David Koff, Occupied Palestine (E Cinema Six Productions, 1981).
David Koff and his team have made a complex, sensitive and brutally authentic movie. Occupied Palestine delivers its message with unnerving sharpness and accuracy. For these very reasons it may strike those who are not intimately familiar with the lives and struggles of Palestinians under Israeli domination — both citizens of Israel and those living under manifest military occupation — as exaggerated and overblown.
Occupied Palestine is one of the rare occasions when Palestinian Arabs have been provided with a forum and medium to speak for themselves, in terms of their own perceptions. For this reason alone, the film is an extremely valuable educational experience. It is — to the extent that this is possible in any unspontaneous medium — an unmediated encounter with what Palestinians think and experience as a result of their domination by Israel. Because the American public has generally been insulated from such direct contact with Palestinians and their perceptions about their experiences, many may find the film incredible. The simple realities of what it means to live under and to resist occupation have never been so clearly presented to a Western audience.
It is indeed quite fantastic to see Israeli soldiers on the West Bank lobbing tear gas and shooting at young demonstrators whose sole offense appears to be that they are waving a Palestinian flag. But this is a common occurence in the occupied teritories, where even the display of the colors red, black and green can be considered a crime. The very moving set of sequences in which these demonstrations occur grasps powerfully the essence of the contradiction between Zionism and Palestinian nationalism. The simple assertion that there is a Palestinian people who have a flag which represents their national identity and aspirations is anathema to the Zionist world outlook in both its Labor and Revisionist versions.
One of the film’s great strengths is the way in which it manages to convey the essential unity of the Palestinian experience of Zionist colonization. There has not been, from the Palestinian point of view, a dramatic difference between falling under Israeli rule in 1948 and undergoing the same experience in 1967. A great deal, of course, changed inside Israel during those years. The Labor ideals of Zionism, socialism and brotherhood of nations became increasingly less relevant for the reality of a settler colonial society. For Palestinians, those ideals were always a veil of hypocrisy shrouding expropriation and oppression.
The film lets Israelis as well as Palestinians speak for themselves. Matityahu Drobles, head of the World Zionist Organization’s settlement division and Rana’an Weitz of the Jewish Agency’s rural settlement department talk unambiguously about their strategies for turning Palestine into Eretz Israel. In one telling juxtaposition, Drobles tells us it costs about $50,000 to settle an Israeli family in “Judea and Samaria.” The next scene is a gala American fundraising event, where the master of ceremonies is bidding for contributions: “$25,000! Thank you very much…. $18,000 — Joe, are you here! Fabulous increase, thank you very much…$18,000! Will you please stand up. I want everybody to see you.”
The film gives a vivid picture of the uprisings on the West Bank in the late 1970s, which of course did not succeed in dislodging the occupation. The film does not suggest an explanation for this failure, or how it might be overcome, but then the Palestinian national movement itself has not yet addressed this question. This should not lead anyone to believe that the Palestinians are about to concede defeat and that Israel is on the verge of an unchallenged annexation of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. A people which has resisted every attempt at obliteration of its national existence for so long is unlikely to accept it at this late date.
It is this impressive steadfastness that the film conveys above all else, against the pervasiveness and sheer weight of the machinery of occupation and confiscation. Koff s footage is sharp and revealing. The editing is crisp and the pace of the film does not flag. One minor criticism is that Koff does not always identify his very competent on-screen narrators, such as Ibrahim Matar and Uri Davis, or the other Palestinians and Israelis who speak on camera. It is reasonably clear what these individuals represent — the Gush settler, for instance, or the Palestinian prisoner — but it is an unnecessary distraction not to know whom we are seeing and hearing. Nevertheless, this film deserves a wide audience, for it is without a doubt the best film yet on the question of Palestine.