The Boston Palestine Film Festival is taking place virtually this year, with the live component indefinitely postponed. The festival organizers put out a statement about the postponement stating, “BPFF extends support to our community during this very difficult time. As the tragic events continue to unfold, we have been thinking about the responsibility of the festival at this time. We have come to the decision to postpone the live component of this year’s festival. BPFF strives to create space for our community to gather and that space is needed today more than ever. However, we are committed to centering the safety of our audiences and to being sensitive to all members of our community who have been impacted. A number of educational and reflective films will still be available via our online program from Oct 13-22 in an effort to help share context around the Palestinian reality.”
Director of programming for the festival, Michael Maria said “We felt like it was extremely important to us to continue to make that content available to the public for anyone to continue to get access to direct Palestinian narratives, to hear Palestinian perspectives, Palestinian stories directly, as opposed to hearing about Palestinian perspectives thirdhand, which is typically how we learn about Palestine and Palestinian history. But we have some amazing programs. There’s six in total that are available.”
He continued about his hope for the future of the festival, “My vision for the festival is to continue to be a safe space for the Palestinian community, [and it’s allies] to come together to celebrate Palestinian existence, Palestinian culture, a narrative in a live format.” He continued “We will continue to do streaming as well,” adding “My goal overall is to just try and reach more people each year, to have them experience these narratives; these films exist so that they can humanize Palestinians… and to really counter what we see year after year, where we only think about Palestinians in terms of violence and in terms of terrorism and not in terms of a people who really are historically been oppressed, living under occupation and whose rights have been suppressed. I want the festival to continue to be a strong entity to humanize and to counter the stereotypes that are so easily out there in our mainstream media.”
I watched the Law and the Prophets virtually and it was truly a painful watch and difficult to get through at times because of the direness of the situation and the stark reality of some of the footage. The documentary is the story of Israel, East Jerusalem, and the West Bank and how the law is whatever Israel decrees, often to the harm of the Palestinians, with Israel routinely violating the Palestinian’s civil and human rights. Despite these harsh circumstances, there are still people who are trying to lay bare the atrocities that are being committed against Palestinians daily. The film explains the methods that Israel uses to keep the Palestinians under their thumb through decades of civil and military rule.
The documentary starts with the story of a town outside Jerusalem in the West Bank called Lifta where Palestinians were forced to flee during the Nakba (an Arabic word meaning “catastrophe,” referring to the destruction of Palestinian society and homeland beginning in 1948) and which remains desolate to this day, at the time of filming used as a sort of park for settlers. Jonathan Cook, a freelance journalist explained during the film, “To create a Jewish state here you had to expel 80% of all the Palestinians who were living here. Palestinians were pushed out of their homeland, their villages razed to the ground and turned into rubble. All over what today we call Israel is just full of these villages, destroyed Palestinian villages. This story involves looking at our own history. Looking at our role. Our responsibility over the last few hundred years in colonizing large areas of the world—and that’s a difficult story to process in the context of Israel, which we’ve been told is a story simply of the Jewish people fleeing the horrors of Europe. Now of course they did flee Europe, but it came at a terrible price for the Palestinians. And that’s one that we allowed to happen, as Westerners, we turned a blind eye to it because it wasn’t the price that we paid.”
The Law and the Prophets featured the story and voices of several people including activists, journalists, a former Israeli soldier, and a farmer. Yahav Zohar, of the Green Olive Collective, expressed his feelings of frustration with the wry comment “Talking with Israelis about the occupation is like talking with Americans about where their t-shirts and cell phones are made.” There was a good balance of voices in this documentary about the conflict. I appreciated the decision of the Director, Joshua Vis, to include an interview with a former Israeli soldier.
The film touched on night raids and the interrogations that followed (often of children) along with false confessions and subsequent prison time that leave the communities traumatized, fractured, unable to get sleep or relax, and unable to trust their neighbors. It covered the illegal settlements on Palestinian land. It showed houses being bulldozed, seemingly at random for minor permit infractions, leaving people homeless and destitute. By the end of the film, it was clear that the message was that the titular law is whatever Israel decrees in order to oppress the Palestinians and the prophets are meant to be the living, breathing, people on both sides of the wall who speak out against the occupation. It’s a powerful documentary that some may find polarizing because of the subject matter, but I learned a lot by watching it. It’s a riveting, and at times, nail-biting film that rips at the heartstrings.