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Mar-20-2011 15:28printcommentsVideo

'Miral' Asks Questions The Israel Lobby Does Not Want You to Hear

Miral is the story of two Palestinian women after the creation of Israel in 1948.

Poster from film 'Miral'
Image from the new film Miral

(CHICAGO) - In an early scene from the new motion picture Miral, the school principal Hind Husseini, tells a group of teenage Palestinian girls that “an uprising some people call an intifada has started”.

Miral whispers to a student next to her: “It means ‘stand up straight’”

Which is precisely what Miral does in this film now under attack from leading organizations in the Israel Lobby.

Miral’s mother is dead. Her father enrolls her in Jerusalem’s Dar El Tifel, a school and an orphanage begun and run by Hind Husseini, a cousin of Feisal Husseini, and a member of a prominent Palestinian family.

The film is is based on an autobiographical novel written by Rula Jebreal, a Palestinian journalist.

Miral had its official US opening at the United Nations auditorium March 14. (It had earlier been shown in film festivals around the world).

Prior to the UN screening, the AJC hit the film with the tactics all too familiar to anyone or any group which schedules an event, film, or discussion that does not meet the AJC seal of approval.

An American Jewish Committee press release issued before the screening quoted AJC Director David Harris, who complained that “the Israeli Mission to the UN was not even given the minimal courtesy of being consulted in advance about the wisdom of showing such a film”.

Adam Horowitz, reporting for Mondoweiss, concluded:

As per usual, the AJC is only echoing the Israeli government, which has called the premiere “scandalous” and is protesting it within in the UN.

A member of the Israeli delegation to the UN who had seen the film told The Jerusalem Post on Sunday that the film is “scandalous.”

“There’s no historic context, not at all, nothing,” the diplomat said, noting that the film was laden with instances of Israeli cruelty to Palestinians. “You can see us bombing a house in the film, but you don’t see why – maybe this was the house of a suicide bomber that killed 30 Israelis. We don’t know.”

Miral is scheduled to open in US theaters later this month, the Lobby permitting. And even if the film gets by the Lobby, will you find it on your local mall screens?

You should.  A movie about a teenage girl falling in love with a revolutionary fighter, facing torture and rebelling against both her father and her school principal?  Sounds like just the sort of picture your average American teenager might want to see. It also  has the advantage of being a true story a younger generation needs to see.

Will you be able to see it for yourself, and perhaps share the experience with your teenagers?  (The film is now rated PG-13, after an appeal reduced it from an R rating).

Whether the film makes it to a theater near you will depend on whether the AJC, and its allies in the Israel Lobby are able to persuade, or possibly, coerce, your local theater manager to book a different film.

The Lobby campaign against Miral’s UN premiere failed. The evening was a smashing success, an outcome the AJC wanted to avoid.

The Agence France Press (AFP) reported that the screening had all the trappings of a major Hollywood red carpet opening.

Sean Penn, Robert De Niro, Josh Brolin and Steve Buscemi on Monday turned out to support award-winning American-Jewish director Julian Schnabel at the premiere of Miral, the story of two Palestinian women after the creation of Israel in 1948.

The Israeli mission to the UN had said that showing the movie in the UN General Assembly hall was “clearly a politicized decision” that “shows poor judgment and a lack of even-handedness.”

But UN General Assembly president Joseph Deiss of Switzerland turned down the Israeli request to cancel the event. A spokesman said Deiss hoped that showing the film would “contribute” to a settlement in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict...

The film, with Indian actress Freida Pinto of Slumdog Millionaire fame in the lead role, is based on an autobiographical novel by Palestinian journalist Rula Jebreal that traces the Arab-Israeli history from a Palestinian perspective.

Like Jebreal, the lead character Miral grows up in an orphanage in East Jerusalem set up by a socialite from a wealthy Palestinian family, who one morning in 1948 came across 55 children who escaped a village taken over by radical Jewish militants.

The “socialite” (a term she would not like) is Hind Hussenni, who rescued 55 children whose families were killed at Deir Yassin. They did not “escape”. They were driven in an Israeli army truck to Jerusalem where they were left on the street.

Julian Schnabel is a New York-based Jewish painter who has only recently applied his artistic eye to films. In  addition to the 2007 Cannes prize winning, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, he directed Basquiat, the true story of a young American painter, a film praised by the late Chicago Tribune critic Gene Siskel as “one of the year’s best movies”.

His third film, Before Night Falls, was based on the true story of Cuban poet Reinaldo Arenas, who like Basquiat, died at an early age. Javier Barden and Johnny Depp starred in the film.

In a recent interview, Schnabel, pictured here with the Rula Jebreal, was asked to contrast his view of the occupation before, and after, making Miral.

It was an epiphany. I was totally naïve, totally in the dark and I believe so many of the American Jewish population are totally in the dark. We cannot believe that a Jewish person would behave like that. It’s not the Jewish way. We have suffered so much that if anybody should understand the Palestinian problem, it should be Jewish people. I was so disappointed and ashamed at certain moments.

I was at the airport one day, leaving with Rula. I respect the security, when they check your bags. But they took her bags and put them through an X-ray machine not once but three times. We went to a second checkpoint and they made her strip and, the last minute, let her come on the airplane Jon Kilik [the film's producer] and I were taking.

And it felt just like apartheid, there was absolutely no reason for it. It was pure racism and prejudice. It was cruel and I was ashamed of everybody in that airport.

Schnabel and Miral have supporters in the more liberal US Jewish press. Danielle Berrin wrote in her blog for the Jewish Journal:

That the film Miral, a portrait of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict seen through the eyes of an orphaned Palestinian girl is earning the early ire of mainstream Jewish groups is not at all surprising.

It makes perfect sense that a film told from the Palestinian perspective would rouse cries of condemnation from the American Jewish Committee, the Simon Wiesenthal Center and others for being “one-sided” as AJC’s executive director David Harris wrote earlier this week, protesting the screening of the film for the U.N. General Assembly in New York (since when do Hollywood movies have an obligation to objectivity?).

Another knee-jerk reaction came from SWC founder Rabbi Marvin Hier who called the screening of the film “anti-Israel” in a widely- released statement.

But this early condemnation is short-sighted and unfair. And not just to the film itself, but to the conversation American Jews might be having about Israel. That conversation, if it has any hope of pushing past party-line radicalism and a peace process stalemate, demands and deserves more than one perspective, as well as a deeper understanding of the ‘other’ – which a film like ‘Miral’ provides.

As the lack of mainstream media coverage of Miral‘s premiere indicates, the Israel Lobby continues to intimidate American journalists and politicians, but there is also an increasing number of American Jews who are beginning to reject the one-sided rigidity of the Lobby.

One major journalist who has escaped the clutches of AIPAC is David Remnick, editor of the New Yorker magazine for 13 years, who wrote in the magazine’s current issue that the 44-year Israeli occupation of Palestine is “illegal, inhumane, and inconsistent with Jewish values”.

Remnick was recently profiled in the Huffington Post by Jewish columnist MJ Rosenberg:

David Remnick, editor of the New Yorker, is arguably the most influential Jewish American journalist. Now 50, Remnick became editor at 37 after an impressive career covering the collapse of the Soviet Union for the Washington Post.

His book about that incredible period, Lenin’s Tomb: The Last Days of the Soviet Empire, won a Pulitzer in 1994.

Over the years he has written about Israel and the Palestinians with some regularity. Although he claims no special expertise in the area (other than being a strongly identifying Jew), his editor’s “comments” indicate that he knows the issue well. In fact, his pieces are usually far more sophisticated than the news and opinion pieces that the supposed experts regularly produce for the prestige newspapers and journals.

Over Remnick’s past 13 years as editor of the New Yorker, his attitudes toward the Israeli-Palestinian conflict have evolved. In the early years, Remnick’s views were decidedly mainstream. Though no Likudnik, he did give Israel the benefit of the doubt in most situations.

Back then, he clearly believed that although Israel often blundered, even badly, it still was sincerely seeking peace. Of course, holding those views was significantly easier a decade or two ago than it is today.

Today those views seem only to be held by either true believers (the “Israel can do no wrong” crowd) or politicians determined to ingratiate themselves with donors whose politics can be summed up as “Israel First.” There aren’t a whole lot of those donors but it doesn’t take very many to intimidate politicians. And intimidated they are.

Remnick is treading the path blazed last year by Peter Beinart, another influential Jewish American writer who had been editor of the New Republic at 24.

A year ago, Beinart broke with the AIPAC crowd with a blockbuster piece in The New York Review of Books explaining how the combination of right-wing Israeli policies and the mindless chauvinism of AIPAC and its allies had succeeded in alienating young Jews from Israel.

The inevitable downfall of what Rosenberg calls “the AIPAC crowd” will arrive when more artists like Schnabel and more journalists like Remnick start their own journey to explore why a 44 year Occupation of an entire population has been tolerated by the American government.

In his interview with Deadline: New York, Schnabel describes his journey of discovery.

I didn’t understand the implications at the beginning of this journey. I never make a movie to illustrate what I already knew, I make a movie to find out about my subject, whether it’s discovering Cuba by making Before Night Falls or learning about locked-in syndrome making The Diving Bell And The Butterfly. I won a Sloan Award  for science. I don’t know a damn thing about science but I know how to ask questions.

For a preview of the movie Miral, click below.  And then tell your local theater you want to see the film.

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Tribute to Palestine and to the incredible courage, determination and struggle of the Palestinian People. ~Dom Martin

Sean Flynn was a photojournalist in Vietnam, taken captive in 1970 in Cambodia and never seen again.