The Jewschool Review: Paradise Now

The Australian reports,

One of the greatest living US writers has praised terrorists as “very brave people” and used drug culture slang to describe the “amazing high” suicide bombers must feel before blowing themselves up.
Kurt Vonnegut, author of the 1969 anti-war classic Slaughterhouse Five, made the provocative remarks during an interview in New York for his new book, Man Without a Country, a collection of writings critical of US President George W. Bush.
Vonnegut, 83, has been a strong opponent of Mr Bush and the US-led war in Iraq, but until now has stopped short of defending terrorism.
But in discussing his views with The Weekend Australian, Vonnegut said it was “sweet and honourable” to die for what you believe in, and rejected the idea that terrorists were motivated by twisted religious beliefs.
“They are dying for their own self-respect,” he said. “It’s a terrible thing to deprive someone of their self-respect. It’s like your culture is nothing, your race is nothing, you’re nothing.”

Before you race to condemn Vonnegut, I invite you to see Paradise Now, a new film by Palestinian director Hany Abu-Assad, which “follows two Palestinian childhood friends who have been recruited for a strike on Tel Aviv and focuses on their last days together. When they are intercepted at the Israeli border and separated from their handlers, a young woman who discovers their plan causes them to reconsider their actions.”
I had the unique pleasure of seeing the film on Saturday night at the Cinematheque in Tel Aviv with Israeli artists Jack Faber and Ronen Eidelman as well as North American interloper Danielle Frank whose work is presently being exhibited in Tel Aviv as part of Three Cities Against The Wall exhibition at Beit Haomanim. (The exhibit is also appearing at ABC No Rio in NYC through December 8, and was supposed to show in Ramallah as well, but certain complications have impeded the opening.) The conversation which ensued afterwards was as intense as the film itself, to be sure.
Beautifuly shot, and revealing of a Palestine yet unknown to outsiders, Paradise Now raised a number of issues for me in its attempt to identify the source of Palestinian violence, placing its origins first and foremost in the humiliation and degradation faced daily under occupation, but in the case of the main protagonist, Said (Kais Nashef), it also emphasized his unceasing humiliation as the son of a collaborator. As a result of this portrayal, I could understand (if even still ultimately disagree that it is in entirety) that such individuals are, as Vonnegut says, “dying for their own self-respect.”
In that, this film attempts to convey the Palestinian narrative, albeit one which has, as I understand it, been unpopular with audiences in the territories. According to one Israeli Arab friend of mine involved in anti-occupation activism, Palestinian audiences allegedly find the film too sympathetic to the Israeli perspective. They are expecting a propaganda film glorifying martyrdom, he told me. Rather, it presents a very negative critique of Palestinian militancy. Audiences have not responded all too positively, and have shouted with contempt throughout screenings.
Abu-Assad remains positive, however. He told Ramallah Online, “As you know the Palestinian society is not a homogenous one, it is a very diverse. But generally, they found it to be a very honest movie. Even if Palestinians live in that context, the film is also an opportunity to raise some important questions. Some critics like Tahar Bin Jallon called the film ‘a masterpiece’ but others like Subhi Subidy called it ‘an apology for the west.'”
Frankly, I think Abu-Assad does an incredible job of building sympathy for the protagonists. In one scene, Said and his friend Khaled (Ali Suliman), both strapped with explosives, jump through a freshly cut hole in a security fence only to be ambushed by an Israeli soldier on the other side. As the soldier’s jeep pulled up, I caught myself saying, “Oh f*ck!” out of concern for the very men who would indiscriminately kill me. Ronen compared it to Berlin Express Zentropa, in which U.S. occupying forces in Germany take on the aura of cruelty and viewers come to identify with German resisters. It was an utter mindf*ck.
The suspense was also masterful. With Said’s “finger on the trigger” for the vast majority of the film, I was on the edge of my seat throughout the screening, waiting for the final moment.
Ultimately, I don’t think the film is entirely accurate in its depiction, nor entirely fair to history: There was violence against Jews in Israel & British Mandate Palestine long before the occupation, let alone mass immigration, so you can’t, as this film does, place everything squarely on ’67 moving forward. Also, the total lack of antisemitism in the film seemed unrealistic considering the all too-familiar rhetoric seeping out of the Arab world. However I do think it’s a fantastic picture which can help those most detached from human recognition of Palestinians to gain some degree of understanding of their narrative and how they perceive of their present situation. In that, we can begin to relate, as Vonnegut does, to their suffering, and perhaps take more strident steps towards finding an amicable resolution to the conflict.

22 thoughts on “The Jewschool Review: Paradise Now

  1. This is pure dreck as a person who has had friends wounded and murdered by terrorist bombing I deplore this film as being bellow “the passion” where is the ADL on this one

  2. “Before you race to condemn Vonnegut,”
    Thanks for the advice Dan, but with quotes like this:
    “They are dying for their own self-respect,”
    I’ll condemn the man anyway.
    Curious…why aren’t Natives blowing themselves up in Ottawa….Vancouver? Is it because we lack road blocks? Is the weather too mild? Or do they lack “self-respect”?
    No…I think it takes an entire culture to produce a homicide terrorist. And more often than not, the respect comes from the tools that admire what they’ve done.

  3. Berlin Express sounds like a great movie but i have not seen it.
    i was referring to Zentropa http://www.angelfire.com/md2/t
    Suicide bombings were used by Palestinian resistance only since 1994 (i think Baruch Goldstein should be called the father of the west bank suicide terror).
    The movie is about suicide bombings and deals with it both bravely and critically. Could you really expect one film to address all the issues? i don’t think anti-Semitism in the Arab world is the most pressing issue for the kids in the refugee camps in Nablus. From my first hand experience (i visited the camps Askar and Balta in 2003, the Palestinians are one of the least anti-Semitic of all Arab nations. of course they hate the occupation and everyone who represents it (you should hear then talk about the Druze or even ‘those Russian soldiers that are not even Jew) but wont you?
    Anyway since when is it expected from a fiction film to be “entirely accurate in its depiction, nor entirely fair to history”, great film like art should make you think, ask questions about your beliefs and have great discussions. Please tell me about a fiction film that is ENTIRELY accurate?

  4. This is not just a fiction film – and despite moby’s starry-eyed review, it most definitely is a propaganda piece. The German government partly funded it, and it is being shown to German schoolchildren, with follow-up exercises that drive home the message of sympathizing with the terrorists.
    It goes without saying that no film from the Israeli perspective is being funded or shown. The classroom activities begin with the tacit understanding that Israel is illegitimate and wholly to blame for the situation.
    What else is this but propaganda?
    As described by this non-Jewish Euroblogger:
    Why is a non-Jewish German calling this an “openly anti-Semitic film” while a string of liberal Jewish bloggers fall all over themselves crowing about the wonderful intellectual exercise of “understanding” these barbarians?
    How would/should world Jewry have reacted had the 1937 film festivals featured a sympathetic film about the life and troubles of a young Nazi recruit?

  5. definitely interesting links, ben-david; but the author ignores that what we’re looking at is the palestinian narrative. the film is not meant to present a balanced view of the conflict that considers the israeli perspective. it is meant solely to inform us of the palestinian perspective. as i said, i don’t think it’s fair or accurate to history, but it does give insight into the way they perceive of the situation. i don’t find that to be illegitimate. i do, however, think the german government’s accompanying pamphlet is entirely fucked and that attention should be drawn to that issue.

  6. If the links are so interesting – why don’t you read them? I haven’t posted more than a few minutes ago.
    And there’s that lovely word “narrative” – sorry, but this is not a pure work of art, it was created with the approval and encouragement of political factions – and considering that it was filmed in Gaza, with the clear threat of (violent!) censorship.
    Again – what if a film showing the Nazi “perspective” that was released to wide acclaim in 1937 – and school systems were being recruited for screenings followed by exercises in “understanding” whose starting assumptions were those of the Nazis – the Jews are vermin, they control the banks, etc…
    Would it be “insensitive” to call this propaganda – and to work hard to discredit its “perception” of reality?
    Please do get a clue. This stuff is consumed by those who aren’t Jewish as THE TRUTH and reinforced by what they see in their media. Jews and Israelis who know better, but cum in their pants at the thought of what sensitive intellectuals they are for “understanding” these brutes – are the most idiotic of “useful idiots”.
    We are talking about an ongoing geopolitical conflict – not Sensitivity Training with your dorm counselor. In no other conflict are we urged to ‘understand’ conflicting ‘narratives’ – in every other geopolitical conflict there is clear distinction between What Really Happened and propaganda.
    Adloyada expertly guts this dodge of the pro-Palestinian Left:
    I am really struggling with the concept of competing narratives. It is not just a question of viewing the same facts from different perspectives, understanding where the “other” is coming from. I find even at pro-Zionist conferences now, everyone is paying at least lip service to the idea that we must not confront “the other” with any blatant, provable falsifications, but just say- we have 2 narratives here…. Would we say to someone who is propogating the Protocols- oh it is just a different narrative?
    Read the whole thing here:

  7. 2 of the things I found interesting in this film:
    1) It did not portray the ISraelis as particularly cruel, but as occupying OTHER.
    2) The Lefty chick yells, “There is no Paradise,” allowing for a different discussion of the reasons for suicide bombing outside of religious martyrdom.
    3) The role of the protaganist’s father as Informant, addressing the issue of family honor as motivating factor.
    I do not dismiss propoganda elements to this film. But I am big into “empathizing with the enemy,” to quote McNamara.
    This is not the same as sympathizing with the enemy, nor being sensitive. But without it, you increase your odds of losing the war.

  8. xisnotx, isn’t that the one tali fahima was trying to do the follow up on when she got railroaded for “collaborating”?
    ben david: i did read the links and i forwarded them on to others as well, thanks much.
    Would we say to someone who is propogating the Protocols- oh it is just a different narrative?
    what do you say to people propagating biblical judaism? “we came from monkeys is just another narrative?” i would say yes, creationism does have its place in school. but it has to be put into its proper context. this theories evolve from theology, here’s the nature of theology, here’s athiesm, here’s deism, here’s inbetween, here’s the metaphorical understanding of creationism, here’s the literal understanding: choose for yourself what you believe to be true.
    hence, i think the context the german government is offering is shit, and totally agendaed, propagandistic and fucked up. however, i bet if you gave me a team of brilliant liberal jewish educators and israeli activists, we could create a curriculum around this film that incorporated our narrative and the international community’s narrative, and at that, one that would allow people to come to their own conclusions. it’s a matter of balance. media doesn’t have to be balanced necessarily. its contextualization does.

  9. What is the “proper context,” though? For creationism, the context is that it’s pseudoscientific, unfalsifiable bunk. It doesn’t take long to empirically prove that “creation science” and “intelligent design” are… well… not empirically provable and therefore hogwash. Is a science teacher allowed to say that?
    On another note, the whole “humanizing the suicide bomber” trend in theater and movies seems a bit lazy and overdone. There was that Broadway play Sixteen Wounded last year, that indie-flick The Struggle Within recently, and now this. It seems like one of those things mediocre artists do when they want people to think their work is “challenging.” Meanwhile, it’s practically a cliche along the lines of “hooker with a heart of gold” by now.
    PS, Dan… really liked your post about “Remedy.”

  10. Mobius — I think Fahima was setting up some kind of program for youth in Jenin camp before her arrest. Arna’s Children is about a children’s theater troupe set up in Jenin camp during Oslo by leftist Arna Mer. It was made by her son Juliano after Defensive Shield, and it juxtaposes interviews with Palestinian boys during the theater days with more recent interviews. One of them ended up committing a suicide attack in Hadera, and one of them is Zakaria Zubeidi, the al-Aksa Brigades leader that Fahima is accused of aiding. What’s interesting about Arna’s Children is hearing Palestinians talk about the conflict in their own words. http://www.arna.info/Arna/movi

  11. what do you say to people propagating biblical judaism? “we came from monkeys is just another narrative?” i would say yes, creationism does have its place in school. but it has to be put into its proper context.
    I do not understand this. Creationism is a Christian ideology. It has nothing to do with Judaism … or so I’d thought. Are you telling me that this a segment of the Jewish world which holds to the Christian creationist ideas, too?

  12. Yes, huh, all the Abrahamic religions have got their creationists, I think. However, Jewish creationism just seems confusing to me. I mean, haven’t any of these people read Maimonides — the whole “don’t take all Scripture literally” and “science and faith don’t have to necessarily contradict” thing. It was the 13th Century when he figured that out!
    Side note, interesting The New Republic article about the suicide bomber movies, published today.

  13. No, I mean, where is Creationism big in the Jewish world? Who is espousing it? I did not familiar with Jewish adherents to this philosophy.

  14. any harieidi and self-proclaimed “torah true jew” would espouse this philosophy. in fact, rabbi nosson slifkin’s books on zoology have recently been banned in the ultra-orthodox world because he suggests the universe is older than 6,000 years.
    xisnotx–actually, as i understand it, she was going to do a follow-up documentary to arna’s children. one of the leading members of, i think, the al aqsa martyr’s brigade, is one of arna’s children…

  15. Mobius — maybe I wasn’t clear, yes, Zakaria Zubeidi, who Fahima met with, is the current leader of the Al-Aksa Brigades in Jenin, and he was in Arna’s theater troupe. Another member of Arna’s troupe became the Brigades commander who I think Zubeidi replaced after he was killed by Israeli forces. And a third member of Arna’s troupe died in a suicide attack in Israel. Interestingly, though he was sent by Islamic Jihad, I don’t recall him invoking religion in his “martyr’s video.” Though Paradise Now is very well-made, the interviews in Arna’s Children I think give a more accurate view of the motivations involved.

  16. Somebody said we shouldn’t concern ourselves with understanding the perspectives of others, but rather the truth and propaganda.
    The Truth: 1) Isreal controls the Westbank and Gaza, maybe not internally but internationally.
    2) the Median income of those in these terrotories besides the settlers is about at the same level as some poorer african states, and right across the border western european niveau
    3) the isreali army raizes parts of these terrotories, makes airstrikes and unless you really are kidding yourselves kills innocent civilians. Oh and recently tried starving those in the terrotories
    4) the palestinian terrorist groups fire rockets into isreal and carry out suicide bombings (that kill civilians and unless your kidding yourselves also goverment officials(police, soldiers, etc.))
    5) this conflict has become a self realizing circle, I have had the opportunity of meeting well educated palestinians and isrealis and they are so far away from ever understanding one another it is almost sickening ( by the way I believe that the Japanese and Chinese are on about the same level of communication).
    Both sides are guilty of atrocities, and no one can point the finger and say they started it. It’s films like paradise now that give the world a look at a palastinien perspective that they don’t ever get a chance to see ( it could have been a lot mor radical and still have been believablt). Every night in the news in Europe and America you get the Isreal perspective: suicide bombing here or there rocket attack here or there and the photos or videos, but you almost never here about the isreali army attacking a house in the westbank or about settlers who killed 2 young palastinien boys.
    I think alot of isrealis that have internet, or there sympathizers that have internet don’t realize how far away from reality their viewpoint is.
    Maybe you should go see how your neighbors live, or maybe you should spend an entire month living like they do and imagine that you grew up like that, how much hate would you be filled with.

  17. I think there is a difference between understanding and acceptance. I can understand and rationalize or at least put myself in other people’s shoes and see the world through their eyes yet I don’t have to accept your beliefs. I can understand what you mean and still stand strong behind my beliefs. I believe the movie attempts to show the Palestinian perspective but it is up to the viewers to interpret. That is if you as a viewer have enough sense and a brain to actually perform critical thinking and analysis.
    I in no way justify violence and murder. Yet I believe there are always more than one truth. And this is not as simple as the good ones versus the bad ones. In this twisted mess, both parties consider themselves victims yet both of them are victimizers.

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