Following their remarks, the panelists engaged in a discussion with the audience. The first audience member to speak found the film to be particularly powerful because it provided a personal face and name to the Palestinian situation. In his opinion, Americans need individuals to identify with in order to understand their circumstances and suffering. In other words, Americans need a story.
In response to this comment, Ms. Jebreal noted that it was very difficult at first to write the Israeli characters in her book because she had obviously never lived life as an Israeli. She found it odd that many have criticized her story and the film for being one–sided, whereas when the film Exodus was produced, no one claimed that it was one–sided. Every story has a protagonist. Ms. Jebreal related this problem to the more global issue of the perceived double standards of the United States’ foreign policy, especially when it comes to the Israeli–Palestinian conflict.
The next audience member related a personal story about the belligerent responses she received after posting an op–ed from a Jewish publication on her Facebook page, which defended Miral against negative backlash from the Jewish community. Given that the film is dedicated to those who believe in peace, she asked how do we, who believe in peace, and who are witnesses to the fanaticism on both sides, break through this mêlée?
Ms. Jebreal affirmed her belief that if one works towards the things one believes in, they can be achieved. If Europeans from the 1920’s, 30’s or 40’s were asked if they thought a peaceful union of European states was achievable, they would likely have found the idea inconceivable, even laughable. Today, the peaceful relationship of the European Union is taken for granted. A European person can now travel throughout the continent without a passport, without fear of borders or the “Iron Wall“ of communism. Similarly, the very idea of change in Egypt and the rest of the Arab world was incomprehensible as recently as last year. When Ms. Jebreal worked on an Egyptian talk show during ex–President Mubarak’s administration, the Egyptian government shut the show down because she asked provocative questions. Now, Mubarak is gone and a new government has been elected. The question is not whether it is possible for Israelis and Palestinians to lead a better, more peaceful life, but rather a question of when.
The next audience member to speak reflected on the paradox that the Arab countries were opposed to President Anwar Sadat’s participation in the peace agreements with Israel in the late 1970’s, whereas, today, everyone is calling for peace. Ms. Jebreal commented that from the perspective of someone who grew up in Jerusalem, she truly believed as an adolescent that the country could be “freed with stones.” After witnessing the violence of the first Intifada and seeing friends die, however, she came to the realization that empathy is more powerful than violence. She was more fully able to empathize with the fear Israelis feel towards Palestinians after reading Primo Levi’s If This Is A Man. Once she started visiting public offices in Europe as a journalist and seeing pictures on the walls of the skeletal victims of the Holocaust behind barbed wires under the quote, “never forget, never forgive,” she understood their fear. Viewing those images, she could understand the terror that would cause Israelis to act with such disproportionate force towards people who did not even have weapons.
In conclusion, Ms. Jebreal expressed her belief that the only way to achieve change today is in a peaceful manner. As an example, she pointed to the shifting reaction of Israeli public opinion to the war in Lebanon in the 1980’s, which the Israeli public initially supported. Six months into the conflict, when the bodies of Israeli soldiers started coming back, public support for the effort plummeted, the government collapsed, and there was an investigation against then–General Ariel Sharon. As in this case, in which the Israeli public recognized the violence in their society and brought down their government, it is necessary for a society to view itself for what it is and then address its demons.
Professor Tawil–Souri also offered a response to this question. She cautioned that one needs to examine what “peace” means in the context of political negotiations. Miral ends in 1993 with the Oslo Accords, which makes it very difficult for some to watch 20 years later, recognizing the subsequent failure of those negotiations. Although it is easy to say that the Palestinians have passed up many opportunities for “peace,” the meaning or conditions of that peace are rarely specified. According to Professor Tawil–Souri, the Oslo Accords were a “hoax,” and the fact that we look back on that period with such nostalgia is a sign that we are not asking provocative enough questions.
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