Friday, January 25, 2013

Fool in the Rain

This is my favorite Led Zeppelin song. I learned it on piano in high school, but never got a real jam going on that end part. It's kind of like a tongue twister though, by the fifth time around it sounds like jibberish...

Yesterday was very, very interesting. Michael had signed himself up for a Bay Area meetup group called Yalla Arabi, which had advertised a screening of The Law in These Parts in San Francisco, and he said we should check it out! I was surprised, because joining that group is something I would've (or should've) done, and also because halfway through the last Palestine film I took him to (Five Broken Cameras), he looked at me and said, "you're not going back there."

I knew he meant to the demonstrations, so I assured him that Bil'in had calmed down a lot since the movie was made. I couldn't lie and say I wouldn't go back. I just tried to watch the movie from the eyes of someone who'd never been, and after the screening, I got Iyad to give him assurance that Bil'in is actually a nice place, and I was well taken care of there.

So we went to see the Law in These Parts. I was looking forward to getting some good legal background on the occupation. Most of the movie was a series of up-close interviews with Israeli military judges from the 80's and 90's.

In the end, it didn't stick with me that much. A little way through the movie I realized the target audience was Israelis, and what I learned from the judges was mostly swallowed up by the absence of Palestinians. The makers of the film had determined that they weren't in the scope, that it had to be done a certain way, and I tried to understand their vision. I tried to think, "if I were an Israeli and didn't know a lot about the Territories, I would need this information presented to me in this way...." like when Israel was credited with giving occupied Palestinians the chance to petition the Israeli High Court, I understood it was more than a fact, we were meant to put the occupation on a pedestal so we could scrutinize it more clearly.

 I tried to put myself in that mindset, to see fairness and balance as a tactic, to appreciate the candor, anything to forget the personal tragedy that wasn't shown, and may not have been felt by the target audience. I tried to remind myself of why the humanity of Palestinians wasn't really in the scope....

When the interviewer read testimonies from prisoners who had been tortured, it went on for minutes, showing videos of prisoners blindfolded and lying in strange positions....mostly the camera was tuned in on the judges' stoic faces. When asked if he knew there was torture going on, one of them said, "yes, of course I knew!"

I saw my friends. I saw countless friends of friends, and Ashraf, and Saed, and Souli, who never told me everything. I saw their families, mothers, brothers, friends, that I knew...and that fact that they weren't on the screen smiling and working and arguing politics and smoking argheela and eating maqloubeh and lamenting the slowness of head was too small a space for all of that, so I cried. Michael held my hand, and I kept crying.

One by one, the interviews ended and the ex-judges unclipped their microphones and got up from their chairs, after which they must've headed back to their houses and gone to sleep. I wondered if they slept the same or worse that night.

As the credits rolled I pulled myself together. We chatted with the girl who was sitting next to us. I'd recognized her face from her profile picture, she had organized the Yalla Arabi group. We learned that her grandfather was from Jaffa, and he'd been expelled to Nablus, but she'd never been to the Middle East. She'd been in the Bay Area her whole life, and was a photographer now. I told her I was interested in an Arabic lesson, and we talked about activism and politics as she drove us back to Michael's car.

We reviewed and discussed and argued and as we drove across the Bay Bridge and back into the East Bay, he said, "I still feel guilty for what we've done."

"Why do you feel guilty?"

"I can't help but say we..."


"What did you think about all this before we met?"

"That it was just a bunch of crazy Arabs and crazy Jews fighting each other for hundreds of years. I still kind of do, but at least now I know what the Palestinians have been through..."

"You thought the Israelis were crazy?"

"Yeah. That's why I didn't go on Birthright. A conflict goes on for that long, there has to be something wrong on both sides..."

Though my head was still swimming, careening up a suburban hill in the dark gave me a strange sense of peace. Who was inside these houses? We dodged around their fenced-in fortresses, through that neat little mess of slumbering humanity....I would always have one foot on the other side of the globe, but here I could put my thoughts to rest a bit. Until tomorrow.