Long-Delayed View of Intifadah
DAYS OF RAGE: THE YOUNG PALESTINIANS PBS, tomorrow, 9-11:30 p.m. Documentary on directed by Jo Franklin-Trout. BEATINGS, shootings, home demolitions, imprisonment without charge or trial - these and other cruelties of Israel's occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip are catalogued by independent filmmaker Jo Franklin-Trout in ``Days of Rage: the Young Palestinians.''
The 90-minute documentary also looks at how Palestinians are fighting back. A disguised youth who is identified as a leader of the the intifadah, the anti-occupation uprising that began in December 1987, describes a strategy for luring an Israeli army patrol into an urban ambush and then escaping pursuit. Nonviolent resistance, such as strikes and non-payment of taxes, is also examined.
That this terrain is almost too familiar isn't Ms. Franklin-Trout's fault. The broadcast of her film, originally scheduled for last December, slipped once to June, then again to tomorrow. Meanwhile, the nightly news has crisscrossed the territory.
The film has also been overtaken by events. Finished last September, it preceded by two months the meeting of the Palestine National Council (PNC) in Algiers. Thus Jerome Segal, a Jewish-American academic, can be seen advocating the declaration of an independent Palestinian state 10 months after the PNC took that very step. What's more, far from maintaining solidarity in confrontation with the Israelis, the intifadah over the summer has increasingly turned on itself.
``Days of Rage'' does make a fresh contribution by redefining the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The intifadah, it implies, is not an extension of a 40-year battle over whether Palestine should be a secular democratic state or a Jewish state with a not-fully enfranchised Arab minority. It does not range little Israel against a score of Arab nations and the irredentist Palestine Liberation Organization.
Rather, the intifadah is portrayed as the inevitable struggle by Palestinians to throw off the occupation by an Israel whose existence they are quite ready to accept, provided that Israel accepts their own equal claim to self-determination. An Israeli ``dove,'' retired Maj. Gen. Mattiyahu Peled, concludes the film with the assertion that only by allowing a Palestinian state in the territories - including East Jerusalem - will the ``21-year'' Palestinian-Israeli conflict be brought to an end.
In redefining the conflict, the film robs Israel of its claim that security concerns justify both continuing the occupation and the abusive measures to put down the uprising. The controversy that erupted over this transfer of victim status to the Palestinians is what delayed the film's broadcast.
Franklin-Trout's film will be shown unchanged. But in an effort to balance it, it is being ``wrapped.'' A short documentary will be shown before ``Days of Rage,'' and another documentary and a panel discussion will follow. This package of programming is called ``Intifada: The Palestinians and Israel.'' Yet enveloping ``Days of Rage'' in this other material doesn't so much balance it as sink it. Few viewers will have the stamina or interest to endure the full two-and-a-half hours. This treatment of a documentary has provoked some journalistic outrage of its own, and rightly so. If ``wrapping'' is the way to redress controversy, then ``Intifada: The Palestinians and Israel'' should be likewise ``wrapped'' with a documentary on the media power of the pro-Israel lobby.
That's not to say ``Days of Rage'' is flawless, even as an avowed expression of one side of an issue. The way Franklin-Trout interviews the mother of an imprisoned boy makes her appear to extract the answer she wants: ``They sentenced him for five months in jail, $700 fine, and he's 16 years old, and it was for throwing stones. Is that right? ... Are the other children afraid as a result of what happened, or are they continuing the work of the intifadah?'' Pretty heavy-handed, but it hardly warrants the virtual squelching of the film through the broadcast delays and packaging.
Those who view ``Days of Rage'' will find that it reflects the mood of a moment now passed. Much has changed politically. To help the Palestinian cause now - as this film aimed to do - it would need fewer indictments of Israel and more Palestinians professing a desire to live with Israel in peace.