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paradise now – an impossible choice


July 2013
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“the crimes of the occupation are countless. but, the worst of all is to exploit the people’s weaknesses and turn them into collaborators. by doing that, they not only kill the resistance, they ruin families…ruin their dignity and ruin an entire people. i was born in a refugee camp. my father was a good person, but grew weak and i hold the occupation responsible for that. a life without dignity is worthless and reminds me, day after day, of humiliation and weakness. and the world watches cowardly, indifferently. if you’re all alone, you have to find a way to stop the injustice. they must understand that if there’s no security for us, then there’s none for them either. it’s not about power. their power doesn’t help them. i tried to deliver that message to them, but couldn’t find another way. even worse, they’ve convinced the world and themselves that they’re the victims. how can that be? how can the occupier be the victim? if they take on the role of oppressor and victim then i have no other choice than to also be a victim and a murderer as well.”

these are the words of the main character- said- in the film paradise now, 2005 by hany abu-assad.

in nablus on the West Bank, said and khaled, who have volunteered to be suicide bombers, receive word it will be tomorrow – the cell’s first operation in two years. they shave and don black suits to pose as settlers in tel aviv for a wedding. something goes wrong at the crossing, they’re separated, and the action is postponed, long enough for renewed questioning of what they’re about to do. suha, the well-educated and well-traveled daughter of a martyr, challenges the action. she likes said and has her own ideas and perspectives as is evident in her seeing said’s life as japanese minimalist cinema and not boring, as he sees it. but in the end “under the occupation, we’re already dead,” as khaled says.

usually, martyrdom is depicted and portrayed as religious. the twin towers bombing was done by martyrs of islam and subsequent films further propagated that idea by showing martyrs praying to allah just before and during the execution of suicide bombings in air and on land. in this film, paradise now, nothing of that sort occurs. this suicide bombing is performed for very different reasons. not once does said mention god or is shown as religious or praying; he does not believe it’s the calling of allah. he is chosen to do it, but the reasons that motivate him are totally non religious. still, said’s attempt at martyrdom fails, and we learn only after this failure that his father was a collaborator, who was executed when said was only 10, and we learn also that said doesn’t see his father as a traitor for having collaborated with the enemy.

in the car scene to find said before the bomb detonates and before it is too late, khaled and suha discuss martyrdom. Khaled tells her there’s a paradise for people who do that, but she argues that “paradise only exists in your head”. he says he’d rather have a paradise like that than live in this hell that is palestine. in the end, as Khaled says, one chooses bitterness when reality is more bitter.

paradise now won 14 awards and 10 nominations, including a nomination for the academy in the best foreign language category in 2005, but how many people have heard of this film before?

we’ve perhaps seen julian schnabel’s miral on the same israeli-palestinian situation and it is a beautifully poetic film, which moved me, and which i thoroughly enjoyed, but it doesn’t address the situation of the suffering of palestinians with the same urgency as paradise now. the urgency of this film is stark. paradise now is a film that knows its topic up close and provides no easy answers as one critic aptly says. the film lays bare the humanity and horror for all to see, to ponder, and perhaps change.

for me, unable to instigate change except by blogging, paradise now is another look at the motivations of so-called “terrorism” which all the world thinks as motivated by the islamic religion only. here, spike lee’s words at the end of pontecorvo’s marvelous film –bataille d’algier– echo loudly:

“you say i’m a terrorist, i say i’m a liberator”.

does the world comprehend spike lee’s words, simple but far from simplistic? if it does, why does palestine continue to stand alone while israel is thriving even across borders? why are other systems in power – who can effect a change- turning a blind eye on this refugee /campful of people?


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