FF26 - Paradise Now

Intro by John Roderick

For most of human history, the attitude toward land was determined by the principle of the Right of Conquest, which is to say that if you could take land and keep it, it was yours. That's why there are Arabs in Morocco or Anglo Saxons in England. Although it seems logical to us that distinct groups of people should have the right to self-government, that idea is an incredibly recent thought technology.

It was really only after Napoleon tried to conquer all of Europe in the early 1800s hundreds that the European governments started to propose restricting through treaty the right of nations to solve problems by just invading and capturing other countries. But during the same period, Europe was actively engaged in colonizing half the world, so the idea still needed some ironing out. The United States gained all of California, Nevada, Utah and large parts of Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado and Wyoming by defeating Mexico in 1848, so the right of conquest was still the rule.

At the end of World War I there were a series of agreements establishing a League of Nations and some self-determination to the various peoples of the world who were subjugated within empires, namely the Hungarian and Ottoman ones, because those are the ones that lost the war. We'll confine ourselves to the Ottoman world for this show because they're just confusing enough.

Although promises were made throughout the war to the Arab communities of the Middle East that if they helped overthrow the Turks they would be liberated and granted autonomy after the war, in actual fact they were mostly all betrayed and the entire region was just divided up between France and England. During this period, several sort of half states were recognized by the European powers, mostly as pacifying measures within these former Ottoman territories, the states which had never existed before and only roughly coincided with actual populations and more often were drawn to curry favor with local chieftains.

These newly formed countries included Lebanon, Syria, Trans-Jordan which became Jordan, Iraq, Yemen, Republican Turkey and Saudi Arabia and even then the independnce of the area around Mosul, which was the home of the Kurds, was fiercely resisted by Turkey and eventually it was awarded to Iraq just to keep it out of Turkish hands. Also during this time: The British and the League of Nations recognize the Zionist movement, which had sought for decades to establish a permanent homeland for the Jews who were spread around the world in various states of assimilation and who suffered from persecution throughout Europe and Russia.

The logical place for this homeland was in Palestine which the Jews had claimed as their ancestral home, although… maybe… for the sake of argument it should have been in Arizona or, in the excellent Michael Chabon book The Yiddish Policemen's Union, Alaska, which maybe would have worked. Who knows! Anyway: The British government was sympathetic to this cause, sort of, and encouraged the limited migration of Jews to the Palestinian region under their protection.

Alright! Let's fast forward to the end of World War II, during which, despite all the international agreements designed to limit or prohibit wars of conquest, Hitler and the Japanese both waged wars of conquest with the explicit goal of capturing large swathes of territory and subjugating the peoples with the end to autocratic rule. At the end of that war, the European and American victors had had enough and founded the United Nations, which in its founding charter renounced to the right of conquest, although it took them several decades to unravel colonialism and formally prohibit it.

In 1947 immediately after the war the United Nations agreed to partition Palestine into two states a Jewish one and an Arab one and in May of 1948 the Jews declared a new state of Israel, which was immediately recognized by the US and the USSR among others. Crucially in this moment, the Palestinians did not declare a Palestinian state, because they rejected the whole notion. Instead they, in cooperation with Egypt and the new nations of Jordan, Syria‚ and Iraq, with armed forces also from Lebanon, Yemen, and Saudi Arabia, invaded the new nation of Israel.

The combined Arab armies lost that war and the aftermath somewhat suggests what would have happened to Palestine if they had won it, since there was still no declaration of a Palestinian state, but instead the Gaza Strip was invaded and assumed by Egypt and the West Bank was assimilated completely into Jordan. During this period Palestinians fleeing the newly formed Israel flooded into the West Bank from all over the region and doubled its population overnight. Refugee camps were established by Jordan to house everybody, some of which survive to this day.

Twenty years later, another war between Israel, Egypt, Jordan and Syria, the 1967 Six Day War resulted in another devastating loss to the Arabs in which Israel now took control of the West Bank from Jordan, Gaza from Egypt and previously uncontested Golan Heights from Syria and began a policy of building Jewish towns called settlements in the land around Arab communities, effectively borging them. This policy is still hotly protested internationally, declared illegal by the United Nations, and is a contentious political football within Israel itself.

In 1995 the Oslo Accords created the Palestinian Authority, which had some limited self-government within the majority Arab communities there. And although Israeli settlements in the Gaza Strip were all dismantled, they continued to grow in the West Bank. The right of conquest appears to still be in effect. Today's film is set in the Palestinian West Bank in the city of Nablus an ancient crossroads city right where the road from the coast headed toward Jordan intersects the road from Jerusalem headed north to Galilee.

For Americans used to thinking of cities being hundreds of miles apart, it's interesting to get a sense of the geographic scale. Nablus is only 26 miles east of Tel Aviv, 68 miles west of Amman, Jordan, and less than 40 miles north of Jerusalem. In its 2000 year history, it has been home to Samaritans, Orthodox and Latin Christians, Muslims and Jews. It was occupied or claimed by the Romans, the Byzantines, it was first conquered by the Muslim armies only four years after the death of Muhammad. It was a prized city and it has traded hands between crusaders, Egyptians, Arabs and Ottomans for the past thousand years.

The script for this film was first written in 1999 and the intervening five years before it was filmed saw the second Intifada which resulted in thousands of deaths on both sides. Our film's protagonist Said is a Palestinian Arab, a stateless person. He's a Muslim and a suicide bomber. Said and his friend Khaled are underemployed dudes who live in Nablus. Although they have families and friends, they feel rootless and see no future for themselves and Sahid has a dark secret.

They are persuaded by a friend active in the Arab resistance that martyrdom is a legacy they can leave their families and so they are readied by a local cell to suicide bomb a market in Tel Aviv. The plan is that after one of their bombs goes off the second will approach the scene and take out as many emergency responders as he can with a second blast. But their plan falls apart in a fashion as hapless as the two men and Said is separated from Khaled and their handlers. He wanders around with a bomb locked to his waist.

Said's love interest Suha provides him with a reason to live, but Saeed is driven by shame and anger over the death of his father, an Israeli turncoat who was executed as a collaborator. The final shot of the film implies that Said blows up a bus carrying sympathetically portrayed Israeli soldiers and civilians. This is a soulful story of a man driven to a monstrous act. It's a film that explicitly seeks to humanize someone willing to kill himself to wage war.

It was the focus of a great deal of popular outcry upon release and it was the first to be nominated for an Academy Award from Palestine. Israeli diplomats pressured the Academy not to list the film as Palestinian and while the director Hany Abu-Assad is an Israeli Arab, he decried the red categorization of the film as coming from the Palestinian territories as an insult to the Palestinian people. The film, like its subject, defies easy categorization. One day things will be better, but today on Friendly Fire we discussed the 2005 film Paradise Now.

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