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The socialist review
dir. by Hany Abu-Assad
If you type in 'Nablus' on the internet, you can find basic information like this: "A historic city, about 4,500 years old, in the West Bank.. The Nablus district has 205,392 inhabitants, including refugee camps and surrounding villages.
"The city's unemployment rates have increased from 14.2% in 1997 to an estimate of 60% in 2004, however unemployment in the old city and in the refugee camps is as high as 80%.
"Due to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the city was closed off by the IDF. Checkpoints around Nablus restrict travelling of residents to and from the city (and there is a ban on vehicles, only pedestrians can cross checkpoints).
"Around 400 Palestinians (including armed fighters as well as unarmed civilians and children) from Nablus have been killed by IDF [Israeli Defence Force] military operations against militants during the Al-Aqsa Intifada. Israeli soldiers along with Jewish settlers have also been killed by members of militant groups that originate from there."
Imagine for a minute what your life would be like if you were born there. It would not be surprising if you said "It's like a lifelong prison sentence". That's how one of the protagonists in the 2005 film Paradise Now describes it.
Said and Khaled are friends, and at the start of the film they are both lucky enough to have work as car mechanics. Their situation is like that of most other car mechanics in the world - some customers are nasty and the boss thinks he can hire and fire you.
On the bright side of life there is this beautiful sight of the city, friendship, family and for Said there is also Suha with the knackered car, who clearly likes him. The two of them plan to meet again the next day but this plan gets crossed by the plans of the leaders of a militant islamist group.
Said and Khaled are the chosen ones for the next suicide attack in Tel-Aviv - in retribution for a horrific killing by the IDF a couple of years earlier. Being chosen means great honour but the prospect of being dead the next day and taking lots of people you never met before with you concentrates your mind. Especially on the question: will it actually change anything? Or is there another way?
These are the central questions of the film (and for the whole of the Middle East). They do not get answered, but this is exactly the situation at present. Today's reality is that Hamas is widely seen as the only mass alternative to the ineffective Fatah, and so in Nablus Hamas won a staggering 73.4% in the municipal elections in December 2005.
The film clearly questions the method of suicide bombings. At the same time it shows how desperate the situation is for people, so much so that they are prepared to carry out suicide bombings. This is less due to an understanding of what it will or won't achieve, but due to the circumstances of life in Nablus. Quite bravely, the film is approaching the issues in a genuine way and therefore inviting criticism from the different sides of religious extremism.
The film also raises the question of class - in one particular scene it shows the similarity between Said and the people he is supposed to bomb. But more so I thought that the leaders who have planned the attack are portrayed as rather middle class and the way they treat their "heroes" makes you rather angry.
Having been on the anti-war demo beforehand and then in a Socialist Party meeting afterwards, I really had to drag myself to go to the cinema but it was definitely worth it.
When asked what genre of film Said likes, he replies by asking if there is a "boring" genre. And then he says: "Well, films about life". Far from being boring, this one is definitely a great description of life on the Palestinian side. If there was a socialist Oscar, I would want to give it for the directing, the photography and the acting.
In London it will be shown at the Ritzy in Brixton from 14 April, look out for it in other areas. But you should also read the Socialist Party and Committee for a Workers' International articles on the Middle East - the only material which deals with the question of "What other way?". The starting point for Marxists would be that Palestinians and Israelis can only achieve self-determination and a peaceful life by confronting their common enemy - capitalism.
In The Socialist 30 March 2006:
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