‘We love being Lakota’: native autonomy in Pine Ridge

By Peterson Rasamny On April 12, 2015

Post image for ‘We love being Lakota’: native autonomy in Pine Ridge

‘The Native and the Refugee’ documentary project explores the similarities between the struggles and experiences of Native Americans and Palestinians.

By Matt Peterson & Malek Rasamny, photo by Chris Huber for Rapid City Journal.

In December 2014, we visited the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in what is now South Dakota. We chose to begin our project at the archetypal site of struggle for land, sovereignty and autonomy among natives in the United States. It was the Lakota people, including warriors Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse, who put up some of the most historic fights against the US military forces in the nation’s expansion westward.

In the 1876-1877 Black Hills War, the US intervened militarily on behalf of settlers searching for gold in the Lakota’s most sacred site, now known as the Wind Cave National Park. It was in this context that the Battle of Little Bighorn took place, when the Lakota famously defeated George Armstrong Custer’s Battalion of the 7th Cavalry. Pine Ridge was later the site of the 1890 Wounded Knee massacre, in which that same 7th Cavalry killed hundreds of Lakota in its struggle to disarm and forcibly relocate them to the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation.

In 1973, Wounded Knee was the site of a 4-month standoff and occupation organized by the American Indian Movement (AIM) against both the federal government and local tribal council. In 1975, two federal agents were killed in a shootout at Pine Ridge, for which AIM member Leonard Peltier remains held as a prisoner at the US Penitentiary Coleman in Florida. To add insult to injury, the presidential monument Mount Rushmore currently stands within what’s called the Black Hills National Forest.

The traditional Lakota territory includes parts of North and South Dakota, Nebraska, Montana and Wyoming. The Lakota historically were a semi-nomadic tribe that would follow herds of buffalo for food. In order to force them onto reservations, the US military encouraged the wholesale slaughter of buffalo in the Great Plains, resulting in their almost complete extinction.

It was through the destruction of their food supply — and not through any victories in battle — that the United States was able to force the Lakota into a position of economic subservience and dependence. Through a series of treaty violations, the borders of “Great Sioux Reservation” declared by the 1851 Fort Laramie Treaty were reduced to the present situation in which the Lakota are now spread out over a number of non-contiguous reservations including Pine Ridge, Rosebud, Cheyenne River, Standing Rock and Crow Creek.*

The current unemployment rate on Pine Ridge is between 80-90%, and life expectancy is 50 years. Despite being one of the poorest areas on the continent, the Lakota refuse to accept a 1980 government settlement now totalling $1.3 billion in compensation for the theft of the Black Hills. They insist that no amount of money can be exchanged for the return of their sacred land to its rightful inhabitants. They are currently leading the resistance against TransCanada’s proposed Keystone Pipeline, which would be built directly through Lakota territory.

The histories and particularities of the Native American and Palestinian struggles are indeed quite different, but what they share is the experience of settlers moving to take over and control their traditional lands, later assisted by a military force which facilitated and justified the resulting displacement. The reservation and the refugee camp then become the essential sites to locate this history, identity, and struggle for land and sovereignty.

We met with veteran members of the American Indian Movement, and Owe Aku,Bring Back the Way to hear about the present situation on Pine Ridge, and to discuss their horizon for autonomy.

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We Love Being Lakota is the first in a series of videos and texts from the documentary project ‘The Native and the Refugee’, which connects the struggles taking place on Indian reservations in the United States with those in Palestinian refugee camps in the Middle East.

In February and March, this video was presented at T Marbouta in Beirut, Lebanon; at the Jordanian Women’s Union in Amman, Jordan; and at the Freedom Theatre in the Jenin Refugee Camp in the West Bank. It was produced in collaboration with Adam Khalil.


We Love Being Lakota
from The Native and the Refugee on Vimeo.

Matt Peterson and Malek Rasamny will return to Akwesasne, Pine Ridge and the Navajo Nation this Spring to continue working on The Native and the Refugee. They are based in Ridgewood, New York.

* For an in-depth account of the Lakota’s struggles to maintain control of its land over the last 200 years, read Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz’s An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States (2014, pp. 186-191).

http://roarmag.org/2015/04/native-refugee-lakota-documentary/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+roarmag+%28ROAR+Magazine%29

The Wanted 18: depoliticizing the intifada?

By Rayya El Zein On April 9, 2015

Post image for The Wanted 18: depoliticizing the intifada?
A new film on the Palestinian intifada provides an interesting perspective — that of a group of Israeli cows (!) — but fails to tell the real story.
Amer Shomali and Paul Cowan’s film about how one Palestinian town hid eighteen cows from Israeli authorities during the first intifada won the Abu Dhabi film festival’s “Best Documentary in the Arab World” in late 2014. The film, after five years in production, is generating a buzz for its light-hearted, feel-good take on this critical period in Palestinian history. But a closer look reveals a missed opportunity in telling an important piece of the history of the intifada.The 75-minute documentary combines Shomali’s illustrations with interviews and re-enactments. The story begins with Shomali hiking in the desert. He tells us how, growing up in exile in Syria, he came across a comic strip about eighteen cows sold to the Palestinian town of Beit Sahour.

The story of the cows begins with their sale from a kibbutz outside Haifa to the residents of Beit Sahour. We follow their perilous journey by truck, their difficult birthing ordeals, their trials with the novice Palestinian dairy farmers who don’t know how to milk them, their pursuit by the Israeli authorities who deemed them a threat, and finally their second and final sale to the butcher, soon after the Oslo Accords.

The intifada in Beit Sahour, or this recounting of its history, thus begins with the sale of the bovines and their forced departure from the land of their birth, the kibbutz. Significantly, we understand this inciting moment through the fears and anxieties of the cows: Goldie, Ruth, Lola, and Rivka. Humanized via voice-over in Shomali’s illustrations, the cows internalize this selling off as a great trauma.

Before we meet the residents of Beit Sahour in any substantive way, we identify with these four female cows as the real victims of the story, sold off against their will to this strange and scary place called Palestine, under the tutelage of the equally scary Palestinians. That the real subjects of the film are the cows and not the Palestinians is indeed a peculiar take on this piece of Palestinian history, especially considering their anthropomorphization as Israeli cows.

“We deserve to have cows!”

Practically, Shomali and Cowan’s story is about a town’s struggle for self-sufficiency in the face of considerable military, economic and socio-cultural oppression. But the weight of this reality is never fully communicated — or at least, it is not sustained. The very real (and still very current) political question about how to counter Israeli repression with Palestinian self-sufficiency is replaced by a comicality induced by the use of cows as the story’s protagonists, their funny sounds, and the absurdity of dealing with one when you have no training to do so.

The music score contributes to this, the editing of the interviews contributes to this, and the animation itself contributes to this. At one point, the town physician is edited into a sound bite saying, “We are Palestinians. We deserve a home, we deserve our land, we deserve our freedom — and we deserve to have cows!” The subtext here is “We have the right to be self-sufficient. We deserve not to pay taxes to an occupying power. We deserve to be able to feed our own children.” But the framing put forth in the initial sequences of the film trivializes all of this into a rather absurd declaration of the right to a cow.

Which is to say that the film is seriously lacking a proper contextualization of the situation in which residents of Beit Sahour found themselves that led them to buy the cows in the first place. This history is summed up in a few minutes which point to the existence at the time (1988) of popular “neighborhood committees.” This historical reality is then inexplicably sidelined throughout the rest of the film. Instead, we are encouraged to identify with the cows and their fears and aspirations. After an initial tempted escape on the way to Beit Sahour, the cows rally themselves and submit to the oppression they face at the hands of the Palestinians. The oddity of this opening framework needs to be emphasized.

Turning names into things

One could forgive the filmmakers if it were simply that: an easy opening into Palestinian history. Indeed, one could almost write it off as necessary, given the dehumanizing and demonizing depictions of Palestinians in the mass media over the past several decades. We need the cows in order to approach the Palestinians: a necessary detour. But it is through the cows that we continue to see their new Palestinian shepherds. And absurdly enough, one of them is even outwardly racist, delivering a steady stream of jabs like “tiny terrorist,” “towel head,” etc., at her human overlords, declaring they are “lazy” and that they “don’t want to work.”

Besides needlessly embedding and normalizing racism against Palestinians (as cute), this imaginative mindset of the cows also essentializes Israelis and Palestinians. The viewer is to understand that even cows can feel a difference between Palestinians and Israelis, between the scary West Bank and the calm and peaceful kibbutz. This sense of irreconcilable difference is finally summed up in an exasperated wish. During a raid in which Israelis are looking for the cows, one cow asks tiredly, “Can’t you all just get along?” The cows never learn, as we might hope an audience might, that the story of conflict between Palestinians and Israelis is political, not cultural or ethnic.

Essentialized difference is enforced in other aesthetic choices. For example, all Palestinians in the film are interviewed, at one point or another, against a black background, usually with two sources of offset light. This gives the impression of shadow around the Palestinian interlocutors. In contrast, the Israelis interviewed in the film, all of them military or ex-military personnel, are interviewed against a bright white background, in very tight close-up.

Without pretending to know the production reasons behind these choices, the stark contrast between the two is striking. The most immediate effect is that it is the Israeli speaker that seems to carry with him truth. We meet Palestinian after Palestinian who explains why it is that they were refusing to pay taxes to Israel. But the point is finally hit home when an Israeli interlocutor, enshrined in white, laughs and concurs, ‘If I were them, I wouldn’t want to pay either!’

Cultural essentialism continues further still. Viewers of the film in Ramallah during its premiere as part of the Qalandia International Festival found the reenactment episode where three Beit Sahouri men turned a kind of daily administrative detention at the hands of the Israelis into a barbecue, funny. They also laughed heartily at a gaggle of older men, each wearing a kaffiyeh, sitting in a sidewalk café and watching calmly as some action or other played out in the street.

It is not that we cannot or should not recognize cultural features and celebrate them when appropriate (here the observation that Arabs seemingly fix everything with food; or that older men sit in sidewalk cafes). It is that the representation of cultural artifacts, or cultural behavior, in the absence of a recounting or contextualization of political activities, reduces the agents involved to stereotypes, and the resistance involved to cultural essence.

Leftist politics and Arab identities

This is a debilitating way to recount the history of a period of intensely collaborative, imaginatively furtive, and actually effective community organizing.This was a political organizing, moreover, that had at least as much to do with overtly leftist political strategizing as it did with the Arab identity of its agents. And it is after all this leftist political activity which is the primary thing we are talking about when we talk about these cows in Beit Sahour.

It is true that without a consideration of how this town deliberated its political strategies and its powerful political stance, the directors show us a united community. They succeed in completely overstepping the difficult and painful history of friction, faction, divide, and ultimately fatigue that beset not only the denizens of Beit Sahour but much of Palestine, and which in fact readied it to accept what would be the debilitating framework of the Oslo Accords.

It is to the film’s credit that, even without carefully exploring the political buildup to Oslo, it does give voice to disappointment with it. Here, in fact, the recollections of the Palestinians in the film resonate powerfully. “Oslo fucked us,” one man remembers. His testimony about how he and his friends ran away to the desert caves outside of Beit Sahour in the days after the announcement of the Oslo Accords, in order to avoid the celebratory car honking of a political resolution they felt even then would not serve them, is perhaps the most revealing moment in the film.

Similarly Shomali’s recounting of the funeral of his cousin Anton, a prominent youth organizer, after being shot by Israeli soldiers, is an equally powerful and necessary part of the story. This latter chapter rescues a film largely celebrating “non-violence” from the trap of failing to consider the human costs of the violence of the Occupation.

Abstracted, diluted, and de-toothed

In the end of the film, the Palestinians sign the Oslo Accords and residents of Beit Sahour sell off the remaining four cows, the smallest of which is a calf named Yara. In the truck on the way to their imminent slaughter, Yara’s mother pushes the youngest off the truck and tells her to run. The young cow escapes into the desert. The depoliticization of violence and of political strategy culminates in these closing sequences of the film. Shomali’s narration tells us nobody knows what happened to the calf, though rumor has it, she lives in a cave nearby.

In a return to the opening sequences of the film, we again see Shomali hiking in the desert. His voiceover tries to sum up the dreams and aspirations of the struggling Palestinians post-Oslo. Some people believe in this; some people believe in that; for his part, he says, “I believe in a white cow.” And with this, he stumbles upon a cave that looks inhabited. Any possible metaphorical tie between the cows of Beit Sahour and Palestinian self-sufficiency or “resilience” is by this point so abstracted, diluted, and de-toothed as to lose any political significance.

It is worth being clear. It is not that a film about the intifada has to be serious. It is not that Palestinian political history needs to be dry. It is not that we have to see Palestinians always in a posture of heart-broken romantic longing, trying to reach across the impossible, inhuman, separation wall. On the contrary, we need stories to shake these orthodoxies, as human histories are not as trite, melancholy, or even as militant as representations of Palestinians in films and in the media would have us believe.

But a film about the intifada, in fact, about one of the most interesting and radical parts of Palestinian history — that is, about how a town came to collectively sustain itself for years via collaborative community organization and the establishment and participation in agricultural, educational, and other committees; via the deliberations and disagreements over divisions of labor, of shared space, and of collective safety, and the difficulties that ultimately led to its unraveling — this should not be reduced to a joke, to a cute but unfortunate ordeal of four scared cows.

“Intifada” in this light loses its very real political history. The phrase “third intifada” has been repeated with sporadic frequency over the past year. What can we hope this intifada will look like? One would have hoped a documentary on this significant period of historical activity would have provided more threads to tug on, as we deliberate its contours, moving forward.

Rayya El Zein is a PhD candidate in Theatre at the City University of New York. Her research explores understandings of “resistance” in contemporary Arab cultural production. She lives in Amman.

“BOYHOOD” THE MOVIE

Boyhood_film

 

I watched “Boyhood” last night. Didn’t think I could deal with a film running nearly three hours focused on the reality-based coming of age theme. I was, however, much impressed by the epic technical achievement the film represents, and I was deeply moved by the genuinely human intimacies shared throughout. The ending was a powerful insight into the human condition.

Got me to thinking about the values of the tech-fueled Bay Area where I live.

I really loath, truly hate, the materialistic, money-fueled tech culture that has enveloped San Francisco. And it’s not the technology per se. I’ve been using and building computers since 1985. It’s the disgusting excess and glorification of same.

Interestingly, watching “Boyhood” last night reminded me that there are other, more appealing, lifestyles and choices still available in the country. The main character in the film was not obsessed with tech. He questions the value of the ubiquitous smart phone. He works after school. Middle class. He doesn’t dream of going to Stanford or MIT, etc., to get a degree in CS and code. Hell, he wants to be an artist. He’s interested in the meaning of life. Like people I used to know in school and throughout my life. He represents my American Dream. Not this SF version with conspicuous consumption and phony hipster culture.

 

 

Chappie: Is the sum greater than the parts?

By Christine Schofelt
21 March 2015

South African-Canadian director Neill Blomkamp’s Chappie is set in a 2016 Johannesburg plagued by violent street crime. Through the deployment of battalions of robotic police, crime rates are cut dramatically and orders for scores more robots are placed with weapons manufacturer Tetravaal, which produces the machines.

Chappie

When the young scientist who developed the robots, Deon Wilson (Dev Patel), brings company president Michelle Bradley (Sigourney Weaver) a program that will render the robots sentient, giving them the ability to think independently and, among other examples he excitedly cites, appreciate art, she flatly refuses to allow him to upload the program or even experiment with it. Bradley declares with barely disguised amusement that he must realize he has entered the office of a “publicly traded” military equipment company proposing to create a robot that writes poetry.

Undaunted, Deon steals a robot that had been slated for the scrap heap. On his way home he is kidnapped by Amerika (Jose Pablo Cantillo), Ninja and Yolandi (Ninja and Yo-landi Visser of rap group Die Antwoord [“The Answer” in Afrikaans], for whom Blomkamp developed the roles), small-time criminals who need the clichéd “one big heist” to clear themselves of debt and get out of crime for good.

The somewhat hackneyed question in all stories involving artificial intelligence (AI) boils down to: Can a robot have a soul? Chappie treats the question as having been answered, and that answer being “yes,” but not in a religious sense. It goes further in its trans-humanistic outlook in stating that this is the next evolutionary step. Life, in whatever form, metal or flesh, is important. What is “inside” must be preserved.

The world the criminals inhabit is brutal. Miserably poor, despite being surrounded by stolen equipment of great value, the group lives in an abandoned industrial complex in Soweto. Ninja is a desperate, angry man, and models this behavior for the resistant, but eager-to-fit-in robot-child, Chappie (Sharlto Copley). Ninja’s coming to grips with a different way of communicating—the robot is frightened off by violence and refuses to commit crimes, due to a promise he’d made to Deon—and his development of a sense of remorse regarding his actions toward Chappie are realistically drawn. The relationship develops unevenly, with setbacks that seem natural and gains that are honestly arrived at.

Yolandi treats the robot as if it were her child. At one point reading it a book, explaining what a black sheep is—how the outside of a person doesn’t matter—and telling the robot she loves it. She is a bright young woman trapped in horrible circumstances, and one gets the sense of someone who belongs to a lost generation, mired in poverty and crime.

Chappie

There is an unexpected innocence to the interactions between these characters, all of whom are well drawn, and the rest of the world. Blomkamp, in several interviews, has stated that the idea of “What if Die Antwoord were criminals raising a robot” provided the genesis for the film, so this is to be expected. Given free artistic reign, though sticking to the script, the group members act with a surprising naïveté, and are in many ways little more than children themselves. These are people who are doing everything they can to survive in a sector of society that has completely broken down. Their loyalty is to each other, but anything beyond that is questionable.

On the other hand, we have Tetravaal and the people who work for it. Here the characters are very clear-cut—to the point of being stereotypes. Deon, the good scientist dreaming of a better future, has an enemy in Vincent Moore (an almost unrecognizable Hugh Jackman).

In an interview, Blomkamp notes that he and Jackman wanted to make the character an outrageous parody of a certain type of Australian, yet—stylistic flourishes aside—the ex-SAS killer turned contractor, hyper-Christian bully is of a social type that could find a comfortable home in many countries. His combination of militaristic bloodthirstiness and reactionary religious horror regarding the advance in AI Deon has achieved is unnerving to watch at times. Weaver’s Michelle Bradley is simply a bottom-line businesswoman primarily concerned with the company’s shareholders.

This is typical of Blomkamp, as we saw in Elysium, in which Jodie Foster’s scheming, fascistic Delacourt was likewise simplistically drawn. In the face of such characters, we are given leave to shake our heads and tsk-tsk, but little light is shed on the conditions and social relationships that give rise to these anti-human elements. To explain “bad” actions through “bad” people is a tautology that explains little.

After Vincent creates a crisis to provoke the deployment of his own rejected killing machine, The Moose, we are treated to scenes of utter mayhem in the streets of Johannesburg. Here there is an element of cynicism—the rapidity with which the criminal element forms a rioting mob on word that the police robots have been taken offline is questionable at best.

Chappie

While it is clear from the portrayal of Tetravaal and its CEO that Blomkamp bears no love for the military industrial complex, far from it, what does he make of the majority of the South African population?

And what is the filmmaker’s attitude toward the massive police deployment—human or otherwise—apparently needed to quell a situation described more than once as the “city eating itself”?

One is struck by the wasted opportunities, or only half-developed themes and material, in Blomkamp’s works. The subject matter chosen for his three major films— Elysium, involving issues of social inequality; District 9, with its themes of immigrants and poverty; and now Chappie with severe poverty, crime and a militarized police force—is obviously serious, but it begs for more profound and critical treatment.

Science fiction is entirely capable of exploring and exposing social problems. When Blomkamp dismisses in interviews the notion that his films have any socio-political intentions or significance and when he takes artistic shortcuts in character and plot development, he devalues his own work, ultimately offering the equivalent of a dismissive and self-deprecating “just kidding.”

 

http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2015/03/21/chap-m21.html

Nimoy transformed the classic intellectual, self-questioning archetype…

 …into a dashing “Star Trek” action hero

How Leonard Nimoy made Spock an American Jewish icon
Leonard Nimoy as Spock on “Star Trek” (Credit: CBS)

I suspect I can speak for most American Jews when I say: Before I’d watched even a single episode of “Star Trek,” I knew about Leonard Nimoy.

Although there are plenty of Jews who have achieved fame and esteem in American culture, only a handful have their Jewishness explicitly intertwined with their larger cultural image. Much of the difference has to do with how frequently the celebrity in question alludes to his or her heritage within their body of work. This explains why, for instance, a comedian like Adam Sandler is widely identified as Jewish while Andrew Dice Clay is not, or how pitcher Sandy Koufax became famous as a “Jewish athlete” after skipping Game 1 of the 1965 World Series to observe Yom Kippur, while wide receiver Julian Edelman’s Hebraic heritage has remained more obscure.

With this context in mind, it becomes much easier to understand how Nimoy became an iconic figure in the American Jewish community. Take Nimoy’s explanation of the origin of the famous Vulcan salute, courtesy of a 2000 interview with the Baltimore Sun: “In the [Jewish] blessing, the Kohanim (a high priest of a Hebrew tribe) makes the gesture with both hands, and it struck me as a very magical and mystical moment. I taught myself how to do it without even knowing what it meant, and later I inserted it into ‘Star Trek.’”

Nimoy’s public celebration of his own Jewishness extends far beyond this literal gesture. He has openly discussed experiencing anti-Semitism in early-20th century Boston,speaking Yiddish to his Ukrainian grandparents, and pursuing an acting career in large part due to his Jewish heritage. “I became an actor, I’m convinced, because I found a home in a play about a Jewish family just like mine,” Nimoy told Abigail Pogrebin in “Stars of David: Prominent Jews Talk About Being Jewish.” “Clifford Odets’s ‘Awake and Sing.’ I was seventeen years old, cast in this local production, with some pretty good amateur and semiprofessional actors, playing this teenage kid in this Jewish family that was so much like mine it was amazing.”



Significantly, Nimoy did not disregard his Jewishness after becoming a star. Even after his depiction of Dr. Spock became famous throughout the world, Nimoy continued to actively participate in Jewish causes, from fighting to preserve the Yiddish language and narrating a documentary about Hasidic Jews to publishing a Kabbalah-inspired book of photography, The Shekhina Project, which explored “the feminine essence of God.” He even called for peace in Israel by drawing on the mythology from “Star Trek,” recalling an episode in which “two men, half black, half white, are the last survivors of their peoples who have been at war with each other for thousands of years, yet the Enterprise crew could find no differences separating these two raging men.” The message, he wisely intuited, was that “assigning blame over all other priorities is self-defeating. Myth can be a snare. The two sides need our help to evade the snare and search for a way to compromise.”

As we pay our respects to Nimoy’s life and legacy, his status as an American Jewish icon is important in two ways. The first, and by far most pressing, is socio-political: As anti-Semitism continues to rise in American colleges and throughout the world at large, it is important to acknowledge beloved cultural figures who not only came from a Jewish background, but who allowed their heritage to influence their work and continued to participate in Jewish causes throughout their lives. When you consider the frequency with which American Jews will either downplay their Jewishness (e.g., Andy Samberg) or primarily use it as grounds for cracking jokes at the expense of Jews (e.g., Matt Stone of “South Park”), Nimoy’s legacy as an outspokenly pro-Jewish Jew is particularly meaningful right now.

In addition to this, however, there is the simple fact that Nimoy presented American Jews with an archetype that was at once fresh and traditional. The trope of the intellectual, self-questioning Jew has been around for as long as there have been Chosen People, and yet Nimoy managed to transmogrify that character into something exotic and adventurous. Nimoy’s Mr. Spock was a creature driven by logic and a thirst for knowledge, yes, but he was also an action hero and idealist when circumstances demanded it. For the countless Jews who, like me, grew up as nerds and social outcasts, it was always inspiring to see a famous Jewish actor play a character who was at once so much like us and yet flung far enough across the universe to allow us temporary escape from our realities. This may not be the most topically relevant of Nimoy’s legacies, but my guess is that it will be his most lasting as long as there are Jewish children who yearn to learn more, whether by turning inward into their own heritage or casting their gaze upon the distant stars.

Matthew Rozsa is a Ph.D. student in history at Lehigh University as well as a political columnist. His editorials have been published in “The Morning Call,” “The Express-Times,” “The Newark Star-Ledger,” “The Baltimore Sun,” and various college newspapers and blogs. He actively encourages people to reach out to him at matt.rozsa@gmail.com

 

Banksy filmed himself sneaking into Gaza to paint new artwork

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World-renowned street artist Banksy released a 2-minute video on his website this week that delivers an eye-opening view of life behind the guarded walls of the Gaza Strip.

The video, “Make this the year YOU discover a new destination,” invites viewers to witness the devastation of war-torn Gaza and the tribulation of the Palestinian population cordoned within its borders.

The satirical mini-documentary, which is set to the legendary East Flatbush Project’s “Tried by 12,” presents itself as an advertisement for world travelers. It begins by showing an individual, presumably Banksy himself, entering Gaza by climbing through what’s parenthetically described as an illegal network of tunnels. “Well away from the tourist track,” the caption reads.

Exiting one of the dark tunnels, Banksy ascends into the bombed-out region and is greeted by children playing amid piles of rubble. “The locals like it so much they never leave,” the video says. Cutting to a scrum of Israeli Defense Force (IDF) soldiers, it continues: “Because they’re never allowed to.

 

The video captures four of the mysterious artist’s new pieces. The first, titled “Bomb Damage,” is painted on a door defiantly erect at the facade of a destroyed building. Potentially inspired by Rodin’s “The Thinker,” it shows a man knelt over in apparent agony. Another depicts one of the Israeli guard towers along the separation wall transformed into an amusement park swing carousel. The third and largest piece is a white cat with a pink bow measuring roughly 3 meters high; its paw hovering above a twisted ball of scrap metal like a ball of yarn.

“A local man came up and said ‘Please – what does this mean?’ I explained I wanted to highlight the destruction in Gaza by posting photos on my website – but on the internet people only look at pictures of kittens.”

“This cat tells the world that she is missing joy in her life,” a Palestinian man resting nearby speaks in Arabic to the camera. “The cat found something to play with. What about our children?”

The fourth and final piece is simple red paint on a wall. It reads: “If we wash our hands of the conflict between the powerful and the powerless we side with the powerful—we don’t remain neutral.”

According to the video, much of the recorded destruction is the result of “Operation Protective Edge,” a July 2014 Israeli military campaign, the stated of goal of which was to prevent Hamas rocket fire from entering Israeli territory.

During the seven weeks of airstrikes, Gaza suffered up to 2,300 casualties, including 513 children; 66 Israeli soldiers and 5 civilians were also killed. Up to 7,000 Palestinian homes were complete destroyed, and another 10,000 severely damaged, according to the United Nations. Over half a million people were displaced by the conflict. By some estimates, rebuilding Gaza City could cost in excess of $6 billion and take more than 20 years.

Banksy isn’t new to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In 2005, he painted nine pieces along the 425-mile West Bank Wall, the barrier which separates Palestine and Israel.

Screenshot via Banksy/YouTube

http://www.dailydot.com/politics/banksy-new-gaza-artwork/?fb=dd

German television series Tannbach and German postwar history

By Sybille Fuchs
9 February 2015

The three-part series Tannbach—Fate of a Village broadcast by ZDF [German public-service television], which achieved high ratings in January, attempted to follow on from the great success of the trilogy Generation War (2013). The latter dealt with the impact on five young Germans of the crimes of the Nazi regime. Tannbachattempts to encompass the history of divided Germany in the years following the Second World War by dramatising the fate of the inhabitants of a small village on the border between the two Germanys.

Tannbach

ZDF broadcasting director Norbert Himmler asserts that the television series “tells how it all began: from our roots in the postwar Germany of both republics, the German Democratic Republic [former Stalinist East Germany, GDR] and the Federal Republic of Germany [former capitalist West Germany, FRG]”. This claim, however, is misleading. Despite some excellent performances, the series is loaded with clichés and prejudices, which it often promotes in quite an embarrassing way.

With respect to both the “West Germans’ view of East Germany” and “East Germans’ formulaic attitudes and prejudices”, screenwriters Josephin and Robert Thayenthal fail to critically examine issues in any depth. Despite the supposedly “objective picture” of the times, the view upheld in official propaganda since the demise of the GDR predominates: that in eastern Germany one kind of totalitarian dictatorship [Nazism] was replaced by another [Stalinism], which was no less brutal and cruel than the first. The screenwriters themselves speak of the “two great German dictatorships of the twentieth century”.

This equation of two completely different regimes—on the one hand, the Hitler dictatorship, which destroyed the labour movement in the interests of German business, unleashed the Second World War and murdered millions of Jews, Gypsies, Roma, disabled persons and prisoners of war; and, on the other, the Stalinist dictatorship, which nationalised large estates and industries, but suppressed workers’ democracy in order to secure the rule of a privileged bureaucracy—precludes the possibility of any realistic and credible representation of the period. Tannbach tends to present viewers with stock figures rather than human characters.

The US forces, who initially occupy the village at the end of the war, are generous, benevolent and “cool”. The Soviets, who later take over from the Americans, descend on the defenceless villagers like barbarian hordes. At the end of Part 1, the first appearance of the Soviet military concludes with their shooting of an innocent old man, a mother and a child, simply because a portrait of Hitler is found in a drawer. This pattern of presentation runs through the whole film.

Trying to balance this one-sided view by including two “good” communists fails to make things better. Both of them—Konrad Werner (Ronald Zehrfeld), who has returned from exile in the USSR, and Friedrich Erler (Jonas Nay), the son of a Communist murdered by the Nazis—appear naive and implausible in their idealistic belief in a better future.

The film’s scriptwriters are so unaware of their own prejudices that they even reproduce the kind of bigotry characteristic of the Nazi era. Of the two young friends who flee to Tannbach from the rubble of Berlin, Friedrich Erler (non-Jew) becomes a farmer, while Lothar Erler (a Jew) ends up a smuggler. The writers should be ashamed of themselves.

“The Morning After the War”

Tannbach is a fictional village on the Thuringian-Bavarian border. It is based on the actual village of Mödlareuth in Upper Franconia-Thuringia, which was split between the US and Soviet occupation zones in 1945. The stream running through that small village is the Tannbach. The three-part series was actually filmed in Besno in the Czech Republic. Considerable effort was put into the attempt to make details of scenery, costumes and props as historically accurate as possible.

Part 1, “The Morning After the War”, begins in the last days of World War II. Just before US troops break into the estate of Count Georg von Striesow (Heiner Lauterbach), a young SS officer (David Zimmerschied) has the Countess (Natalie Wörner) shot because she refuses to betray her husband who has returned from the war as a deserter.

The count was denounced by Franz Schober (Alexander Held), a prosperous farmer and fanatical Nazi, who immediately offers to serve the Americans with his meticulously recorded insider knowledge of Nazi members and their activities. The SS officer, Schober’s illegitimate son, is exposed to the Americans by his own mother, Hilde (Martina Gedeck).

In any event, the US occupation is brief. Thuringia is assigned to the Soviet occupation zone, while Bavaria remains under American control. Soviet troops take over the village. Following a later revision of demarcation lines, US troops return to the western side of the village, which is divided down the middle.

The Soviet soldiers are portrayed as violent thugs, taking revenge for the atrocities of the German military through rape and plunder. What the German troops have done in the east is not revealed until the third part of the trilogy. Schober’s firstborn son, returning late from the war, shouts into the count’s face that he himself had ordered massacres before deserting his command. In retaliation for the killing of German soldiers, entire village populations—men, women and children—were shot as partisans.

One of the most powerful scenes in the first part includes the screening of a film recording the Americans troops’ liberation of Buchenwald concentration camp, which the Tannbach villagers are made to watch.

Further plot developments focus on the count’s daughter, Anna (Henriette Confusius), and Friedrich Erler, the working class youth from Berlin. The young couple fall in love, hoping to find fulfilment in a new and better world, where there are “no top and no bottom classes, and no more war”. Friedrich’s mother, Liesbeth Erler (Nadja Uhl), wants to escape the bad times, go to America and take her family with her.

Meanwhile the countess’s parents, former brewery owners from Zwickau and still fervent Nazis, have prepared their escape to Argentina via the “rat line” organised by Nazi operatives in collaboration with the Vatican, and want to take their granddaughter Anna with them, but she refuses.

“The Expropriation”

Part 2, “The expropriation”, deals with land reform in the Soviet occupation zone. Landowners who possess more than 100 hectares [247 acres] of property, or who were members of the Nazi party and committed war crimes, are expropriated without compensation. The land is then divided into five-hectare [12-acre] portions and allotted to the so-called “new farmers”.

Tannbach

The film fails to explain the brutal and reactionary role played by the Junkerclass (Prussian nobility) during the Wilhelmine Empire (1871-1918), the Weimar Republic (1919-1933) and the Nazis’ seizure of power in 1933. Instead, Count von Striesow (convincingly played by Lauterbach) is presented as not such a bad fellow, although he reacts to the expropriation of his estate as the worst injustice imaginable.

After returning from POW incarceration in France, he refuses to accept that his daughter Anna has married Friedrich and is working with him to cultivate five hectares of land allocated to them from the Striesow family’s former estate.

“My Land, Your Land”

In Part 3, “My Land, Your Land”, Anna and Friedrich are living on their small farm, which is barely capable of supporting them and their child. Lothar contributes significantly to the family’s subsistence through his cross-border smuggling and as a black marketeer.

Tannbach

Four years later, in 1952 and during the Cold War, the East German Stalinists build a fence running across the whole of Germany. It goes through the middle of Tannbach, which lies within the five-kilometre protected area behind the fence. The entire population of the eastern part of the village is subjected to stringent security regulations.

At this point, Liesbeth visits Tannbach from America, enthusiastically praising New York, where everyone can say what he or she wants and it “doesn’t matter whether anyone is a Jew or a Catholic”. She denies that anyone wants a new war: “You’ve all just talked yourselves into believing that.”

No one watching Tannbach would know that the US had just initiated a bloody war against North Korea and China that claimed three-four million lives, that the American ruling elite was engaged in the ferocious, anti-democratic McCarthyite witch-hunts and that African Americans were subject to brutal apartheid conditions in the US South.

A young East German border guard in Tannbach is shot and killed by West German border guards, leading to a tightening of border security. All people suspected of not being one hundred percent loyal to the Stalinist regime are forced to relocate away from the immediate border area or face prison if they oppose the evacuation order.

Tannbach

District administration head Konrad Werner, an idealistic communist, initially protects the Erlers when they are targeted for arrest by the increasingly powerful state security forces because of Lothar’s smuggling activities. Lothar is shot by East German border guards as he attempts to illegally cross the demarcation area to attend the baptism of Anna and Friedrich’s child, which Anna had requested be held at the village church in Tannbach’s western half.

After the baptism, Liesbeth remains in West Germany. The family is finally separated. District commissar Werner is removed to Berlin. He says goodbye to Friedrich with the words: “Working for a fairer world is not a bad idea, but unfortunately there’ll be setbacks along the way. New world orders take time to bring into existence.” Anna receives her downcast husband, Friedrich, with the words: “I’m proud of you. I believe in this here. I believe in everything we’ve built up here. This is our home”.

This open but scarcely credible conclusion is apparently designed to allow the filmmakers to claim they have presented the problems and perspectives of East and West Germans objectively.

Screenwriters Josephin and Robert Thayenthal write in response to the many questions raised by the period treated in the film, as follows: “Television won’t be able to give the answers, but perhaps it will give a sense of how people feel, think and act, how they develop and harden, how they behave under the threat of overwhelming power and in the grip of extreme fear”.

This statement points to the dilemma, faced by television productions, which claim simultaneously to entertain and educate. Communication of vague “feelings” is not enough for the understanding of history. Different viewpoints and experiences are juxtaposed, but they cannot be comprehended in any profound way because the socio-historical context has not been presented.

What Tannbach entirely leaves out, among other things, is the role of the parties responsible for the defeat of the German working class and the catastrophe of fascism, the Social Democrats and, above all, the Communist Party, which due to Stalin’s catastrophic policies, facilitated Hitler’s rise to power. Apart from coming to terms with the failure of the social revolution in Germany due to the crisis of working class leadership, no significant chapter of mid- and late-20th century German history can be profoundly understood.

Due to certain outstanding performances, the production offers numerous impressive scenes, but ultimately Tannbach is unsatisfactory. Compared to Edgar Reitz’s epic series Heimat: A Chronicle of Germany (1984), for example, the portrayal of the characters and their involvement in various events is often quite flat and unconvincing. But this is more the fault of the weak and limited script, and not so much that of the director, Alexander Dierbach, or the performers.

The documentary Spring 1945, broadcast by Arte on January 13, is far more successful in conveying an accurate picture of the immediate postwar period. The three episodes of Tannbach and related documentation are currently available in the ZDF media library.

 

http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2015/02/09/tann-f09.html

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