Tag Archives: Palestine

Costa-Gavras and “Hanna K.”

 

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A view approximately east of the walled city of Jerusalem, from near the Church of St Peter in Gallicantu.

 

Costa-Gavras  is one of those veteran film directors who came to prominence in the 1960s and whose work does not enjoy the audience it once did. In his case, it  might demonstrate how a younger generation of both producers and audiences are squeamish about liberal or left-wing perspectives on political topics in cinema, theatre and TV.

Costa-Gavras’ first big success was Z, a political drama set in his native Greece at the time of its military dictatorship, which won a Best Foreign Film Oscar. A few years later, in 1982, Missing, about an American journalist kidnapped in Chile, won a screenplay Oscar and  acting nominations for Jack Lemmon and Sissy Spacek, and was a commercial success. (It was part of a trend for films about Western journalists in combat zones, like The Year of Living Dangerously, Under Fire, The Killing Fields and Salvador).

I knew that Costa-Gavras had made more films in Hollywood and it was coming across one of these on TV recently which brought his name back to mind.  Mad City stars Dustin Hoffman and John Travolta and deals with the often questionable priorities of 24 hour TV news. It made me think again particularly of the film which he made directly after Missing.

That film was Hanna K. I saw it  in Toronto when I was working there in 1983, but, returning, I never saw it advertised either in a British cinema or on British TV. Later still, when I first became acquainted with film fans’ online bible, Internet Movie Database, the film was not even listed among Costa-Gavras’ works. I almost began to wonder whether I had forgotten the film’s full title, or key parts of its narrative.

These days, happily, Hanna K is listed on imdb.com and until recently it was available to watch on Daily Motion.

 

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Jerusalem, near the Jaffa Gate.

 

Its story centres around Hanna Kaufman, an Israeli lawyer, who defends a Palestinian, Salim Bakri. She is first assigned his case to provide a routine defence against terrorism charges, but, later, she represents him in a more substantial action to reclaim possession of his family home which had been lost either in 1948 or 1967.

We see Kaufman visit Bakri’s home village. Its former Arab name has been changed as it has now become an Israeli settlement, and very few Arabs still live in the neighbourhood.

Her superior at her law firm, a conservative Zionist, states clearly that the state of Israel must be defended against its Arab enemies, even if it means treating others as badly as the Jews were themselves treated in the past.  He says, “Do you want us to be a minority in a sea of Arabs, create a new ghetto?…Now we have a country, an identity, we must defend it…if necessary (by refusing the rights of Palestinians)”.

 

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The Western Wall in Jerusalem.

 

The trial of Bakri gains publicity and leads to Palestinian bombings in protest. The authorities are keen to conclude the trial. They suggest that that Bakri be granted South African citizenship and apply anew for ownership of his property. The trial is settled out of court and Bakri is sentenced to the minimum prison sentence of 8 months.

Kaufman’s perspective of Israeli-Palestine politics is criticised  by her District Attourney lover Joshua Herzog as “romantic, abstract, impassioned… idealistic”. When Kaufman learns that Bakri is undergoing a hunger strike in prison, she  arranges for his parole and lets him stay in her own house, to the particular disapproval of Herzog. Bakri voluntarily departs at the end.

The film is fatally weakened by the dilution of its political theme with another of female independence, which Hollywood was embracing at that time in such varied films as Julia, The Turning Point, An Unmarried Woman, The Rose and  Nine to Five. Jill Clayburgh’s starring role in An Unmarried Woman may have led to her rather unsatisfactory casting here. Kaufman is pregnant at the start of the film but she refuses to marry her lover Herzog, staying friendly with her French husband Victor Bonnet. Later, she is seen embracing Bakri but it is not made clear whether he becomes her lover also.  Insisting that she does not want Herzog involved in her new-born child’s upbringing, she comments rather unpleasantly, “Such a fuss over a few drops of sperm”. Finally, she seeks a divorce from her husband as she wants to re-establish her own identity – “because I don’t know who I am anymore”.

 

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On the road north from Judea into Galilee.

 

The final scene does at least re-assert the political theme. When both Herzog and Bonnet have left her house, sent away by Kaufman, and she is preparing to take a symbolically cleansing bath, there is a ring at the door. A crowd of armed policemen are there – as alerted earlier by Herzog to arrest Bakri.

There is no doubt that Hanna K is a flawed film, full of confusion and compromises. However it is at least a drama where the issue of Palestinian human rights is depicted fairly and where the Israeli position is put under scrutiny. At least some of the filming took place in Jerusalem and elsewhere in Israel. It is most telling that this curio is the best effort on the issue which mainstream US cinema has managed in 30 years.

 

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Blog Action Day – inequality

Blog Action Day

 

In the modern, civilised UK, we still have a great deal of material  and social inequality.

One of our most valuable resources in publicising and analysing these injustices is the writer Owen Jones. For example, he recently reminded us, referring to The Sunday Times Rich List, that “in the last five years …the wealth of the richest 1,000 people has more than doubled. That surge in wealth – of about £261bn – is worth about two and a half times Britain’s annual deficit. Tot up their fortunes and you come up with the sum of £519bn, or about a third of Britain’s annual GDP. And yet in the sixth biggest economy on earth nearly 1 million people have been driven to food banks to feed themselves”.

Such inequality has come about because of flaws in how  the capitalist system works nowadays. Hundreds of thousands of people earning below the minimum wage, millions needing benefits to support their living and housing costs, but many others retaining huge wealth, often aided by the  unchecked inflation in property prices.

In the same article, Owen Jones was critical of the UK’s elected representatives who have failed to alleviate the inequality. They appear to see their job as “a sport, a professional ladder to climb like any investment bank”, he commented wryly, and  “even if the top salary only puts you in the top 3% of earners rather than the top 0.01%…you can always use a future ministerial position as a launchpad for a lucrative job at a private healthcare firm or defence giant anyway.”

How commercial companies create inequality around the world  is the theme of a report by Catholic charity SCIAF.  Taking Care of Business argues that, although commercial business  certainly can play an important part in making the world a more equal place, by generating economic growth, by providing people with paid employment and by paying taxes,  there is unfortunately plenty of evidence that, in  practice, the system is not working well.

Around the world economies do continue to grow, but rather less effort is applied in ensuring that the increased wealth generated by this economic growth is fairly distributed.  Large firms frequently crowd out smaller firms, leading to a loss of livelihoods. Multinational companies deliberately avoid paying taxes denying vast sums to developing countries. Abuses of human rights and the environment take place needlessly.

Regrettably, this bleak pattern is more becoming visible in the countries which we used to characterise as developing.  “According to recent research 80 percent of the world’s population who live on less than $2 a day (two billion people) now live in middle-income countries”.  Although it is good that countries formerly thought of as poor have become wealthier, “this graduation… is not eradicating poverty”.

2015 is the deadline for the eight UN Millennium Development Goals and one of Taking Care of Business’ recommendations is that any further international agreements “should encourage a fair balance between equity and growth, with a specific emphasis on tackling inequality”. Among other recommendations are that the UK government should ensure that all large companies  be required to report on any social, environmental and human rights impacts throughout their supply chains and the steps they are taking to mitigate these, and that the Scottish government should require companies who are tendering for public sector procurement contracts to adhere to rules on tax transparency and on ethical conduct.

One of the most persistent and appalling examples of inequality anywhere in the world during my lifetime  has been the plight of the Palestinian people. The injustice began when Britain gave up occupation of Palestine in 1948 and the state of Israel was founded: as a consequence  thousands of Palestinians were driven from their homes and their farming land and given nowhere else to go. After the Six-Day War between Israel and various Arab countries in 1967, Israeli military occupation began, and has continued, with very little change, ever since.

In recent years, the most visible demonstration of the mistreatment of the Palestinians has been the increase in the Israeli building both of settlements in the West Bank and of the separation wall, with the resulting demolition of Palestinian houses, separation of families and communities and restriction of movement . The separate Palestinian territory of Gaza has been under Israeli blockade for seven years. Millions of Palestinian refugees live in poor conditions within the West Bank, Gaza and the neighbouring countries of Lebanon, Jordan and Syria.

In addition, the Palestinians are continual victims of discrimination and harassment from the Israeli authorities and many have been imprisoned without trial. Any progress in peace has been regularly restricted by the spread of false arguments that all Palestinians want to kill the Jewish people or to destroy the state of Israel.  It seems especially cruel that the leaders of the Jewish people, who themselves remember well the pain of past persecution, have been so willing to apply similar treatment to neighbours who are  mostly so much less well off than themselves.

 

 

 

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The little town which casts a big shadow

 

Christmastide continues until early January, and Bethlehem is the place where, it’s often said, it’s Christmas every day of the year. It is the place where, Christians believe, Jesus Christ was born, in a cave or stable which is marked by a shrine in the Church of the Nativity.

 

One evening in Bethlehem, October 2012 – Manger Square is located just beyond the buildings in the centre.

 

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According to tradition, this silver star in the Grotto of the Nativity marks the place of Christ’s birth.

 

Once a year, at Christmas, Bethlehem seems to belong to everyone, the one time of the year when it’s given attention by all of the world’s media. The Washington Post  pointed out that, this year,  both Israeli and Palestinian authorities had  released video messages to attract the world’s Christians.

In grimly apposite fashion, the great Christian basilica in Manger Square which commemorates Christ’s nativity is actually looked after by three separate faiths : the Roman Catholics, the Greek Orthodox church and the Armenian Apostolic church. The church where the Christmas Midnight Mass is celebrated so publicly, as in 2012, is actually only one part, the Church of St Catherine.

At other times of the year, Bethlehem is very much part of the embattled Palestinian territories, surrounded by Israeli settlements and separated from Jerusalem by the infamous separation barrier. The town has high unemployment and little economic development and is heavily dependent on the tourists who come to visit the site of the Christian Christmas story.

 

One of the separation wall checkpoints which travellers from Bethlehem to Jerusalem must pass through.

 

In Bethlehem, with one of the many Israeli settlements nearby.

 

The UN’s vote to raise the Palestinians’ status to that of non-member observer state has been welcomed by the people themselves, and so can be seen as a clear step forward in their international fortunes in 2013. Perhaps US President Barack Obama will draw energy from his re-election to push forward the stalled peace process. One definite drawback for international understanding was the closure last August, mostly for commercial reasons apparently, of Bitter Lemons, the news and analysis website run jointly by an Israeli and a Palestinian – although some of their excellent content remains available for the time being.

 

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