Fellini in Palestine



Not even Fellini, the great Italian cinematic genius, could have choreographed a more surreal, circus-like situation in the West Bank-the absurd siege of Arafat’s compound and the doubly absurd demands from Ariel Sharon and George W. Bush that Arafat -confined to an office lacking electricity, running water, or a spare cell phone battery – “do more to stop the violence.” If it were not so deadly frightening for the unarmed civilians facing tanks, snipers, F-16s and the blind wrath of Ariel Sharon, the IDF’s current drive to reoccupy key cities in the West Bank might be comic, another reminder that “O what fools these mortals be.”

But such mortal foolishness is no laughing matter. We still don’t know how many people were executed in Ramallah. Anyone walking the streets in occupied Palestine now risks his or her life, as the Boston Globe’s award-winning journalist, Anthony Shadid, discovered when he was shot in the shoulder two days ago. Israeli tanks are on the move everywhere, yet despite Sharon’s brutal offensive, the suicide bombers just keep on coming: six in as many days, and no one imagines it is over.

At an Easter gathering yesterday, a friend jokingly suggested that a good short-term solution might be to “introduce Paxil and Zoloft to the Palestinian and Israeli water supply,” indicating that abnormal psychology might provide a more useful approach than that of political science for making sense of recent events in the Middle East. And truly, one need not be a rocket scientist, let alone hold a Ph.D. in International Relations or Psychiatry, to see that something is seriously, dangerously amiss in Israel and Palestine. Only the daft and the ideologically blinded, such as US President George W. Bush and most mainstream US media pundits, are unable to see that Sharon has already lost this battle and that a key turning point may have been reached in this long, painful, and exhausting conflict.

Although suicide bombings directed against civilian targets are indeed horrific and, in this writer’s view, illegal, inexcusable and counter-productive, the crucial issue is not the daily carnage visited upon Israelis by young Palestinians so poisoned by anger, bitterness and despair that they end their own lives while taking out as many of those they perceive as causing their distress with them. Rather, the key, overriding issue is-now as it has been since June 1967-Israel’s ongoing military occupation of Palestine. Colonialism ended everywhere else, so why not here, too?

Here we see a different, more insidious type of violence, one apparently not photogenic, simplistic, or dramatic enough to attract CNN’s attention: The structural violence of three decades’ worth of dispossession, disenfranchisement, injustice, humiliation, and misery to which Israel has subjected Palestinians – directly or indirectly. One must note that the Oslo Accords were simply an attempt to subcontract the occupation to Arafat and the Palestinian Authority. It did not work, nor will any attempt to solve this conflict using the tired old approach of Oslo.

The only way to end this conflict, to restore justice, peace, dignity, and a sense of a future, is through all of the available international laws and UN resolutions that directly address the ongoing tragedy. Oslo’s detour around international law consolidated an inherently unjust and unbalanced power structure, giving the Palestinians the “short end of the stick” for nearly a decade. If nothing else, the events of the last 18 months, not to mention the events of the last 18 days, demonstrate that only international law, not US geostrategic interests or Zionist dreams of expansionism and ethnic purity, or Hamas hopes for all Jews to leave once and for all, can stop the madness and bring down the tent on the obscene and absurd circus act now playing on televisions across the world.

The point is not to be pro-Israeli or pro-Palestinian, but to be pro- justice and pro-sanity. To quote another master of the absurd, American novelist Tom Robbins: “The true enemy of Arab is not Jew, the true enemy of Black is not White; the true enemy of all is dull- mindedness” (from “Even Cowgirls get the Blues”). And as is so painfully obvious to anyone watching one of the most dull-minded US administrations ever to control Washington, DC, the primary characteristics of dull-mindedness are the use of violence as the main method of problem solving, the adoption of revenge instead of justice as a guiding political principle, and the erosion of truth and moral complexity through the repetition of such mindless mantras as “You are either with us or against us.”

Dull-mindedness comes in only two shades: Black and White. Notice that Fellini’s most troubling films were all shot in monochromatic tones: La Dolce Vita and 8 é. In these films, men and women had lost their way through selfishness, greed, pride and lust. Their hearts and minds had frozen. But all of his life-affirming films, imbued with warmth, justice, decency, hope, and–the greatest virtue of all– compassion, were shot in glorious and luscious Technicolor: “Amarcord,” “Amore por Tutti” and “Ginger and Fred.”

Laurie King-Irani, Ph.D, is the former editor of MERIP‘s Middle East Report and one of the founders of The Electronic Intifada – ElectronicIntifada.net.