On The Side of the Road

“This is the story of those who tried to erase Palestine, creating an Israeli landscape of denial”
The film, “On the Side of the Road” made by a former West Bank settler Lia Tarachansky was a powerful and interesting documentary we saw last night.  Admittedly, this film is mostly intended to educate the Israelis.  But Palestinians have watched it too.  The film maker indicated that it is very hard for young Palestinians to watch and deal with this visceral visual.   I got there a little late and missed some, but realized that the word “road” in the title has a metaphorical significance.  The “road” is perhaps the journey Tarachansky had from an exclusivist settler to an inclusive peacemaker, from an innocent denier to a compassionate storyteller.
There were plenty of interesting issues that came up in the film and the discussion after the film:
Her own story for example; her own transformation as an Israeli settler; how her family had emigrated from Ukraine to Israel, to a settlement that keeps expanding in a Palestinian village.  She recalled that she had an anti-Semitic school teacher in Kiev.
In her talk she mentioned that the settlers would call the natives as “Arabs”, not Palestinians— in order to shape the “story”.  For decades the caricature of “Arab” image has been very predominant in the Western media; also, because by presenting it as such, it would take away the specificity of a people (Palestinian) that were driven out of their land.  Through the use of linguistic metaphor, “Power” attempts to change the narrative accordingly it ….
In the film she said, no one hears about attacks committed by settlers, but the world would hear of Palestinian attacks in newspapers immediately; she would know, she was a settler.   As a matter of fact, from that angle and experience, a settler would bring tremendous amount of unique and helpful tangible narrative, emotional and external.
You can learn something from everyone.  One of the veteran Israeli soldiers who participated in Nakba was interviewed in the film. He said, historically, over the centuries this land had been invaded many times, but the population demographic had not changed very much as a result of the invasions.  But, he said in 1948 it was the first time that the native Palestinian population was forcibly removed from their land.
Her discussion of “right of return” was progressive and courageous, I thought.  She told the story that during WWII having her family escape Kiev, going to Kazakhstan, was able to return as a refugee, and not be denied her citizenship, or her “history”.
She indicated that historically Jews as minorities did relatively well in the Middle Eastern societies, and if any hostilities, they were only recent after Nakbah, after the creation of Israel and the occupation of Palestine.
In this film the viewer learns about some of the other aspects of the picture of the natives presented by early Israeli settlers and Zionist ideologues.  We learn that contrary to those propaganda representations, some of the Palestinian cities were sophisticated societies in the process of modernization; that there were women’s organizations in Jaffa and Jerusalem; or for example there were 20 newspapers being published in Jerusalem.
In the discussion, Lia indicated that she believes the inflexible and dangerous Israeli policies at the present are provoked from the outside, by such elements as the Israeli lobby in the US, national security establishment, the weapons manufacturers, and the geopolitical forces committed to hegemony.
Alluding to the possible lessons of Shoah, one elder Israeli woman said that victims of oppression CAN turn into oppressors, naturally.  Personal experience in itself is not enough to transform people; because ideology plays a central role.  The veteran who had participated in Nakba atrocities tried to explain how individuals are swept up by false narrative, and could not really see the reality unfolding in front of them Some of the Israelis interviewed in the film acknowledge that most of the people in Gaza are refugees from the 1948 Zionist military operations.
Tarachansky was very articulate; I was very impressed by her moral commitment to peace and to educate the Israelis about the story of Israel / Palestine– unravel the newspeak.  To know the “story” is very important.  The other “story” that Zionists and Western media had made up and fed the world had played a central role in the continued occupation of Palestine; “A Land without a People, for a People without Land”; “Make the desert bloom”; “Israel grows the best tomatoes in the world.”  It is not just the North America and Europe that has incorporated the false account as conventional wisdom.  Believe it or not, many in the Middle East do internalize the cover up “story” about Nakba; I have witnessed it myself.
A number of participants were distracted by the discussion of a two-state solution, and its viability and plausibility. However, the central theme of the documentary was the reclaiming of the history, debunking the falsehood about the birth of Israel; if the film can accomplish that; it is plenty.
A peace settlement would be very difficult while perpetuating a false story; you have to know the true “Story” of what happened.  After the film, a man in the audience claimed that the film is not helpful because it would alienate and antagonize many Israelis; that it would undermine the two-state solution.  He was mistaken in my view; he thinks we have to perpetuate the lies about the birth of Israel and the Nakbah, in order to have a viable peace formula.  On the contrary, it is helpful to a peace settlement if we acknowledge the true “story”.
Where have you been Mrs. Robinson? Where is Leon Uris?
More on the critical role the “story” and narrative play; http://www.payvand.com/news/02/may/1129.html
Fareed Marjaee
Posted in Director's Blog, Militarism and Foreign Policy