art of resistance, movie/tv propaganda

Why Are We Still Stuck On “Humanizing”?

In one of her interviews, Palestinian filmmaker Annemarie Jacir says she’s “not one of those filmmakers who cares about humanizing Palestinians, that’s not my goal at all… I’m not interested in that dialogue with people, in showing the West that Palestinians are human beings too, because that is so basic, if somebody doesn’t know that, I’m not interested even in the beginning of a dialogue with that person.”

Unfortunately, it seems like, for a great number of audiences, humanizing is still a thing. Just going through Brandon Stanton’s Humans of New York (HONY) images from the Middle East, one can notice a huge difference in reactions and comments. There are endless comments thanking him for “humanizing the people of the Middle East”, for “showing they are people too”, for “showing Iraq has shopping malls, wow”, etc. And, of course, it took a white guy from North America to provide them with the right dose of credibility.

Not to take my comment the wrong way – HONY is a truly beautiful project and I admire Stanton’s work. He deals with humanity, with those things all of us share – like parents worrying about their children, insecurity in looks and life decisions, thrill of love, importance of friends… The thing that worries me is that (looking at the reactions of the public) some people are automatically perceived as humans (which is normal and how it should be), while for others – it takes some time and effort to be perceived as such (now, that is not normal). Remember, we are talking about random, everyday people, folks you meet on the street (not political leaders or high-rank army officers). How is it that we are still in need of showing them as humans?

I am aware of the broad extent of political propaganda and the lacking representations of diversity of the Middle East, particularly in the United States, but still, something about these reactions is still shocking. If Stanton is showing them as humans, what were they before, to those who now see them as humans? Did they not even think about them, or were they just numbers, were they aliens, were they savages?

Now, if there is still a need for and a thrill over “showing as human”, we can’t move forward – to talk about the burning issues of the Middle East and our (Western) part in it. If you do not perceive someone as human, then you do not relate to that person, you do not feel compassion for what’s happening to that person. That human being is as strange and unknown as it gets. And if, let’s say, your country invades that person’s country, you just might not find it troubling at all.

Another thing is that realizing we are all human is not enough. That is not the ending point. That is the starting point, that’s the point of departure for our activism. Yes, we’re all humans, and yes – we will react when we see injustice happening to other humans, no matter where they are and who they are. We will inform ourselves and we will not satisfy ourselves with crying over an image of children in Iraq who lost everything but still find a way to laugh and play with toys they made out of junk. We will not use that image to feel better about our peaceful lives, to make ourselves appreciate everything we have. It shouldn’t be (just) like that. We should do something for those children. It’s about them, not about us, remember. It’s about responsibility and interconnections of the world.

As we are being stuck in this long phase of “humanizing”, the world is slowly deteriorating.

General, your tank is a powerful vehicle.

It smashes down forest and crushes a hundred men.

But it has one defect:

It needs a driver.

General, your bomber is powerful.

It flies faster than a storm and carries more than an

elephant.

But it has one defect:

It needs a mechanic.

General, man is very useful.

He can fly and he can kill.

But he has one defect:

He can think.

Bertolt Brecht

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art of resistance, Israeli - Palestinian conflict

(Interview) Tamara Erde: On History, Memory & Living Near the Livings.

Tamara Erde is a French-Israeli filmmaker who creates in various mediums, from documentary and fiction films, to performances and video installations. Erde is a brave artistic soul, often taking from her most personal places and transforming it into her art. In her work, she often deals with political and social issues of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. That is what hits home. I was truly happy to be able to do the following interview and get to know more about Tamara’s work and her personal journey while making it.

Capture/Tamara Erde in Cell in a Human Scale/

Being born and raised in Israel, Israel being a part of your identity, did you have issues when you first started making films about different layers of Israeli – Palestinian conflict? Did you feel your work will be politicized, dissected in a particular way?

Yes, having been born and raised in Israel, and later on deciding to live and work on different, critical aspects of the Israeli society and politics, it has been a rather difficult process, to acknowledge I will face the unsatisfaction and sometimes anger of many of my friends and society in which I grew. I also have my films shown less in Israel then in anywhere else, so this is also a shame for me, as I’d love to show them there too and arouse a discussion about it. But I guess that indeed, once they touch core political problems that are in the basis of the perception and life views there, it is directly politicized and remains only as a political work and not a cinematic, creation as well.

In your documentary film released this year, This is my Land, you focus on how  Palestinian and Israeli (Jewish and Arab) education systems teach the history of their nations. You also confront your own history (in relation to the land) and the way it was built up, created. You admit you first started asking questions and having doubts about the nature of Israeli occupation during the army service. Could you tell me more about this film and the experience of it, but also the story of your personal journey, which could be marked as – before and after – the army service?

I have decided to do this film when I found myself, about two years ago, asking myself how come I didn’t know and didn’t search to know, what I do now, about the history of my country and my region. Because the information is out there, in Internet, in books, in the mouth of people. And for me the direct answer was – the education I got. So that has brought me to wish and come back to Israel but also to Palestine, and see now, from my new perspective, how kids are taught.

Until my army service, I was very zionist and nationalist. I didn’t know much about the conflict, I didn’t have contact with Palestinian people, nor did I think about it too much. My army service was during the second Intifada, I saw then how the decision are taken, how life are being played with for political little reasons, I saw for the first time (even though it was sadly through the information computer screens) Palestinian people. And this has made me start asking question and doubting what I was doing and believing till then. From that I went to a journey of some time, trying to learn and research the story of “the other side”.

Very few children can see through and doubt the education they receive. I am sure that if I had to go back to school, changing the position – going to a Palestinian school, or to an orthodox religious school, I would have been following this sets of values and beliefs. Very few people also doubt or question their education on their later life, as adults. I had the chance to do it thanks to my profession, to my films that have brought me, and still do, to discover and investigate about my identity, and the society I live in, or from which I come.

But even though the ability to change the way a child perceives his education is so small, the ability to change the education we give him, is much more probable, and possible. For me, this voyage I wish to go on with this film, back to this primal encounter with the teachers, and the school, in the place where I was born, which imposes the charge of the conflict, is a way to make myself, and hopefully my viewers, think about the way we can change the education system, and assure a better future society and life for the generations to come. And I think this is true to Israel-Palestine, but also to many other places around the world.

disney ramallah/Disney Ramallah/

Disney Ramallah is your latest short film. It is a story of a father and son in Ramallah, confronted to the harsh reality during the Second Intifada. The boy has one dream – to go to Euro Disney for his birthday. Of course, that is not possible, and the father ends up making a home-made alternative universe for his son. Something in this story, the creative magic and will maybe, reminded me of Yalla to the moonThere is something mesmerizing about these parallel universes people create among the harshest of conditions, which also remindes me of Guido Orefice in La Vitta è Bella. What inspired you to write and direct this story? 

I have written this story basing on my experiences and what I have seen during the Second Intifada when I was in the army, but also what I have seen later on, in the West Bank, when I have met many children and heard their stories and their families stories. One of the things that inspired me mostly was their energy, their hope, their great force of life, even in the harder and most extreme situations. That has made me imagine that boy that all he wants, like many kids, is to go to EuroDisney, and what happened when this meets his father’s harsh daily struggle, who has put aside his childhood dreams and urges.

When I was a child, I grew up alone with my mother, since my dad died before I was born. At nights, sometimes, I used to be afraid that she will die too, leaving me alone in the world. And so, I used to ask her, simply, what if… And she used to tell me the name of her friend; she will take care of you if I die, I talked to her about it, she will adopt you. For some months, years even, I remember, I kept repeating this question, wishing only for one answer: I won’t die.., but she never said this to me. She told me the truth, at simple as it was.

And years later, I kept asking myself about it… What would I do? Do we always need to tell the truth to our children? What does protecting someone means? Hiding from him sometimes? Or on the contrary remaining loyal to the truth? Or maybe creating a different, imagined truth, for those we love. Those questions, daily dilemmas, of parents, of human relationships, are in the heart of Disney Ramallah. In this story, an additional aspect joins those universal story of father and son, since Rabia and Ahmed live in Ramallah, in a complexed reality.

You create in various mediums, not just film. One of your installations and performances is A Soldier’s Dream.  It was influenced by poems of the great Mahmoud Darwish, and aims to give a visual personal adaptation to his writingHomeland, in the context of Israel and Palestine, is a complex term. It involves memories and realities, leaving and returning (in both space and time), waiting and expecting, and generally – an internal state of chaos and confusion. It is not just Darwish who struggles with the notion of homeland. Kanafani writes in Returning to Haifa: “What is a homeland? Is it these two chairs that remained in this room for twenty years? The table? Peacock feathers? The picture of Jerusalem on the wall? The copper lock? The oak tree? The balcony? What is a homeland? Khaldun? Our illusions of him? Fathers? Their sons? What is a homeland? Is it the picture of his brother hanging on the wall?” How do you see this issue of  homeland, and why did you approach Darwish and his poetry through your installations and performances?

It was after my last visit to Israel, on the spring of 2010, that I’ve decided to create this project around the poems ad writing of Mahmoud Darwish. On my return to France after that visit, I felt more then ever helpless, seeing the frozen situation, the immobile misery and injustice that have long ago conquered this land. In front of my eyes I still had this image of the sea, near Gaza, divided by the separation wall, thinking – what else can be done when even the water are bound to surround. I’m looking again, now in France, at the few pictures I’ve managed to take there, at the point where the wall meets the sea, before the soldiers came with their weapons towards me.

Staring at this black and white desperate silence of the water, I recalled Darwish’s texts about the water; “Who says that water has no color, flavor or smell?” [Memory of forgetfulness].

I thought about the relation between words and images when confronting those ungraspable impermeability, where is their limit in view of that, where are there points of force, of challenge and of completion. It was from that desperation that I felt a need to return to the words of Darwish, whose words are imprints of footsteps on this sands of misery, of that surrounding water, and yet, of the whole world outside, of the love and the hope deriving from the simple beauty, form the power of the sincere words, phrases, memories.

In Forgotten Oceans, an experimental dance film, you explore the theme of physical memories of spaces. Again, such an important theme concerning the Israeli – Palestinian conflict, its millions of people living in exile and millions of memories that were and are wiped out. Like Khaled Juma asks in The Unseen aspects of War: “Are the memories we grew up with which are destroyed not pieces of us? Should we not consider the destruction of the places in which we were raised with these memories to be the destruction of a part of us, just like our hands, our heads, or our hearts?” It is like the “my tree was gone” moment from your film. Why did you find it important to make this fim, to do this exploration, and could you relate it to Israeli – Palestinian conflict, from your own perspective?

Actually, this video dance, that I created in an aim to develop and include in a performance piece later on, is also the continuation of my work inspired by Darwish, aims to give a visual personal adaptation to his writing. Being an Israeli I was amazed how many things I have discovered, when reading Darwish’s poems, on my “Homeland”, how close I felt to his words, and how painful it was. His words, have become, to me, a life-time journey, and this performance was part of this journey.

The poetic, the never ending, floating magical words, are living side by side with reality, with the aching sand grains of this land. On the video dance Forgotten Oceans the scene is to describe a “no man’s” land on which all characters are immigrants. Turning around, discovering the new space, the new land that is assumed to be their new “home”, again. A land on which they have no past, no memories or acquaintance, and apparently no future either. They are doomed to eternal wonderings.

forgotten oceans/Forgotten Oceans/

Based on the poetry of Mahmod Darwish; the physical choreographically language of the piece, as well as the visual language, aim to create this sense of “no people” on a “no land”. The characters existence in the space is never substantial, no relation is ever physically created between them. “We live near the livings”, Darwish once wrote about his people, and it s this sense of the term “exile” that I wish to give to the spectators in this piece.

• • •

 /all images via Tamara Erde/

For more on Tamara and her work, visit her website.

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art of resistance

Remembering Yuri Kochiyama: She moved mountains, quietly.

Yuri Kochiyama was a human being. She believed in humans, not in nations, religions, races. She acted on that belief. She fought for the liberation of all people.

Born and raised in California, she was mostly sheltered during her childhood. It was one event that changed her life completely. Year was 1941, month December, the day when the Japanese empire bombed Pearl Harbor.

Yuri was twenty years old. Soon after the bombings, the FBI arrested her father, whom they considered a “suspect” who could threaten national security. While her father was in federal prison he was denied medical care, and by the time he was released on January 20, 1942, he had become too sick to speak. Her father died the day after his release.

Soon after the death of her father, the U.S. government ordered Yuri, her mother and brother to leave their home in San Pedro. They were “evacuated” to a converted horse stable at the Santa Anita Assembly Center for several months and then moved again to the War Relocation Authority concentration camp in Arkansas, where they lived for the next three years.

yurirally_vert-0c62c75e3b7214127057d0907da968c5be2c83b9-s6-c30Yuri Kochiyama

She soon met her husband, and in 1960 they moved to Harlem. She became acquainted with Malcolm X and was a member of his Organization of Afro-American Unity (she would later on, in 1965, hold him in his arms while he was dying at the Audubon Ballroom).

Kochiyama also became a mentor during the Asian American movement that grew during and after the Vietnam War protests. Many young activists came to her for help for several of the Asian American protests. Due to her experience and her ability to interrelate African American and Asian American activist issues, Yuri and her husband could secure reparations and government apologies for injustices toward Asian Americans such as the Japanese American internment.

There are many lessons we could learn from Yuri and her 93 years on this planet. Since her death (1.6.2014, so-  three days ago) the stories of her influence have been spreading all around, and coming from every little corner of the world. Here are some experiences:

My story with Yuri is this – She fell asleep during a workshop because she was tired from her medication. At the end of the day, she wrote me a letter thanking me for helping her all day and thanked me for not judging her for falling alseep during the workshop. She said she was so embarassed from that.

First – when I read that, I was thinking, you’re YURI KOCHIYAMA, you have nothing to be embarassed about!

Second – throughout her life, she never failed to write letters to acknoweldge people’s contribution and struggle. From the days of writing to internees on the camps til 2006 when I met her, she was still writing letters.

Lesson learned – that there is humbleness even when you are a legend and that is one of the most important traits of being a committed organizer to the movement. 

Cathy Dang , the executive director of CAAAV: Organizing Asian Communities.

There is a saying in Japanese: fall down seven times, get up eight times. I think Yuri Kochiyama did that. Through racism, sexism, Japanese American internment, government harassment and surveillance, and the loss of friends, she lived her convictions. She loved and worked across the usual racial and religious boundaries.

Yuri Kochiyama matters to me, because she engaged in cross-racial organizing for radical causes. She did not fit the usual cultural narrative. Civil rights aren’t just for whites or Latin@s or African Americans or Native Americans or Asian Americans or Pacific Islanders. We needed her because she was holding our country accountable for its actions. We needed her because she upended convention in favor of human rights.

The Rev. Laura Mariko Cheifetz , executive director of Church & Public Relations at the Presbyterian Publishing Corporation and a 4th generation Japanese American.

 I will not mourn your transition. I will redouble my efforts to support the next generations in struggle and live a more intentional and purposeful life. I will never whisper your name.

Parag Khandhar , member of the board of the Asian American Literary Review

Yuri and Bill always had time for young people, in their home and in their hearts. Later, when I was trying to write a profile about Yuri for a Hawaiian newspaper, I was a little frustrated because she refused to talk about herself, her individual experience. She would talk about people and movements and the inevitable triumph of justice. Rarely would she reflect on the young woman who went by “Mary” and how that young woman grew up to move mountains. A few years after that, I had the sad duty to write about Bill’s life when he passed away. I remember the ceremony and the gathering of people from all backgrounds coming together to celebrate the man. Now two decades later, Yuri and Bill are back together. Some people will point out Yuri’s strengths. But I will always remember her one adorable weakness. She and Bill kept a room full of teddy bears. She loved them.

Ed Lin,  New York-based writer.

For more stories and impressions of Yuri, go to THE tumblr site – Because of Yuri. For me – it’s hard to summarize what Yuri meant and how I followed her story, how I saw it. I guess I could say she was among the first figures that represented what I felt deeply – fighting for justice of all, loving all, caring for all. She did what’s essential for our future, for our life on this planet. And she was so humble, humble and joyful – with her Hello Kitty stickers, and a smile of a child. She knew you need joy to fight the sadness. She knew you need to know all what’s bad, but be aware of all that is and can be good. She knew the reason why all this sadness is roaming around our planet. It was there for one thing only – for us to act and change it.

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