support the anti-torture provisions in the Intelligence Authorization Conference Report. The Senate is expected to consider this legislation THIS WEEK.
If you have questions or need additional information, please contact Jared Feldman (202) 212-6036 or by email, firstname.lastname@example.org.