This past weekend the Middle Eastern and Asian Languages and Culture (MEALAC) department at Columbia sponsored the "Dreams of a Nation" Film Festival. Prominently displayed on the advertisements for the event were the words "A Palestinian Film Festival" typed across the entirety of a map depicting the State of Israel and the Palestinian territories of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. Much to my chagrin, this map contained no distinction between an Arab state and a Jewish one. It seems that the prevailing opinion in the MEALAC offices is that a Palestinian state includes not only Gaza, Jericho and Jerusalem, but Tel Aviv, Haifa and Eilat as well. I am distressed that the MEALAC department appears to support this type of crude propaganda. Allowing such incendiary material to appear with the endorsement of a University department blurs the line between academia and politics.
One of the films that had its American debut at the "Dreams of a Nation" festival was Jenin, Jenin, which I did not get a chance to see, unfortunately, because it was playing on the Sabbath. According to articles written about the film, Jenin, Jenin is a movie directed by Muhammad Bakri dealing with the aftermath of the Israeli incursion into Jenin last April during which Israeli soldiers entered the refugee camp to root out Hamas terrorist cells.
Palestinians claimed that there was a massacre of hundreds of innocent civilians, but in reality 52 Palestinians were killed, almost all of them armed, suspected terrorists. Three weeks ago I attended a talk by Dr. David Zangen, a doctor at Hadassah Hospital in Jerusalem and a reservist in the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF), who was present in the Jenin refugee camp for the duration of the Israeli operation. He has published an article in the Israeli newspaper Ma'ariv that points out several untruths depicted in the original version of the film. (According to Zangen, in the wake of the controversy surrounding the picture, Bakri severely edited the movie and removed some of the most outrageous material; I do not know which version showed at the festival.) It is important that those who attended the showing at the festival, along with the rest of the general population, be made aware of some of the most glaring fabrications in Bakri's work.
The original version of the film, according to Zangen, contains an interview with a 75-year-old resident of Jenin who testifies that he had been taken from his bed in the middle of the night and shot in the hand by Israeli soldiers. The resident claims that he was then shot in the foot when he failed to obey their orders to get up. In actuality, Zangen personally treated this man after an Israeli military operation was carried out in one of the houses of the Hamas cell in the refugee camp, and the injuries he sustained were "light abrasions on the hand and leg, not bullet wounds." Additionally, one of the IDF doctors diagnosed heart failure in this very patient and offered to send him for treatment to Emek Hospital, an Israeli hospital located in Afula. The patient was in the internal medicine ward in Afula for three days and received treatment for heart problems and anemia.
The unedited version of the film, shown in Jerusalem, also mentions supposed mass graves in which the IDF buried slain Palestinians. Human Rights Watch, the United Nations, and other international organizations that investigated the incursion are in agreement that 52 Palestinians were killed, and that their bodies were turned over to local authorities for burial. According to Zangen, Bakri does not bother to show the locations of the so-called mass graves. Bakri sacrifices facts for sensationalism. The idea of Jews preparing a mass grave for innocent civilians obviously plays to those who would like to believe that the Jews are capable of such heinous behavior.
I do not take issue with the idea of a Palestinian film festival. On the contrary, I enjoyed several of the selections screened this past weekend, many of which opened up my mind to ideas I had not fully explored and to issues of which I was not aware. What I do take issue with is advertisements that use hurtful and dishonest imagery and films that have contained questionable facts. As someone who is deeply passionate about the Middle East, I had hoped that pursuing my undergraduate studies in Columbia's MEALAC department would further enhance my understanding of both sides of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. However, MEALAC's festival only showed me one side.
The author is a Columbia College first-year